Sunday, October 31

Travel Series Part 2: I ate Shrek's best friend

Editor's Note: I apologize in advance for how huge these pictures are. Hopefully everyone's computers can load them properly. I am trying out some new blogging platforms and this one made them gigantic. I'm sure you're wondering why I went ahead and just posted it anyway without actually fixing them...well it's complicated, you see. or maybe I'm just lazy. or maybe I'm hoping you'll print one out and hang me on your wall. Who knows. Also, I had to be selective in how many pictures I uploaded or else I'd give everyone carpal tunnel syndrome from all the scrolling down you'd have to do. The rest are in my Picasa album: here you go!

Before we delve into the beauty and splendor of Italy and the stories about the thirteen bottles of wine Sean and I drank while there (ohhhhh yes we did), let's just get something out of the way...

I ate Shrek's best friend. in a ravioli with black truffle oil. It was delicious. Sorry, I'm not sorry.

(source) Don't give me that look. It's not going to work on me, guys. When it comes to my food, there is no shame in this girl's game.

So please, go ahead and put down your whale blubber and pick up your pasta forks, Travel Series Part 2 is going to be a food and beverage tour through our time in Italy, because let's be honest...old buildings and churches are cool and all, but when you envision Italy you think about the red wine and gourmet cheeses with a loaf of freshly baked bread and the crepes filled with nutella and gelato. At least I do. I dream about them. Sometimes Sean even has to put a rubber mat under my pillow to catch all the drool.

We spent the majority of our time in Venice. The canals and ambiance of this sinking city are something to be seen. I cannot express enough just how beautiful I thought Venice was. Our flight into Italy was later in the day so by the time we had checked into the hotel and settled in, it was already 10pm. Luckily, Sean had made reservations for dinner along the Canal beforehand so away we went.

To be honest, the dinner here was just so-so. It was incredibly overpriced and had several sneaky charges for things like "cover charge", water, bread, etc. We realized later that most of the restaurants directly on the canal are tourist traps...but at that point we didn't care that the wine cost 20 euro more than it should've, we were drunk with sheer excitement just to be there.

Our first day in Venice was also the last day of Carnivale, so of course we had to partake in some local customs. Drink beer on the streets? While wearing a ridiculously cool mask? Fiiiiiiine, if it's what they do, I guess I'll do it.

Can you imagine how excited Sean was when he found this Guinness guy? He didn't speak a word of English, but Sean was so enamored I worried I'd be sleeping on the floor that night.

After a day of sightseeing, my last stop was to Harry's. They are famous for inventing the Bellini and more so for their infamous clientele.

Rumors had it that Angelina and Brad Pitt were staying at the hotel the bar was in so I was on a mission to find them. While I cannot stand Angelia Jolie, I certainly wasn't about to turn down a chance to bump into Mr. Pitt. Besides, Sean had already left me for the guy in the Guinness costume anyway.

I asked these guys if they wanted to come and stalk Brad with me, but for some reason they said no? Rude.

Sean and I made it a habit at the end of each day to make sure we relaxed. and by relax I mean drink either a bottle of prosecco or red wine before dinner. It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.

This would be the cup holder in our bathroom. We concluded that the reasons Italians are in such good health and always so happy is because they only drink red wine and nothing else. Water? who needs water?

One night we went to dinner at this suuuuuper fancy-schmancy restaurant near San Marco Piazza.

Apparently, being able to charge $50 for a plate of pasta doesn't mean you know how to take a good picture. But hey! look, more wine! I wasn't kidding about the thirteen bottle business. This restaurant was too stuffy for us though. We were the youngest people in there by at least 20 years.

The next day was our last one so we decided to spend the day wandering in and out the alley ways and canals. We tossed aside the tourist guides and hoped to stumble upon some of Venice's hidden gems on our own.

Mission accomplished!

This place. Ohhhhh this little square of heaven. When I die, please just bury me underneath the cobblestones of this piazza so when people spill their champagne or drop their chocolate, it will be mine for all of eternity.

Those would be crepes, filled with delicious things like chocolate, caramelized bananas, and oranges soaked in grand marnier. Do you understand now why I want to spend my afterlife here? I could eat chocolate and never get fat!

