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22 May 2017: Journey to Italy

A little introduction

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When I was in high school I had a strong desire to travel but I never had really considered traveling abroad. To me, travel was exploring whatever beach my mom decided to take us to that year for our family vacation. I loved the adventure of experiencing something new. It was thrilling. When I was in high school I fell head over heals in love with something I never would have thought: French. My sister was just starting at Perry and I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Spanish, so I decided to take French so we could have a class together. Little did I know how much I would enjoy it.

During my senior year I was offered the opportunity to go to France. Not only did I get to go to France that year, but I also got to experience the beauty Italy and Spain. I swore that I would go back. Luckily enough, Walsh has a really cool program called The Blouin Global Scholar Program which offers students the opportunity to travel to Africa during their sophomore year and to Europe the summer before their senior year. Well, three years have come and gone and now in eleven days I’m going to be making my journey to Europe with 15 other students who I have had the honor to have spent the last three years with.

Last time I went to Europe I posted about my trip and a bunch of you seemed to enjoy following my adventures. So, here is the opportunity to get a little taste of Europe.

 

So…. Here Goes Nothing

 

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My Last Couple Weeks in Italy… and Abroad

In my last post, I said that I was going to write a post about the rest of my experiences in Poland. Although this was my full intention, I now find myself a week later with only a mere 5 days left in my voyage through Europe. So, for lack of time, I’m going to write a post about my last week in Italy. I plan on posting one more time before I head back to The States on July 14th.

I was not anticipating my trip to Poland with much excitement. To be honest, I knew very very little about it. We took a plane and landed in Krakow later in the afternoon. The first thing on all our minds was getting something for dinner, so we asked the concierge for some recommendations. Did anyone else know how great the food is in Poland? I surely didn’t! That first night I feasted on pierogis, pickles, sausages, saukraut, and delicious ribs. We topped the night off with lemon vodka shots. Everything was wonderful, from the food to the wonderful company to the violinist who was playing in the background. It was surely a night to remember and was without a doubt the best food I’ve had in Europe so far AND THAT is saying something.

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The next day we went to visit Schindler’s museum. I knew very little about Oskar Schindler’s story.  At first, Oskar Schindler who was German, moved his operations to Poland for monetary gains. He found that by hiring Jews from the ghetto, he could save very little money by not having to pay them the same wage as his previous workers; however, over time the best in Schindler came to the surface. He ended up saving an estimated 1,100 lives by employing as many Jews as possible and acting as their protector. The museum that we visited led you through a timeline which started with the German occupation in Poland and ended with the end of WWII. As you ventured through the museum, you felt as though you were in Poland at the time that all this was happening. With the use of lighting, propaganda posters, sounds, and even the texture of the walls, the museum seemed to bring you back to the early 1940s. Schindler’s story was inspiring to me because Oscar Schindler’s early years would not prove him a noble man; however, when he saw the pain and suffering that many underwent he overcame his nature and chose to protect instead of exploit. For those of you who haven’t watched Schindler’s List, I highly recommend it.

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IMG_5841.jpgAfter the Schindler’s museum, we went to visit Auschwitz. If any of you would like to read about that experience, I dedicated an entire post to it which you can retrieve in my archives.

After our trip to Auschwitz, we made our way back to the central square. Here, you can find tons of shops, delicious restaurants, and a large market. My priority once we got back was getting some amber jewelry. For those of you who don’t know, Poland is known for their copious amounts of amber, so you can always buy it at a decent price. Once I had picked some things out, I went to dinner and once again was delighted by the fantastic food. I had pork chops, dumplings, and pickled pear. DELICIOUS.

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Once I left dinner, I decided to go off and explore a bit. After exploring the square I decided to go back to the hotel. We were staying at the ibis hotel and I was pretty certain that I knew how to get back, BUT I decided to turn on google maps just in case. I’m known for my terrible sense of direction, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt. I was relieved that I turned google maps on in time to realize that I was going in the wrong direction. So I turned around, and followed the map all the way TO THE WRONG HOTEL. There are apparently TWO Ibis hotels in Krakow, Polands. Ooops. Typical Hannah fashion, don’t you think. AND, the best part about this story is that the moment I realized that I had gone to the wrong hotel POOF…. My phone died. I went into the hotel and groveled until they agreed to print me a map. I HAD TAKEN MYSELF 40 MINUTES AWAY FROM MY HOTEL. I was not thrilled. In fact, I was terrified. I am not great with maps and I was convinced that I was destined to get myself even more lost than I already was. I was about ready to break down and get a taxi when I decided to give it a shot. GUESS WHAT? I got there. Granted, it was after lots of stress and panicking…. But I did get back.

And so ended my trip to Poland. We took a flight back to Italy the next day and spent the rest of the evening recovering from our trip. Have I mentioned that I don’t care much for flying? I’ve come to see it as a necessary evil but I’m starting to dread our flight back to the United States.

This past week has been spent mostly in the city of Rome. Our class time is mostly spent out in the city and we have a lot of free time to get to explore. On Friday, we all left for our last free weekend. Helen and I had booked an Airbnb in Rosignano which is about 40 minutes away from Pisa and close to the coast. We spent the majority of our time on the beach, drinking wine, and eating delicious seafood. What can I say? Lounging with a nice bottle of chianti on the beach? Sounds like my definition of a good time.

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IMG_6063.JPGWe stayed with a couple whose names are Alexandra and Stefano. They were EXTREMELY gracious hosts. They made us a lovely breakfast each morning and drove us to and from the beach. The language barrier was a bit of a hindrance, but overall it was a lovely trip.

