30 December 2012

orvieto part one

[june 23rd-24th]

And so I got up the next morning and just kept living my life, because kidney infections are to me what bronchitis is to Sweet Brown.
It was incredibly frustrating, though, to be so exhausted. I couldn't find a taxi driver to take me to the train station, because it would only have been a few minutes by car. Naturally, this meant I could be found standing in the street, screaming obscenities at taxis.
My good luck charm Shelly and me on our train
But of course I eventually arrived in Orvieto. It's an amazing town on the top of a cliff made of tufa, a type of volcanic stone. Tufa is a relatively soft stone, so there's a network of caves running underneath Orvieto. It's also the site of one of Italy's most spectacular cathedrals. Just tons of history.

I met other three tutors--Emma from England, Amanda from Wales, and Ed from Georgia. They'd all been working together for a bit at other camps, but were incredibly fun and welcoming. That first night, Ed and I were without host families for a little bit, so we each got our own room at a hotel in town, and got to wash up for an informal tour and outdoor party.
The dream team.
Later that night, I met my host family. They lived in an old, probably medieval, apartment home in a building which had once been an orphanage, complete with its own chapel-turned-living room. The stone walls were over a foot thick in some places. Unfortunately, this meant that the wifi signal emanating from the living room didn't reach my bedroom ten feet away. A small price to pay, however, to be living in such a beautiful and historical apartment overlooking the main street of the town, Corso Cavour.

On Sunday, my host family took me to their grandparents' home, which was a short walk through town. As always, rumors of my vegetarian ways had preceded me, and the grandmother had a special lasagna prepared for me. First of all, this was the first time I can remember eating lasagna at all in Italy, and secondly, it was made with red sauce and PEAS. And it wasn't bad. Kinda reminded me of when I was a kid and my grandmother would throw frozen peas into our mac n cheese to get us to eat our vegetables.

With Anna in front of the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo
After that, I walked around town a bit more with Anna, my little sister for the week. I learned that not only was my temporary home right off the main street of town, but less than a minute's walk the other way from one of Orvieto's most important attractions, Il Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, or the Palace of the Captain of the People. The Captain of the People was kind of like an emergency mayor who would take charge in the event of an invasion, I believe. He would work together with the bishop of Orvieto, and sometimes the pope, who had a residence there for a while. Oh, did I not mention that? Tons of history in Orvieto. Now, the old building is used like a convention center or town hall.

That night, my host family went to a friend's house for a World Cup watch party. I stayed in, but my host mother prepared me a feast. You can't even see everything she made me, because I left some of the tupperwares and platters covered for the photo below.

ALL OF THIS FOOD WAS MEANT FOR ONE PERSON. The Italians I meet continue to believe that I need much, much more food than they do, even when I am roughly the same size they are. There's grilled eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, peaches, plums, apricots, a banana, salad, bread, more grilled things that I can't remember, a ball of mozzarella cheese, and a packet of cream cheese. Obviously I ate all the cream cheese, some of the eggplant and zucchini, and nothing else.

(Okay, maybe I ate a peach and some of the mozzarella. And dipped it all in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. And then had to use some bread to soak up the leftover oil and vinegar mix.)

09 August 2012


I would like to take this opportunity to formally apologize for the lack of updates on my summer. I've been in a lot of places without reliable internet, and worse, several of the keys on my keyboard have stopped working. Having to copy-paste everything is a real bitch.

It's a shame, because I've been in some beautiful places this summer, and I've got some good stories. In two weeks I'll be home and I'll try to get caught up then.

Much love.

14 July 2012

the worst transatlantic journey of my life.

...Well strip the bark right off a tree and just hand it this way
Don't even need a drink of water to make the headache go away
Give me a sugar pill and watch me just rattle down the street...
-The White Stripes, 'Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine'

Yes, you read that title right. This was even worse than the time I was trying to get home from Europe with swine flu, or just the plain old flu last year, or the time I went to South America with what someone later speculated might be whooping cough.

It all started on Wednesday morning. Wait, back it on up. It started Tuesday night, all of which I spent packing rather than sleeping. By the time Wednesday morning rolled around, my eyes were blurry and my back was achy.

Cue highway traffic and a miscue from the old Garmin, resulting in an arrival at Union Station at ten past eight.

Did I mention I was trying to make an 8:15 train? Chyeah.

Did I mention I had neglected to print my ticket, or even scribble down my reservation number? Double chyeah.

