Tag Archives: travel

A week in four days

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Flew back from Montreal on Wednesday after a really close call getting to the airport. Turns out the bus, which comes every half-hour, only takes coins and charges $10 per trip. Consequently my plan to arrive an hour and a half before take-off became a rushed attempt to get in before check-in closed. Things went significantly more smoothly after that however; I’m not sure if it was because I was the last to check-in, but I got to enjoy a front row seat the whole way back. As a serial passenger in the dingiest and smallest-seated budget airlines I’m counting that as a major win.

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Me lounging in my fresh front-row seat

Once settled back in DC I got straight to work on all the assignments I’d been neglecting, except the one that got extended to Week 9—I won’t be touching that for at least a week and a half. My attentive study lasted about 24 hours before distractions kicked in and my unofficial weekend began with a house party put on by the AU Frisbee team. Fun fact: a regulation ultimate Frisbee disc holds almost half a gallon of liquid (1.8 liters in real volume). I shook myself down on Friday morning to power through my 8:00-12:30 web design class before capping off another assignment in the afternoon. My mission to power through a week’s worth of activities in four days was going well.

Friday night was another fun one with a gathering of exchange students in E st, and I was grateful to not have to leave campus to have a good time. The real action was to be had on Saturday though. After a couple hours at a party at Eden I left to prepare for the nights entertainment. I’d lined up tickets to Cage The Elephant with a friend a month ago, so I was extremely excited to see the investment pay off with floor spots on DC’s brand-new and boringly-named Entertainment & Sports Arena. Between all the moshing and screaming and sweating and dancing, it was a helluva show.

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I’m guessing Cage The Elephant and Judah & The Lion both used the same indie-rock band name generator.

I was able to squeeze in one more social gathering that night before exhaustion overtook me at about 3am. It’s now Sunday morning, and it looks like today is going to be a drudge of all the chores and errands I didn’t manage in the last three days, but so long as nothing drastic happens I’m confident I can cap off my four-day week without a hitch.

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March for Our Lives

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When I decided to come to D.C as part of my degree, I had also taken into account my passion for American politics. D.C doesn’t deserve its reputation as a heartless capital, filled with greedy corporations and stern-looking institutions. Not only is D.C home to congress, the White House and the Supreme Court, it also contains a vibrant civil society, which is the beating heart of the nation’s capital. This is what I witnessed last Sunday at the “march for our lives” event.

As an external observer, I took part in the march. And I did it gladly, even though it is not my fight. Coming from Europe, guns are seen in a completely different. Or they are literally not seen at all by people who can’t use them: no concealed or open carry of any sort. No second amendment. Arguably, no school or mass shootings of any sort, as a result of no guns given to civilians. But this is another story.

I slept in and woke up around 11. I grabbed a quick breakfast and was soon out of my place. After a week of bad weather, finally a sunny day. Cherry blossoms, rays of sun, and the city is completely revamped.

I went to the Lincoln memorial, thinking I was going to find a protesting crowd. But there were sparse groups of people, some with signs, but mostly tourist. I asked for information and was directed to freedom plaza, close to 13th and E street. Where the march was happening. Turns out, the March wasn’t a March, it was a huge gathering. I made my way through the mass of people, took pictures of signs, laughed at the spelling mistakes and shuddered at the death related statistics. The testimonies of the activists on the stage were powerful, to say the least. It was a very emotionally charged march.

More than 500.000 people attended the march, according to reports. On top of that, similar marches were organized all across the US, elevating the march to being the biggest for gun control.

America is so alive politically. The citizenry does care. And I know it’s not only DC.

People voice their approval, as much as their disapproval for their political leaders. In comparison, Italians passively accept what happens. More often than not, the majority adopts a resigned posture with regards to politics. They don’t happen to think that they can use their voice.

In a capital like Rome, it would be hard to be dragged into a nation-wide demonstration.

That’s the beauty of D.C. You can wake up on a mid-semester Sunday morning, decide to go for a walk to end up being part of a historic moment.

Preserving the Past

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    One thing I was really impressed by the United States when I came here was its strong protection and preservation of its historical heritage and history. Also, the guide tours in most national museums, cemeteries, and historical sites which are made to teach or introduce their stories are well-organized. Therefore, it is not rare to see teachers bringing their students to these places to learn. As an English major, I appreciate it so much because I can learn American history vividly on the spot rather than reading all those tedious materials only based on textbooks. In addition, I believe preserving history is the only way for people to remember what efforts their ancestors made and try not to make the same mistakes that will bring disasters such as WWⅠ and WWⅡ.