As I write up this post, I am on a train ride heading back to Roma Termini. The thing that really gets me is how small Italy seems, especially considering the public transportation. You can hop on a train for 20EURO and three hours later you are miles away. No driving necessary. Get on a train and you are done. Granted, I am really getting sick of public transportation. I’m sure I’ve had this rant before but I’ve seen far too much of airport terminals, metro stations, and bus stops. I miss my car, among other things.

As my trip beings to come to an end, I am startled by how fast time flies. It seems like I was just packing for this trip. In fact, it feels just like yesterday that I got the letter telling me that I had gotten into Blouin Global scholars three years. Although, I am sure to miss Italy and all of its wonders I’m looking forward to getting back home. I miss my family, especially my mom and Noah. They have been getting copious calls as I feel the homesickness begin to set in. Luckily, I’ve been kept busy.

As is usual, I’m going to end my post with some observations. As many of you know, we came to Italy to study about the refugee crisis. The past week has been full of adventures, but I think the one that got me most was being able to recognize the popular opinion among Italians regarding refugees. Previous to this week, I’ve met tons of wonderful people who passionately work for the good of others. It was easy to being to think that the general opinion among Italians regarding refugees was positive, but then you begin to look around and realize that isn’t exactly the case. Dr. Beach, our faculty advisor for this trip, had us read “Class of Civilizations: over an elevator in piazza Vittorio. I was not thrilled when he decided to assign this book to us. After reading the summary I felt like it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. The general consensus among Good Reads reviews is that it was “filled with humor.” When it comes to good literature, I’m not a fan. Now, I know he is probably reading this post thinking “Why would she say that? She knows I am going to read this eventually.”  Well, to answer this question Dr. Beach, it is simply because you ended up picking a winner. For any bookworms out there, this is worth a read. Although we were supposed to read this book back in the spring I more or less skimmed it. It was a really quick read and I picked it up and skimmed through it one evening during exam week. Needless to say, my mind somewhere else (like… THE STRESSES OF EXAM WEEK). Well, my “skimming” gave me an excuse to revisit it this past weekend, and to be honest…. I’m glad that I read it after having experienced Italy for five weeks. Prior, I knew the basic plot of the story but it wasn’t until I laid on the beach for several hours this past weekend that I was able to internalize it. The message is clear: We are too quick to differentiate ourselves from those who are not like ourselves. Anyhow, I’m not going to ruin the story for you all, but this book clearly portrays how our habit of “othering” people who are different from us is what builds the wall between us, and it is acceptance that builds the bridge.

Italians typically have the save view of refugees as many of us do in the states. They take our jobs. Their presence increases crime. We have all of these generalizations and yet oftentimes nothing to back it up. I’m fairly conservative when it comes to refugees in the regard that I think that we must tread with caution; however, these accusations are unwarranted and many times people are just quoting what they hear from someone else or something they heard on television without doing their own research. Take the time and look into it. Gathering information and forming your own opinion is worth the time and effort when its human lives at stake.

Below, I’ve posted a poem that was shared with us by a deputy of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE… take a second to read it. It is a very touching poem and I feel like it really gets to the point of the issue: refugees don’t chose to leave, unless “home is the mouth of a shark.”

Home

no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you

breath bloody in their throats

the boy you went to school with

who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory

is holding a gun bigger than his body

you only leave home

when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you

fire under feet

hot blood in your belly

it’s not something you ever thought of doing

until the blade burnt threats into

your neck

and even then you carried the anthem under

your breath

only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets

sobbing as each mouthful of paper

made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

no one burns their palms

under trains

beneath carriages

no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck

feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled

means something more than journey.

no one crawls under fences

no one wants to be beaten

pitied

no one chooses refugee camps

or strip searches where your

body is left aching

or prison,

because prison is safer

than a city of fire

and one prison guard

in the night

is better than a truckload

of men who look like your father

no one could take it

no one could stomach it

no one skin would be tough enough

the

go home blacks

refugees

dirty immigrants

asylum seekers

sucking our country dry

niggers with their hands out

they smell strange

savage

messed up their country and now they want

to mess ours up

how do the words

the dirty looks

roll off your backs

maybe because the blow is softer

than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender

than fourteen men between

your legs

or the insults are easier

to swallow

than rubble

than bone

than your child body

in pieces.

i want to go home,

but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home told you

to quicken your legs

leave your clothes behind

crawl through the desert

wade through the oceans

drown

save

be hunger

beg

forget pride

your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear

saying-

leave,

run away from me now

i dont know what i’ve become

but i know that anywhere

is safer than here

Visiting Auschwitz Concentration Camp: My Experience

“Auschwitz cries out with the pain of immense suffering and pleads for a future of respect, peace and encounter among among peoples” -Pope Francis 

The last three days I have been in Poland with the rest of my Blouin Cohort. I considering writing a post about Poland and everything we have gotten to experience in the last few days, however, I’ve decided to split my experiences into two posts. As you can tell by the title this post will be about my visit to Auschwitz, the largest concentration camp used by the Nazis for the extermination of Jews. The other, which I will be posting in the next few days, will be about the rest of our time in Poland. I thought it was appropriate to have one post completely dedicated to the horror which is Auschwitz.