Did I mention that Union Station is freaking huge??? GAHHHHHHHHHHH

Fortunately, there was no line for the ticket agent, so I breezed right up to her, hyperventilating a bit as I explained myself. She was cool as a cucumber as she printed my ticket and asked me to sign it, but when she handed it to me she said, 'Now go catch that train!'

And I just barely did, with maybe a minute to spare. 

Was that anticlimactic? Hold on, it gets better.

The reward that awaited me on that train was a lovely, functional electrical outlet, with which I could watch episodes of Mad Men on my netbook. Which fortunately drowned out, for the most part, the sounds of the Girl Scout troop around me commenting loudly on how they had never been on a train before [obvious], is this thing on the ceiling a light or a fan? or both? and is that the Arch up ahead? when we were a FULL HOUR OUTSIDE OF ST LOUIS. Some people.

I probably got two hours of sleep as well, but it was difficult because my back was hurting a bit from the train and from staying up all night.

Does everyone remember JaNae? My bestie from the time I studied abroad in Madrid? Yeah? Okay, good. Well, she was there to meet me in St Louis and take me back to her lovely apartment. I probably should have crashed then and there, but instead we went out for afternoon martinis and I then explored the nicest mall I've ever seen while she went to work for a few hours.

At this point I desperately needed a break. I was walking around non-stop, and my back was killing me, and I had to pee every five seconds, and I kinda wanted to vom just a little--and that's when I had an epiphany. Los kidneys. There was something wrong with them. Too bad I had to be up in a few hours for a flight to Chicago. 

I think I mentioned last year that whenever I'm sick in a foreign country, I just keep living my life until the illness realizes it is unable to break me and flees from my body. This practice relies upon my theory that I am strong, most other people are weak, and the majority of medications are useless. However, a brief visit to Wikipedia led me to believe that my usual method might possibly not work against a kidney infection. I would have to sort everything out in Italy.

Six am flight was cancelled. Rebooked for 7:15. Stepped off the plane in Chicago five gates from where my next one would be departing (win). Ate delicious food (also win). Boarded flight to London. Was supposed to be sitting next to a precocious-looking preteen. . . until her brother offered to switch seats with her. Enter underage, socially awkward dropout, and would-be paramour. Most awkward flirter ever. He started things off by asking me a little about myself, then guessed my age at 27. Ouch. Kept asking for my info. Ordered a beer at ten a.m. Played with the lace on the back of my shirt while he thought I was sleeping. Got his father to take sneaky pictures of me when they thought I wasn't paying attention. Long story short, the flight sucked, and the hour-long wait in line for customs at Heathrow wasn't much better.

I slept in a bus terminal that night, and on the floor near the check-in gates, before flying on to Italy. All the while I worried about whether I was even well enough to fly, how much a trip to the doctor and medication would cost in a foreign country, and whether or not I would have an adverse reaction to whatever was prescribed to me.

By the time I landed in Rome, I couldn't stand up straight. I was sweaty and weak and exhausted. The receptionist at my hostel recommended a pharmacy down the street. Where the first suggestion was that I get a shot. "You know, the type of shot you get for your period pain," the pharmacist told me. I refused, and waited 4 hours for the doctor. 

You know one of the ways for doctors to check for kidney problems? They punch you in the lower back. It hurts. The doctor and the pharmacist did this to me several times, just to be sure.  Then, based on my description of my symptoms and his assessment of me, the doctor speculated that I had kidney stones. I insisted that it was 'just' a kidney infection, and he shrugged and basically said, "Whatever, it's the same treatment either way." 

He then prescribed painkillers, antibiotics, as much water as I could drink, and a week's worth of bed rest. Yeah right. I spent the rest of the day in bed (enjoying the company of three two liter bottles of water) and got up early the next morning to prepare for my journey out to Orvieto and my first camp of the summer.

22 June 2012

rocky mountain high!

So. The boyfriend and I took our first vacation together last week. We roadtripped it out to Greeley, CO, to stay with some friends of his who are basically a second family. To recap the week: 
I drove to maximize fuel economy, and he paid for gas and fed me Chex mix and cheese and crackers to save time. Basically we make a pretty awesome team.
We sat three rows behind home plate at a Rockies game and got all the free food we wanted, including mini corndogs, duck confit, cheddar poppers, buffalo wings, M&M's, poutine, roasted artichokes, haricots verts in a peppercorn cream sauce, ice cream sundaes, mini pizzas, gnocchi, and so much more. 
 We took a random drive through the mountains, chose a spot to park the car and start hiking, and now have our own magical hiking/picnic spot.
Nick made friends with a chipmunk. He wanted to see a whole bunch of wildlife, but in the end we had to settle for chipmunks and some other unknown rodent.
Together with our hosts we hiked 10 miles to the secluded Lake Ouzel, and we had a snowball fight there (for real).
And we were together non-stop for an entire week and we didn't even get sick of each other!