After this amazing lunch experience (yep, we had chocolate crepes and champagne for lunch. If we were like Kayne West in Iceland, well we were hitting up Italy P.Diddy style), we didn't know what dinner would have in store for us. Our restaurant ventures in Italy so far were like the 3 Little Pigs. First one was too touristy, the second was too stuffy, we needed one that was juuuust right.

Enter: Taverna San Lio. A place of magic. A place of magic, and romance, and a cheese board that could make a grown man cry.

We were two happy little pigs. I don't have any more pictures from this dinner unfortunately. Sean and I were having a fantastic time and I didn't want to spoil it by pulling out the camera and asking him to pose with his pasta...but rest assured it was phenomenal. I will let you in on a secret though, only if you promise never to tell Sean I told you (or tell my parents because they'd probably just shake their heads in shame) but we had so much wine that night at dinner Sean was convinced he could feel the water under the floor moving beneath us. I had to remind him, several times, this restaurant wasn't on the canal and nowhere near water. You can be rest assured though we soaked up a lot of that red wine with the creme brule we had for dessert.

I'm sure by now you are wondering: but what about the donkey? I get it Marie, you're a wino, hurry up and get to the good stuff. Well, after Venice, Sean and I headed to Verona. During my research of restaurants in the city, Osteria da Ugo restaurant kept popping up on my radar. I scanned their website and started reading about their specialities:
The Osteria da Ugo uses in season and fresh products only. Among our specialities you will find the unique Selections of local Cheeses and Cold Cuts and, as entrées, the Ravioli filled with Stewed Donkey Meat

jigga what?! Now, I love me some ravioli. I've never met a plate of pasta I didn't like, (Hello, fat years of college!) but this was pushing it a bit too far. Of course, I immediately forwarded the description to Sean daring him to eat it when we went. For months all we joked about was Stewed Donkey Meat...but the question remained: would either of us have the, ahem, guts to order it.

The day had come, we arrived at the restaurant to meet our fate.

This restaurant was adorable. Sadly, we weren't allowed to take any pictures inside. I'm pretty sure if we tried an old Italian guy would've come out of the kitchen and used us for the ravioli instead of poor Donkey so you'll have to roll with my verbal visualizations instead. (While you're at it, can you imagine me about 5lbs thinner and with Kim Kardashian's hair? Thanks)

Menus in hand, Sean and I looked at each other with uncertainty. No one would ever know if we didn't do it. We could go back to the States, brag about conquering the donkey meat, and no one'd ever be the wiser. But alas, we'd know. In our heart of hearts, it just wouldn't be with an affirming nod, Sean ordered Ravioli with Stewed Donkey Meat per due per favore . The minutes ticked by mercilessly as we waited for our donkey dinner destiny to arrive at our table. At last, our waiter rounded the corner and by the smirk on his face, I just knew it was ours. As the plate sat before me, I studied it from all angles, searching for the ravioli with the least amount of stewage among them. If this thing tasted like I imagined it would, I wanted as little of it as possible. Finally, the moment had come. With a clink of our forks and promises to love each other no matter what happened, we opened up and took a bite...

wait a that black truffle oil in there? and parmesean? are these ravioli's homemade by that same old scary Italian guy I thought was going to kill us earlier? THEY ARE?! Oh man, these are freaking delicious. I've already finished all of mine, can I have a few bites of yours? You're seriously NOT going to share any of yours with me? But it's so so so good!

and THAT friends, is how I ate my first donkey. It is also a great story on why women are so awesome. Who else can vehemently hate something for no reason, only to completely change their opinion and eventually take all credit for it's deliciousness? I can. You know why? Two thing little things I like to call women's intuition and a woman's prerogative to change her mind...and really, who needs balls and beer nuts when you can have red wine and PMS-induced dessert binges instead? Please, go forth and spread the message. or go eat some stewed children's movie character. do whatever you'd like...after all it's your prerogative.