I’ve been studying about The Holocaust for years usually in the context of how it fits into international law. The Holocaust spurred a lot of important happenings in the international community. For example, the United Nations had its start in the middle of the war. It was seen as necessary to have an international organization to keep another world war from occurring again. Also, WWII created a segue for the adoption of  the 1948 convention on the prevention and punishment of genocide which, for the first time, defined genocide as the ” intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” In addition, the ever important 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees was adopted by the General Assembly to deal with the mass number of people who had fled their country out of fear for their lives, and the proceeding 1967 protocol which applied this convention to all refugees, not only the ones that fled their country during the Second World War.

For the last three years I have spent much of my studies on understanding the concepts of genocide; however, sometimes when you are studying such a topic the true tragedy can be lost among the statistics and literature.Visiting Auschwitz was a reminder of the loss that was experienced during the mid 20th century. Being a place that I learned so much about in books and history class, I thought I was prepared for what I was going to see and feel. But nothing can really prepare you for visiting Auschwitz….

Upon entering Aushwitz you see the gates in which many walked through towards their death. The sign reads “arbeit macht frei” which translates into “work sets you free.” For those who entered these gates, perhaps it gave them a glimmer of hope. Perhaps they thought that if they worked hard, they would then be set free from the torture they endured. The reason the Germans put this slogan above the gate was for me one of the most disturbing aspects of the camp. The work that the prisoner were forced to endure was designed to kill them. The prisoners would not find their freedom through hard work, rather they would find it in death caused by the grueling toil they endured every day.

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The size of Auschwitz was surprising. It is actually not one camp, but a network of concentration camps stringed together. The first camp we visited was Auschwitz Birkenau and it consisted of brick buildings referred to as blocks that were used to house the prisoners. They have now been changed into somewhat of a museum. As you walk through, you see the belongings of the prisoners that were stripped away from them upon their arrival. After seeing thousands of glasses, shoes, suitcases, razors, and other possession thrown into a heap that filled an entire room you enter a long hallway that is dimly lit. Along each wall there are glass enclosures which extend from the ceiling to the floor and are around 10 feet deep. In these enclosures there is hair from the prisoners which was taken to be used for yarn. The amount of hair is eerie, and you get a true sense for just how many prisoners suffered on these grounds.

Once you reach the end of the complex you notice a wall which acts as a memorial. There are flowers and candles surrounding the wall. It is now referred to as the wall of death because this is were people were executed by gun shot. Along the sides of the path leading to this wall are long poles with hooks that were used as torture devices. Individuals had their hands tied behind their back and then their hands were hung on the hook, with their legs suspended in the air. Oftentimes this led to excruciating pain and dislocated the prisoner’s shoulders.

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We also learned about the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, sometimes referred to as the angel of death who did a experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz. One of his goals was to figure out how to encourage the conception of twins so to increase the number of German citizens at a more rapid pace, however he also seemed to enjoy torturing and humiliating the prisoners of the camp. He also was the chief provider for the gas chambers and the crematoria. At one point during our tour, we entered the basement were he conducted his experiments. These experiments included being put into pressure chambers, tested with drugs, castrated, frozen to death, experimental surgeries, injections of lethal germs, sex change operations, and removal of organs and limbs. These experiments were made to torture and kill and oftentimes were senseless.

We made our way to the gas chamber. This was the one site that I was afraid to visit. How could you enter such a place not be overcome with emotion. If you look at the right of the photo you will notice pipes that appear to be showers. Individuals were stripped from their clothing, given bars of soap, and told they were going to take a shower; instead, cyanide was dropped from the ceiling. The poison would take up to 20 minutes to kill the prisoners, and oftentimes individuals would scratch at the wall trying to escape. To this day, you can witness the scratch marks on the walls of the chamber.

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auschwitz-birkenau-krakow-poland-15.jpgThe second camp that we visited was Auschwitz-Birkenau which has mostly been taken apart. Most of the blocks were constructed from wood and following the liberation of the camp people began taking the lumber to be used for other projects. Now, the only thing that remains is the brick chimneys. There are rows and rows of chimneys that line the property. Also, towards the end of German occupation attempts were made to hide what had happened, so the four gas chambers were destroyed. Although all that you now see of the gas chambers are the bones, the remains still tell a grippling story. If you have ever watched “Schindler’s List” you might recognize this photo that I took. It is of the entrance to the camp and includes the tracks which brought the prisoners in.

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IMG_6544.jpgThis visit was emotionally exhausting. I have been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. many times over and I have read about Auschwitz throughout the years. Actually being there was surreal and I can’t explain the thoughts that were going through my head. Perhaps the most prominent is how quickly we forget the lessons of history.

In one of the hallways, there were photos of the prisoners, none of which survived. Looking into the eyes of these prisoners, you can see the fear. You can tell that many of these individuals knew that their lives were soon to be over.

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What we experienced beyond the gates of Auschwitz pales in comparison to what those experienced between 1941 and 1945. Walking through the rocky pathways, you can imagine the terror that the prisoners experienced. And, always lurking in the back of my mind is the pain that those throughout the world continue to experience. To remember those who lost their lives in The Holocaust is not enough. We must try to do better. We must always continue to better this world we live in and prevent such suffering from ever happening again. This might seem like a monumental task that is unachievable, however, through our continued efforts and optimism I feel confident that we make sure that the sacrifice of those lost in these crimes against humanity is not in vain. It is important that we learn from history so as to not repeat mistakes of the past. Visiting Auschwitz and other sites of such tragedy is not “nice.” It isn’t “fun.” We don’t go for enjoyment or pleasure. We go to remind ourselves that it is now our turn to make history.

