Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sometimes you have to make a BIG SPALSH

Wow wow wow. I lived in Leuven for 8 entire months with less than 2 left! Where did my junior year go? This week, elections are being held at KU Leuven for each faculty for the equivalent of student government elections. Instead of having the usual debates or posters promoting candidates, KU Leuven has a carnival where everything is free! Only in Europe. To end the election carnival, Wednesday was the Big Splash!

Before the Big Splash 

So what is Big Splash you may ask. Well, it is a giant water balloon fight in the Ladeuzeplein right outside of the KU Leuven library sponsored by Lipton. Each faculty, which is a group of all people in the same major and a few groups for internationals, assembles a team and a president. Each team stands in a gigantic wrestling ring of sorts facing another ring with another team. At the sound of a bell, the teams begin tossing yellow water balloons in the air. The object of the team is to hit the president as many times as possible. Needless to say, everyone, not just the president, gets soaked! Since I had to go to class that afternoon, I was unable to be a part of the water balloon throwing, but I still had a blast!  I watched a handful of my friends from the house participate while I was the resident photographer! It was typical Belgian weather yesterday, meaning cool and overcast, so I didn't mind not getting soaked! It was absolutely incredible to listen to live music coming from the stage and watch hundreds of water balloons soar through the air!

Getting ready to toss balloons with Nuria, Cadgas, Ashley, Indigo, and Adrian

The first balloons being thrown!

Soaked head to toe after the madness! 

Enjoying free fries with Ashley in front of the stage

Part two of the Big Splash--some of my friends participated twice!

After five minutes or so of throwing water balloons, one team is declared victorious, meaning they move along in the competition. At the end, one victor is crowned. ESN Leuven won this year! The event also included free fries, Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and of course, ice tea!

Another water balloon fight that highlights the fact that this event takes place in front of the library!
This event is something that seems so typical Leuven to me. Nothing like this event has ever taken place at Loyola, or any other place I've ever been. Today was truly an amazing day that I will never forget! I absolutely loved making a BIG SPLASH!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The BIG three in Rome: St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican, and the Colosseum

After a wonderful little jaunt in Florence, Rome was next our our list. After seeing "The David" and a wine tasting in the Tuscan hills, it would be a hard city to beat. Even with high expectations, Rome never failed to disappoint. The best part of Rome was my parents; my parents surprised me a day early in Rome and we had the best time together. Since they came early, they tagged along on some of our little trips!

Of course, we hit many of the tourist spots, like St. Peter's Basilica where we had an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the ruins below. Underneath St. Peter's Basilica, lies the Scavi where the tomb of St. Peter lies. Due to the importance of this sight, only 250 guests are allowed per day to visit this burial ground. For our tour, we wandered below St. Peter's Basilica, exploring the burial ground, seeing St. Peter's bones. Our tour guide was incredibly informative; it seemed as though she barely took a breath during her perfectly rehearsed speech. This was such an important event and I am thankful that I was able to see this burial ground in person. After visiting the Scavi, we toured the Basilica and I had a difficult time enjoying it if I am completely honest. There is so much to look at in the Basilica from statues like the Pieta to the marble detailing on the floor. For me, it was too much stimulation for me to truly enjoy all of the art. It also bothers me that people are only taking pictures, not really enjoying their surroundings. (This explains why I have no pictures of the interior of the Basilica and we were not allowed pictures in the Scavi.) While we were inside, there was even a mass being held in one of the side chapels and I was disturbed that people were walking, talking, and taking pictures while this spiritual service was going on. That would have disturbed me regardless of the religious location. Regardless of my personal opinions, I am glad I visited the Basilica and the Scavi.

St. Peter's from the yard of the Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museum was another museum we had the opportunity to visit. Much like my idea of St. Peter's, I did not take any pictures inside. Rather I chose to enjoy my surroundings in the moment. When I think of the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel is the first thing that comes to mind. After studying Michelangelo in detail during my art history course, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the "Last Judgment" were high on my list of art works I needed to see in Europe. After wandering through the museum, and it is gigantic mind you and I had no idea how large it was, the Sistine Chapel was the last spot on our tour. How could the artwork disappoint? It is absolutely stunning. I loved seeing in in person. The "Last Judgment" commands attention. I spent a long time with my neck stretched upward, looking at the "Creation of Adam" and the "Separation of Light and Dark." Seeing the Sistine Chapel was a highpoint of Rome for me, without a doubt.

