Browsing Category: Europe

Travel Misconceptions: St. Petersburg

Travel Misconceptions - St. Petersburg, Russia

One of my goals on The Atlas Heart is to break down travel misconceptions or judgments about places and ideas. Perhaps it could be that destination that everyone warns you not to visit because of how dangerous it is, or maybe you yourself had preconceived notions that were proven wrong once you arrived to where you were going.

My aim is to present a variety of different opinions and experiences through the eyes of other travelers. It’s important to hear travel stories from all different perspectives in life, I call it seeing the world through a kaleidoscope lens.

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Travel Misconceptions: Romania

Travel Misconceptions - Romania

One of my goals on The Atlas Heart is to break down travel misconceptions or judgments about places and ideas. Perhaps it could be that destination that everyone warns you not to visit because of how dangerous it is, or maybe you yourself had preconceived notions that were proven wrong once you arrived to where you were going.

My aim is to present a variety of different opinions and experiences through the eyes of other travelers. It’s important to hear travel stories from all different perspectives in life, I call it seeing the world through a kaleidoscope lens.

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Travel Misconceptions: Minsk

Travel Misconceptions: Minsk, Belarus

One of my goals on The Atlas Heart is to break down travel misconceptions or judgments about places and ideas. Perhaps it could be that destination that everyone warns you not to visit because of how dangerous it is, or maybe you yourself had preconceived notions that were proven wrong once you arrived to where you were going.

My aim is to present a variety of different opinions and experiences through the eyes of other travelers. It’s important to hear travel stories from all different perspectives in life, I call it seeing the world through a kaleidoscope lens.

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Snapshot Memories of the Week: Krakow, Poland

Snapshot memories is a new weekly series, giving a visual glimpse into different destinations and unique ways to view them. It’s also a way for me to look back on travels that occurred before and after I started this blog, and to give each place I’ve traveled the attention it deserves. 

This week my memories go back to Krakow.

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I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect with Krakow, or Poland as a whole. It’s a country I didn’t know much about, and I knew it would be a profound one to visit with Birkenau and Auschwitz within its bounds.

After coming straight from Budapest, I guess I was expecting much of the same: a divided country with many ghosts from the past.

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I was completely surprised by what I found instead. The Florence of the East, as my 21 year-old self described it. I was enamored with Krakow from the first time I stepped into the main square and the charm I was met with from the start.

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Krakow, the land of cobblestones, horse drawn carriages, post offices in old school buggies, and a 700 year-old salt mine.

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Above ground, Krakow is a sight to behold. There are street performers and magicians everywhere, street food and markets, and an overall jovial spirit to always keep things lively.

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The colorful Jewish quarter had to be my favorite, with funky cars and delicious eateries everywhere you looked.

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Beneath the ground lies the famous UNESCO heritage site, the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Going 7 levels deep, with about 400 steps between each level, it’s a long way down, to say the least, and not for those who consider themselves at all claustrophobic. We only managed to get to level 3 and that was a whole half day in the mines, it’s massive.

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It was an amazing site that took a lot of ingenuity and work to create, and the salt sculptures throughout the mines were a sight to behold, but it also came off as a very poorly organized expedition.

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At the end of the tour there were hundreds of people lined up in a small tunnel, waiting for the two elevators that would take you back up to the top. It took about 45 minutes of waiting in lines to get back above ground.  Regardless, I’m glad to have seen it.

I didn’t have a whole lot of time in Krakow, but with the time I had, I whole-heartedly enjoyed the second largest city in Poland that has a rich history seeping above the cobblestones.

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What I’ll always remember about my first impressions of Krakow are the red brick accents found around the city, the street culture, and of course, the salt mine. So, when can I go back again?

Red Brick Accents

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Street Culture

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Salt Mine

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Snapshot Memories of the Week: Budapest, Hungary

Snapshot memories is a new weekly series, giving a visual glimpse into different destinations and unique ways to view them. It’s also a way for me to look back on travels that occurred before and after I started this blog, and to give each place I’ve traveled the attention it deserves. 

This week my memories go back to Budapest.

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Budapest is a city of vibrant contrasts, a fact that is fitting due its divided history.

Budapest used to consist of the two separate cities of Buda and Pest, until they were united in 1873 after the struggle for Hungarian independence to become the city it is now. The two separate sides of  the city are still connected by the Chain Bridge.

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Budapest has endured a lot in the past years with nazi and communist occupation that has been the cause of a painful history.

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With that said, Budapest is still one of my favorite cities in Europe. It’s also the furthest east I’ve traveled in Europe, and I found the history captivating, heartbreaking, and profound all at once.

