Choose Your Own Adventure

So many things have happened since last Monday and a lot of it is just business but I feel like I am on top of the world. 

Everything has been spectacular, even the plane rides. On the flight from Denver to Reykjavik, the first good thing that happened was that nobody was in the middle seat and I got the window. The next amazing thing that happened was that about half way through the flight, the pilot came on over the intercom and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, if you look out on the left side of the plane you will see the Northern Lights.” I was on the left side of the plane on the window! What luck! 

The lights were only white this time— not the multi colored ones that you see in pictures, but it was still spectacular. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of them. They rippled and were really fun to watch. 

When we landed in Reykjavik around 4am, the air smelled different than Denver air which made me happy. I had about a 3 hour layover, so I wandered around a little. I enjoyed the airport. I never thought I would say that. 

Then I got on my flight to London, where somebody told me I was in the wrong seat, so I got out like a doofus instead of checking my ticket. Then when I was blocking the aisle, I checked my ticket and found that I was actually in the right seat. I got a flight attendant, and it all turned out okay. Then I fell asleep and slept until the flight attendants started passing out immigration cards to fill out, which was the best time to wake up because when I looked out the window I was greeted with a view of the Thames, Big Ben, The Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace. I was thrilled. I scored out by being on the right side of the plane yet again. And then all I could think about was, “Nope, no infrastructural alien damage here. Big Ben is still standing. I guess Doctor Who is not, in fact, real.”

When I landed, I had the easiest time going through customs that I have ever had. The customs officer was really nice and the line was really short and he admitted my six-month visa without any fuss. I was really nervous about this part but it turned out to not be a big deal at all. 

So then I made my way through the airport and I found an information desk, and I asked for the best way to get to King’s Cross Station. I was told to take the London Underground to King’s Cross, and that’s what I did. The tube ride was one of my favorite parts of the day. Even though I didn’t see anything hugely exciting, I took great pleasure by watching the roofs of houses pass by and admiring the the chimney stacks (and thinking of Mary Poppins) and of watching the people on the train. So many of them were reading newspapers and I found that very satisfying even if it seems like such a minor detail. 

Finally, I got to King’s Cross. I had about 3 hours of time to kill, so I wandered around, found Platform 9 3/4 (of course, I took a picture) and got some food and tried not to fall asleep. Then I got on my train. 

Yer a wizard, Claire.

I had reserved a window seat, so I was very excited about this train ride. Then I was less excited when a woman came up to me and said, “Excuse me, that’s my reservation.” And I was like, “I’m pretty sure I’m here,” but she was insistent so we just swapped seats. And then she proceeded to not even look out the window for the ride so I was even more upset when it didn’t even matter where we were sitting except for the view! And then it got dark about 30 minutes later so after that I was not as upset and started to watch Netflix and work on my second sock. 

The most entertaining part of the train ride was two women who got on a stop or two after me who had brought plastic martini glasses, a whole bottle of gin, and tonic water. They were so funny to watch. First, they poured gin and tonic into their glasses, and then one of the glasses started to leak, so one of the woman just chugged the entire thing right then and there. Then she poured more gin into the remainder of the tonic bottle and started working on that too. And she was very loud and excited for about an hour, after which she fell asleep. I found the entire thing to be very amusing. 

Then I finally made it to Waverly Train Station in Edinburgh. I already had a hostel reserved since I wouldn’t be able to move into my flat until the next day, and my original plan was to find an information desk to figure out the best way to get to the hostel, which looked to be in walking distance from the station. Then I couldn’t find an information desk, so I wandered around until I found some taxis, and took a taxi to my hostel. It was only about a five minute ride, but I’m glad I didn’t have to wander through a dark city I didn’t know. Already I was thrilled by the stonework and the architecture around me even though I had only been in the city for about twenty minutes. 

From the outside, the hostel looked like it was in a gorgeous, really old stone building, but it was completely updated and renovated inside. I was in a 8 bed room for all girls, but only 5 or 6 of the beds were full. So I got there, put down all of my stuff, but I was so full of adrenaline that I asked the girls who were there if anybody wanted to go out and wander around for me. One girl from Denmark said yes, so we just walked a bit around. We found the place where J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote parts of Philosopher’s Stone even though it was closed, and I gushed about all of the incredible architecture and beauty around me. We only were out for maybe half an hour because after a bit I just crashed, so we headed back and I went to bed. 