In case you missed it...Travel Series Part 1: Viking Strippers

Up next...Travel Series Part 3: Guinness is next to Godliness

Thursday, October 28

Travel Series Part 1: Viking Strippers

I'm pretty sure Sean and I are on an international terrorist watch list as of last night. In the span of an hour we managed to book 4 flights to 3 different countries within the next 2 months (now THAT is some math I can handle). By the last transaction, our credit cards started weeping. One of them jumped right off the table and into the freezer where it plans to hide until Spring. But these things simply had to be done. Sean's Graduation in Ireland, going home for the holidays, a 3 day weekend in Amsterdam...okay, so technically the weekend in Amsterdam didn't have to be done but when the flight is only an hour long how can you resist? Back in Boston, it'd take me an hour just to remember where I parked my car the night before.

If you checked out my travel page, you realize how sadly lacking it is. I never blogged about my trips to Ireland, Italy, or Iceland (apparently I only like to visit countries that start with the letter I?), which is a shame because I have roughly 3298304835901298 pictures from those trips. I want to be sure to share the details of my past excursions before I embark on my new ones. Currently, I'm on a 3 hour break between classes at school. I am holed up in the library surrounded by art students who are all 5 years younger and infinitely hipper than I'll ever be. Also, the reality of the upcoming assignments I have just smacked me in the face today. hard. they left a handprint.

So what better time to escape into my past trips than now? Grab your passports and join me in Iceland...the land of moss covered moon rocks, reindeer burgers, and my arch nemesis: the Volcano that ruined my life. (that's a little dramatic but seriously, it sucked)

Our trip to Iceland was really just an 8 hour layover between Boston and London. A pitstop on the way to our new life.

I like to call this photo: I had a quarterlife crisis and now I sleep on airport benches like a homeless person. Alternative title: Mom and Dad, I need 20 bucks.

Overnight flights are never fun, particularly when accompanied by crying babies and a stewardess who uses my elbows for target practice with the drink cart, but Sean and I were so excited when we left the airport and started to see the sights of Iceland. (To be honest, I was on a secret mission to find Ekyjlykdlsfdvkdfjang and give it a piece of my mind. You don't scare me Volcano. So what if you spew liquid hot magma, I've got an amazing cocktail gown I never got to wear. and it's YOUR fault. Don't mess with me)

Iceland reminds me of the Moon, but green. We decided to spend our layover taking in the very best Iceland had to offer, by soaking in the Blue Lagoon hot springs.

A-mazingggggg. It was cold and rainy that day but it didn't matter. The hot springs are just that: hot. very very hot. Certain parts of the lagoon were around 104 degrees. There are bins of mud lining the edges of the lagoon for people to use. The combination of the mud and the steam from the water is supposed to be one of the best facials you can get. It was ironic that they sell tiny bottles of mud for like $75 back home, but here it was available by the bucketload.

The best part? The lagoon had a swim up bar! A swim up bar in a natural hot spring in the middle of Iceland?! It was like Sean and I were extras in a Kanye West sci-fi rap video.

yep. definitely like that. We are such hardcore gangsters. (sorry, gangstahs. yo.) But not as hardcore as this guy

Ladies, I'm pretty sure he's single. Try not to fight over him please.

All this lounging around in the hot springs, drinking bubbly, acting like Jay-Z and Beyonce left us famished for lunch

Reindeer burger or Mink Whale Wasabi anyone? Ehhhhhh. I stuck with champagne and Pringles...the lunch of champions. Europeans love their Pringles. They are sold everywhere, even in bars. Seems so strange to me, I hadn't eaten a Pringle since like 1999 before this trip. But you know what they say: Once you Pop, you just can't Stop!

After a shower and a few more Pringles, it was time to head back for the final leg of our journey to London. At the airport we ran into a couple our age that had the same layover and we asked them how they spent their time. They talked about how bored they were, how they wish they could've showered and how ugly downtown Reykjavik was. It took every ounce of my willpower and kindness not to shout out: ha! ha! Suckers!!!! we just had the BEST, most relaxing day ever!!!!!

But I figured getting punched in the face by cranky travelers probably wouldn't be the right start to my new life.

Final verdict: Would I go back to Iceland for a vacation? No. I would do another layover and spend the day at the spa, but I have no desire to spend several days there. It's like Vegas. I'd never save up money and spend a week in Vegas, but if I had to go there I'd make the most of it.

