Last week of classes..?
After Thanksgiving comes…the last week of classes! I went to research on Monday and Thursday, and classes ended on Thursday as well (as my only Friday course was completed the week before, at our presentations). Tuesday was entirely devoid of classes (both of my labs are over, and my microbiology class finished the week before), so Sarah and I decided to spend some time wandering in the city. We had lunch at – where else? – Bewleys, and then headed to Dunnes to buy her a red belt (and I ended up getting really cute black heels – a girl can’t ever have too many of those!). It was a nice, lazy day, and we ended it with soup for dinner.
Wednesday was really fun – in the evening, Sarah and I went to make use of two vouchers we had purchased through Groupon (the online discount site): we got massages! The masseuse was a Romanian man who talked to me throughout the massage about moving to Ireland five years before and the differences between the two countries, as well as his youth and some other (random) topics. I had never had a massage before, so it was a very interesting experience – I was definitely really relaxed right after (and nearly fell down a staircase because of it!). I’m not sure if I’d get another one, though – the effect didn’t seem to last very long…
Thursday night I met up with two women who were sisters in my sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, in college; one is now spending the year in Ireland, working, and the other is (I kid you not) a second-year veterinary student at UCD. Small, small world…we met up at the St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre and walked to O’Donoghue’s to have some drinks (being a boring person with an early bedtime, I had water). It was so nice to meet them – they’re both really sweet, and it made the connection to home feel much stronger! There are no sororities or fraternities in Europe, so people give me weird looks when I wear my shirt with KKG (for Kappa Kappa Gamma) on it – it was nice to meet people who understand! After meeting them, I went back to campus to meet up with Sarah for dinner and a movie – while we never ended up watching the movie (It’s a Wonderful Life – she’s never seen it!!), we did pack and get ready for the weekend…which started really early.
Friday morning we had a cab pick us up at UCD at 5 am (well, we got out there at 5:15…) to bring us to the airport. What an expensive ride – it was 44 euros! Never taking a cab to the airport again, that’s for sure…we had a 7:30 am flight to Milan, Italy, landing around 11 am local time. After buying an all-day travel pass, we took a bus into the city centre (Linate airport is only 7 km, or 4.5 miles, out of the city), getting off at San Babila Square. From there, we got on the metro (the entrance to which was inside a store – you had to go downstairs into the store and then walk all the way to the back to get into the metro) to the Duomo, the cathedral at the heart of Milan. We walked from the Duomo to our hostel (about a 15 minute walk with all of our bags) – Ostello Bello. I would recommend that place to anyone going to Milan – it’s clean, the staff is incredibly friendly and helpful, and the people staying there that we met were fantastic. You also get a free drink at check-in, so we got hot chocolate – which ended up being hot chocolate pudding; very thick and very delicious, but not really a drink. I recommend that, too! We rented towels for a euro each, and went up to our room to unpack and shower; afterwards, we went back down to the reception/bar area to hang out a bit. Sarah and I immediately made friends with two girls, Apryl and Bec, from Australia who were dying to go see “The Last Supper” (the original painting). My friend Amanda had originally been planning on joining us in Milan, and had really wanted to go see the painting, so I had bought tickets; however, I wasn’t really so keen on the idea and much preferred to get food instead at that point. The thing about the tickets is that they are for a specific time and need to be bought at least a day in advance, so Apryl and Bec were unable to get any for that Friday – I happily sold them mine! They went to “The Last Supper” and Sarah and I went to a café right across the square from the building housing the painting, where I got a pizza and she got a (frozen) lasagna…we thought it was pretty funny that, in Italy, her first meal came from a box and was prepared in a microwave! Afterwards we headed back to Ostello Bello to hang out before Aperitivos – from 7-9, if you buy a glass of wine at the bar, you can have free food prepared by the hostel. They had two kinds of pasta, rice with fish, and two dips with bread and chips: quite a filling meal, overall. We met Apryl and Bec’s roommates at this point – two American girls studying in Barcelona (Emily and Tori), and a girl from Korea whose name I cannot spell who was traveling through Europe by herself for 10-14 days. After some food and drinks, we decided that we needed to get gelato on our first night in Italy, so we asked the bartender where gelato could be found. He pointed in the general direction of the Gellateria and we took off without really questioning him in detail…which resulted in us walking down a street parallel that to the street with the store on it! Nearly fifteen minutes later, we decided that we ought to ask someone as finding this store without more help did not seem plausible, so some nice Italian guys told us that the store was on the next street. We went to walk all the way back down the street and over when he stopped us, laughing, and pointed to the cross-street that ended up bringing us out almost exactly at the stop. Thank goodness for nice Italian people! The gelato was worth the initial confusion – delicious and just what the doctor ordered. Afterwards, we decided to call it a night, and planned to meet up with our awesome-Aussie’s at 11 the next morning downstairs in the hostel. Some of our roommates returned around 2am from clubbing, but they were decently quiet and were asleep by 2:30, so the disruption wasn’t a big deal.