The next morning, I got up pretty early and left to find some breakfast. Then I headed back to the hostel, zipped my suitcases up, and called an Uber to take me to Pollock Halls, which is an office for student accommodation so I could pick up the keys to my flat. I got the keys, and the man at the desk told me it was about a 20 minute walk to my flat, which is called Ratcliffe Terrace, so I decided to walk. He gave me a map, and I went outside, and at the end of the road there was a guard house, and the man inside came out and asked where I was going, and after I told him he said, “That’s a bit of a wee walk away,” and I said that was fine. He gave me another map and directions, which was a lot more helpful than the first map, and off I went. 

Luckily, I only had to make one turn the entire way there so I was very confident that I was going the right way even though it took me more like 45 minutes to reach the flat instead of the 20 minutes that I had been promised. I got inside the building, and then spent a lot of time wrestling with keys until eventually two extremely nice cleaning ladies swooped in to help me get in to the flat. I have my own bedroom out of six, and we have a kitchen and two bathrooms to share. The kitchen is already not very clean, but I have only so far met one person in the flat, so I don’t know if we will have a meeting to talk about chores or cleaning up. That’s a problem to confront another day. 

After I dropped my things in my room, it was only around 11am, so I decided to go on a bedding adventure. I had already arranged to buy bedding from visiting students from the previous semester, so the only challenging part would be finding the friend’s flat of the person I had bought the bedding from. This is when I discovered something really important: if you look something up on Google Maps while you’re on WiFi, when you leave WiFi, it will still lead you the right way even though I didn’t have cellular service. I was extremely happy to discover this. Even with this important map discovery, when I reached the apartment after about a 30 minute walk, I could not figure out where the entrance to the building was, so I spent a good ten minutes wandering around the outside until I finally found it and was let in. Then I collected the bedding, and carried two giant trash bags full of sheets and a duvet back to my flat. One guy told me I looked like a “wee vagabond.” I had to ask him to tell me what he had said since I didn’t understand him the first time. I was so thrilled the entire time. I was walking outside, in a beautiful city, with interesting and beautiful buildings everywhere I looked. I couldn’t stop grinning. 

When I dropped the bedding back into my room, I decided to go find the library because I had to pick up my student ID card. The part of campus where I will be spending most of my time is about a 25 minute walk away, and part of the walk includes going through an absolutely gorgeous park. And everywhere I look there are these gorgeous buildings and cobblestones and I am just thrilled by the aesthetic of everything. I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy the beauty. 

I picked up my student card from the library, and then I spent a ton of time wandering around campus on a visiting student office adventure. I discovered that not all of the buildings have great labels, so I went to a few different places and asked for directions until I eventually found it. I was then able to meet with a member of the office, and I switched out of one of the history classes I had been given to take a Scottish literature class and asked about registering with a doctor so I can have access to the NHS. After my meeting, I went to the university health services and discovered that they have reached patient capacity, and but was told how I can register with a local GP so I can still have access to healthcare. Then I headed back to my flat to take a break.

Later that night, there was a visiting student event called The Taste of Scotland held in the student union (which is essentially a castle, what world have I fallen into?!). I went with a girl in the bedroom next to mine as well as a group of students from the building as the RA’s had organized for us all to meet and walk over together. I met quite a few visiting students which was really fun. I tried to explain the US political system to a kid from Australia on our walk and failed miserably. 

The Taste of Scotland event was fantastic. I met a ton of other visiting students (the vast majority from the US), tried haggis (fine but not my favorite thing), heard some Scottish folk music, listened to bagpipes (better than the ones from school…sorry Izzy), tried two different kinds of whisky and learned about the history of scotch and whisky, learned some different Scottish line dances (and have since gained a huge appreciation for the highland dancers at Wooster), and heard a Scottish folk story. It was a great night!

The next morning was a required orientation program for all visiting students, so I walked over with Lena from next door and Maddy who lives in the same building. The event was in the prettiest building I have ever seen called McEwan Hall. Apparently all of the graduations and such take place there and it is an important part of Edinburgh’s history overall. We heard a number of important people speak, but I can’t say I heard anything that I didn’t already know. It was still good to get confirmation about a number of things.

McEwan Hall
Some images from inside

From there, I asked one of the staff members from the visiting students office about where the place would be to buy towels, to which her answer was Primark. So then I went on a towel adventure because I was kind of desperate at that point to take a shower. 

The Primark I was headed for was in the opposite direction of my flat, past the Royal Mile. It was an incredible walk—I couldn’t stop smiling the entire way. Every time I turned a corner there was another gorgeous church built hundreds of years ago and then I passed a street full of castles and bagpipers busking. I just kept thinking, “How lucky am I.” I’ve been planning to go to Scotland for so long, but everything just seems so unreal. I just wanted to go on some errands and I found a few castles. 