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A Lesson from Cicero: Aiding Refugees in the Modern World

Today we had an immigration attorney fly in from Sicily to talk to us about his work. It was a really inspiring lecture and I thought it might be a good time to reflect on what he had to say.

First of all, let me make the comment that I don’t have any satisfying solution on how to solve the immigration crisis. Although I feel a deep obligation to help those who are in need, I also understand people’s hesitation. With the political climate of today’s world it is understandable why people would want to keep that which they don’t understand away. With stories such as Otto Warmbier’s death and the continuous terrorist attacks that seem to be omnipresent in the news, fear is a reasonable response.

Today, at the beginning of the lecture, our lecturer began with a short video clip of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea to seek sanctuary in Sicily. Many refugees travel to Syria and then take a boat to Italy. The journey over is treacherous and many times small boats are overloaded with scores of people who are desperate to escape the circumstance of their past. One of the important things to realize is that these people don’t simply chose to leave their home. More often than not, they leave because it is a matter of life or death. They leave to preserve their own lives and that of their family. So, when considering our own fear, perhaps we should also consider the fear of those who are much worse of than ourselves. Individuals who fear prosecution, discrimination, and sometimes even death.

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Yesterday, we had the opportunity to talk to a refugee from Nigeria. His English was excellent so it was a great opportunity to connect. When entering the room something was very apparent about our speaker, Kingsley. He was from Nigeria and yet he was white. His African features were prominent and yet his skin was pale and his eyes were a sky blue color. Kingsley is albino. His story began in school were he was mocked for being different. He was feared by pregnant women who thought that he would somehow turn their unborn children into albinos. His girlfriend’s family refused to allow their daughter’s hand in marriage to someone suffering from albinism. Although these all seem humiliating rather than life threatening over time the consequences of his illness became an endangerment to his life. Some considered his white skin to be a sort of talisman and witchdoctors threatened to hack off his arms to use them for their “practice.” Out of fear, Kingsley left to preserve his own life. His story was startling because it isn’t an uncommon story. Luckily, Italy’s immigration policy is much more welcoming than our in the states, and Kingsley is now a very nationalistic Italian who works towards helping those who are escaping prosecution much like he was ten years ago.

In class we discussed a letter from Cicero. Although he was talking to the senate, his message was clearly for the emperor of the time Julius Caesar. His message was this: to do not what was popular, but to do what future generations would look back upon fondly. I’ve written in a previous post that many look back on The Holocaust with regret, but did this have to be the case? If we could have intervened earlier, could lives have been saved? The reason I ask this is because at the time fear of entering another world war prevented us from responding. In retrospect, I’m sure many would have chosen to enter the war earlier. What we have going on now is surely one of the world’s most tragic crimes against humanity, and yet it is easy to turn a blind eye to the suffering that is taking place. Perhaps we need to head Cicero’s warning and instead of doing what is popular, do what is right. Will we look back in fifty years and regret our lack of response? Will our great grandchildren look back upon “Trumps” wall with the same disdain that we have of the Berlin Wall? Walls are built…. but they all come down eventually. I’m not saying not to keep our guard up. In this day in age it is necessary to proceed with caution, but I also think that it is paramount to proceed with trust, sympathy, and compassion.

One thing that a lot of us don’t want to admit is that we are very privileged in the States. Even those of us who struggle, are for the most part taken care of. Although I realize that there is much suffering in the United States, I feel that the path out of poverty and prosecution is a much simpler one than it is for much of the world. When I was in Africa, I was surprised by how little some had. We are used to spending hours in front of tv screens and fancy laptops. It is commonplace for us to whip out our I-phones to look up movie times or a restaurant recommendation. The truth is, only 5% of the world’s population is able to live like this. Am I condemning our use of this priviledge? Of course not. I am just as responsible for enjoying Netflix, Facebook, and other luxuries. The problem is when people don’t take into consideration that we, for the most part, are lucky. Our democratic system operates much better than most and provides us with securities that others aren’t afforded.

Something we should all take into consideration is whether someone should suffer simply because of where they were born? After thinking about this long and hard get back to me. Let me know your thoughts. I am always open to discussion and would love to hear other’s opinions.

I’ll leave you with one last, sort of long thought….

Look back on the words of Emma Lazarus. Living during the late nineteenth Century, Lazarus was present for the flood of European immigrants which made our nation the “Melting Pot” we know it as today. Her most famous work is entitled “The New Colossus,” and is inscribed into the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The most impactful lines are these:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Immigration during the late 1800’s was not simple. Immigrants faced many challenges which they face today, and when we remember this, we ought to remember what our nation stands for, and what we stand for as one human race. It is also worth remembering that many people, including myself, are descendants of immigrants. My grandparents are German and Irish, and my boyfriend’s grandparents fled Lithuania after the 1905 uprisings in St. Petersburg.
Let us not so quickly forget our own past.

Our Weekend in London

I knew very little about what I wanted to do in London. When you travel someplace like Paris or Rome, your itinerary seems to be mapped out for you. Of course, when visiting Paris you have to go see the Eiffel Tower, and you have to go to the Louvre and then walk down the champs d’elysee to the Arc de Triumph. London is a totally different animal. There is simply too much to do and we had far to little time.