So in my professional opinion, Iceland is like Vegas, but with Vikings and Whale blubber instead of strippers and STDs. It's true. Conde Nast Traveler just wrote the same thing.

Sidebar: I tried googling "Vikings vs Strippers" to see if any good images would come up that I could use. I got no Vikings, but A LOT of strippers. Then I remembered I'm at school in the now, not only am I the old American lady, but I'm the old American lady who is looking a pornographic images at school. Creep.

and on THAT note, I am slinking back to my flat to look up Viking Strippers in privacy. I'll let you know what I find.

Coming soon.... Travel Series Part 2: I ate Shrek's best friend.

Followed by.... Travel Series Part 3: Guinness is next to Godliness

Tuesday, October 26

Do as I say, not as I do

Kids, listen up. I've got a very important message for you.

Do not, under any circumstances, follow my lead that a diet consisting of chocolate and alcohol is good for you, because guess what? It's not.

If you act like me, you will end up with a fever, a bitchin' sinus infection, and a generally cranky disposition resulting in you having to use the adorable Halloween napkins your mother sent you from all the way across the Atlantic Ocean as tissues because you are too lazy/tired/sick/whiney to either go to the store for a box of Kleenex or down to the bathroom for a roll of toilet paper. (Is this TMI? Did I just cross a line? I might have)

and just in case that didn't scare you off...remember those ads on TV that used to say "this is your brain on drugs" and they'd either show an egg in a frying pan or some messed up lady with crack teeth? Well...

this is your blogger on cold medicine, 3 cups of tea and a stack of Halloween napkins

be afraid, be very afraid.

Let this be a warning to you...just because there are 21 year olds in your Master's program, doesn't mean you get to act like one. 26 is not the new 21.

Sunday, October 24

30 days in London and I still haven't met the Queen

It's official, Sean and I have been expats in London for a month today! We arrived in London on September 24th, 2010. Coincidentally, we are getting married on September 24, 2011! So the 24th is a special day to us. This also means that we are getting married 11 months from today! woo hoo! I'm not sure what I'm more excited about: wearing my amazing wedding dress or the fact that I found someone who wants to put up with my shenanigans for all of eternity. (I'm not sure he's aware of what he's getting himself into) We also like to wonder about what September 24, 2012 will bring...we've decided it will be champagne and left over wedding cake. The only thing I want to wake up with on September 25, 2012 is a hangover. No babies yet, please.

It is amazing how quickly this past month has gone by. Despite my bout with homesickness last week, I've definitely restored my sense of faith in this crazy adventure I'm on. My friend from college, Becca, said it so well on her blog, she talked about how her confidence has skyrocketed since taking a new path in her life and as I read her post, I realized how true it was for me as well. I feel like I've already changed so much in my short time here, especially in terms of confidence.

Bear with me for a moment while I philosophize about everything, you will leave here a more serene, enlightened human being after I do. I'm sure of it. I invite you to sit cross legged and hold someone's hand if it helps. Perhaps light a lavender scented candle as well. (If not, there will be pictures to look at soon, I promise) I think the reason I have so much more confidence and gusto towards everything is because of this huge risk I've taken. I quit my job. I left my friends and family and moved to a foreign country I had never been to go back to school and jump start a new career. That gives me a small ulcer merely typing it, let alone actually doing it. and you know what? I am doing it. I'm surviving. No scratch that. I'm succeeding. After taking such a big leap off the metaphorical cliff and landing safely on my own two feet, I've become stronger. and bolder. I realize now if I want these things, I need to go for them. I need to take risks and put myself out there. With life, you get out of it what you put into it. So what am I putting into "life" lately? besides too many chocolate wrappers going into the recycling bin?

First, there is my running. You know this whole marathon thing? Definitely a side effect of the confidence boost. The mere fact that I had the cojones to sign up and do it instead of just talking about it is big. huge in fact. (please remind me of this repeatedly on March 5th when I'm having an anxiety attack and pretending to twist my ankle to get out of it)

Also, I ran my second 10k today and I beat my goal from last time! 6.2 miles in 48:55, average pace: 7:53! New PR, folks, new PR!

