Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Parlez-Vous Français?

No, I don't speak French. Or Hungarian, or Spanish, or Catalan...so instead I will just stare back at you with a completely dumbfounded look on my face, va bene? Va bene.

Ok so I tried a little harder than that (except in Hungary, I actually could not even begin to figure out that language), but that's not an incorrect picture of how my week in Budapest, Paris and Barcelona went. Luckily my travel buddy Hannah speaks French very well, so she acted as our translator in Paris, while my other friend Erin and I put together our six and four years of Spanish, respectively, to try to manuever our way around the mainly Catalan-speaking city. Who knew Spanish wasn't the primary language in Barcelona? Not us. The trip was bookended by trips to Pisa and Milan, in the country that is feeling more and more like home every day.

Along with new languages, it was a week filled with new foods, people, attitudes and sights. At this point in my adventure abroad, I found myself comparing these new experiences to my life in Italy, rather than to my life in the states. The relief I felt upon arriving in Milan, consequently, was overwhelming. How is it that Italy and the Italian language are this comfortable to me now? That when I heard Italian being spoken in a foreign country, I picked it up the way I would pick up English? It's incredible to me that I am at that point in my Italian studies, and I am beyond grateful to even have the opportunity to connect with another culture on as deep a level as I have.

So, here's some quick thoughts on each of my destinations before I bombard you with pictures of the week:

A similarity shared between Budapest, Paris and Barcelona: as a group of American girls, we did not get stared at/pointed at/yelled at hardly as much as anywhere in Italy, if at all. Pleasant, pleasant surprise.

Budapest: Magical castle fairy-tale land - that is the way I described it to Stella when I got home. But actually, that is the most accurate description of this city...there's a castle district and I took a bath in a yellow palace. However, there's also a strange juxtaposition between the awe-inspiring mixture of the east and the west, and the overbearing feeling of isolation and desolation present as one walks through the streets of this ex-communist country. Also, to go off my first point, it seemed as if Hannah, Ari and I were never even given a second thought when we passed anybody on the street. The city isn't a huge tourist hub, so I'm not sure if it's because of this or in spite of it that we felt almost invisible. As I mentioned before, the language was indecipherable, which led to some funny bouts of hand gesturing and blank staring. Luckily, the majority of the people we encountered spoke at least some English, so we were able to get around without any major problems.

Except that one time we missed our flight to Paris...oops. After realizing we were on-time at the wrong terminal, an hour of wrong buses and frustrating directions later we were being told that yes, there's five minutes to take-off, of course you missed your flight. Fortunately, there was another one a few hours later instead of the next day, so we got to spend the day in the airport! So fun!

Paris: The first word that came to mind as a took my first look at the Seine was "romantic". I had always heard that about Paris but never really believed it, but that is not the case anymore. Maybe it's the architecture or the people or the low, soft lighting on the streets, but this place surpassed every expectation I had of it. Especially when it came to the stereotype that Parisians aren't the nicest of people and refuse to speak French to foreigners. This I found to be completely untrue, even the opposite. People went out of their way to be nice to us, and would either speak in a mix of French and English or ask which we would like them to speak in. The only exception was one older man who we asked directions from. A typical grumpy, respond-in-English kind of person, I found it funny that he was so exactly like the image I had of all Parisians.

Barcelona: Sun! Warmth! Gaudì! Barcelona in a nutshell. We got to meet up with Evan and her sister for dinner and breakfast while we were there, and it was generally just relaxing and slower-paced, seeing as we had walked ALL over two cities in the previous four days. I learned a lot, about the Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudì and his amazing, surrealist, expressionist and avant-garde work, and about the history of Catalonia - a region of Spain I didn't know existed until I arrived in it. It is partially autonomous from Spain, and carries a huge sense of identity. The language, a mix of pretty much all romantic languages, but mostly resembles French, was also an interesting surprise. And the food, amazing. Tapas and paella and stuffed churros were wonderful.

Milan: Sufficiently exhausted and with screaming feet, we arrived in Milan for our last night of the break. Surprisingly, there was a pretty big St. Patrick's day crowd so we got to listen to a live Irish band, drink green beer and Irish car bombs and pretend to be Irish with the rest of the Italians. Besides the Duomo and the Galleria right next to it, there's not much to boast about Milan. It was just a great transition back into the Italian culture and language while still experiencing something new!

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