10 June 2012

On my obsession with pencil skirts

A coworker turned me on to Polyvore. You know how I said I've been wearing weird stuff? This is the kind of stuff I meant. My current job has a pretty casual dress code, but when I like to look fancy, I wriggle my hips into a pencil skirt. Part mod, part Joan from Mad Men, all saucy.My INC Pencil Skirt
And here's the look in action:
A customer asked me if I ever go on YouTube and post "What I'm wearing today" vids, or have a blog dedicated to that purpose. I told her no, but I guess I'm kind of looking for a new angle for this blog since I've toned down my traveling lately. Who knows? This could go from travel blog to lifestyle blog. I'm sorry I like attention.

she bang: the aftermath

So after I cut my own fringe, my whole world changed (pretty much). People started telling me I looked like Zooey Deschanel (duh), Carly Rae Jepsen, Jennifer Garner (more than before), a 'young professional,' and even the Virgin Mary. Oh, and my dear grandmother told me I looked like Morticia. Cool.

The new hair kind of changed my whole attitude. I started wearing weird headbands and barrettes in my hair. My wardrobe got bolder and more stripey. And I stopped caring about what people think of how I look.

I bought tickets back to Italy for the summer, but this time, I bought roundtrip tickets. And I'm only going for two months. Is this what growing up feels like?

31 January 2012

she bang

I love Kansas to death. You know I do. I have literally celebrated the state's birthday by dancing on bars to 'Carry on, My Wayward Son.' While on an entirely different continent. [Kansas Day was Sunday, IN CASE anyone was wondering. Which you all should have been.] For me, there is simply no place in the world more beautiful or pure.

But I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't just a little bit bored here. I'm taking as many shifts as I can at work, telling myself that every dollar I make is another dollar towards my next transatlantic flight. [Although, in all honesty, about half of that is going towards the epic summer wardrobe I'm working on. Pics to come on my tumblr.]

On Friday, I finally saw 500 Days of Summer. I didn't think it was that great, but something about the movie did nag at me. It was Zooey Deschanel. I'm not even sure how to explain this, and I know some of you are probably way ahead of me already so I'm just going to say it: I needed Zooey Deschanel fringe. I don't even like Zooey Deschanel.

I've done things like this before. In fact, since I studied abroad in Spain and met my hair genius friend JaNae, I have been the only person permitted to trim my bangs. I found my limit though, when I tried to trim the rest of my hair, with disastrous results. The question was, were bold, heavy bangs beyond my expertise?

My friend Girl Kyle successfully talked me out of it for a couple of nights. "You want something low-maintenance," she told me over skype. "They'll stick to your forehead all summer in Italy."

"Now's the time to be bold!" I countered. "They'll grow out by June!"

By two a.m. last night, I could resist no longer. I loaded a picture of my ideal fringe on my laptop, dampened my hair, and started hacking away with a pair of dull nail scissors. The sight of my long, black hair in the sink was more than a little nauseating, so I ignored it and kept snipping away.

When the dust cleared, the full realization of what I'd just done bitch-slapped me across my newly framed cheekbones. I was hyperventilating juuuuuuust a little bit when I took the picture to the left.

Too anxious to clean the hair out of the sink, I gave up and went to bed.

Have you ever seen Arrested Development? One of the episodes where Michael says, "I've made a huge mistake?" I'm absolutely serious when I tell you that phrase was the first thought in my head when I opened my eyes the next morning. My stomach tied itself into a neat little knot. Of course, when I finally bit the bullet and looked in the mirror, there were some bumpy bits and some sticky-out bits from where I'd slept on it. This was going to be harder than I thought.

But you know what? I spent some quality time with the curling iron, went crazy with the makeup, and threw on a couple of the pieces from the aforementioned summer wardrobe. It was 65 degrees outside and I had a screen deck to myself. And I decided that I love this hair.
I swear I'm not an Oompa Loompa.

25 January 2012

i feel the earth move

Quick. Think of things Kansas is known for. Tornadoes. Dorothy. Wheat. And that's about it. It's a short list, and earthquakes isn't on it.