We left early on Friday morning. The plan was to fly to Stansted, take the standsted express to London, and then jump on the underground to our Airbnb. All went as planned and we soon found ourselves in our adorable little flat (after getting lost and making an unnecessary circle). We immediately made way for our scheduled Harry Potter tour. The meeting space was in Leicester Square and from there we saw different parts of London that inspired Godric’s Hollow, Gringotts, and Diagon Alley; however, we couldn’t depart on our tour until we got the chance to take some pictures with these impressive lego masterpieces. Aren’t we adorable?

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IMG_5808.JPGThe tour absolutely brought me back to my younger days. You see, Harry Potter was a HUGE part of my life growing up. I was entranced by the idea of a young wizard conquering the evil Lord Voldemort AND I read each and every one of the books (multiple times) with a remarkable amount of curiosity. For those of you who don’t know, the strange looking one who accompanied me on my travels to London is my “best friend” Helen. She and I have known each other for next to forever. In grade school, Helen and I weren’t too fond of each other. Apparently, I was too ‘clingy,’ whatever that means. Anyway, we eventually came to appreciate each other and even like each other. Harry Potter was originally one of the items that we bonded over. We would talk for long-hours about the books and would accompany each other to the midnight showings. We bonded over our common fondness for the infamous Severus Snape and the just as strong obsession with the actor who played Snape, Alan Rickman. In all actuality, kidding aside, Helen is one of my absolute best friends, and even though we can drive each other a bit kooky, there is no one I would have preferred go on this journey with.

After our HP tour, we went to a TKTS booth and bought tickets to see Kinky Boots. We stopped for delicious beef & ale pie and “chips” (which are actually fries) before departing for our show. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. Honestly, the most enjoyable show I have ever had the privilege to enjoy. Upon entering the theatre, I was a bit concerned. It was a bit dingy and old. It wasn’t what I was used to experiencing at the theatre’s in Playhouse Square back in Cleveland; however, the talent was exceptional and anyone who has the opportunity to see it needs to take it.

After the show, we made our way back to our flat so we could get a good nights rest for the next day.

First on our list of to does was to check out Baker Street. Helen is a bit of a Sherlock Holmes freak. We searched and searched and searched without any luck. Fortunately, we eventually bumped into Baker Street 211b. Unfortunately, it was quite a disappointment. We thought that we would be able to take a photo in front of the door. That was not the case considering there was a line wrapping around the corner for a couple blocks. Oh well… I still got a cute photo of Helen with the Sherlock Holmes statue.

Our next stop was too…… KING’S CROSS STATION TO SEE PLATFORM 9 3/4. Look at these adorable photos of us! We were completely geeking out.

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IMG_5740.JPGAfter leaving King’s Cross we left for the British Museum. I loved getting the opportunity to see the Rosetta Stone. Helen and I had decided to split up because we had different pieces that we each wanted to visit. We agreed to meet at the gift shop at 3:30pm. After I had gone through my self-guided tour I wasn’t feeling to well. I got sick which isn’t too uncommon when I travel. You learn to deal with it. So, I found a restroom and then parked myself on a couch that was in a waiting room. My intention was to sit for a few minutes to recover. I ended up falling asleep. I woke up in a panic, worrying that I had missed our meeting time. Luckily it was only 3:35. I RAN UP THE STAIRS IN AN ABSOLUTE PANIC. We only have Italian numbers, so we had no way to contact each other via phone. I made circles around the gift shop with no luck. I decided to sit right in front of the entrance to prevent Helen from walking out without me. Twenty minutes later, and after lots of panicking, Helen found me. She had went to the wrong gift store. BOOOO HELEN! But, all things turned out right.

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Helen and I were walking to a metro when we found a tea room. We couldn’t resist. We just had to stop. We enjoyed Victoria sponge Cake and DELICIOUS earl grey tea. It was probably the highlight of my entire trip. We enjoyed some finger sandwiches and some delightful scones all while sipping our BRITISH tea. What an awesome experience.

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The rest of our day was spent at Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and the British eye. It was absolutely surreal and I was elated to get this photo with the statue of Winston Churchill.

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Honestly, I’ve had more opportunity than most to travel, but I’ve always had to follow people around. I’ve never really had to figure things out on my own when traveling and the opportunity is elating. I’ve managed to get myself around Rome, Paris, and London. Perhaps my favorite thing to do is to go out and explore on my own. If I can do this, I feel as though I can do anything.

Now, time for me to connect this trip to what we have been studying. When reading the Harry Potter books one can see pieces of real life paralleled in the magical world of Hogwarts. For example, a wicked villain trying to “purify” a species, muggles, unmagical beings who are unaccepted because of who they are, death eaters, a group that wants to exterminate muggles. Does this sound familiar at all? I can’t help but think that perhaps JK Rowling might have gotten some of her inspiration from the tragic events that plagued the world in the 1930s and 40s. The real message of the book is that the most powerful thing in the world is something that many of us take for granted: love. The truth is, love can exist in many different forms and the sort of love that I think we should especially try to nourish is that for humanity. If we all cared a little more for each other, than perhaps we wouldn’t have the struggles that we do. Regardless of your political affiliations, maybe we need to take a page out of JK Rowlings book and choose love before all else.

London was incredible and I surely am looking forward to getting a chance to come back. Two days is simply not enough. Our final day was somewhat ridiculous. We took the tube to Liverpool Station, the express to Stansted Airport, our flight was delayed for two hours, once we finally got back to Rome we had to take a bus back to Termini, and from there we had to wait two hours to grab a train back to campus. It was a long day.

UNTIL NEXT TIME!

