13:42. train to Pisa: €12,40

18:25. plane to Seville: €22,00

21:00. bus to Seville city center: €2,40

two nights at a hostel down the street from the cathedral: €22,00

08:00. bus to Seville airport: €2,40

09:20. flight to Milan: €29,99

12:30. metro to the Duomo and back: €3,00

15:30. train to Arezzo: €39,00

Total transportation and housing cost for a trip to Seville (1550 km away from Pisa) with a mini side-trip to Milan on the way back:

€133,19 after being had for €30 by Trenitalia

One-way flight from Oklahoma City to Cleveland, OH (1535 km away): $216 or



One of the most singularly compelling reasons to live in Europe for an extended period of time is the price of travel. Seriously, mass transit here is excellent and cheap, thanks to the population density of Italy been equivalent to Oklahoma’s, if everyone in Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas moved to Oklahoma. This semester, I have come to realize how much I love taking trains. Ryanair is scary cheap, but more than 90% of their planes land. Ahead of schedule, that is.

Anyway, this past weekend I and a couple of other students headed out to Seville, Spain to take a break from mangando la pizza to try comiendo las tapas. We successfully navigated trains, planes, and buses to get to our destination with only our wits and a couple of years of high school Spanish class to guide us. High school was almost four years ago for me, and if you know my wits, you’ll understand that we spent those few days flying by the seat of our pantalones.

Two of my favorite things: talented dancers and iPad photographers

I loved Seville. I love walking around old cities and seeing the layers of time on every brick of every building, every cobblestone of every street, and every flying buttress on every catedral/duomo. But maybe the most memorable part of the trip was the feeling of adventure that comes from being 1500 km away from the nearest people you know. Maybe it was getting kicked out of the Cathedral of St. Mary, the largest cathedral in the world, (for what we still don’t know; they just got really sassy) or maybe it was getting kicked out of the health food shop’s outside table area for bringing Burger King over from next door. Maybe it was the time we got off the train right before it left because we thought we needed to validate our tickets (hint: we didn’t need to, and some nice loiterers let us know in time to get back to our seats).

“We were wide-eyed with everything, everything around us”

There’s something marvelous about walking around an old place like Florence with someone as knowledgeable as Dr. Duclaux to help us on and off trains and buses (and Dr. Fagan to generously volunteer to pay our fare sometimes). But it is a truly liberating feeling to successfully travel around three unfamiliar cities (four if you count Bergamo) armed with nothing but “¿donde estamos?” and some offline iPhone maps.

And I still remember when I was afraid to walk anywhere in Arezzo by myself.

As I was attempting to eavesdrop on a conversation between two ladies on a long bus ride a few weekends back (They were talking rather loudly, and I didn’t understand enough of it to warrant any shame, anyway. ), I started thinking about the rhythm of the Spanish language. English keeps to a fairly regular iambic pentameter (thank you, Shakespeare), but Spanish can somehow roll on and on. I listened for awhile, and pinned the rhythm as something like repeating triplets — a Spanish 6/8 rather than an English 4/4. Spanish is a beautiful language to listen to, and I think rhythm plays an important role.

The rhythm of life here in Spain has been quite an adjustment. I came wanting and expecting a change in pace. That change has gone beyond my to-do lists and appointment book. The change in rhythm has had more of an effect on me. It’s easy enough to change my pace — to fall into step with someone walking faster or slower, to fill up my schedule with rest and relaxation, to be intentional with fewer people — but to step back, regroup, and attempt to join in a different rhythm of speech, time, priorities, and relationship is something entirely different. It’s as though I’m a metronome being adjusted for an entirely new piece. Even a couple months into this thing I still wouldn’t say I’ve wholly adjusted, and doubt whether I ever could. However, I am thriving in the attempt to change my inner rhythm and still laugh at failures. When I was first trying to jump into the rhythm of the language, I had a conversation with a man at a sports complex near our apartment. My initial thought was that I just needed to speak as quickly as my Southern tongue would allow. He laughed and stopped me, saying, “Slow down, slow down. You’re not in a hurry.” Turns out that was great advice beyond rolling my Rs. I’m not sure why I felt the need to rush the transition into the Spanish rhythm. It’s a process, and half the fun is confronting new ways of thinking and new patterns of life with my trite ol’ paradigms. One of my favorite things about life is transforming my thinking and the subsequent growth from such a change. All that remains now is to keep absorbing change until I find that the new rhythm is as natural as the old.