    Among those places where historical sites are preserved and organized in a great condition, Philadelphia is my favorite one until now, and I strongly recommend those who want to dig into the 18th and 19th American history to go there. Philadelphia used to be the temporary capital of United States where declaration of independence and the constitution were signed. Hence, Philadelphia can be viewed as the starting point of America’s democracy. There are a lot of historical sites worth visiting like Penn’s Landing, Independence Hall, Old City Hall, Congress Hall, Betsy Ross House, Benjamin Franklin Museum, Liberty Bell, and so on. In brief, Philadelphia is a place best for a few day trip to get immersed in its historical atmosphere and admire the beautiful architectures.

    If you crave for some delicious food, do not forget to try the famous cheesesteaks there! (Franklin Fountain should also be in your list if you also want to try some ice cream for your dessert.)

  

Celebrating Chinese Lunar New Year

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    Chinese New Year is the most important event to Chinese people in a year. It is not merely a holiday, but the precious moment to have a reunion with all the family members and relatives that live far away. During this period, we have different traditions and events to celebrate every day. For example, on New Year’s Eve, especially at night, we sit in a round table and eat together. Later, we watch TV or play games and then all the family members will start to distribute red envelopes to each other. This is the most exciting day for kids because they do not need to distribute their red envelopes, but keep receiving them from the elderly family members. On the first day of the Chinese New Year, according to traditions, we will go to temples in the early morning to pray for good health and luck in the following year. On the second day of the Chinese New Year, those women who got married must return their hometowns to visit their parents. In short, this is both an interesting and busy period for us. This year, for the first time in my life, I cannot celebrate Chinese New Year with my dear family. It is a pity on one hand, but on the other hand, I have the opportunity to participate in different activities in D.C to experience how Chinese people here celebrate their Chinese New Year.

     There are a series of special events to celebrate Chinese New Year this week. After searching for information online, my friends and I planned to go to Kennedy center to enjoy traditional Chinese music performance, cook and have a nice dinner together, and watch the New Year Parade at Chinatown.

    The Kennedy Center is a nice place for all kinds of performances. Some of the performances require tickets, but some do not. The one we participated in on Friday, which was one of the special events for Lunar New Year Celebration, was free. We got immersed in the music banquet with the beautiful melodies played by traditional instruments like guzheng, flute, pipa, and so on. For those who are interested in the free performance held every day at six o’clock p.m., I recommend you to go earlier in case you cannot find a seat.

    On Saturday morning, I went to supermarket with my friends to buy all the ingredients we would need to cook for our dinner. At night, we had hot pot, salmon fried rice, curry chicken, tofu, salad, and we drank beer to celebrate Chinese New Year. Although I cannot eat with my family, the friends I meet here are just like my family and I had an adorable night with them.

    On Sunday, we went to Chinatown to watch the annual Chinese New Year parade. We got there a little bit late, so the street had already been crowded with people when we arrived. Thankfully, we could still find some space in between. During the parade, we saw a lot of national flags of Taiwan, so we were extremely excited. It felt like D.C was our second hometown! The parade was gorgeous, for all the people in the parade dressed so beautifully and the performances were all unique. It was my pleasure to participate in this celebration and I was really glad to see that so many native speakers came to know more about Chinese culture. This parade put a perfect ending to my celebration trip for Chinese New Year. I believe that every single event that I have enjoyed this week would become one of the most memorable memories in my life. Anyway, Happy New Year and may everyone keep healthy and happy in the year of dog!!!

 

 

Away from D.C

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It was a random, rainy and cold Thursday night when we decided that we had had enough of D.C.

Not actually, of course. But sometimes, when your routine gets overwhelming and the weather doesn’t help you power through it, it is normal to feel the urge to escape for a few days.

Me and my roommate felt that urge last Thursday night, as soon as we found out that there were no classes on President’s day and that we had not planned anything. We bought round trip tickets from DC to Philly, by bus. This type of short term, last minute planning is definitely my favorite. And the US East Coast serves that purpose pretty well. I mean, where else in the US can you get away for 2 days at a price of 80$ to visit a major city?
This isn’t something you can do if you’re in California, or Texas or even Chicago.  I like this European dimension of closeness that the east coast has.

We planned it out, recruited 2 friends and then we were ready to go. The details of our trip were as follows:

Departure on Sunday morning, and return on Monday night. 2 full days, 1 full night, 4 people and a full hostel. Full hostel meaning that other than us 4, our room was filled with additional people which, I know, is the very principle of a hostel. But as I had never sojourned in one, I was slightly weary of the concept. I did shared airbnb’s or even co-ops several times in the past, but never hostel. The bunk beds remind me of a military setting and the fact that you share them with strangers is a 50-50 situation. Either strangers are normal, or they are not. However, there is no room for such perplexities and considerations when the price for one night is so low: 26$. Unheard of in D.C.

