What this is all about...

A quarter life crisis is a real thing. I know this because myself, and my best girlfriends, are going through it right now. This blog is dedicated to the day to day banalities/craziness of those quarter life crises. For those of you with questions, the qlc is when you realize that you have to be Responsible. It is when the job you accept is the beginning of a Career Path. It is when the guy/girl you date might be The One. It is when you get pushed out of the nest and you have to flap your wings enough to cushion the fall. Perhaps your thirties are when you get to fly?
The question isn't who is going to let me; 
it's who is going to stop me.
-Ayn Rand

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Polar Bears Flirting

In case you haven't seen this video yet - take 2 minutes of your day to laugh here:


Hope everyone had a good weekend!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Thursday Market

Today I fulfilled many American girls’ dream: I bought black, over the knee, Italian leather boots. They are awesome. I bought them at the Sacile market for the equivalent of $50. I had actually been eyeing them for a few weeks now, but they used to be over $100 and to be honest, I have two other pairs of black boots. Not as awesome boots, and not as tall, but they are black boots and these were $100. If I had called Jen, she wouldn’t be able to help me justify that expense.

So today I walked out of my apartment and entered Shoe Heaven. Our parking lot is turned into Shoe Heaven every Thursday morning and it is the first set of booths I see. I use the word ‘booths’ for lack of a better term…in reality they are vans with tables in front and wares spread out in every direction. The booths in front of the apartment are all shoe booths so I walk out and AHHHH Shoe Heaven. This week I finally walked right up to the beautiful boots and touched them. BAM the shop guy is talking to me in Italian and gesturing at the sign that says Mezzo Prezzo. Yes, believe it or not, that means half price and that means it was my lucky day. I tried on the boots, the guy told me I was beautiful, I checked them out in the mirror, had a mental conversation with Jen wherein she told me they were too amazing to ignore the sale, and handed over the cash. Not a bad way to start the day! Ok, now time to enter the market…

The Sacile market is actually a travelling market that comes to Sacile on Thursdays. Apparently Mondays are the best, but I can’t catch a train there and I don’t have a car, so I’m relegated to the measly Thursday market outside my apartment. I should tell you that measly means ½ mile + side streets full of anything, and everything you could possibly need. Today I took a mental list of items you could buy and eventually had to give up, but here’s a taste: clothes, shoes, stuffed animals, hats, gloves, scarves, bottle openers, flowers, needles & thread, seafood - cooked and for cooking, fried chicken, fruits & veggies, espresso machines, purses, olives (there’s a cart solely dedicated to olives), underwear, plastic flowers, belts, umbrellas, toys, frying pans, and cheese. Lots of cheese.

Every week I buy 1 kilo of Clementines for about $3, and sometimes some shrimp if I’m feeling brave. I wait until close to 11 or noon before braving the food carts, any earlier and I have to contend with Italian grannies and their strange shopping carts. Amongst cries of Buongiorno! and lots of kissing, I have to struggle to the front and with no hope of shouting my order in Italian, stand there looking pitiful and confused before someone comes over to take my order. To avoid this, I shop for clothes earlier in the morning, and do the food shopping right before lunch. Since Clementines literally grow on trees here, there are more than enough to come by and waiting doesn’t hurt one bit. I’d like to think I’m beating them at their own game, but I don’t think they know they’re playing one.

Although the food carts are the best place to listen in on conversations, I tend to stick to the clothing booths so I can try on ridiculous outfits that are in fashion here in Italy. These range from shiny, puffy coats to frilly blouses and outrageous sweater dresses. Be on the lookout, these will be all the rage in America in a year or two if Jersey Shore has anything to say about it. As a side note – they are filming this summer on a beach in Italy! Why is that?…oh because MTV wants to take them back to their roots! Obviously.

The best part about trying on clothes in the Sacile market is that you have to get into a kidnapper van to do it.

The fact that the vans are completely blocked in by a few hundred people and loads of merchandise thankfully keeps the kidnappers at bay. So you jump into the back of the van, rip off your old clothes (oh, did I mention today it was 32F/0C!) and quickly squirm into the hot new outfit you’ll rock Saturday. Wait? Where’s the mirror? Well in some cases the van owner holds it up for your outside the swinging doors and tells you how great you look. In other cases, you must make do with balancing the square mirror on cardboard boxes, or moving it up and down on your body to get the full-length look. This is far from the magic mirror in my Wisconsin apartment. *Sigh*

Most days I manage to find something I like and resolve to wear it the upcoming weekend. Two weeks ago I bought an American-appropriate grey sweater dress, last week it was a $5 wool skirt, a pair of gold flats and some leggings. This week I walked away with a sexy top and those oh so wonderful boots. That this shopping takes place outdoors is all right since the city rests at the base of the picturesque snow-capped Alps.

While some days are boring here in northern Italy, Thursdays are certainly not. Italian Grannies, strollers wrapped in cellophane, fried chicken, and amazing deals, always make for an interesting morning.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Parents Are People Too

It’s funny that we spend most of our teenage years trying to make our parents realize that we are no longer the kids they taught to ride bikes and build sandcastles. We spend years trying to show them we are adults, that we can make our own decisions thank you and we don’t need any help from you.