Saturday was spent outside of Milan; Milan is a very bustling, crazy city and we wanted to experience a beautiful place without the insanity. Sarah’s mother has a friend who grew up in Bergamo, a small town about an hour northeast of Milan, so, with Bec and Apryl, we took a train out there. Note about the trains in Italy – you must validate your ticket on the platform if you bought it at the station. Of course, we made the train with a 5-minute window, so we had no idea about the validation rule…and the conductor charged us a 48 euro fine for non-validation!! It was insanity, and we knew that the conductor was pocketing the money when an Italian man sitting behind us with his family got up and started yelling at him in Italian during the exchange…however, there was nothing we could do about it, so the ticket price changed from 5 euro to 17 euro in one fell swoop. However, Bergamo was worth it – even in the fog. There was a cute Christmas market where I bought a scarf (of course, I didn’t bring any scarves with me on my trip) and some trinkets; we then wandered around looking for a restaurant for lunch. We stumbled upon this adorable tavern that happens to be Michelin-rated (basically, Zagat ratings for Europe) and was only serving lunch for another 30 minutes – so of course we ran in! It was all decorated for Christmas, and it served the most delicious Italian foods! Sarah and I shared two dishes (I had gnocchi, and I have no idea what she had, but it was good, too!), and Bec and Apryl shared two – and then we each tried the others’ dishes; we ended up tasting four different Italian dishes. What a wonderful way to have lunch! Afterwards, Bec and I grabbed gelato and then we wandered in and out of shops along the route back to the train station. I wish it had been summer, so it could have been warm/sunny, but it just gives me a reason to return in the future! We didn’t make it to the Citta Alta (upper city) because that would have required an all-day trip, and we wanted to get back to Milan, but the trip was definitely worth it. We trained back into Milan (after validating our tickets, mine twice) to rest before dinner, stopping at Billa (a grocery store) on the way to pick up pasta and sauce, wine, and a huge bag of clementines! After resting up, we made the pasta in the wonderful kitchen in the hostel (stocked with pots and pans and dishes galore) and ate in with Bec and Apryl, and Emily and Tori warmed up pizza they had bought for lunch and ate with us. We had quite an evening, talking about everything and staying up in the kitchen until nearly 1 – when Sarah, Bec, and Apryl decided to go out! There was a club decently close to the hostel into which all hostel guests have free entry on Saturdays (rather than a 15 euro entry!), so the girls headed there while I headed to bed. Our crazy roommates (the ones who came back at 2 the night before) came upstairs at 5, bringing with them three loud/drunk Irish guys! The people in my room yelled at them for nearly 10 minutes before they finally got the message that they had to leave…what a weird interruption to sleep…
Sunday morning we got up around 10 to shower and pack, as checkout is at 11:30 am. The hostel does have hair dryers that can be borrowed, but they are pathetic and it took me nearly 15 minutes to fully dry my hair (after it had been in a towel for over 20 minutes); however, beggars can’t be choosers..I was just happy that they had a hair dryer! We packed up our stuff and brought our sheets down, as instructed; we then stashed our bags in their luggage room (more like a closet, but again, not complaining – it was locked!) and headed out to see the Duomo up close. Sarah and I walked inside with other tourists, being very quiet as mass was going on. It is an amazing place – holding over 20,000 people – and astonishingly beautiful. I would definitely suggest going there when in Milan. We decided against climbing up to the top because the fog/mist would have made any sights impossible; that just gives me another reason to come back in the future! After the sightseeing, we went back to the hostel (where I grabbed my bag) to meet up with our Aussie’s for lunch. However, Apryl wasn’t feeling well, so only Bec joined us. We found a little pizzeria nearby that was full of Italian people – it’s always a good sign when locals eat there, and we were not disappointed. The pizzas were huge – each one was around 10” in diameter – and amazing, and the tea we had after was so perfect. I’m slightly obsessed with tea at this point, so it was a great way to end the meal. I decided it was best for me to go straight to the train station at this point, as the airport I flew out of – Malpensa – is much farther from the city, and takes a 40-minute train ride to get to. The train station was easy to find, and the ticket didn’t have to be validated this time, so I had no issues getting on the train The Malpensa airport was a bit confusing – check in for flights is on the second floor, security is on the first floor, and the ground floor is zero. Therefore, I kept ending up on the floor with security, thinking it was the second floor…oh the silly things Europe does to my poor brain. I finally checked in and breezed through security, and headed down to the gate, where I met Janna, who is friends with Amanda, my friend studying in France. We took the same flight over to Marseille, and then a bus to Aix-En-Provence, where I will be spending Sunday night through Wednesday afternoon with Amanda.
Life is pretty interesting when you study abroad in Europe – you can go wherever you want with minimal effort (although not minimal cost, unfortunately), so I decided a trip to France was absolutely essential in my semester across the pond.