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Saturday, May 7, 2016

I've Moved Blogs!

For those of you who have been visiting my blog and wondering, Wow, this sucks, there's nothing new! Well, that's because I started a new blog...and thanks for saying my blog sucks. I have to admit, I didn't post much on here since I created a specific voice for myself here, and didn't have many stories to tell or advice to give after I had been in Italy for some time. Sorry about that.

I will keep this one up, but don't expect much. Just saying. I am taking my blogging much more seriously nowadays and would like to take it to the next level.

If you'd like to follow me and my travels, you can do so here.

Hope to see you at the new, blog!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

5 Reasons Why Being a Hopeless Romantic Sucks (Or, The Cons of Being a Hopeless Romantic)

Hi, my name is Nikki and I'm a recovering Hopeless Romantic. *crowd groans the obligatorily "Hi Nikki"*

With Valentine's Day coming up, I started reflecting on why I have disowned my previous identity as a Hopeless Romantic and what that means for my future self. I can't help but feel calloused to this holiday, even when I was a naive girl with my head in the clouds waiting for something amazing to happen, it just seemed like this holiday wasn't all it was chalked up to be. No, I'm not one of those girls who expected two dozen pristine red roses, luxurious chocolates, and jewelry, because I do recognize the capitalism behind the "Hallmark" holiday. However, I did expect something heartfelt and romantic from the person who cares about me and knows me well. Is that too much to ask?

But, that's only a fraction of the reason of how I came to my conclusion: Being a romantic IS hopeless, especially this day and age. With the instant gratification of swiping left (or is it right? I don't know, I've never used Tinder), double tapping pictures, and exchanging raunchy self-deleting messages and pictures, it's pretty obvious that our generation has lost the art of romance. The few of us who do still hope for something out of (insert any romantic movie title here) are left to hide behind a necessary mask as to not show our vulnerability in fear of being attacked. We are the minority, the open hearts not afraid to love, even when it hurts. Fall [in love], get hurt, cry, stand up, brush yourself off, move forward, repeat.

5 Reasons Why Being a Hopeless Romantic Sucks

1. Unrealistic Expectations
We watch too many sappy movies, and then wonder why there is no one out there who will do that for us. We secretly want grand gestures, emotional declarations of love, and the passion that follows a big fight just like in the movies. Why can't we just have that? Oh yeah, because it's unrealistic. No one wants to make everyday things into a big deal or have big fights just to make up. That shit takes a lot of energy and many people like to call that "drama". I've been told I expect too much from my partners, and maybe that's true, but if they really loved me, they would do it because it makes me happy...right? Wrong. The ideal relationship you have in your head will never exist because it's not just about you. You also need to consider the other person in the relationship and be realistic. As much as you hate to admit it, let alone hear it, life is not like the movies. Hi, we live in reality.

2. Disappointment
Referring back to #1, having expectations that are not met inevitably leads to disappointment. I think this is the worst part of anything in life. We set ourselves up for disappointment by thinking someone will take a hint and do that romantic thing we told them about, thinking they are secretly planning something, or hoping they change. Even if they do something that is their idea of romance, it never quite reaches our expectations and we are left disappointed even when they do do something. This is a fault in ourselves and not the other person.

3. Unequal Relationships
We give too much. Plain and simple. We give too much thinking the other person will put just as much into the relationship if we initiate. However, this is flawed thinking. It's not truly a thoughtful gift or a nice gesture if we secretly expect something in return. That's not to say that the other person shouldn't return the favor at some point, because relationships are give and take, but somehow we always end up with the takers. It's never 50/50.

4. Lots of Heartbreak
It seems we never learn. Either we want to make it work with the wrong person (see Takers above), or we try to force a situation that is not meant to be. From a young age we experience the sadness of broken heart and as we grow, it seems to never stop. Maybe we're too open, maybe we just simply want it to work out they way we have it in our minds, but along the path of love,  it seems we fall down more than most.

5. You Don't Give Up...Even When You Should
Even when we've had our hearts stepped on, battered, beaten, bruised and shattered, we still somehow manage to see a light at the end of the tunnel. We continue in the darkness with a glimmer of hope and we truly believe things will get better. We'll find our One, have the grand realization that our dreams have come true and things will all come together and finally make sense. After all the bullshit we've been through and put up with in our past, we still press on with positivity and hope. That, my friends, is strength...or stupidity. It depends on your perspective, but since this post is about why being a hopeless romantic sucks, I'll argue the latter. Why would you possibly still have this ridiculous idea of THE ONE and fill your mind with Hollywood versions of what relationships are and forever be let down? Don't hold onto those toxic relationships, don't put up with anyone else's bullshit and don't allow your heart to run your life because your heart has no logic. You will only hurt yourself. And that's even worse than someone else hurting you because you had the power to change it.