Except we do. It takes some of us longer than others to come crawling back, looking for everything from hugs after a breakup to a place to live after being laid off. When I’m upset the first person I call is my mom – something I would never have done 7 years ago when the last thing I wanted to tell her was why my high school boyfriend made me cry. Now I go to her with cooking questions, boy advice, job searches, and Bachelor gossip. And the more I talk to her, the more I’ve realized that she’s not just as mom. She’s a real person too.

That may seem stupid. It’s not like I didn’t know she was human, it’s just that when you are younger your parents are indestructible people with the keys to the car and money for college. You see them live their lives, but you take everything for granted. Just close your eyes for a minute and think back to high school….how often did you think about what they did during their days at work, or what they were doing while you were at a party with your first love? Even my friends who had ridiculously close relationships with their parents really only talked about their own lives with their mom or dad – I can’t think of a single person who sat down and really listened to hopes, fears and dreams of a parent when they were 16.

Recently I’ve talked with my mom and discovered a completely different person than who I lived the majority of my life with. The most surprising thing that I’ve learned? She’s just like me. Now I knew some things, like I knew she loves to travel and cook, but now I see her going out with girlfriends and starting to date again. She calls friends to go out to lunch, goes next door for coffee and game nights, and gossips over email with friends. Sometimes when I call her I catch her out shopping, or about to go to the gym. Sound familiar? When she didn’t have to chauffer me to gymnastics or ballet lessons, it turns out she is interested in other things in life but me. It just occurred to me how selfish I had been.

She’s now dating and it’s fun to hear her talk about it. She is just like me – throwing herself into new relationships and meeting his friends right away. I’ve always made a point of seeing if I fit in with a boyfriend’s friends and if he fit in with mine. She is cooking for him, I do that too, and she is exploring new restaurants, one of my favorite relationship activities. When I stopped seeing her world through mom-colored glasses, I realized she enjoys the same things I do. The woman I thought would absolutely never ever understand anything about me (circa age 16) probably understands much more than I’ll ever know. She lived a huge life before me and holy wow, it’s exciting.

I found out she dated a guy with a motorcycle, and she rode on it. She once sailed the Greek Isles with a guy and dumped him the moment they got back to dry land. She was married long before she had me, and there’s still an unknown story there about why she hates skiing. She went to beach parties. She was there for the Kent State shootings. She remembers when JFK was shot and saw Jerry Garcia perform live. I am just a character introduced in a later chapter of her life – I like to think a very exciting chapter – and now she is starting to write a new one.

I’m not sure where I read it, but I saw something recently about activities to do in your 20’s. One of the things on the list was get to know your parents as real people. Remove yourself from the equation, and perhaps even their spouses. Talk to them about married life before kids, about life before marriage, and perhaps even their own first heartbreaks. While they get to see us grow up and experience a million new things, we hardly ever seem to know the back-story of our own roots. Don’t wait until it’s too late to get to you know parents as real people. You might be pleasantly surprised. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Visiting the Temples of Angkor

Once again, I am suffering from a massive hangover. I am much too lazy to type up a new post, and yes, I realize I have been neglecting the blog. I promise to make it up to my loyal readers next week. 

So because last night was an epic dance-a-thon, I am going to post a journal entry from my visit to Siem Reap. There are days when I am homesick for the states, and there are days when I am homesick for Southeast Asia. Today all I want is a fresh mango shake. Oh god, I can almost taste it. But before I launch into my thoughts on the temples of Angkor, I thought I would share this photo from last night:
Yeah, I don't know either. But as you can see, it was a great time. 

So on to Cambodia....

We spent three days seeing the temples of Siem Reap, spending hours walking up and down stairs in the hot sun to discover their magic. We saw 19 temples or so and most of them were pretty incredible. Some were better kept than others, but each was a beautiful reminder of the empire that once was.

First we went to Pre Rup on our way out to the popular Banteay Srei. It was beautiful and since it was our first temple, I thought it was huge. Later on I would compare it to Angkor Wat and Beng Mealea which were truly gigantic but at the moment, as our first Cambodian temple, it loomed above us. Since it was early there were just a few people around and my friend was able to get photos without tourists interfering. He will sometimes wait 10-15 minutes for people to move out of the way so he can take a picture. Unfortunately, in busy temples having a tourist-free shot was tough to achieve. Eventually a bus of Americans arrived and did block his photos for long enough that he gave up and we headed onto Banteay Srei.

Banteay Srei was crawling with tourists and my friend had to give up and allow some people in his photos, or had to zoom in on the amazing detailed carvings. I wandered around just taking it all in. What was left of the temple were walls covered with intricate carvings of lions, women, snakes, lotus hands, etc. I was blown away by the attention to detail as well as how well preserved it was for being hundreds of years old. Unfortunately that is when it started to get hot again and I started to sweat in my temple get up of tshirt and pants. They were loose pants, almost gauchos if you remember that fad, but it was still a bit much for 90+ weather. On our way out some Asian tourists grabbed us for photos (they love taking pictures with pale people....it's so weird. What happens to the photos when they get back? Are we up on facebook with all these people with their friends commenting on them?) 