Jewish Ghetto: A Reflection

Having spent the last three years studying genocide, I know far to well the tragedy of intolerance. Today, we spent a good part of the day in the Jewish Ghetto in Rome. The cobblestone streets, that I have grown to be all too familiar with over the last two weeks, are missing a common element of daily life: cars. Why is this you may ask? It is because the Jewish Ghetto was constructed in such a way that even to this day it remains somewhat closed off from the rest of the world. Remains of the wall that was constructed to separate the Jews from the rest of Rome seem to narrow the streets as you walk by. Guards stand watch at each entrance to the Ghetto safeguarding the people from any discrimination that may still pursue. In front of doors, there are golden plates embedded in the ground in remembrance of families who had once lived there, but were stripped from their homes because of their ethnicity by the Germans in 1943.

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I like to think that most of us look back at WWII with regret. Even for those of us such as myself who weren’t even born yet, we regret that so many lives were needlessly ended. We capture the grief in movies such as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Schindler’s List. We encourage our young people to read books such as The Book Thief and Sarah’s Key. In high school, an entire unit was dedicated to teach as about WWII and The Holocaust. But why? Why is there so much out there telling us about the tragedies that occurred throughout the world in the mid 20th century? After WWII, there was a mantra that was adopted by the international community: Never Again. Never again shall we what? Never again shall we turn a blind eye to our fellow human being. Never again shall we ignore the warning signs when they are so visibly apparent. Never again shall we allow such a great tragedy plague our world.

Most people know about The Holocaust. It is common knowledge, something that everyone learns about in school, yet a lot of people aren’t aware of all the tragedies that have happened since the end of WWII in 1945 and those that are ongoing to this day. For example, the Rwandan genocide, The Ugandan genocide, The Cambodian genocide, just to name a few. Our world is wracked by chaos. You can’t turn on the news without being bombarded with crimes that have occurred against our fellow man. Terrorist Attacks. Hate Crimes. News that scares us and sometimes makes us wary to even check the news.

Today, I saw a wall that was constructed to KEEP PEOPLE IN. To segregate them from the rest of society. Although you feel regret for this wall ever having to exist, you feel joy for seeing it in shambles. The few remains exist as a remembrance of a great victory. You hear all this talk about walls in the states and it makes you wonder why we constantly let history repeat itself. We don’t need walls. What we need is tolerance, acceptance, knowledge, and more than anything love.

The thought of people who are different than us is scary. I know this from experience. The thing is, it is easy to be afraid of something that you know so little about firsthand. You can’t rely on what people tell you or what you hear in the media. You need to go out and find your own truth and I’m a firm believer that the only way to do that is to go out and experience that which you know nothing of. It is surprising how quickly you learn that people who you once thought were so different than yourself, are not that different at all.

So, I guess that what this post all comes down to and trust me I know it isn’t this simple. I’m not offering a solution or some enlightened plan on how to handle the troubles of our world, but also bear in mind that what we are dealing with aren’t aliens from space. They are human beings, same as you and I, and although I recognize that not all of you out there are Christian, if you believe that Jesus accepted the prostitute, the leper, those who others cast their eyes down upon, then you should do the same. If we recognize the tragedy of The Holocaust than perhaps we need to challenge ourselves to respond and learn from those who chose to act, despite widespread indifference. Keep yourself accountable for your fellow man.

For those of you who decided to stick with me through all that, here are some photos of our exploration through Rome. This one is a photo of the inside of St. Bernard’s which is right outside the Jewish Ghetto. IMG_5636.JPG

And this one is a photo of what remains of the wall today…. Unknown.jpeg

Amsterdam: A Dam in Amstel

When I first heard that we were going to Amsterdam, I wasn’t thrilled. The two things that I’ve learned to associate with Amsterdam are what I’m assuming comes to mind for most of us: prostitution and drugs. Needless to say, I was a bit skeptical about what this city could offer me. Let me say first, that our accommodations were spectacular which definitely made the trip more enjoyable. We stayed at The Jaz hotel which was centrally located close to a surplus of restaurants and a short trip to Centraal Station.

The first day, we left fairly early in the morning and arrived in Amsterdam at around noon. Our first stop after getting settled in our hotel was the Anne Frank House. Thanks to my mild obsession with John Green and Fault in our Stars a few years back, I was somewhat familiar with the area. I recognized the Anne Frank statue that is located behind the warehouse as well as the bookcase which hid the annex that Anne Frank, among her family and others had resided in for two years. I read The Diary of Anne Frank quite a few years back, and although I know the story well, I had no idea how visiting this site would make me feel. The audio tour reads excerpts from Anne’s diary as you walk through the warehouse on the first floor and make your way up to the annex. Unfortunately, taking photos is forbidden in the Anne Franke House, but for any of you who are interested in Anne Frank’s story, I highly suggest you look up photos of where she stayed in hiding. While reading the book, it never occurred to me just how small the annex was. It was brilliantly hidden behind a movable bookcase. As you walk behind the bookcase, you immediately notice how small it is. The hallways are just big enough to let one person through and the staircases are narrow. I’m sure there were multiple reasons that Walsh wanted to send our cohort of Blouins to Amsterdam, and I’m sure that having the opportunity to visit the Anne Frank House was one of those reasons. We have all been spending the better part of the last three years studying genocide, peace, and reconciliation. Perhaps the most infamous case of genocide is The Holocaust, however it is hard to put the tragedy in perspective through death tolls alone. Walking through The Anne Frank House, you hear her story and through her story you manage to learn the true price of intolerance. Anne Frank and her family were discovered only 6 months before the war ended, and only Anne’s father, Otto Frank, survived the concentration camps. I’ve been to The Holocaust museum many times over, and indeed I always manage to learn something more about the crimes against humanity that were committed by the Nazis; however, being in the Anne Frank House was more raw. Walking through that annex, you are reminded that what happened was not just a memory it’s a warning to all of us of what the world can be like. It was an inspiring visit and if you ever find yourself in Amsterdam, it is worth a look.