Stay tuned for the Pros of Being a Hopeless Romantic, because everything needs some balance and I don't want to sound too much like a cynical bitch.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How I Found My Apartment in Florence, Italy

When I was first looking for my own apartment after leaving my au pair family, I had no idea what to expect. Not only is finding an apartment in Florence much more difficult than I thought (and that's saying a lot coming from LA where finding a decent apartment for a decent price is like searching for a needle in a haystack), it is even more stressful to find the right people to live with. As an American, I was worried about living with random people from other cultures, who would basically be the equivalent of Craigslist roommates. Would my stuff get stolen when I'm not home? Will I feel safe? Would there be huge, awkward and unmanageable cultural differences? Will I wake up to my toes being sucked on? Um, I'll pass, thanks. But no judgements if you're into that type of thing. Do you, boo boo!
"Is it cool if I shave my pubes in here?"
First, I was looking exclusively for American expats and other English teachers to live with. When that proved difficult, I expanded my search to American students at the study abroad universities. Little did I know, the school organizes all their housing for them, so I had no options in that category. Next, I began looking into local Italian university students. I figured there had to be someone renting a room near campus. But, once again, no such luck. Either I had to share a room with an 18 year old girl with our two rickety twin sized beds crammed in the room, or I was 3 weeks too late since the semester had already started and everything was taken. If it wasn't that, and I actually managed to schedule a meeting with someone to see the room for rent, it was cancelled when I was on my way. Or, when they would write me after I'd been waiting near the building 20 minutes after our appointment time saying it was already rented and they forgot to tell me. That was the worst. I cursed all Italians for wasting my time and my best friend got a very angry Whatsapp voice message of me venting my hot air that day. I was a poet with my profanities, which I'm still kind of proud of.

My apartment search was taking longer than I was hoping, so out of desperation, I began looking on every lamp post, website and bulletin board in the city for an ad in my price range. Without much luck online, and calling the numbers of old flyers in the library just to be told in Italian that the room had been rented, I was seriously considering living under a bridge. Homelessness doesn't sound like such a bad idea when disguised as an adventure! Finally, I heard of a Facebook page that is a place where people advertise rooms for rent in the city. Apparently Craigslist isn't really a huge thing here, but it does exist. Who knew that website where you waste so many hours of your life at a time would actually be useful here!

With more denials and more frustration, I had to expand my search yet again. This time, it was considering living with the opposite sex. As I thought about all the awful (and/or amazing) things that could happen living with boys, I cringed and fantasized at the same time. After only a few inquiries, I got some serious responses. This got my thinking, are they only responding because of my profile picture? I took a chance and went to see them anyway. After seeing a place that could only be described as sticky, decorated with Infected Mushroom posters and empty bottles of SKYY, it was a relief to see the next place. Sure, there was a centimeter of dust covering the tile floor and an old couch upside down in a space that maybe was supposed to be a living room, but it felt good. There were two Italian guys, who couldn't have been more opposite in style and demeanor, but they were nice, and I didn't get creepy vibes from them at all. Those could have been infamous last words, but thankfully, it was true. They had just rented the whole apartment after the last tenants left, who were apparently disgusting students and left everything a mess. They were in the process of cleaning everything out and getting ready to move in. It was going to be a fresh start.

I moved in two days later into my own room, with clean floors, newly painted walls, a few pieces of old furniture, and I even managed to get a double bed. It's common in Italy to tie together two twin sized beds to make a matrimoniale (king size bed), since it's cheaper than to buy a large bed in one piece, not to mention easier to move in through the small hallways and doors. So, with a few zip ties, some elbow grease to reuse some of that old furniture and a trip to IKEA later, I was all settled in.

I live with three Italian boys, 2 of whom are students, and the other is a sommelier at a restaurant, which means a constant stock of good (not to mention free) wine. Score! They're not so bad, although one of them barely speaks English and the other two are a bit rusty, it's been a lot of fun. The cultural differences and language barriers were hilarious in the beginning, but now we are actually learning from each other. I have some great stories which I will share in future posts. Stay tuned!

Do you have any hilarious/weird/gross apartment searching or roommate stories? Share in the comments below!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Why Life is Like Riding a Bike

Today I bought a bike in Florence. A used, rusty, basic, non-shock-absorbing bike, equipped with a metal basket in the front, a little pink bell, and even a kickstand. Oh yeah.

As I was riding home with a wet, sore ass (well, struggling in that general direction since I realize I always use my GPS and I wasn't able to while riding), a light, simple smile shone across my face as I realized something on this gray, damp Florence day. Life is like riding a bike.