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Budapest is different from any other city I visited in Europe mostly because of it’s history and the scars or the growth from those scars that have come since the iron curtain days.

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A lot of Budapest’s tourism is centered around dark tourism, a type of tourism I’ve come across numerous times around Eastern Europe and Cambodia.

In particular, I remember visiting the House of Terror, which not only housed Hungary’s Arrow Cross Nazi party, but was also used by the AVO, or the communist secret police after the nazis were removed from power.

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The basement cells where prisoners were tortured are still intact and were viewable to us as visitors. It was an important building to go see, but it didn’t make it any easier to go to.

In contrast to the darker aspects of Hungary’s history, there’s also a great Byzantine influence in the architecture, Turkish thermal baths of every kind from the 15th and 16th centuries, and an overwhelming feel of a student-centered city that is intellectual, cool, and fashionable.

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In the younger generation you tend to see a free-sprited nature, where couples kiss on the streets and there’s a lightness in the air.

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In the older generation, which has been through so much, there is still a lot of pain and grievances. It would come off as Budapest simply having a high incidence of grumpy old men, that is, if you were unaware of the history that has taken place in such a short time.

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There are some positive ways the communist history has been used around the city, most notably in the unique and quirky ideas and artwork. My favorite thing I came across would have to be the ruin bars in the dark back alleyways around the city.

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Someone had the idea to turn old communist houses that were falling into ruins, into these bars that are actually some of the coolest bars I’ve been to in my travels. Brilliant.

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Above all, even with all of the extras things on offer, Budapest is a city that has so much natural beauty, it takes your breath away.

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When I think back on Budapest I remember the communist history that is still seen all over the city, the Byzantine architecture, and the ridiculously good looking landscapes. 

I think it’s about time I explore more of Eastern Europe.

Communist History

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Byzantine Architecture

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Good Looking Landscapes

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Snapshot Memories of the Week: Dublin, Ireland

Snapshot memories is a new weekly series, giving a visual glimpse into different destinations and unique ways to view them. It’s also a way for me to look back on travels that occurred before and after I started this blog, and to give each place I’ve traveled the attention it deserves. 

This week my memories go back to Dublin.

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Dublin was a place I added on to my Europe trip last minute. I decided to do one of those bus around tours with a company called Topdeck, and I had about 5 days left over at the end of that trip and my flight home to California.

I’ve always wanted to visit Scotland and England, Scotland due to my heritage and England because there are so many historical and famous places I want to see (and music festivals I want to go to), but I only had 5 days, and I simply wanted to relax in a cool place at the end of my trip, not try and squish in a bunch of sightseeing and travel.

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That’s when I set my sights on Dublin, also a city I wanted to see, especially with its live music scene and vibrant drinking culture, it was sure to be a good time.

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After enjoying a chatty ride with the nice taxi driver from the airport, I managed to make friends fairly quickly my first night in the hostel. I had a cool Aussie roommate who I immediately got along with, and who introduced me to all of his friends in the hostel.

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My first night in Dublin we did a bit of bar hopping, checking out the live music to be found at most pubs and drinking pints of Guinness. I’ve never enjoyed Guinness outside of Dublin, but while I was there, it was the most delicious beer – scratch that – meal at the pub. There’s something magical about drinking Guinness in Ireland, and most notably Dublin where the Guinness factory is located.

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Instead of making any plans of all the sights I needed to see while I was there, I spent my days wandering around the city getting lost on the cobblestone streets, and taking in the medieval feel of the city, I even saw my first castle.

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I walked down Grafton Street to see all of the talented street musicians, I found Oscar Wilde’s memorial in Merrion Square and read a variety of his quotes I love so much, I wandered around the famous Trinity College, and walked over the historical Ha’penny Bridge.

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Even with the constant grey and dismal days the whole time I was there, I loved seeing the contrast in the colorful doors and pubs to be found around the city.

I only left the city once, when my Aussie roommate and I went on a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher, also known as the edge of the world. Otherwise, I was content taking my time seeing Dublin, and finding a new band to listen to each night, or a new pub to drink Guinness in.

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If I had to describe Dublin, I would describe it by the medieval architecture, the endless nights of going to bars and seeing live music, and the contrast of grey and color you would find constantly around the city.

Dublin turned out to be just what I needed to say a proper temporary goodbye to Europe.

Medieval Architecture

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Bars & Live Music

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Contrast of Grey and Color

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Snapshot Memories of the Week: Paris, France

Snapshot memories is a new weekly series, giving a visual glimpse into different destinations and unique ways to view them. It’s also a way for me to look back on travels that occurred before and after I started this blog, and to give each place I’ve traveled the attention it deserves. 