Our next stop was my idea. I had read in Lonely Planet that you can see Phnom Bok if you are out the direction of Banteay Srei and since I wanted to be helpful I pointed the blurb out and suggested we visit. We asked our tuk-tuk driver to go there next and should have sensed the obscurity of the place when he told us he had never been there before. We kept on though and soon arrived at the bottom of what I would say was larger than a hill, but a bit too small to be called a proper mini-mountain. Didn't look too daunting and hey, Lonely Planet didn't say anything like, "Beware, this may kill you," so up we went. As we started climbing up temple prayers started blasting over a loudspeaker and we were still thinking this was going to be a normal temple visit. But wait, what's this? We turned the corner to see the longest, tallest, highest set of stairs I have ever seen in my life. At that point I laughed - because I still had no idea what we were in for here. About halfway up we were both literally dripping wet and we had to stop to take a few rests before we reached the top. We sat for a bit and looked at this pillar, all the while I was thinking "This is what we climbed those stairs to see???" Fortunately we caught sight of some other ruins just a few more meters up so we headed for those. 

Have you ever read The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis? It's the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series and it begins with the main character somehow landing in this magical other land of quiet ruins. Of course a bad witch shows up a few minutes later but that scene C.S. Lewis describes could have been written about Phnom Bok. They looked like something out of a movie: crumbling towers, pillars at strange angles, carvings barely visible, sloped steps and giant trees growing out of the whole lot. If taking in Bataad from the viewpoint was like sitting on the edge of a postcard, then exploring Phnom Bok was like being transported into a novel where mythical creatures existed and anything could happen at any moment. 

Before we headed down the mountain my friend and I played the jelly bean guessing game. Think back to third grade when your teacher had those jars of candy corn and jelly beans and everyone in the class got to guess how many pieces of candy were in the jar. The person who was the closest won the whole jar and took home the candy. I never won at those but I figured at least this time I had a 50/50 chance of beating my friend. He guessed there were 550 stairs and I said 620. I'm not kidding, there were A LOT of stairs! And we had climbed all of them in the blazing hot Cambodian sun! Anyway, guess how many stairs there were? 628. (as a side note...I later climbed Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka which has something like 4000 steps so at this point, I really had no idea)

We saw 5 more temples after that: Banteay Samre, Eastern Mebon, Preah Khan, Preah Neak Pean and Ta Som. Bateay Samre was nice but I wish there had still been a moat like there was when it was built. It would have made it even more impressive - plus it would have been fun to walk over a moat. I really enjoyed Eastern Mebon because of the elephant statues posted on every corner. I was really hot and disgusting though which was starting to make me a bit crabby; not to mention exhausted from the 7am start time and all day in the blazing sun. We carried on to the next three temples where I discovered Ta Som was to be one of my favorites. 

Ta Som was a jungly temple with giant trees growing out of the ruins. Unlike Phomh Bok though, it was shaded by nature and in a bit better repair than the mountain temple. This was the first temple we saw with the large faces carved into the entrances. These temples are incredibly impressive, even though nature has clearly won the forever battle. 

When we returned home to the Golden Banana (our wonderful hotel) all we wanted to do was slide into the pool and rest our tired feet for a bit. I was also starving from the kcals I burned but barely had the energy to eat. We had been relaxing for so long in Vietnam that I hardly remembered how exhausting sightseeing can be!

We began our second day with the heaviest of heavy hitters: Angkor Wat. As a disclaimer: Any description I write will not do it justice...so I'm not going to try. It was absolutely breathtaking and more than I could ever have imagined. From the moment the tuk-tuk drove by part of it to drop us off at the entrance, I was entranced. It is increadibly wide and then you have to walk what seems like the length of a football field to get to the entrance. Once there you walk through an archway and are again faced with a huge expanse to traverse in order to get to the actual temple. And the temple is HUGE. I think photos illustrate this better than words. 

If you look closely you can see my friend posing...this is just one of Angkor's inner walls
In my journal I wrote a lot, A LOT, more about Angkor Wat. However, I felt this was already way too long and that those of you who are still reading probably are waiting for me to get on with it. 

Banteay Kdei and Sr Srang were our next stops. Banteay Kdei was another temple that I doubt people will be able to climb around wherever for much longer. It had a mysterious air about it and all the collapsed areas allowed for interesting photos. Apparently it was hastily constructed those hundreds of years ago which accounts for the severe damage it's suffered. I enjoyed that one a lot as it felt like no matter which way you walked there were more pathways and hallways as if it was a neverending maze. I had a fleeting thought about playing hide and seek there, but figured it would take much too long to find anyone.

Ta Prohm was our next stop. This temple was used in Angelina Jolie's famous movie, Laura Croft: Tomb Raider. Because of it's fame it was being restored, but unfortunately it also had walkways and wood stairs everywhere that you had to follow. This was the one temple we couldn't just hop around anywhere. Unfortunately the walkways interfered with some great photo possibilities in two ways. The most obvious was that the wood entered the picture and that took away from the ancient stones and jungle crawling over them. The second problem was that the walkways set up photo ops - so in areas where serious photographers were trying to get shots of the temple, other tourists were taking group shots in front of the most interesting parts. It definitely took away from the air of ancient wonder that could have permeated every part of Ta Prohm.