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The next day we took a train to The Hague which is about a 30 minute train ride from Centraal Station. Being a student of international relations, I was elated to get the opportunity to visit the International Criminal Court (ICC). We even got to hear a case! It was a very neat experience and I was elated that I could listen to it in French. Unfortunately, photos weren’t allowed here either, but I did get a photo with the sign! Afterwards, we made our way to The Peace Palace, which is where cases are heard by the International Court of Justice. The difference between this organization and the ICC is that The International Court of Justice is a body of the United Nations and tries cases that are between states; the ICC, although it is an international organization, operates separately from the United Nations and tries cases against individuals who are involved in Crimes Against Humanity.

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After we took the train back, I was exhausted! We had woken up early for the second day in a row and I was ready to get back to the hotel. I picked up some dinner and made my way back. Although I had thoroughly enjoyed our visits to the previously mentioned stops, I was still not impressed with the city itself. First, Dutch was getting on my nerves. Although I don’t speak Italian, thanks to my French and Spanish background I can make educated guesses on what people are saying and manage to get around. DUTCH IS SO STRANGE! There are sounds that you didn’t even know existed. I didn’t even attempt to pronounce many of the words that I encountered on metro maps, menus, etc. Secondly, I didn’t know anything about Amsterdam whatsoever! The Netherlands is not something you learn about in school and I don’t like having no knowledge of a place I am visiting. Thirdly, although I love my fellow blouins, sometimes playing follow the leader can get a bit annoying, and finally, I’M GETTING REALLY SICK OF PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. There is nothing I want more than to be able to jump in my car and drive myself to lunch instead of having to jump on a metro/tram/bus/train with scores of other people pressed up against you.

Anyway, Friday was our free day and I was not looking forward to it. Helen and I had gotten tickets for a free walking tour of the city and then were planning to hit the museums. I knew that our tour was going through The Red Light District and I was not thrilled; however, our tour guide, Tim, who was kind enough to take a selfie with us (as shown below), was phenomenal. The Red Light District is actually one of the oldest parts of the city and he was able to give us a lot of interesting information on the history of it…. And no, it doesn’t all revolve around sex and prostitution. In fact, we got to see two of the oldest catholic churches in Amsterdam which are centrally located where? You got it! Right in the middle of the Red Light District. At times I was uncomfortable, but Tim gave us great information and was very entertaining which put me more at ease. We walked through Dam Square and visited The Royal Palace, The New Church, The Old Church, and The National Monument. The Dutch are very clever when it comes to naming things, aren’t they? The tour lasted about three hours and I was very happy with it. Along our way, Tim had gotten us free samples of cheese, showed us the narrowest house in Amsterdam (apparently, back in the day you got taxed by how wide your house was in the front, meaning Amsterdam has many narrow houses), warned us to be weary about the cafes which are actually places to buy weed (unless you are into that thing of course… I initially thought that they just really like coffee), and told us entertaining stories along the way. It was a good time.

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After the tour, Helen and I grabbed some delicious pancakes for lunch and then went back to the hotel, rested a bit, and went back out to visit the Van Gogh museum. Helen enjoyed it more than I did, but she is the artsy one. My favorite piece was Almond Blossom because of the story behind it. Apparently, Vincent was thrilled when his brother had his first child. They named the baby boy Vincent and Van Gogh painted Almond Blossoms for the nursery. His nephew later on would go to start The Van Gogh museum.

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IMG_5590.JPGAnd there you have it! My long weekend in Amsterdam, and overall, I enjoyed it. I suppose you can’t judge a book by its cover. Although Amsterdam seems a bit too liberal for my taste, I appreciate the acceptance that they preach, and I ended up truly enjoying myself. Also, I think it is important to note the following: YOU CAN FIND GIANT BABY BELL CHEESE IN AMSTERDAM.

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That is all… Until next time

My Weekend in Paris

When I was a junior in high school I started to take French. Who knew that I would grow to love it so? After my senior year of high school, I got the opportunity to go to Paris. So this time around, I didn’t have to think twice when I was considering my options for my free weekends. I was going to go to Paris!

Two of my friends decided that they would join me. We got tickets to depart early this past Friday. We arrived at around noon and made our way to our air bnb near Saint-Lazare. The place we stayed was super cute and luckily very comfortable. The trip there was a bit difficult. None of us are very familiar with public transportation, and France’s metro is MUCH MUCH larger than Rome’s. We figured that since we had been able to figure out Rome’s metro, Paris wouldn’t be much more difficult. WE WERE WRONG! Luckily, by the end of our trip we pretty much had it down. Although, I’ve decided I’m not much a fan for public transportation. It is way to crowded. on those trains!

Anyway, the first place we decided to visit was???? You guessed it! Le tour Eiffel! It was just as beautiful as I remembered it. We got our tickets to go up and got the most beautiful view of Paris. It was also really neat because recently I’ve noticed videos on Facebook about how you can now zip line down the Eiffel Tower. Well, I got to see it in action. After we took the elevator down the Eiffel Tower we stopped at The Jardins de Trocadero and sat at the Fountain of Warsaw. The fountain is surrounded by stone statues my favorite being “Hercules with Bull.”