This is my "I want to vomit. Get that f-ing camera out of my face. Please. Love you." face

There was one point during the race when I *almost* convinced myself to quit. I started walking and gave up hope of beating my previous time, but luckily 10 seconds into walking, the real Marie kicked in and said "na uh girlfrieeennnnd. I don't think so, guuurl. Yo behind needs to hustle it up" When she speaks, you listen. So hustled I did. (and in case you were wondering, the voice inside my head speaks ebonics. she's awesome)

More importantly though, I didn't run this race alone. I ran it with strangers from the internet! Before you start calling Dateline to report me on To Catch a Predator, let me explain. I ran it with my blends. (blog + friends = blends. get it?) See, I'm not a creepy predator...just a bit of a blog dork. Okay I'm a pretty huge blog dork. I'd even go so far as to classify myself as a blog nerd or maybe a blog geek. I think the fact I am trying to classify levels of my weirdness alone shows you where I stand, mmmkay? Back to my blends:

Lauren, Ashley, and I are all Americans studying abroad in the UK. I stalked their blogs pretty majorly before coming over, so I was excited to meet them both in person and run the race together. We had a fantastic pasta party at Ashley's last night that included eating my body weight in baked ziti and apple pie.

I credit it for our success in the race today. All three of us PR'd!

Believe it or not, this was actually my 2nd blend activity of the month. A couple weeks ago I met up with Ashley and Anne, another American living here, for a few cocktails.

For me, this night was way more intimidating. I was downright nervous.It was like going on a blind date. I didn't know what to wear, I was worried I'd talk too much, I hoped when I left they'd call again to hang out. (Hey, I've already admitted what a nerd I am, all my cards are on the table, I might as well just continue with the verbal diahrrea and complety embarrass myself). It turned out to be a lot fun! There were many, many years in my past where I was so painfully shy, making new friends was difficult for me. Often times, my shy nature gets mistaken for a bitchy attidude and people can be turned off before they really get to know me so putting myself out there like this was a big step for me. * pat on back *

In the same vein, I also nominated myself to be the Course Rep for my Master's Program. My first official duty as Course Rep? I organized a Happy Hour at a pub in town. (Hi, my name is Marie and I might be an alcoholic.) I sent out a flurry of emails, told them I'd be the American sitting at the bar alone so they better all come, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best. Roughly half the program showed up, which I think is a pretty decent turn out! I've always hated organizing social events in the past. It stresses me out...are people having fun? are they bored? did I pick the wrong place? But this time was different. I put it out there and figured whoever comes, comes and if they enjoy it, great, if not, oh well, I will. (that was A LOT of commas for one sentence. I'm positive that's not grammatically correct, either. apologies) Sadly, I don't have any pictures from our Happy Hour, so instead I'll provide you with pictures from Sean and I on the subway this morning. at 7:30 am. on a Sunday.

In our defense, the train was COMPLETELY empty.

My last expression of my newfound confidence? The pumpkins we carved this afternoon:

We wanted to pay homage to our recent travel adventures so I made the Union Jack (British flag) and Sean made a Guinness beer for his year in Ireland!

Okay so technically, carving a pumpkin doesn't really demonstrate any level of confidence or personal growth. Really, I'm just demonstrating my ability to brag about myself in as many ways as possible. However, I will argue that my newfound confidence allowed me to have excellent knife skills, providing my Union Jack-o-latern with its perfectly tuned edges. Yes? No? Ehhhh (Side note: Major kudos and shoutouts to my darling future husband for coming up with the term Union Jack-o-Latern. He's a clever one, that Sean.)

Seriously though, making new friends, running races, carving pumpkins. I'm a maniac. The only thing missing from this idyllic London life? Shipyard Pumpkin Ale and Duncan Hines Spice Cake mix. I cannot get either item in this country and it is killing me slowly. If you are reading this in the US, I want you to go out RIGHT NOW to your local store and buy these items. Buy them in bulk. Enjoy half of them and send the rest to me. I'll be waiting patiently by the mail box so don't let me down.
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