Our tuk-tuk driver drove us back to Angkor Thom (the huge enclosure that holds several of the sights and is surrounded by a long low wall with entryways marked by huge stone guards) and let us out at the Terrace of the Elephants. We walked around and admired the wall that held more intricate carvings until we couldn't take it anymore and went in search of water. It was quite ironic - most of the day we had to fend off children selling trinkets, young men selling bootleg books and dvds and women competing to sell us cold water. Now when we needed it most we had to seek out one of these women. We crossed the road to where several stalls were set up and only one woman ran over to us, "Cold water?" she asked. Without a word I started nodding and she laughed. We must have looked horrible - dripping sweat, hadn't eaten all day, exhausted and practically begging for water. The going rate is 1.5 liters for $1, which we gladly paid and sat down for a few minutes. 

After a brief rest we walked along the Terrace of the Leper King before heading into Bayon. Bayon is an amazing temple built in the 12th century with something like 200 faces carved into the many towers. Even compared to Angkor Wat, Bayon was my favorite temple in Siem Reap.

Bayon is truly wonderful and is very hard to describe. Everywhere you walk is something even more exciting to look at and again, you're able to climb on anything you want. My friend was also very happy because he is on a perpetual "Monk Hunt." This is what I call his desire to have Buddhist monks, draped in bright orange or red cloth, in his photographs.
As you can see, it was his lucky day as there were several wandering around in Bayon. He managed to get several photos with these unsuspecting men (or do they know people are constantly trying to get them in the frame?) exploring the temple. Unfortunately we had to leave eventually, so sadly we walked down the steps and out to our tuk-tuk driver who would take us back to the Golden Banana and our lovely swimming pool.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Temporary Escape

Some days being in my QLC is an all encompassing situation. No matter what I do, I negative thoughts plague me from the moment I wake up to the moment I go back to sleep. What am I doing? Why aren’t I happy? What does make me happy? Why am I missing my best friend’s birthday?

Sometimes things in life are hard to deal with, and to cope we change memories and escape into fantasy. One of the things I do when life is hard is lose myself in a good book. For the amount of time I’m reading, I find myself lost in a different world with new acquaintances and other people’s problems to face.

The only ones who will really understand what I mean are other true readers. I have friends who pick up books once in awhile on the plane if they have to, and I’m not going to judge those who grab gossip magazines instead. Anyone who knows me knows I just love celebrity gossip. And I won’t judge those people who sit and zone out on TV reruns, as I have certainly done that as well. Of course now I’ve seen all of the Law and Order episodes, as well as Monk, Friends, Will and Grace, and How I Met Your Mother. So I’m kind of out of marathons at the moment. But in reality, my whole life I have lost myself in books.

There are the stories you stay up all night to finish, and the ones you wish you could bring to the dinner table and keep reading, if only you were still young enough to justify that behavior. I clearly remember staying up into the early hours around third grade or so, becoming intent of finishing The Dollhouse Murders. Now that was a creepy book. There are other books I remember not being able to put down when younger, The Blitz Cat, Shade’s Children, and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. I actually still read Shade’s Children, and a good friend of mine from high school would attest to the fact that it is totally scary and unputdownable. Yes, that’s a word.

When I was traveling throughout Southeast Asia I turned into an even more fanatical reader. At first it began as a way to cope with the complete and utter boredom of waiting hours for buses or surviving overnight train rides. I didn’t want to finish the books too quickly though, as finding English language books could be tricky, and expensive, in certain areas. Some books I was forced to read because my options were the not-so-great-English-book or the book-I-had-always-wanted-to-read, but it was printed in German. Or French. I ran into so many copies of Chasing Harry Winston in foreign languages I was going crazy. Now that I think about it, I never did read it after I returned to the States. I guess I gave up and let that one go. However, I did find some amazing books that I devoured on long bus rides in cramped quarters, or lazing on the sunny beaches of Thailand. I read Bryce Courtenay’s The Persimmon Tree in a matter of days (great love story set during WWII), discovered The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and am still completely terrified of Frank Schätzing’s The Swarm. I read everything from fabulous fiction like Brick Lane, to the scary historical fiction of The Historian. I found a great new author in Theresa Rebeck with Three Girls and Their Brother, which I traded for a tough, but rewarding read, in Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss. These books helped carry me through the days when I was homesick, physically ill, and certainly lonely.

In the Quarter Life Crisis all of these moods can strike. You can live a mile away from where you grew up and find yourself homesick for those high school days when everything made so much sense. I still find myself longing for sleepovers with endless laughter and the chance to decorate a friend’s locker for her birthday. Life was easy, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time, and you couldn’t wait to move on to the next chapter. Who wasn’t excited to leave for college? Of course once you were there it eventually ended as well. And now look where we are - wishing for football games and a cold day to skip class and eat Shirley’s grilled cheese dipped in tomato soup. Homesick doesn’t necessarily mean you want to be sleeping in your childhood bed, it means you miss what once was and is no more.

Being sick in the QLC is definitely worse than it was during childhood or in college. You go to work with the flu because that budget meeting is more important than the calculus test you could retake. You feel like you may pass out, but you manage to prop yourself up against your desk and keep reading reports. I bet this is pretty American, since we seem to live with the fear that if you don’t do it, someone else will. And that someone might get your promotion, even if you spent the last year earning it. In countries where they have upwards of 5 weeks vacation there’s no way this fear is as all consuming as it is for us in the States. Sick days are probably spent lounging on down filled pillows while they enjoy their government sponsored medical care. Instead I spend three hours (which I try to pass off as a lunch break) angrily glaring at patients who go ahead of me at urgent care even though I swear I was there first.