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IMG_5245 2.JPGOnce we were done visiting the Eiffel Tower we went out to dinner at a little cafe that was across the street. I ordered steak frites which was absolutely delicious after the long day we had. At this point, I was a bit bummed because I hadn’t gotten the chance to use my French. It seemed like everyone I encountered immediately switched to English when they realized I was American. However, my second language came in handy the next day.

We woke up fairly early and made our way for Versailles. I had remembered that the trip the last time I was in Paris was not easy, so I had taken detailed notes on how to get there. Unfortunately, reading about something on the internet is easier than actually executing said research. We got lost. VERY VERY LOST. Looking back I actually don’t quite understand how we got this lost. I had almost given up until I turned around and saw this older French women sitting across from me on the bench. I decided to stop being stubborn and just ask for directions.

<Madame, parlez vous anglais?> I asked with crossed fingers. Guess what? She didn’t. BUT thats okay! If anything it pushed me to use my French vocabulary to get my point across. I told her that we were lost and needed to find Chateau Versailles. She explained to me how to get there and even took us part of the way. She even went so far as to say <tu parles bien francais.> I’m sure she was just being polite but the fact that I was able to get directions made my day. Unfortunately, the line that she had told us to take was closed.

At the point I felt all was lost until I noticed a Chinese girl and her parents talking about Versailles. I figured that she was also trying to get there so we spent some time following her and her family around. It was pretty obvious that they did not know what they were doing either. I approached the girl and asked her if she spoke English. Nope! She didn’t! But she didn’t speak a bit of French and together we were able to make our way to Chateau Versailles. The experience was a pretty neat one for me. Here were two young adults who knew a limited about of French, and yet we were able to use it to work together.

Once we got to Versailles, it took us forever to wait to get through the lines, but it was certainly worth it. Perhaps my favorite place in all of France is The Hall of Mirrors. I used to be a bit of a French history nerd, especially when it came to King Louis XIV. From what I understand, after being stuck at the Louvre for most of his life, King Louis XIV created Versailles as a sort of sanctuary. What a beautiful sanctuary it is! One neat observation I made was that the wood floors are identical to the ones you find in Versailles. We took a walking tour of the estate and then enjoyed some delicious macarons. Let me tell you a bit about these delicious pastries. AND DON’T CONFUSE THEM  WITH MACAROONS! These are a totally different experience. They are a meringue based confection with delicious filling. They are light, yet satisfying. I fell in love with them the last time I was in Paris and I have been dreaming about them every since. Needless to say, I enjoyed every singly bite.

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After Versailles, we took the metro to Notre Dame. We originally weren’t going to go in but luckily the short lines encouraged us otherwise. Upon walking into the gothic church I was met with the familiar smell of incense. I was surprised to see that there was a mass going on but I enjoyed listening to the beautiful choir that was singing hymns. Once we finished up inside we checked out the back of Notre Dame, which in my opinion is just as pretty as the front. It was quite the site! Luckily, the Opera Garnier was about a five minute walk from the place we were staying. Of course, being the huge Phantom of the Opera fan that I am, I had to go see it. It was so neat!  And so, after a day beginning with some frustrating and ending with pure bliss, our second day in Paris came to a close.

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IMG_5331-2.JPGThe third day was dedicated to going to the Louvre. We got in pretty quickly with our Paris Museum Pass which allowed us to skip the lines. THE LOUVRE IS HUGE! My favorite expeditions were Italians Paintings and Egyptians Artifacts. Of course, we had to go see Mona while we were there! How could I resist taking a selfie with the Mona Lisa? Here is the answer for you…. I couldn’t. IMG_5384-2.JPG

After the Louvre we walked through the Tuileries Garden and the champs d’elysee towards The Arc de Triumph. It was a stunning view and I enjoyed sitting at a little cafe close to the arc munching on a delicious croissant. Boy am I going to miss those croissants. After visiting the Arc we packed up our things and off to Charles de Gaulle we were and although I don’t know when I’ll be back or even if I ever will go back, I know Paris is a place that will stay with me for the rest of my days. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been to Paris twice now, and there is so much more of the world to explore so perhaps I won’t be back, but thats okay because I’ve been touched by this beautiful place.

 

IMG_5406.JPGSo, as part of my assignment I’m supposed to related what we talk about in class to what we experience during out travels. In class, we are talking about immigration. Something that was really difficult for me to see was the scores of refugees and homeless people holding signs up asking for help. What really got to me was the families who were holding up signs saying “Syrian Family… Need help.” I guess sometimes I can be a little closed off to the idea of open borders, and to be honest with you, the logical side of me is always making arguments against it while the empathetic side of me is saying that it is the only ethical thing to do. So, I guess I don’t really know at this point what we need to do about the refugee crisis or how it should be managed, but one thing I always try to keep in mind when considering these sorts of questions is that all of us are human beings and ALL LIFE MATTERS. Some of you out there may have an opinion that differs from mine, and if so thats okay, but I will tell you that it is much easier to ignore something when it isn’t staring you right in the face. Once you open the world up to yourself,  you start to realize that people who live in different countries really aren’t that different from ourselves. Despite our differences, there are many more similarities that you can’t avoid recognizing. Perhaps its our humanity or maybe its simply that we aren’t that different.

Anyhow, there are my thoughts on the matter thus far. I’m looking forward to learning more as our classes pursue.