After spending ten days with my Loyola group, we parted ways in Rome. my friends jetted around the continent and I spent a few more days in Rome with my parents before going to Barcelona! (I will cover Barcelona in a forthcoming post!) As luck would have it, a family friend from Cleveland was living in Rome for work, so my parents had a place to stay and someone from home to spend time with, which was incredibly nice. Cynthia, and her son Will, were wonderful hosts-one night she even made burritos and for anyone that knows me, this was a huge deal as I live for Mexican food! While Cynthia worked during the day, my parents, Will, and I spent time wandering the city doing things like visiting the Colosseum. The Colosseum was magnificent. The fact that people of the past were able to create these feats of engineering without modern equipment is fascinating to me. One thing I never knew about the Colosseum was that they used to fill it with water and use it for naval races! I cannot even begin to fathom how they filled it with water and how they kept it inside the Colosseum! Seeing the Colosseum is certainly a must-see in Rome!

The Colosseum 

Rome is a beautiful city full of culture and must-see attractions from the Vatican to the Scavi to the pizza to the Colosseum. Everything I saw in Rome was something that I only ever dreamed about seeing, so this was an incredible trip! Stay tuned for my next post about my few days in Barcelona with my parents!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Packing with a purpose: Perfectly Packed carry ons

Let the second installment of "Packing with a purpose" commence! When it comes to travel, not having to check a bag is the way to go in my opinion. When I can, I never check luggage. I never have to wait in line for my bags and I never have to worry my baggage will be lost or not make it to my destination. For fourteen days in Italy and beyond, I will bring only a carry on and my backpack with personal items and some makeup and toiletries. I have a few tips to make sure that you can pack a carry on as effectively as possible.

1. Bring outfits you can wear more than once.
Dresses are great for this because they are no-thought outfits than can be worn more than once. To Italy, I am bringing two dresses that can be worn day or night.

2. All of your clothes should match.
When I pack for a trip, I make a list of all the clothes I would ideally like to bring if space was not an option. Once I have this list, I narrow it down based on clothing that goes together. I only brings tops that can go with all of the bottoms I bring and vice versa. That way, if something happens to one of my tops or bottoms, I can still wear the all of the pieces together.

3. Think about where you are going (activities, cultural differences, weather, etc.)
In Italy, I will visit many churches which means covered shoulders and knees.With that in min, it helped to narrow down my clothes immensely. I packed outfits I could mostly wear in a church or somewhere I need to be more conservative that could also be worn other places. Be sure to acquaint yourself with the activities you will be doing and where you will be going to ensure that all of the clothes are appropriate. This will also help to narrow down the clothes you will bring.

4. Bring one pair of pajamas.
Pajamas don;t get very dirty so you can wear the same ones multiple nights. Don't waste precious space on clothes no one will see. If you must, wear the same pair of bottoms and two pajama tops.

5. Wear one pair of shoes and pack another.
This means, bring as few shoes as possible. be realistic and try to make sure all of your shoes go with all of you outfits. (This goes along with #2 and all your clothes matching-shoes should too!)

6. To save space, roll your clothes.
To maximize space, roll your clothes instead of leaving them merely folded. No only does this prevent the clothing from wrinkling, they also take up so much less space. If you follow any of these tips, please follow this one. It will change your packing life, I promise.