After bringing the towels back to my flat and taking a bit of a break, I went on a kitchenware adventure, which I had also bought from a visiting student from the last semester. This time the building was much easier to find and easier to get into. So now I have important things like a skillet and a sauce pan. Later that night, Lena and Maddy and I went out in search of a pub because none of us wanted to do nothing that night. We did find a pub, which was very dark and looked like anything you would see in the movies, but it wasn’t that crowded and also seemed to serve a 40+ clientele. You could tell that everyone was looking at us wondering what we were doing there. Still, we had some beer and talked and exchanged ideas about finding our classes and buying mobile service and where to buy forks. It was a fun night. 

The next day I decided to go on a cell service adventure. The store I went to was also on Prince Street past the Royal Mile so again I was treated to a fantastic vista of medieval buildings and fantastic stone castles and churches. Along the way I found a sandwich shop and spent some time in the courtyard of a church listening to a bagpiper busking. And now I have cell service which is a total win mostly because I can use Google Maps! That being said, I have gotten pretty good at figuring out where I am based on landmarks. I am pretty impressed with myself because one of my greatest strengths is getting lost. 

After my cell service adventure and taking a nap, Lena and I went to a ceilidh put on by the school for international students. That was so fantastic. There were three musicians on stage— drum set, accordion, and guitar— and they called out the moves to different dances as they played some fantastic music. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun at a dance. Also, I met a ton of new people, some of whom I actually am hoping to see again and become friends with. It ended around midnight, and by the time I got back to my room I was so wound up that I couldn’t sleep for a couple of hours. 

I had a pretty lazy Saturday, which in my opinion was well deserved after a very exciting previous few days. I did go find a laundry hamper and buy real groceries for meals. Even leaving the house right now is an adventure. 

On Sunday, I decided to go to the National Museum of Scotland. I had a great time! It was cool wandering around, but about forty five minutes in I realized that there was more to the museum than just nature and science stuff, and I found the history of Scotland wing. I am definitely going to go back to explore that wing more thoroughly. The best part about the museum was that it is free, as are most of the museums in the city. Then I left to go back to my flat because the RA’s were to be meeting the new residents and walking with us to a lecture theatre so we could hear about building policies. When we arrived to the building where the theatre was, the building manager seemed to have made an error in booking the room, so the talk was canceled, so instead we all went to Teviot, the student union, to get some food and hang out in the bar and then to play trivia a few hours later. That was one of my favorite parts of the day. I need to brush up on my arcane knowledge but we all had quite a bit of fun and a lot of laughs. 

Well I am going to cut it off there even though today was my first day of classes at risk of making this the longest blog post ever. 

Mary Queen of Scots
Map of Surnames
I’ll have to go here at some point.

Goodbye Brazil, Hello Colorado

 

A last hug with my host mom
A last hug with my host mom

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve been procrastinating the writing of this blog post for a while now. It’s not really flowing off the fingertips like some of my posts do. And I think the reason for this delay is because my life has taken somewhat of a dramatic turn in the last two weeks, in that I am now home. Back in Colorado. And I’ve been back for about two and a half weeks.

Leaving was so weird. I couldn’t sleep the two nights before I left. I was so hyper. I was so excited. And then the scene in the airport. In contrast to Veera’s leaving, when Chiara, Virna, Veera, and I sobbed all over each other at the airport and the target of many stares and became a kind of weird attraction, I didn’t cry at all. I did want to say goodbye, but at the same time when we were all sitting in the airport together just waiting for it to be a reasonable time to go through security and go to my gate, I felt as though everything was drawn out.

At the time of my departure, I was ready to leave. I gave Virna one last hug, and then I went through security. I was wearing my blazer, covered with pins. I had two suitcases that were checked under the plane, a red wheelie that was with me, and a backpack. In the gate while waiting for my flight I sat and thought. I am proud of everything I accomplished over these past ten months. I have learned so much. My confidence has skyrocketed, I learned a new language, I made friends and family. But I was also ready to come home. It wasn’t until my layover in Sao Paulo and subsequent takeoff to Dallas that I really started to tear up. I had spent my two hour layover reading and responding to messages from my friends and family of Brazil. And now I was headed home. When I would get off the plane, I would no longer be in Brazil, but in the United States. What a bittersweet moment. It was the moment I had been waiting for and thinking about since my arrival in Brazil, but I was also sad to go.

Goodbye, Brazil. I love you.

And now I am home! I feel as if I just woke up from an incredibly detailed dream. I feel as if everything is the same and yet something about me has fundamentally changed. I don’t know what that is yet. It hasn’t been long enough for me to reflect on everything that happened and really produce a big takeaway from Brazil.