Growing Pains

Last semester, my roommate and I decided it was time for us to start growing up.

Step 1: shower more. Unfortunately, I’ve found that my age and showering regimen have an inverse relationship — the older I get, the less I shower. This was all fine and dandy while I worked at Cafe Plaid (where most of the workers more than likely haven’t seen a bar of soap in months) and took only literature courses (where most people are grungy, too) and history courses (where no one notices anything). But as The Real World loomed on the horizon, I figured the professional thing to do would be to run a comb through the ol’ mane once in awhile. I planned on being a regular bather and was determined to be able to remember the last time I showered everyday. When I got to Spain, I went to a beauty store and grabbed the cheapest bottles of shampoo and conditioner. After the first few showers, I noticed something going awry. In the hours after my shower, my hair looked fantastic — shiny and tossable, like Pantene Pro-V hair. However, the magic soon wore off, and by mid-afternoon I was back to a grunge even Kurt Cobain would envy. Turns out I bought products for dry, damaged hair, a problem only exacerbated by the fact that conditioner here is uber potent (my first clue should have been the smaller bottle), and most people don’t use it every time they shower. By that time, though, I had almost given up on the showering bit.

Step 2: dress nicer. Even though I intentionally packed nicer clothes — even skirts and dresses — to try to amp up my dress code, I still end up wearing jorts and tie dye or a tank top and Birkenstocks everyday. Spanish women dress really well, which makes me feel even more grungy. More than anything, it just makes me feel like an awkward tween that can’t figure out how to dress well. I keep thinking I’ll just buy nicer clothes here, but 1) I’m too cheap, 2) I end up trying on clothes that are just like the ones I have, and 3) I’m afraid I’ll end up in genie pants. Hopefully immaculately dressed Spanish women will stop intimidating me and start inspiring me.

Step 3: wear makeup. That happened once (unless you count the following two days I sported the leftover mascara). I figure I’ll focus on the showering and see where that leads me.

Looks like I’ve got to leave Never, Neverland for Espana and a good scrub.

What volatile relationship shall I blog about today? Time and space. Einstein’s been there, done that, I know, but Einstein never had Super Target. A safe statement to make about Americans is that they value efficiency. We love our time, and we love to maximize it. Ironically, we use up a ton of space. Our suburban sprawl would give ol’ Jefferson something to smile about. Because we are so smugly efficient and technology obsessed, the effect of space on our time isn’t as important (Skype being the perfect example) — time-space compression.  Things run at a bit of a different pace here in Spain. Efficiency is neither the goal nor the means for success. There are no supermarkets where you can buy a converter, a bike, Scooby Snacks, and sporks. People walk everywhere — even walk their kids to school (shocking, I know), buy groceries a couple times a week, and aren’t always punctual. Time is treasured here, but not as Americans treasure it. Americans enjoy time well spent. Spaniards simply enjoy time. They get drinks with their friends, go for walks with their families, and sit in plazas to watch the hubbub. Another difference is that there is little space to spare here. Where one might think efficiency would make for easier living when most families share the space a bachelor would in the US, it doesn’t seem to be an issue. Time-space convergence probably doesn’t even translate.

Is one way of life necessarily better than the other? One set of values healthier or more sensible than the opposite? I don’t think so. After escaping the clutches of suburbia, I will probably be rather disenchanted by it for awhile. Maybe I’m just listening to too much Arcade Fire again.

We, the Crocs

My first introduction to the Euro was in Dublin when Abigail and I finally escaped the British Pound. We were relieved by a lower exchange rate, but still felt a pang of injustice with the addition of every transaction fee. The 5 Euro note is pretty small in relation to the American dollar, and is blue. The next time I got change, I got a pink 10 Euro note that wasn’t much bigger, only confirming my suspicion that Euros are really Monopoly money. But what treasures that Monopoly money can buy! I’m not talkin’ the Pennsylvania Railroad or a thimble. I’m talkin’ genie pants and gladiator sandals. Spaniards are known for being more formal than Americans, and I’ve found that to be true, but sometimes I see a bit of the Romani gypsy influence peeking through. Take, for instance, the genie pants phenomenon. Women everywhere in Spain own genie pants. And when I say genie pants, I mean genie pants — like Genie in Aladdin, or Shaq in Kazaam. Abigail thinks they’re ridiculous, but I have to confess I think they’re awesome. Women also wear gladiator sandals almost exclusively. I have yet to see a Spanish woman wearing sneakers. While most Spaniards wouldn’t be caught dead in athletic wear, they can somehow justify Crocs. Crocs are hard enough to justify stateside, but I usually explain them away by pitying the hick inside everyone (this is also how I explain away Country music and men wearing tank tops). How and when did Crocs become an international phenomenon? Of all the things to unite the globe, America can proudly stand behind Crocs and McDonalds. Maybe that sinking in my stomach when I see Crocs on a Spaniard or Irishman is actually patriotism. I’ll keep telling myself that.