I haven't ridden a bike probably since I was 12, and it felt so awkward mounting something now that wasn't a man. Can I make a reference to sweet childhood memories and my sexual escapades in adulthood in the same sentence without it being in bad taste...? Oh well. I was in public, feeling like Bambi with wheels, and not knowing the rules of road, but was I kidding, it's Italy; there are no rules! I was scared shitless riding on the street with all the scooters, motorscylces and tiny little cars honking and swerving around me, trucks driving 6 inches from my handlebars and all the weird street directions that change in an instant. Next thing you know, you're going the wrong way down a one way street and you can't even ride in straight line. It was awful and scary, yet so liberating all at the same time.

Once I got the hang of it, it all came rushing back to me. Just as I got cocky, I remembered what it felt like to fall off a bike. As an adult, I found myself thinking: These leggings were expensive, the road is wet from last night's rain and I don't even know how to wash this coat. I don't want to be the stupid American girl who falls off her bike and everyone laughs at. What if I hurt myself? I do have bad knees. Damn, my knees...I'm out of shape. Did it always take this much work to push the pedals? I used to be able to ride with no hands. HA! I still do...what is wrong with me?

With the wind in my face and actually having to think about where I'm going without using my phone as a crutch, I enjoyed the feeling of that first freedom of having my own wheels. When you're a kid, having a bike was the best. You feel like you can go anywhere and do anything. You are in complete control. I felt something similar.

This bike is not mine. Also, I bet it was stolen shortly after this picture was taken.

In life, we all have good experiences and bad ones. We learn from the bad and reminisce about the good. Some things we only need to experience once to learn from, while other things take a few dozen times until we get it right (like my love life....still waiting to learn that lesson). Riding a bike is literally something you never forget how to do, even if you haven't done it in years. It may be scary at first, but once you get the hang of it, it seems like a piece of cake. That's kind of how I feel about living at the moment. It's all too easy to get caught up in life, even abroad, worrying about jobs, money, bills, and daily life. But today, with the wind in my hair and the steady rythm of pushing the pedals, I felt like I reconnected with a part of me that had been forgotten. The part of me that wants to travel, appreciates the little things, and is open to new experiences and paths. I fell off my methaphorical bike for a few months being consumed by everyday problems and worrying way too much, but really all I needed was to get back on and enjoy the breeze on my face, even if I didn't know which direction I was going. With all the ups and downs over the past year, this was a great reminder to myself to live. Don't get caught up in what everyone else is doing, just do what makes you happy and keeps you on the path to your goals. Albeit cheesey, it's true.

I now have a bike in Florence. I am officially a Fiorentina. One step closer to being the Italian I'll never actually be. Now, let's just hope it doesn't get stolen.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Reverse Culture Shock: Returning Home After Being Abroad

It's a strange thing you feel when you realize you no longer fit into your native culture the way you used to. Traveling changes you, opens your eyes, your heart and your mind. After being in the US for almost a month and coming back to Italy, I see a lot of differences in myself I hadn't noticed abroad, as well as seeing my own culture through a new lens.

The first week back home in LA was kind of a blur. I was jet-lagged, scrambling to see my friends and family, and constantly thinking about my visa application I had submitted the day after I landed. Being surrounded by the people I love was a great feeling and I really missed everyone, but I couldn't help but notice something With every conversation I had, my suspicions had grown into the obvious truth: I don't fit here anymore. While everyone around me seemed to be talking about money, status, and striving for the way to live, I found myself witnessing things as an outsider. Sometimes I felt like I wasn't even in the room. I didn't relate to anything they were talking about anymore and that's when I realized.

I've changed, I've grown.

I don't see it as a bad thing, but I knew that I felt different. I'd been living in another country for the past three months and have grown accustomed to the Italian ways of doing everyday things, so of course I felt out of place. I had forgotten what full-fledged capitalism felt like. Everyone-out-for-themselves-dog-eat-dog-money-hungry hustling. Oh yeah...this is America. I was now seeing what people from other countries were talking about when they spoke about typical American culture. It was weird seeing my own culture through a semi-Italian lens. I'm not saying it's bad or wrong to think or behave the way most Americans do, it's just different than what I had gotten used to. I was forced to adapt, but I had done it much better than I realized. Italians are about family, community and helping each other out. I will admit, I had a pretty hard time taking help when I first arrived. I had my American pride. I wanted to figure things out on my own, get what I needed, and feel proud to say that I did it myself. But this way of thinking caused me a lot of frustration and it wasn't until later that I realized I need people around me to care and want to help. Once I accepted that, I felt much more at home. Call it maturation, realizing I can't do it all on my own, or adapting to the Italian way. Whatever the reason, I needed to be humbled, and I was. After awhile, I found myself helping people out whenever I could, too. Plus, you know, seeing confused tourists looking at an upside down map just got annoying, so I figured I might as well try to be part of the solution for everyone and send their simple asses on their way. The sidewalk needed to be cleared for people who actually have somewhere to be. You're welcome, Florence.