This week my memories go back to Paris.

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Parieee!

I had wanted to go to the city of light since I was a little girl, enamored with Francophone culture. I didn’t end up taking French language lessons until I reached university level, but that only sparked my interest more, especially since my instructor was from Paris.

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I have to be honest, I didn’t have enough time to get a feel for the city as I would’ve liked, I only had a week at the start of my backpacking trip through the rest of Europe, and it went by far too quickly, especially with the long lines at most attractions in Paris during the summer.

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It rained the whole week I was there. From day 1, I arrived at my little hotel room and found the few warm clothes hiding in the crevices of my suitcase. After spending a month in humid Florence never needing more than a light cotton t-shirt, the weather was something to get used to a little further north.

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My first night I met up with one of my sorority sisters and a few of her friends from back in San Diego. We hit the town and I realized just how expensive a night in Paris can be. We went to a ritzy gay nightclub on Champs-Élysées called Le Queen that had a standard exorbitant entry fee that included a drink, and the same beat that played the whole night.

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Even though it was overpriced and repetitive, it turned out to be an incredible night. We stayed out dancing until 6am so that we could save money and catch the first train of the day home in the morning.

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The rest of my Parisian time wasn’t spent quite so extravagantly to the relief of my budget, but I still managed to squeeze in a lot with my time there.

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I saw the Louvre and the very tiny Mona Lisa, I stood next to the beautiful Notre Dame, I toured the Pompidou Museum, sipped Cappuccinos in Parisian cafes looking out at the rain, sat along the Seine, and learned how to use the extensive underground metro system.

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I found the best hidden kebabs in nondescript shops, stood under the Arc de Triomphe and discovered my favorite neighborhood in Paris is Montmartre, which gave me a chance to see the breathtaking Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, and brought me back to scenes from one of my favorite movies, Amélie.

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I went to a ridiculously good burlesque show, toured the city lights, drove past the Académie Nationale de Musique, where Phantom of the Opera was supposed to take place, and saw the Moulin Rouge from afar. I stood in front of the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night, and I tried escargot for the first time and french onion soup.

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I wish I had taken more pictures while I was there because there were so many character filled cafes (and way too many chocolate croissants that I ate), and so much beauty in the details of every day life in the city outside of just the standard attractions that every tourist and their mom goes to.

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But alas with the snapshot memories that I do have, the way I would remember paris is in Colorful Funky Artwork, the Elegant (mostly gothic) Architecture, and the Famous Historical Monuments I came across on a daily basis. I found it to be the city of light in a great many ways.

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Elegant (Mostly Gothic) Architecture

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Famous Historical Monuments

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Snapshot Memories of the Week: Florence, Italy

Snapshot memories is a new weekly series, giving a visual glimpse into different destinations and unique ways to view them. It’s also a way for me to look back on travels that occurred before and after I started this blog, and to give each place I’ve traveled the attention it deserves. 

This week my memories go back to Florence.

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Florence, Italy was pretty much everything I could’ve wanted out of a summer in Tuscany. There was history, glorious amounts of food and gelato, and even a fleeting romance.

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Coming from a Hollywood culture that glamorizes all things Italy (read: Under the Tuscan Sun), I kept my expectations low. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how my summer actually surpassed the previous expectations I held.

To sum it up in a word, it was an unforgettable summer.

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Sunset on the Arno River
Sunset on the Arno River

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It was the first time I was to travel on my own, I had just turned 21 and I was open and ready for all that Italy had to offer, whether that be in terms of the nightlife, the language, or the culinary class I attended every afternoon after a humid walk through the city.

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Culinary Class

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I was enamored from my first night in Florence, on a hot summer’s night, getting to know my new flatmates, and eating some of the best gnocchi I’ve tried in my life.

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I loved how the city lit up, how the language was spoken, and how much slower the way of life seemed to be – unless you were brought back to reality by a sudden speeding vespa.

Katie and I

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I climbed the Duomo, went out almost every night for my month long stay in the city, saw Michelangelo’s David up close and in person, and immersed myself in all things art and beauty.

I ate gelato once a day if not more, and I still didn’t get to all the flavors on hand, nor did I get to visit all of the numerous gelaterias there were to choose from.

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I found myself at secret bakeries in the wee hours of the morning devouring Nutella croissants, I became used to walking on cobblestones constantly, and realized pretty quick that if I went down a new street I was sure to stumble upon a great piece of art, a flirtatious or cheeky local to talk to, or a hidden family-run trattoria frequented by locals.