Verdict on The Turf (the Bill Clinton bar): pretty cool, but not life-changing. A former Prime Minister of Australia made his way into the Guinness book of world records by chugging a yard of ale (2 1/2 pints) in 11 seconds! It was also mentioned in Jude the Obscure, a novel I read for my 19th Centure English Novel course a few semesters back. Anyway, I had an Olde Trip Ale that was quite good, but again, not life-changing. I’ve decided to keep track of all the beer or ale I consume, and Abigail has decided to keep track of each pastry. You should see that girl go after a chocolate croissant. One interesting thing we’ve found about this area is that everything closes really early. The Turf closed at about 11:30. Some hostel friends (note: when said aloud, that sounds like “hostile friends”) led us to the pub, and it was fun to chat with them for a bit. Francisco (Chile), Darren (South Africa) and Luigi (Italy) were our friendly guides last night.

After the pub, we made our way back to the hostel. We crawled in bed for some wondrous, snuggly sleep with the window open and rain pattering on the deck outside. Sounds ideal, right? It was. Even with a snorer in our room, it couldn’t steal from the magic of being in Oxford. I settled into a great, fluffy pillow. I read a bit. I waited. I settled again. I waited. I re-settled. I let my mind wander. I fidgeted. I listened to music (a bit of Brothers by the Black Keys, The Suburbs by Arcade Fire [thanks to Matt Carney], Bethel Live, Mouths Like Trumpets by Brad Kilman, and even a bit of Patty Griffin [“Rain,” which made me miss Jenny and Amanda]). I lay wide-eyed until after 3 a.m. If you don’t know me too well, this is beyond abnormal. I usually fall asleep mid-sentence, or in some weird position on a couch or chair before I can get to my bed. I never have trouble falling asleep. So, naturally, I was frustrated. It finally crossed my mind that maybe I was picking up on a spirit of restlessness over the hostel. Judging from the conversations I had had with hostel friends (who really aren’t too hostile), and that some of these sojourners wander for months in search of self and truth, it made sense. So, I interceded for the travelers, and prayed over the hostel we’re in now (which I’ve really enjoyed. It has a really great family atmosphere.), for peace and rest for them. I immediately fell asleep afterward. You’d think by now I’d recognize something like that a little earlier. I just hope I never waste that much sleep again.

Today, Abigail and I tried to out-tourist ourselves, so we headed to the incredible Ashmolean Museum. If you ever find yourself in Oxford, go there. It may have been my favorite thing so far. They had exhibits from Ancient Greece to Japan after 1850 to Italian Renaissance (I saw a chess set from the 1400s! Incredible!) to Modern Art (I saw a Vincent van Gogh and Manet! Be jealous, Dad, be verrry jealus.) We ran around “ooh”ing in the Egyptian exhibit. I began turning my broken record then as well, “This is incredible!” Once we got to the European Music and Tapestry room, however, I lost my faithful museo-companion. I flitted about from case to case, gasping and giggling anew at each instrument while Abigail sat unimpressed on a bench. Let me tell you what I saw, and hopefully you’ll understand a bit. I saw a performance violin from 1638. I saw 2 incredibly detailed, beautiful harpsichords (my most exciting moment). I saw a Strativari violin called “The Messiah.” I saw an English guitar inlaid with fine ivory detail from over 400 years ago. I feel justified in the freak-out.

After our extended visit (thanks, Abigail) to the Ashmolean, we made our way to Christ Church and the Alice in Wonderland shop. I labored over whether to buy an Oxford shirt (to tap into my Letters mojo) for at least 10 minutes, and finally left the shop 15 minutes later with a shirt and mug (classic). We then stopped into a local cafe in search of tea and a pastry for Abigail and a Peroni Lager for me. It was alright, but my favorite this trip has been the Alpine Lager at Ye Olde Swiss Cottage.

Tomorrow, we make our way through gorgeous English and Wales countryside to Ireland. After several failed travel plans, we’ve finally finnagled our way onto a train and ferry. Expect another long post, I suppose. Cheers!