Loneliness is a feeling the creeps up on me when I least expect it. As an only child I think I can battle the circumstance of actually being alone better than some of my friends. Those who grew up in busy households thrive on noise and others to fuel their days. I am used to entertaining myself and seeking a good friend if I get bored. But loneliness is quite different from physically being alone. It’s that feeling that strikes when you realize you are completely overwhelmed at your QLC job and nobody can help you. Or when you and your significant other of however long end the relationship and no matter what your best friends do for you, the ache of losing your ultimate best friend will not go away. Maybe it’s when a friend dies, or you realize a good friend has changed and your relationship can never be the same. It happens to everyone, friends grow apart and lives transform under all sorts of circumstances. People have babies, friends move, roommates get promoted and no longer have time to talk about your life in excruciating detail.

There are so many other feelings and situations that boil up during the QLC. I escape into books and spend hours with Hermione Granger, Lizbeth Salander, and Rebecca Bloomwood. Other QLC friends zone out with the Kardashians and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. Most guys in the QLC tend to disappear into video games or ESPN. The reality is that there are situations we have control over, and ones we don’t. You can decide to take a mental health day, but you can’t control your best friend having a baby. Face the Real and manage your QLC as best you can. Take a breather from situations beyond your control. If it all becomes too much then escape to Not Real for a while - but bookmark your page, turn off the marathon, or save the game for another day, and face the world again when you can. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Always Sit at the Bar

Last weekend was my friend Eadie's 21st birthday. I took it upon myself to arrange a proper American 21st - complete with 21 drinks. The night was fantastic, a combination of Dutch, American, and British 20 somethings drinking and dancing their shoes off. I say shoes because one of the British girls actually did make the conscience, yet intoxicated, decision to leave her shoes at the club. Go Team.

I stayed on in England for a few days to sightsee and spend more time with Eadie and our Dutch friend, Joanna. On Monday night Eadie took us to a cider house, the CorieTap, with promises of an excellent night, drunk off hard cider. The night, and the bar, did not disappoint.

As I sometimes do on this blog, I am going to impart more of my 25 year old wisdom and share one of my personal rules with you: Always sit at the bar. This is a shortened version of a longer lesson that I learned from my college orientation guide: Always sit at the bar, befriend the bartender, and tip well. Doing these three things will automatically take your night, and any subsequent visits, to the next level....and I'll tell you why:

1. Always sit at the bar - The takeaway lesson here. If you sit at the bar you will always meet new people and be in the barender's view without seeming pushy. Yes, sometimes you meet weirdos, but usually you meet awesome people like yourself. 

2. Befriend the bartender - This is best accomplished on a slow night or early evening on a busy one. Being friends with a bartender is like dating; only after putting in the time and effort can you reap the rewards. In this case the rewards are the occasional free drink and not having to wait to order drinks on a busy night. In the meantime, you've also become friends with a fun individual, who is usually up for a good time, anytime. Bartenders make the bar what it is, and they are some of my favorite people in the world. I've lived with bartenders, dated bartenders, and even traveled to Asia with one. 

3. Tip well - In the U.S., people in the service industry depend on tips - so tip them! and tip them well! I always say a dollar a drink is a good starting point. Remember, this is different than a dollar a round. Tipping does not mean leaving your spare change. Yes, you can leave the 25 cents you got back from the cheap beer you just ordered, but add something. Everyone and their mom wants to go to 25c draft night, except the bartender. Why? Because they don't make any money. Remember what I said about befriending the bartender? Tipping well is a fast way into their hearts, but being awesome is the only way to earn their respect. 

So sitting at the bar was how we met Matt and Ben. Matt and Ben are fun, and Matt and Ben are incredibly nice. They are the kind of guys my friends and I would, and should, date. They have a fatal flaw though - they live in England. Figures. We had a great night though, drinking hard cider and taking far too many photos. The guys then led us to a classy bar where we had to ring a doorbell to get in.....there was a second where I thought perhaps we would end up in the club Leighton Meester busts in the "Good Girls Go Bad" video. No such luck, but a fun place nonetheless. It was a bar reminiscent of Natt Spil, my all time favorite bar in the states, although they did not have any ginger infused vodka cocktails. You can't win them all!

Overall, my trip to Bristol was a lot of fun and quite exhausting. Between walking more than any Americans do in their own cities, and drinking until all hours of the morning, I need a few days to catch up on life. Sitting at the bar has its perks, but there is a reason most bartenders sleep until 2 in the afternoon. Good thing I have the latest episodes of How I Met Your Mother queued up and some leftover fried rice in the fridge. I know what I'm doing this lazy afternoon!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Great Guys

Every once in awhile you meet a great guy, go out with him, and then sadly realize there is no chemistry. Sometimes it’s quite sad because he fantastic on paper and in person; technically, he is your dream guy, but then – nothing. Other times he is a great person, but with every passing moment of the date you realize you have zero in common. In a world full of awful first dates, one night stands, and guys who don’t call when you wish they did, these Great Guys are an elusive breed.