All I can say is that it’s weird being home. I love seeing the mountains and the heat that isn’t humidly oppressive and carpeted floors and the fact that I can successfully negotiate a conversation over the phone without having to ask my host mom for help. But I miss my host mom like crazy, and all of the exchange students I met and love so much.

Guys, if you’re reading this, I miss you and love you so much. We went to talking with each other every day to being separated by oceans. What a weird concept. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to leave you all behind. I see you as being my friends twenty years down the line, and I hope I ca see you in person again soon.

So, here I am. Welcome home, Claire.

São Paulo

IMG_4114The fact that I am eighteen years old is extremely lucky in some ways because Rotary would never let an underage person under their supervision travel alone, like they let me. About a month ago I went to São Paulo to stay with my host sister, Livia, who is in her early thirties and lives, works, and studies in the city.

There were times when I was very lonely in São Paulo, because I had to find ways to entertain myself while Livia had classes and couldn’t entertain me. While I have certainly grown up over the course of my almost three months here in Brazil, I think I grew up the most here. I’ve never traveled before without my family. I’ve never explored a brand new city without my family before.

And when I say that I explored, I do not mean that I went down dark alleys and went to different parts of the city on the subway, although I very well could have done. One of the things you get used to hearing as an exchange student in Brazil is how dangerous the country is. It is hard to get permission to go to many places alone. And São Paulo is rumored to be one of the most dangerous cities of them all. My exploits mainly featured walking up and down Avenida Paulista, one of the famous streets of São Paulo, for hours on end. I knew how to use the subway and bus systems to get to different parts of the city, but I was nervous about doing so.

That being said, I learned a lot about traveling in São Paulo. I was bored in São Paulo. I was lonely in São Paulo. I saw some really cool things in São Paulo. And I absolutely loved São Paulo.

 

October 26, 2015:

Day of Arrival

Domestic travel is different in Brazil than it is in the USA. I was freaking out before leaving because I didn’t have a clear plastic bag to put all of my liquids in. I tried asking about it several times and the answers I received about this part of travel were just as confusing as I’m sure my question was. I’m fairly sure Virna and Leonardo were wondering what happened to the cool and level headed Claire who didn’t really seem to be phased by anything? That Claire was replaced by a Claire who was freaking out over a clear plastic bag. Finally, we resolved our communication issues and I discovered that not only were liquids waved through security without a second glance for domestic flights, but that checking baggage was completely free of charge, so why don’t I do that anyways?

Then I started freaking out about timing. I thought that we arrived to the airport extremely late, but it turns out that Natal has a very small airport (I wasn’t paying very much attention to the airport’s size when I first arrived in Brazil) and it also operates in a Brazilian manner in that everything is slow and late and will happen when it happens, not before, not later. Security takes all of five minutes to get through even when it’s busy, so my mom and I had a cappuccino and a cookie before I went through. I was still early, but Virna definitely knew I was on edge about missing my plane.

After landing in São Paulo, I discovered that my checked bag had been wrapped in plastic. Not sure why.IMG_4097

Then I navigated through the airport and found the service bus station, and handed over my proof of payment to get on a bus to Avenida Paulista, where I would meet Livia, my host sister. This is the part that I was the most nervous about. What if I took the wrong bus? What if what if what if… It turned out that taking the wrong bus was a next to impossible task, and that the bus was a service, not public transportation, as it included some very comfortable seats and wifi.

Livia met me on the steps of a hotel, and then took me to a restaurant called America, where I had my first hamburger and fries since arriving in Brazil. They were lovely.

 

October 27, 2015:

IMG_4147After waking up, Livia and I walked to a small grocery store to buy bread for breakfast and then had a conversation about the corruption in Brazilian politics over our meal. Then we walked around a little more, sat in a coffee shop and had coffee, and then, Livia took me to Avenida Paulista, which is within walking distance from her apartment, with instructions on how to get home saying that she would see me back at the apartment around eight that night.

I walked up the street for a little while, and ended up in a Starbucks. Yes, a Starbucks. I was tired and I know how to order at Starbucks. While I was there I sat and journaled a little and read in a guide book about the attractions of Avenida Paulista. I spent most of the day walking up and down the avenue taking pictures and looking for a free art exposition that I had read about, but I never ended up finding it. That day was also spent with a low level of anxiety because I was a tourist, and as a tourist I thought I should be doing something fun and exciting, not just walking up and down the same (extremely long) street over and over again.