To put this into perspective, I packed all of this in a standard carry on with room to spare:
2 dresses
1 cardigan
9 tops (one is a dressier, going out top, 2 button downs, 6 t-shirts/tunics)
2 bottoms (1 black knee-length skirt and one blue skater skirt and I will wear the jeans on the plane)
1 set of pajamas (top and t-shirt)
Underwear, socks, and bras
1 pair of shoes (I will wear my other pair on the plane)
Even with all of these clothes, using the rolling technique I even have room to spare and I have tons of outfit possibilities since all of my pieces go together! I hope that this helps you, my fellow travelers, pack the perfect carry on and lose the hassle of checking luggage!--C

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Go with the Flo[rence]

Hello my favorite readers! After two weeks of gallivanting around Florence, Rome, and then going to Barcelona with my parents, I am back and ready to tell you all about it! First and foremost, with my nine American counterparts and the Snow Doctors, we traveled  to Florence first. After the world's choppiest flight, Florence was finally in reach. needless to say, Florence was a feast for the eyes! The views of Florence are something to behold. On the first night, we climbed the stairs to the top of the Piazza Michelangelo, a hill from which one can see the entire city and the iconic Duomo of the city. With the sun beginning to set, this was the perfect sight for some tired American travelers.

At the Piazza Michelangelo with Katie, Kath, and Sam

View from Piazza Michelangelo

Our subsequent days were filled with art and exploring and a wine tasting in the hills of Florence. Of course, we went to the Uffizi Museum, where I took selfies with even more famous works of art like Botticelli;'s "Birth of Venus" and Titian's "Venus of Urbino." Needless to say, my art history loving heart was full of excitement.

Botticelli's "Birth of Venus"

Titian's "Venus of Urbino" with my friend Elena

Outside of the Uffizi Museum with the entire group and our professor Dr. Snow
After gaining our fill of art, another magical moment in Florence came at the top of the Duomo. For 10 euros and and hour and a half in line and 463 steps, Ashley and I climbed the Duomo to see the entire city from above. noting can compare to climbing up ancient steps to make your way into the sunshine to see the entire city from above. Stunning it was, to say the least. We could even see where we were in the Piazza Michelangelo the night before. Comparing the two views of the city gave me a new appreciation for the beauty beheld in Florence.

463 steps to the top of the Duomo

A 360 degree view of Firenze!

Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, the highlight of Florence came in the Academia di Belle Arti di Firenze. Why you may ask? THE David. Michelangelo's David calls the Academia di Belle Arti home. For me, this was a spiritual experience. For ages, I saw David in books just hoping that one day I would be able to see him in person and he certainly did not disappoint. At the end of a hallway flanked with unfinished Michelangelo sculptures, David stands under a dome in all of his glory. The minute I saw him I was in awe. Awestruck, I stopped walking and just stared. For me, there was noting in that museum except for David. Overwhelmed, I shed a bit of a tear seeing him in all of his beauty. I only had eyes for David. He did not disappoint. At all. I loved him so I even got a David charm for my charm bracelet. If you are ever in Florence, the David is a requirement. I can certainly understand why he is one of the most famous works of art in history.

Michelangelo's 'David"

Our trip to Florence ended with a wine tasting in the Tuscan countryside. As someone who does not know much about wine, this trip to the winery was quite enlightening. While the wine was beautiful and delicious, the views of the Tuscan hills were more than satisfying.

The Tuscan countryside

The Tuscan countryside

After Florence, our group jetted off to Rome, which I will talk about in my next post. Stay tuned!

The entire group after our Tuscan wine tasting!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Packing with a purpose: 9 things to think about before you leave

When it comes to packing, I have it down pat; My mama taught me well. Think you can't pack for 10 months with two bags? It can be done! When we came to Leuven in July, I managed to pack an entire year's worth of clothes into one checked suitcase, one carry on, and my purse and they were all under the 50 lb weight limit! Needless to say, many people came with more than one checked suitcase. Anyway, I consider myself a packing mastermind of sorts. As I mentioned in my last post, I will be in Italy and beyond for two weeks and I am (only) taking a carry on and a personal item, which in this case is a backpack. Not the most stylish, but insanely practical. Since being in Leuven, I have gotten many questions from my fellow travelers and friends about how to pack so lightly for a long time. I have now decided to share my wisdom with all of you!