We arrived at around 11 am on Sunday. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get rid of the D.C cold, as in Philadelphia it was about the same temperature. It was sunny, though, unlike in D.C. So the absorption of vitamin D compensated for the lack of heat.

We spent the day doing touristy stuff: the liberty bell, the independence hall, the museum of Art. We went to a pub at night, and the rest is history. No, we didn’t do anything malicious by American standards, of course. We chilled at the pub and then went to bed. There was no weirdo, and we made friends with the other people in our room.

On the second day, we visited a super cool garden (see pictures) made with re-purposed waste.

  

Philly is a cool city. Middle ground between a European city and New York. It is high rise, but also historical. Pretty hipster-ish, and more lively than D.C on a Sunday night. Food is good (shout out to Philly cheese steak!) and cheaper than D.C

My verdict is: great get away destination for a weekend. Hostels are mostly safe.

  

Dad’s visit

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When I announced to my family that I would see them in the summer after the end of my exchange year, and not over Christmas break, I knew that I had triggered something.

Like the United States, Italian society is very much family centered. Families are the first places of socialization for little humans. The process of growing up is overseen and supported emotionally and financially until little humans get bigger and ready to leave home. At which point, their independence causes their ties with the family to get thinner.

Kids in the US start taking up jobs to sustain themselves financially as soon as they enter college, and  once done with college they’re gone for good and ready to be independent. In Italy, this is not the case. Families try as hard as they can to preserve co-dependency with grown up kids. Hence the stereotype of the over-protective and extremely caring Italian Mamma. Italian parents have a tendency to cling to their children especially when they are getting independent. No wonder why the average age of adults leaving the family home for the first time in strikingly higher than the US. Even the average age for young adults to get their first job. Well, that’s also because the state of Italian economy is not very kind to young people at the moment. But I don’t want to get political now. I will, in due time: we have election on March the 4th, and I just requested my absentee ballot from the General Consulate of Italy in DC.

Lecture time is over. In light of these considerations, the point I was trying to make is that  I did not go see my family for Christmas, therefore my family is sending envoys to come see me.

On a short notice, my dad notified me of his arrival a week before. The funny bit is that he told me he would be staying for a month. As a matter of fact, as I write, he is still in the US. Not in D.C, but in New York. He came last weekend and remained until last Tuesday.

We didn’t do much, because of the bad weather. But we got to catch up on some stuff that I had put off. We went to Walmart and bought a table for the living room, a bunch of kitchen utensils, bathroom products and so on. Walmart is always an experience for us Europeans, and it was the first time for my dad as well.

Most importantly, from as empty as black hole, my fridge was replenished in a matter of hours thanks to my dad. And so was my stomach. I had forgotten how he is at cooking.

We also watched the Superbowl, but since we didn’t really know the rule of the game we got bored easily. On Monday, he came to visit me at work at the EU delegation.  Anyway, it was a very good weekend.

I love to see how Italian family bonds adjust to globalization.

My First Try of Ice Skating

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    Taiwan is located between a tropical and subtropical area, so it does not snow in winter. Therefore, apparently, we lack exciting activities like ice skating or skiing to enjoy. If people want to participate in these activities, they might choose to go to countries nearby such as Japan or Korea for an one-day trip. Last year, when I went to Chuncheon, which situated in northern Korea, I seized the precious opportunity to learn skiing. Although it was extremely cold, I felt nothing but excitement and bliss. With the experience, I made up my mind to try any winter activities at least once. Fortunately, TRAILS has arranged an ice skating plan that is free for all students, so I registered right away.

    We walked to Washington Harbour Ice Skating Rink, which is just a few blocks away from GWU. The admission fee for an adult is 10 dollars and if you need to rent the skates, you have to pay 6 dollars more. For me, the price is reasonable but a little bit expensive, so I decided to make full advantage of it. I was so nervous at the beginning because it was really hard to maintain the balance. I kept screaming and hold the penguin (a cute tool for beginners to keep in balance) still and tight to avoid falling. But after a few hours, when I tried to believe in myself and skated in strides, I could catch the tips step by step.

    It was an extremely memorable and exciting experience for me, especially when I skated with my dear friends. But time always flies! We had to leave the ice rink after hours of skating. With the beautiful sunset and harbor, I accomplished my first ice skating trip. For those who enjoy ice skating, Washington Harbour Ice Skating Rink may serve your needs. You can also enjoy a great meal in the restaurant by the harbor, admiring the scenery at night with a sense of tranquility.