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photo cred: Molly Wascher

If you’re interested in seeing my first ever attempt at a travel blog and the thoughts of my 21 year-old self, here it is in the flesh, my summer traveling through Europe.

And a few of my favorite excerpts that I wrote specifically about Florence:

June 26th, 2011

Let me just begin by saying how much I am in love with Florence, literally IN LOVE with Florence. When we first walked into the city square I was speechless for a good few minutes, it was so incredible. The architecture, the lights, the live music coming from every corner, everything is so attractive here (and yes that includes the Italian boys).

I’ve decided to get married in Florence. I don’t know when, or to whom, but I am going to come back some day and get married in Florence. It is the most romantic place I’ve been to in my life.

Anyway, we started our night by walking around saying ciao to everyone we met along the way, eventually ending up in a little shop to share a bottle of wine. We took it to the steps of the duomo and started drinking wine under the shadow of the architecture and the Tuscan stars.

It wasn’t long before a couple of Italian boys came up and started talking to us, they invited us to come to the local discoteca a little ways down. It was an amazing night, I still can’t believe everything that went down. Old school hip hop, VIP corner with free champagne and fruit plates, lots and lots of Italians, partying til 3am. So exhausted today with all the orientations I had to go to for school, but it was so worth it.

Una notte del leone. More soon, ciao!

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July 18th, 2011

Things I’ve come to love in Italy:

-Hazelnut gelato.hazelnut gelato.hazelnut gelato….hazelnut gelato (oh, and Mango is a close second)

-Men in suits on vespas. hot.

-the cobblestone streets that I trip over on my way to school every day (it’s a love hate relationship)

-everyone drinking from open containers in public (Florence literally feels like a college campus during the summer at night)

-standing cappuccinos. And just cappuccinos in general.

-the Duomo steps (where every great night begins)

-the food. It’s funny, I actually didn’t eat that much Italian food back home before coming here, but when I’m here I feel like I’ll never get tired of pasta and such fresh deliciousness.

-my little apartment with pink walls and tiny appliances everywhere

-the language. I don’t care if I can’t understand it, it’s beautiful. It’s probably better I can’t in most cases when guys yell things at me on the street or I almost get run over (again) by a vespa and they yell something angry at me.

-“ciao ciao ciao ciao ciao ganzo ganzo ganzo” -Katie (my roommate) the pickup line she uses with all the Italians. It surprisingly works really well.

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July 5th, 2011

Last night was a kind of bittersweet missed moments kinds of night. It was fun celebrating Fourth of July in a foreign country, I only had one incident of anti-American sentiment, but everyone else seemed to be enjoying the American spirit. There was a huge concert going on in one of the Piazzas near the Duomo, people were packed close together two blocks straight every direction.

All of Florence, it seemed, was celebrating American independence.

It gave me this gushy feeling of togetherness, like maybe the world isn’t as screwed up as I think it is, and maybe everyone doesn’t hate Americans as much as I think they do. Most Italians I’ve talked to admit to thinking of us as drunk and loud but they actually really like us despite the stereotype.

The only downside of the night is how it didn’t turn out as we expected. One of my roommates was supposed to meet up with her Italian boy, it fell through. Another one of my roommates tried meeting up with an American boy and he ended up being an asshole about it…and then there’s me…well there wasn’t a fault on either side, just bad luck.

I was supposed to be on the steps of the Duomo at midnight but it started raining so we had to go into the nearest gelateria…and the club I had mentioned we were going to we only went to briefly because it was so barren last night. So, I have no idea if he came looking for me. I’d like to think so, but at this point I’m leaving it up to chance. If we meet again so be it. If not then I’m still loving life in Italy, it truly is amazing here.

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July 9th, 2011

As I was exploring more of the city on my way home from the Accademia I realized just how much I’m going to miss this place. This summer will forever be ingrained in my memory and I’m not even half-way through my trip yet.

The faint sound of the accordion player down the street every morning on my way to my favorite bar for my daily cappuccino, the historical buildings and statues that are around every corner; I never know what important monument I’ll come across when I walk out my door every day…

Last night, me and my friend from Ohio walked toward the Ponte S.Trinita overlooking the river. We climbed over the edge of the bridge to this triangular platform (another thing we probably weren’t supposed to be on) and took in the beauty of Florence, sitting over the river. It was absolutely beautiful. We both noted how we didn’t know how we were going to go back and live in the States after witnessing such a beautiful city like Florence. We just sat there for awhile, in peace with everything around us. I finally got home around 5 this morning, but it was so worth it. It was an amazing night.