1. If you are going somewhere for a long time (semester/ year abroad, more than a few weeks), bring clothes that you will leave there.
I know, I know no one wants to leave their clothes behind but hear me out. Bring things that will wear out during the time you will be there, like gym shoes or basics that can be tossed after a while like tank tops or older tee shirts. Especially if you;re coming to Europe where walking is part of the game, your shoes will be destroyed by the end, even new ones, so brings ones you wouldn't mind messing up. At the end of your time, you'll have fewer things to take back and more room for all of your souvenirs! To Leuven, I brought pajamas, tennis shoes, and basic tees and tanks that I know I won't bring home and then I am not upset if i have to leave them somewhere when I travel if I run out of room. This could also be applied to shorter trips if you want to leave crummy clothes behind, but it seems more realistic for a longer span of time abroad.

2. Be realistic.
Really look at the clothes you want to bring. If you didn't wear that dress in the last year, you probably won't wear it while traveling. Only bring the clothes you actually want to wear or are practical. Sky high heels? Don't need them. 7 pairs of flats? You can manage with three or less.

3. Pack multipurpose clothing
When it comes to travel, less is more. When you have to lug your suitcase up a cobblestone paved hill, you'll wish you had less too. Instead of packing 14 separate outfits for a 14 day trip, pack pieces that can be worn again and again in different ways. Dresses are great for this because they can be worn on their own, or layer with tops and sweaters to create different looks.

4. Bring fewer but versatile bottoms that can be worn with EVERY SINGLE TOP YOU BRING. Pants, skirts, and shorts can take up a ton of room and no one ever looks at your legs. Bring one or two pairs of pants than can be worn with every thing else you bring. If your pants match all of your tops, you can create so many outfits with limited pieces.

5. Do laundry while you travel.
This shouldn't be a chore; you're on vacation after all, but doing laundry can save time and space during your travels! This could mean going to the laundromat or having your hotel do it for you. For me, it means bringing a bit of washing powder and lathering my clothes up in the sink or shower. It takes up little space or weight in your suitcase and can be great for emergency stain removal or if you want to wear an outfit again. I do not recommend washing pants in the sink or shower unless absolutely necessary; they take way to long to dry. Tops, undies, and thin clothing dries quickly overnight and will be ready in the morning. If I hand wash my clothes, which I do right before bed or while I;m taking a shower, I can wear them again and again, meaning I can bring less clothing overall.

6. Pare down pairs of shoes
I love shoes as much as the next girl, but come on ladies! We don't need to bring so many pairs with us! To Europe for the entire year, I have two pairs of boots, two pairs of tennis shoes, and four pairs of flats, plus shower shoes and slippers. While it was hard to decide, I rarely miss my shoes at home. I picked neutral, comfortable shoes that ca be worn in many seasons. For the love of baguettes and puppies, do not ever bring rain boots or plastic flip flops to Europe. No one wears them and neither will you and they take up too much space. For a short trip, even two weeks, three pairs is more than enough pairs to get you through your travels.

7. If you forgot something, remember that you can always replace it or have it sent to you.
After paring off some clothes, you might realize you forgot something you need or realize that you want is still at home. Don't fret! There are stores in Europe and you can replace a few things once you get here. Obviously, this can get expensive, so do not rely on this, but remember that it is an option!

8. Look at the weather and customs of the places you will be visiting.
While this might seem like an obvious hint, many of my fellow travelers came a bit ill prepared for Belgium because they didn't look at the weather. Check the weather throughout the time you are packing, to keep yourself up to date on the weather and also look at the average temperatures of the time you will be traveling to get a more accurate picture. Once I see what the weather will be like, I plan my packing accordingly. However, I always bring a few pieces that can be worn is the weather is warmer or cooler than I expected so that I can be prepared. For example, even on a beach vacation I bring a sweater or light jacket in case of a cooler day. If you look at the weather, you can plan to be prepared with the proper clothing and accessories for any situation you might be thrown into!

9. Check luggage sizes and weight allowances of the airlines you will be traveling.
Do this to avoid heavy luggage fees. It is not fun to go to the airport only to learn your bag is too heavy or large and has to be checked, meaning you have to shell out 50 euros for your bag. This also means you should weigh your baggage BEFORE you leave. This will save headaches and money.

I hope this has helped you, my fellow world explorers, to start to begin packing with a purpose! Stay tuned for more installments of "Packing with a purpose" very soon!--C