That's why, when I was sitting on my bed one evening in October and I felt a gentle trembling, seismic activity was the furthest thing from my mind.

"GRACIE!" I yelled, and my sister emerged from the bathroom and poked her bewildered head through my door. "Is the washing machine or the dishwasher on or something?"

"Uh. . . I just flushed the toilet. . ."

Clearly we weren't on the same page. "Never mind." I waved her away.

And that's when my Twitter and Facebook feeds began to blow up. Long story short, an earthquake that originated somewhere in Oklahoma had been felt all the way up here in Kansas, for the first time in memory. I had traveled all the way to Peru and Argentina and Italy only to feel the earth move under my feet for the first time (all apologies to Carole King) in the humble Midwest. The whole thing felt epic and triumphant and rugged, and if I ever have children, they'll hear all about it.

And you'd better believe they'll also hear about how their Aunt Grace missed the Great Quake of Oh-Eleven because she was on the toilet.

12 January 2012

2011 by the numbers

And now it's time for one of my favorite parts of blogging: summing up my last year's travels. This year was kind of a letdown after my South American adventures, but there was still plenty of good stuff. Observe:
  • Number of international flights taken: seven (I think)
  • Total number of flights: 11
  • Longest bus journey taken: 4-5 days between Buenos Aires and Cusco
  • Largest travel buddy: Lopez, the man sitting next to me/practically on top of me for my journey between Buenos Aires and Tacna, Peru (shoutout to this man for buying me dinner and actually talking to me when no one else on the bus could be bothered and when I looked disgusting from not showering for three days)
  • Cuddliest travel buddy: Loki/Cookie, the dog that walked with me from Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes
  • Best place to get a sunburn: Gotta be Cusco, where the sun's rays are supposed to be more powerful than anywhere in the world (I once got so sunburnt in 30 minutes on a 60 degree day that you could see a clear outline of my necklace)
  • Number of weeks spent teaching English in Italy: 12
  • Earthquakes survived: two, both in Kansas
  • Quotes of the summer: "That thing is gonna be inside of you!" "Singing that song in English instead of Italian would be like going to a hooker and asking for a hug!" "So. . . did you ride, ride, ride that pony?" "Can I go to the toilet please because the poo is now exits my bum?!" "The children are in the gym." "Can I have another bourbon??" "Is this your card?" "The only big spoon in this room is under Daniel's bed in a tub of Haagen Dazs!" "Release them!" "It's called Angel Piss because it taste like when a angel piss in your mouth." "Shower police! Did you take a shower yet?" "Wan, choo, fReeeee. . ." and so many more. . .
  • Number of airports slept in: only two (Orlando and Heathrow)
  • Favorite new place: Cusco, hands down.
  • Celebrity death I'm still mourning: Amy Winehouse
  • Food I can't get enough of: Indian food. Been addicted to it since London.
  • Foreign countries visited: 8 (Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Germany, Italy, England, Spain)
  • Songs I couldn't stop listening to: Ayo Technology (acoustic cover by Milow), Miami 2 Ibiza (Swedish House Mafia feat. Tinie Tempah), Bills Bills Bills (Glee cover), Airplanes (BoB feat. Hayley Williams), Paris (Kanye and Jay-Z), anything Amy Winehouse or Adele, Beth (Kiss), Let's Dance to Joy Division (Wombats)
  • Songs that wouldn't leave me alone: Danza Kuduro, Party Rock Anthem, anything Bruno Mars, Pumped Up Kicks, Super Bass
  • Song I remain conflicted about but which seems to come up a lot when I travel: Wonderwall (Oasis)
  • Number of friendship bracelets worn: four (two from Cusco, one from Baiardo, and one from Tirano)

steely resolve.

This time last year, I sat on my bed in my shed in Jose Ignacio and made three resolutions for the new year. (You can find the original post here.) They were:
  1. Learn to surf
  2. Learn to play guitar
  3. Become a better horseback rider
Obviously, I failed miserably at all of those.

This year, I'm going to set my sights a little lower, and make my resolutions both challenging and doable. Here goes:
  1. Run a 5k. I don't think I'll ever be capable of running a marathon, or even a half-marathon. Just look at me. But a 5k is something I can definitely do if I keep running regularly.
  2. Learn another language. This gets tougher for me every year because I'm lazy. The easiest way to do it would be to go to a new country and immerse myself, but I'll probably have to settle for downloading a CD. The next question is, which language should I choose?
  3. See three new countries and a new continent.
Here's to making 2012 the best year ever!