And now it’s time for another good idea/bad idea. Good idea: sleeping before an international flight. Bad idea: sleeping for 2 hours before an international flight. Yours truly thought it’d be a good idea to stay up really late the night before she left for London so that she would be tired enough to sleep on the overnight flight. Made sense, right? False. Little sleep makes Liz a grumpy bear. …not to mention more than a little emotional. Jenny and Amanda drove me to the airport, and even though I was pretty groggy, I made it to the airport anticipating what lay ahead. Everything was fine even through sad goodbyes until I was walking toward security. That’s when it started. I felt that strange tension in my chest that started to rise up to my eyes. You know the feeling — that tightness that then becomes a flushed face that then becomes tears that then becomes hyperventilating that then becomes snotty that then becomes blotchy/puffy. It’s a vicious cycle. I used to hate crying, so I just never would. That plan worked out just fine until I would either 1) explode in a really unattractive crying fit, 2) go to a wedding (where I would weep like a little girl), or 3) watch a movie (we’re talkin’ any movie, here — even the last few minutes of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition would leave me in shambles). In the last couple years, I’ve tried to let myself be a little more emotional and be okay with it. So, as I neared security, I felt those tears well up, but decided to at least hold them in until I got through the metal detector (not sure why I needed a checkpoint). Once I got through and began walking toward my gate, I just released those floodgates. The strange thing is that I’m still not sure why I was crying. I was sad to leave, sure, but I’ll only be gone 4 months, and they will fly by. I was a little nervous about all the travel ahead, but not necessarily enough to warrant such puffy eyes. I suppose the weight of what was to come finally affected me. Whatever the reason, I let myself cry it out, but as I was about to board the plane, I was interrupted again by another little bout of tears.

I boarded with a few sniffles, but had an uneventful flight to Dallas. Abigail and I met up in Dallas and boarded our flight to London full of dreams and giggles. I kept getting more excited to talk to a Brit, and Abby kept getting more excited about all the pastries. After all the obligatory, “Oh my gosh!”es and “I can’t believe this is really happening!”s, we settled in to our seats that included personal screens with movies, tv shows, and games (Abby played Tetris, and I played a memory game — classic). I watched Robin Hood, and Maid Marian was totally redeemed in my eyes (partly because she’s awesome, and partly because Cate Blanchette is awesome), and I realized I had done my hair like her that day, which made me feel like I had tapped into her awesome-ness. After our in-flight dinner, we both popped a sleeping pill, expecting to get some good rest before a big day in jolly ole England. The only thing I got from that pill was excess gas and restless frustration. Neither Abigail nor I slept at all that night. Instead I watched a forgettable Ewan McGregor movie called The Ghost Writer and got even grumpier than I was before — which means whinier than before (if that was possible).

The first song that met our weary ears was “I Want to Break Free” by Queen in our taxi. That immediately elated me (I suppose tired emotions are weak emotions — my grumpiness was broken by that song.). Random fact about Liz: I loved Queen in high school. …also Styx. Anyway, after storing our luggage, we made our way to a fantastic hostel in the heart of London (I don’t actually know if it was the heart of London. It felt like it.). We then made our way to the Natural History Museum, which we were both excited about. However, about 4.6 million other people had the same idea. So, zombie-like Liz and Abigail made their way through the hordes to see a mediocre museum. The outside of the place was lovely, but the exhibits were forgettable — maybe that’s the grumpy talking. At one point, I was so tired I was stumbling and kept taking weird micro-naps while standing. That’s when we decided to go back to the hostel for a much needed nap. We had been up for 29 hours, and made a valliant effort to stay up all day, but collapsed in our beds. We started a friendly conversation with our bunkmate Maria from Finland, but after a couple sentences, Abby asked me, “What did you say?” and I had already fallen asleep (again… classic). We then ate dinner and found a local pub called Ye Olde Swiss Cottage with our friend Lauren Britton (who is studying abroad in France this semester). I can safely say we were at least 1/3 the age of everyone in that pub, including the bartender. I got a Samuel Smith Alpine Lager (which was as delicious as it sounds), and the other two got ciders. Afterwards, we went to glorious bed.

We’re currently in Oxford, a really beautiful town west of London. We have plans to go to a pretty famous bar in which Bill Clinton may or may not have inhaled an illegal substance. That warrants a visit in my book.

Whew. These long posts are pretty annoying. I realize that. If I know myself, they’ll get shorter, and probably stop altogether. Either way, more to come.

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