I had a run-in with one of these guys not so long ago. He owned his own company, therefore showing me he was not a bum. He set his own hours, therefore having the freedom to do exciting things unlike a lot of American guys working a zillion hours a week. He was an outgoing person who was friends with quite a few bartenders; therefore I thought we had some type of mysterious personality trait in common. We went out one night and everything fell apart. Just to give you a short list of deal breakers:

He was a conservative Republican. I am a fairly liberal Democrat.
He never cooked. I absolutely love to cook and bake.
He didn’t see the interest in international travel. I don’t have an interest in living in the States.
He didn’t like spicy food. At this point, I can only eat spicy food.
He didn’t drink beer. I am a bit of a beer geek. I mean, I go to festivals and live for brewery tours. He subsists solely on Captain and Cokes.
Basically all we had in common was that we both liked going to bars. There are a lot of bars; I never saw him again.

Marisa had one of these dates this year as well. Here’s a quick rundown of the evening in her own words:
So he called on Tuesday, asking if I would go out to dinner on Thursday. Jim seems nice, but Jim seems boring. He's about 6'2"ish, really skinny, strikes me as a little dorky. As far as our date goes, it was a very good date (even though I was still hungover from Wednesday night). He made reservations (which has NEVER happened to me before), picked me up (also rare), and drove us to the restaurant. He did all the gentlemanly things a guy should do. He opened doors for me, walked in front of me down stairs, behind me when going up. Let me sit at the table first, and of course, paid. It wasn't awkward at all, in fact we talked the entire time. The only awkwardness was when I decided to order dessert and he didn't... and the waiter brought us two "on the house." But we have nothing in common. He plays golf, sings in a funk band, has two sisters, and has never played a contact sport. It made me feel very masculine. Dinner ended up lasting almost 3 hours, but no sparks the entire time. He dropped me off at the end of the night, and I bailed out of the car quickly to avoid any "do we kiss or not?" awkwardness. He texted me later to say he had a really good time and whatnot, but I haven't heard from him since. That's okay by me, I'll be glad if he also realizes we have nothing in common. He's a nice guy, but I feel nothing.... It's a shame, isn't it?

Another one of my friends found herself in the situation of dating a dream guy, but feeling absolutely no chemistry. They went out several times and just like Jim, he did everything a guy is supposed to do but no one actually does. This guy was exactly her type too! He was just a bit taller than her, funny, attractive, all of us liked him, but nada. They kissed a few times but she finally took the mature road and ended it politely. I know very few friends who end casual dating encounters politely, so this was a big move. He didn’t feel the same and admitted that he was sad it had to end, but perhaps they could remain friends. Even the breakup was polite. These guys do not exist.

Except they do exist. We just can’t find them often enough. To put it in Planet Earth terms: Great Guys are the snow leopards in South America that the film crew waited 4 years to film, but when they did get footage, it was absolutely amazing. So there we are, waiting for Great Guy to sit next to you on a plane, or whatever meet cute you fantasize about, and in the meantime we are making out with too old frat boys and going on dates with guys who weirdly worship Tupac. To make things more complicated, when we meet very few Great Guys, the odds of the Great Guy being Great Guy for You are not in our favour. Instead, we try to mold Average to Below-Average Men into Great Guy for You and to be honest, I haven’t witnessed too many happy endings there. What is a girl to do?

I wonder if guys have the same problem in reverse. Are they waiting on Not Too Crazy Girl while dating Can't Remember My Own Name Girl? If dating was a Venn Diagram for women, I feel it would look like this:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Challenge of the Week

Last night I watched "How To Train Your Dragon" and "Despicable Me" with some girlfriends while eating brownies and chips. It was a great girls night. That inspired me for this week's challenge:

Spend some time watching cartoons or an animated movie. 

Veg out for an hour or two with some popcorn. The movies are funny, heartwarming, and usually have a good song or two. It's impossible to remain in a bad mood after that!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out how to tell everyone about my trip to Budapest. Every time I sit down to write, I just get stuck. I decided the problem was that just too much happened and it was too much fun. So I’ve split up the post into two parts: Sightseeing and Partying. Read one, or read them both!

Budapest Part #1  Sightseeing
Budapest is an old city. People have literally been living there since the 1st Century A.D. It has a long and interesting history, and I promise not to show off my History degree here and explain it all to you. I should just say that it is an old city with amazing architecture. Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest (pronounced Pesht), with one on each side of the Danube River. Considering we had to sightsee in approximately 15F (-9C) weather, as well as get it done between hangovers, we had to be thoughtful and efficient with what we chose to see. If it had been a bit warmer, and I had had a few more days, I probably would have traveled all over town to see the museums, markets, and just get lost in the city streets. As I couldn’t feel my toes and hot wine tended to splash on my gloves when I shivered too hard, I settled for the big sights and the “must dos.”

Must Do #1  Eat and Drink as the Hungarians Do
I ate Hungarian sausage at the Christmas Market and Hungarian goulash every chance I had. The sausages were massive, and oh so, so, so tasty. The goulash was amazing, and everywhere you went it was just a little bit different. Hungarian goulash (apparently it is the original goulash, Americans stole the word to mean any old type of stew) is a spicy broth with chunks of potato, carrot, and beef floating in it.