 

October 28, 2015:

IMG_4254This day I actually had something planned for the morning and early afternoon. There is a free tour service offered in different parts of São Paulo in English, so Livia took me to the center of the older part of the city, where it was originally colonized, and I joined a crew of people from different parts of the world. I mainly talked to an older couple from Canada, who informed me that Spanish was actually not that helpful when it came to speaking and understanding Portuguese (they’d been there for two weeks and were leaving the next day, I’d been there for two months and was leaving many months later) and a guy from Japan who was working in San Francisco and now being a tourist in São Paulo who was in his twenties. This was the most English I’d heard people speak for almost the entire time of my being here in Brazil. I told the Canadian couple this and they said the same, except I was kind of miffed that they didn’t understand that I’d already been there for two months, jeez, two weeks is nothing. Looking back on that couple, I probably would be feeling the same way as they were had I not been an exchange student and done so many crazy things already. I apologize to all tourists. It’s exhausting, whether you are in a new place for one year.IMG_4240

After the tour ended, I took the subway back to Avenida Paulista, because nobody seemed interested in going out for coffee or finding a cool restaurant in that area of the city with me (at least, not the people I asked). I didn’t want to hang around, since Livia told me that I shouldn’t be alone in that part of São Paulo and to come back to Avenida Paulista if nobody wanted to hang out. I was nervous about taking the subway, since I hadn’t even taken the bus in my host city of Natal, and São Paulo much much larger and easier to get lost in. It was pretty straightforward and I didn’t get lost.

When I arrived back at Avenida Paulista, I walked up and down the streets. I kept stopping in front of restaurants thinking, I should go in there. But I never could make up my mind. I finally realized the reason I couldn’t make a decision was because I was hungry, and I went to a McDonalds because, again, it was some place familiar and I knew how to order there. I ended up sitting in there for about an hour, and then I walked up and down Avenida Paulista some more before going back to Livia’s apartment.

IMG_4302That night Livia took me to a bar where I met some of her friends and had a great time. One of her friends is an English teacher to really small children and he was just dying to speak English with me. Finally we compromised that he would speak in English to me and I in Portuguese to him.

 

October 29, 2015

This is the day I realized I could have fun just by walking up and down the same street over and over again. That being a tourist and having fun doesn’t require a person to go to all the museums and do all of the touristy things.

I slept in late, and then I, again, walked up and down Avenida Paulista, except this time I took small videos while walking to compile into a longer video for later. I ate in the food court of a mall where they had a self-service station of traditional Brazilian food because it would be cheaper than McDonalds and is really easy to navigate. I bought a pair of jeans and wandered around the mall looking at shops and generally having a goodtime. After lunch I bought a milkshake and went back to the apartment feeling pretty happy and that I had had a good time.

That same day, Livia’s father, Virna’s ex-husband, and his new wife, arrived in town. Paulino and Renata. That night they treated us to a concert from São Paulo’s symphony. I’m not exactly sure what they played, but it wasn’t the kind of music that I like the first time I hear it since it was modern and atonal. It was fun anyways, just for the sake that I was doing something cool, it reminded me of home, and the concert hall was sure gorgeous. After the concert was over, at maybe eleven pm since they started at nine, we went to a bar and didn’t leave until after two in the morning. I was so tired but enjoyed the new experience nonetheless.IMG_4357

 

October 30, 2015

Last full day in São Paulo

While Livia did her day activities, Renata and Paulino took me around the city to two different museums.

Paulino is the silent type. He almost never speaks. That’s not to say that he wasn’t really nice and caring. When he speaks to me, it would be to ask if I had enough money for the bus or the subway or if I had my ID since they would be checking. He insisted on paying for everything for me.

IMG_4387The first museum we went was featuring Frida Kahlo and other feminist Mexican artists that she knew and influenced. It was really cool to see Kahlo’s self-portraits in person, after learning about them so much in Spanish class in high school. It’s cool to see something you study in real life.

Then we went to a different museum which was featuring an Australian artist. This was a really super weird exhibition. I can’t remember what her name was, but she mainly had sculptures of what life would be like in the future with the genetic modification of humans, animals, and plants. I think her goal was achieved, since it was a though provoking exhibit, but also an exhibit that weirded me out and I wouldn’t be interested in seeing again.

She used human hair on her sculptures, and the all looked so life like but disgusting and odd and weird. That’s my personal opinion.

I’m not sure what Paulino thought, but Renata agreed with me.

Then I said goodbye to Paulino and Renata, and went back to Livia’s apartment. That night Livia took me to a TexMex restaurant, since I had told her how much I missed spicy food, not to mention Mexican food.

The food was terrible (even for TexMex) but I really appreciated the thought and am so grateful to Livia for everything.

The next day I had to get to a hotel in São Paulo very early in the morning to go on an exchange student trip, so that concluded my stay in the city.