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As you can see, I was completely and utterly enamored with Florence, I think I used the word “amazing” enough to prove that fact.

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photo cred: Lianne Enage
photo cred: Lianne Enage

I still think of Florence as my home away from home, and I still can’t believe how many good memories I have after only living there for a month.

This week my snapshots consist of art, food, architecture, and my many nights out on the town, because I found these things in abundance while I lived in this beautiful city.

Florence, I miss you like an old college roommate. I’ll come back for you someday.

Art

Art

Food

Food

Architecture

Architecture

Nights Out

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Living the life of an American Abroad

Since the Fourth of July landed on a Thursday this year, I figured I would make my Throwback Thursday post about my first experience celebrating American Independence abroad in Italy, and in general what it means to be an American overseas when we don’t have the best reputation to begin with.

Stereotypes are commonplace in our society. They are an easy way for us to put places and people into organized categories. However, it does seem that Americans have more negative stereotypes than most, and to be fair there are definitely Americans I’ve met on my travels who have made me embarrassed about my nationality and do fit into the worst possible stereotypes, but there are so many more who don’t. That can be said for any nationality stereotype, I’m sure.

I think those who feel animosity and irritation towards the States tend to forget at times that all those judgements are generalizations, and each person you meet no matter what nationality is still going to be their own individual entity.

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There’s an ongoing “joke” that everyone hates Americans. It’s something that I nonchalantly grew up hearing in school in the States, something that I’ve always believed, and used to not really question because it was just a fact of the world. Even now, I still catch myself saying I’m Californian as opposed to American, when I’m abroad and someone asks me where I’m from, as if Californian has less of a negative connotation somehow.

When I was in Italy for American Independence Day, I was a little worried that it would just turn into a trash talking-fest of anti-American sentiment. Instead, there was a huge concert in one of the main piazzas, people were lined up for blocks on end, all in celebration of America. It gave me this gushy feeling of togetherness, like maybe this world isn’t as screwed up as I think it is, and maybe not everyone hates Americans as much as I think they do.

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I can understand the underlying resentments against Americans due to our history, our politics, Bush, our need to get involved in things internationally that we really shouldn’t be sticking our nose into. Our consistent issues with health and obesity, a great amount of plain ignorance, and our general ethnocentric attitude instilled in American society, especially when it comes to reporting world news and understanding what else is going on in the world besides just at home. Oh and of course, our lack of holding valid passports.

With that said, it’s a horrible thing to grow up feeling ashamed of your nationality, feeling that other people want you to be ashamed of calling yourself American. Traveling the world has caused me to face this head on, to take a step back and think of what it really means to be American, and in a way, to try and prove the judgmental naysayers wrong. It’s quite the task when you don’t find that many Americans to begin with on the backpacker trail, and all anyone has to rely on is the negative stereotypes, but I hope I’m proving at least a few of those stereotypes wrong.

Even just the other day I went into a bottle shop in Australia to buy a bottle of wine, and the Australian behind the counter asked me where my accent was from. I told him I was from California, and he replied that I should really tell people I’m from Canada because Australians like Canadians so much better. I get that kind of half joking banter constantly while I travel. Thankfully, I don’t take myself too seriously, so it’s usually just something I accept as I travel, that I just laugh off and make myself numb to, unless it’s said maliciously, in which case there is no way I will let it fly.

It’s an unsettling thing when people attack your nationality, because it’s not something that you should be ashamed of or that you can change. It’s something that you’re stuck with, like your personality, your appearance, and especially for Americans, it’s a part of who you are as a person.  

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When I was in Europe, there were a few cases of anti-American sentiment. One instance in Budapest, an old Hungarian man sneered something about stupid Americans at our group because the Irish girls at the front were talking a bit loud and animatedly. They told him they were Irish, and suddenly his scowl turned into a smile and he said thank god, well Irish is better at least. Me, being the only American in the group, completely quiet and hanging at the back watching all this go down, spoke up and let him know that I was American, thank you very much as I walked past.

What I always remember is that there will always be closed-minded and ignorant people in whatever country you travel, and if they want to categorize millions of people into one negative stereotype than that’s their issue. Although I’m not proud of a lot of aspects of my country’s past, and my nationality is something I’m constantly aware of when traveling abroad, I’m not ashamed to be American.

Now in Australia, it’s my 2nd time celebrating the Fourth overseas, so we’ll see how it pans out. It’s always strange celebrating a national holiday abroad, but as odd as it sounds, experiencing the Fourth of July in Italy changed the way I saw my nationality and how I believe outsiders to view it. It made me proud again to be an American, and to be thankful for my roots, my passion and pride that comes with being a Yank.