My mouth is watering just looking at this stack of spicy sausages...
Let me tell you about Hungarian desserts. My favorite was the Beigli, a poppyseed roll that Hungarian friends at home told me I must try in Budapest. It did not disappoint. I’d probably fail an opium drug test (anyone seen Seinfeld?) but it was worth it. The best thing about Hungarian desserts is that although they look like they will be sickeningly sweet, when you take a bite absolutely nothing is overwhelming. Pancakes (different from American pancakes, these are more like crepes) drenched in chocolate sauce, have delicate flavors reminiscent of chocolate soufflés, allowing you to eat it without a resulting stomachache. The flavors balance out so nicely that you involuntarily make a mmmmmmmm sound.

My absolute favorite thing to do in Budapest though was drink the hot wine. Apparently this is not specific to Hungary, but in the states it is 100% illegal to set up a booth on the street and sell hot alcohol to people of all ages, therefore this was my first experience with hot wine. The Hungarians call mulled wine forralt bor, and apparently it is quite easy to make at home. Mental note for all future holiday parties. Or Sundays. They heat up wine, toss in some yummy spices like cinnamon or clove, add some orange or lemon slices, and sell it to you for about $2 a cup. It’s the same idea as hot apple cider in Wisconsin; the drink warms you inside and out.

Enjoying muddled wine on Vaci utca

Must Do #2  Use Public Transportation
Ok, this is probably not every tourist’s must do. However, for me it is. Ever since my trip to Asia I have become obsessed with using public transportation in foreign cities. Conquering foreign public transportation systems is like earning a badge of honor for me. I remember the first time I rode the Bangkok Skytrain, I was freaked out and fairly unprepared. I survived – and arrived at my destination for much, much, much cheaper than a taxi ride. Using the Budapest metro was on my list of must do’s and actually, was a bit of a have-to-do in the end. Everyone, from tour books to Hungarians themselves, tell you never to hail a cab on the street. I have a personal rule: If the locals will not do it, you should not do it. Here are some concrete examples: If locals are avoiding a yummy smelling street food cart, you should as well. If locals go through the trouble of calling a cab and waiting on a cold street corner, you should as well. So we called cabs, or actually, had Hungarians call cabs for us since Hungarian is a very, very hard language to attempt. We found it was easier to navigate our way on the Metro, therefore saving taxi rides for late-night return trips to our apartment.

I won’t babble too long about using the Metro, but I do want to mention that it was at our stop that I rode the fastest, tallest, most dangerous escalator of my life. It kicks the butt of every escalator in America. We went about a mile underground, wind billowing my coat up around me. Also, I found out later that this underground railroad line is the second oldest in the world! It was originally built between 1894-1986 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Must Do #3 Explore the Sights of Buda
My Husband and I joined up with another couple (they are AWESOME) and because of the insane cold we did the tourist thing and jumped on a sightseeing bus. This turned out to be a great decision and we tooled around both Buda and Pest for the better part of the day. In Buda we took photos from Gellert Hill, overlooking the Danube and Pest. Unfortunately it was foggy, grey, and cold, so our photos were not as fantastic as those you can find online. We also walked around the Castle District, exploring the grounds of the former Royal Palace, as well as viewing bullet-ridden buildings that stand as reminders that Hungary was once part of the Eastern Bloc. We saw the world famous view of Parliament, a beautiful building inaugurated on the 1000th anniversary of the country in 1896. Again, our pictures were a bit on the sad side, so I’m going to steal one offline and I bet you’ll recognize it from movies:


Must Do #4 Explore the Sights of Pest
Although I didn’t get to do nearly everything I wanted in Pest, I did get to enjoy the Christmas Market, walk around Heroes’ Square, marvel at the Great Synagogue, play at 
Vajdahunyad Castle,

 and soak in the famous Széchenyi Thermal Baths.

I knew beforehand that the Christmas Market was primarily for tourists. My Hungarian girlfriends sat and drank hot wine with us by the enormous Christmas Tree and told us that they only heard foreign languages, that the only people speaking Hungarian were the vendors! Oh well, it was on my list and fortunately our apartment was only two blocks from the square. I bought some hand painted ornaments for the equivalent of $2, and a small bottle of Hungarian Plum Grappa. I searched for something fun to get my best friend’s son, but it was much too touristy and there didn’t seem to be any great Hungarian presents for a one year old. I pretty much just ate my way through the Christmas Market; tasting spicy sausage from nearly every stand to choose my favorite. My mouth is watering just thinking about it….

I saw Hősök tere, or Heroes’ Square, during both night and day. I have to say it was more beautiful at night with all the lights on the statues. While looking at this photo you may think, “Where have I seen this before?” 

The answer is in Michael Jackson’s video: HIStory


I think the ending is a bit strange, with a gigantic statue of Michael replacing the famous statue of Archangel Gabriel holding the crown of St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary. A bit blasphemous, but I’m sure Michael had his reasons. 

The Great Synagogue was also a nice sight to check off the Bucket List. It is the second largest synagogue in the world, behind Temple Emanu-El in New York City. Most of my college friends know that I am fascinated with Jewish history and one of my favorite courses in college was the History of Israel. I didn’t have a chance to walk around inside the Great Synagogue since My Husband wasn’t quite as excited as I was about it, but I did take my time walking around outside and considering the  synagogue's history. Originally built between 1854-1859, it suffered severe structural damage during WWII. In the 1990s it was restored and is again home to the largest Jewish population in Europe. 

Vajdahunyad Castle was one of my favorite sites in Budapest. Located in City Park, it is reportedly one of the castles used to create the iconic castle in Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.” I now want to live in a castle - only if it has a turret and a drawbridge though.

I’ve saved the best for last. The absolute most wonderful thing I saw and did in Budapest was relax in the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. The baths were built in 1913 and are heated by natural hot springs that run about 171F (77C). The water is cooled to manageable temperatures and there are numerous baths inside and out where you can soak. We had to wait about 30 minutes to get inside, but it was more than worth it. We wandered around inside for a while; the changing procedures, locker assignments, and towel rental is quite confusing. Eventually everyone was swim-suited up and ready to Jacuzzi the evening away.

We started inside because at night it was around 10F (-12C) and I was dreading the inevitable barefoot walk across cold concrete. Eventually we did brave winter and were handsomely rewarded with one of the best 2 hours of my life. Not only do you get to sit in 95F (35C) water, staring through steam at your friends and forgetting about the frozen world around you, but you also get to do this while drinking Stella Artois or sipping hot wine. I cannot think of a better concept for a winter evening. 

I absolutely loved my time in Budapest. One of the most wonderful parts of the trip was the incredible warmth I felt from the Hungarian people. I’ve found that kind-hearted people often populate countries that recently experienced hardships, and that they are eager to change the images of their countries. The Soviet Era left scars on several aspects of Budapest, but the majority of people I spoke with were helpful, patient, and nice. Beside crazy taxi drivers (as my Hungarian friend calls them – I had a different, more inappropriate name for them), I had an extremely positive experience and I cannot wait until I return to Hungary. I just hope that Americans are as nice to foreigners in the states as Hungarians were to us in Budapest. Absolute strangers helped us call taxis, vendors corrected our change when we misread large bills, and transit workers pointed out routes on confusing maps. If you can, travel to Budapest. You will not regret it. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Anddddddd Everything is Pink

Well I’m back in Italy now and for all the pros, there are of course some cons. For example, today I did laundry in our Italian washing machine and turned everything pink. Very pink. I mean, if I have to choose a Crayola color to describe it, I would pick “Cotton Candy.”

Italian washing machines are a bit different than American ones. For one, the instruction manual is in Italian. For two, the symbols on the machine mean absolutely nothing to me (although I did deduce that the t-shirt probably meant cotton), and finally, water temperature is in Celsius. The three factors added up to one unfortunate load of laundry. Another interesting fact about Italian washers is that one load takes approximately 3 hours, and that is on the fast setting. There is actually an overnight setting if you feel like waiting.

I think that Italian washers very accurately portray Italian culture. Italians are never in a hurry. I have yet to see an Italian recklessly pushing through a crowd to get their grocery shopping done and over to the post office before it closes. It’s quite the opposite where I live in northern Italy. People spend their entire Monday morning at the post office chatting and waiting in line to pay bills. They stroll through grocery stores – that is, when the grocery store is actually open for business. Everything shuts down for 4 hours during the day so people can go home for lunch, nap, and sometimes get drunk in the piazza. So it doesn’t really matter to them that the quickest laundry setting takes 3 whole hours, because they just aren’t in a hurry to complete their chores.

A fifth interesting Italian washer fact is that the door locks immediately after pushing the start button, and does not unlock until 5 minutes after the cycle is finished. So if you realized you made a mistake? Oh well! Just enjoy watching the clothes gradually turn pink in the window as it mockingly continues whirling. Or what about that shirt you need to wear within the next 3 hours? Forget about it, there’s no way in there. Again you can sadly watch it get pressed up against the window, tauntingly close, yet completely unreachable. While us Americans would become stressed out at the thought that we can’t rescue our beloved white shirt swimming in hot water with the red sock, Italians apparently either never make this mistake, or get over it. I doubt anyone writes scathing letters to washing machine manufacturers bitching about how they couldn’t get to their clothes when they desperately needed them. Italians probably shrug, and then gather their entire family at the nearest restaurant for raucous wine drinking and pizza eating until late into the night.

So I tried to take a page from the Italian’s book and say I didn’t care about my American Apparel knee high socks turning Easter Bunny Pink….but then I saw them this morning and became sad again. But then I remembered something! Rachel turned an entire load of laundry pink when she first moved to New York in Friends! Granted, I’ve been doing laundry for 10 years and this wouldn’t have happened in the states, but Rachel moved on and so can I. At least I can pull off my pink socks, and my white undies that are now Sunset Pink are evenly died so they actually look quite nice. Unfortunately for My Husband, I’m not so sure how people will respond to his new pink socks. He can mix and match them with his yellow socks though – because yesterday he accidently put an orange shirt in with them and dyed an entire load of laundry a nice Sunshine Yellow. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Challenge of the Week

I hope everyone had a great New Years Eve! I finally had a wonderful one myself, so I feel like I can start the New Year off on the right foot. So here is your challenge for the week:

Make an achievable list of things to accomplish in 2011.

Everyone always makes New Year's Resolutions - but this year I urge you to be more realistic and set goals you can accomplish throughout the year. Jen brought this to my attention with her own list for 2010. A few of her examples were becoming a Make a Wish volunteer and playing on a competitive hockey team again. These attainable goals pushed her out of her comfort zone and gave her a bit of framework for who she will be after college.

So sit down and make a realistic list of things to accomplish in 2011. I'll do the same and post it here this week. Remember, challenge yourself - but make the list doable!