"Where is the Duomo? I can't see anything with this huge church in the way!"

Another thing I noticed was how inadequate I felt when my friends talked about their ambitions. According to everyone around me, at my ripe age of a 20-something with a college degree, I should have started a full-time career with benefits by now, living in my own apartment, and planning my next steps for the future. In Italy, I literally have none of those things. I am barely getting by stringing a few part-part-time jobs together to pay for the room I rent in an apartment with my three Italian boy roommates, I'm without health insurance and I am nowhere near being financially stable as someone my age "should be".

I have no idea what my 5-year plan looks like. I can barely see past next week, let alone five years from now! I do, however, get drunk on fancy Italian wine a lot, so there’s that. It felt so great being back in LA (sarcasm alert--read: It fucking sucked). Yes, I also saw that so-and-so from high school is working at that big company with a nice salary and is newly engaged, thanks Mom, now get off Facebook. Is it just me, or does it seem like social media was specifically designed to allow people to over exaggerate small bullshit victories solely to make other people jealous, yet we all secretly feel insecure so we continue the cycle of bragging to make ourselves feel better? Nobody seriously loves their job that much or truly can’t get over how amazing their significant other is to where they have to tell the world every fucking Monday and Wednesday how in love they are or how hot they think their boyfriend is. Yes, we get it. Woah, that escalated quickly. What was I saying? Oh, right, my crappy little life.

Sounds way more awesome if you ask me.

But in all seriousness, it was much different being home than I imagined. First I didn’t want to have to go because I felt I was just getting into the rhythm of things in Italy, then when I knew there was no getting around it, I got excited to go and see my friends and family and be somewhere familiar and actually be able to talk to people in public. Then, once I arrived, my expectations were completely turned upside down and I felt like an alien. The hardest part was feeling disconnected from my friends. They were talking about the same old things and there I was, having only been gone three months, yet feeling I lived on another planet for a year. On the bright side, everyone told me I seemed happier than ever. That much was true. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what my job is, how much money I have, or what people expect of me; I made the leap to do something not many people I know would have the guts to do. For that much, I am proud. I have the courage, ambition and faith to follow my dreams. During those times I start to get down on myself when I think of where I thought I would be at this point in my life, the career I wanted and the type of American Dream I had when I was younger, I have to stop and realize that I am doing something amazing and completely different than I thought, but in the best way possible. It takes time to build something out of nothing, and that’s exactly what I’m doing—starting my life in another country. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Status Update: I Got My Italian Visa!

"Here I am, sitting in a Starbucks down the street from my house in my hometown and I feel....out of place. I definitely don't belong here anymore." - Me

First of all, apologies for the lack of posts in the past month or two. I am a horrible blogger, but for the record, I never claimed to be such a thing but a girl trying to live her life and share some experiences while she's at it. But seriously, I'll do better, I promise.

This is just a quick post to serve as an update before the heavy stuff comes through. In a nutshell, after trying to find loopholes, alternate routes and some way around the devastatingly obvious path, I had to come back to LA for my student visa appointment in order to stay longer than the allotted 90 days. I tried [almost] everything from asking for a work visa at my job, to even considering getting married-- Hey random, hot Italian guy, wanna marry me? No? Fine! You think about the consequences to your actions the next time you cat call an American girl on the streets of Florence with that sexy Italian accent. Oh yeah, we're crazy!
As I was saying, I tried almost everything until finally I found an accredited and fairly priced language school willing to help me out with my student visa. Almost every expat I spoke to mentioned it and I thought I'd give it a shot. With a few weeks of feeling like a rebel and overstaying my tourist time of 90 days, less than half of the money previously in my bank account and a lot of hope, I flew home for my visa appointment. Well, after a total of 4 months, a lot of stress, worrying and hard work, and a complete change in circumstances later and here I am with my Italian Study Visa in hand! It feels like a miracle. I will post about the school and that process soon.

So, I'm back in Italy after almost a full month in LA waiting on the consulate to process my visa so I could have my passport back. Although I had to suck it up and fly back home leaving my new jobs hanging hoping they'll be there when I get back, everything worked out for the better because I got my visa, I got to visit all my friends and family, and I got to be home for Thanksgiving, which was entirely unexpected when I embarked on my journey earlier this year. I couldn't have been happier.

Sometimes following the rules isn't so bad....well, kinda following the rules. Stay tuned for my next few posts I have coming up about the visa process, how I did it, and what not to do!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Traveling To Get Over A Break Up

Traveling is a great way to get over a break up. This isn't my first time running from my problems, and personally, I'd recommend it, but then again, you shouldn't take any of my advice about love. Seriously, what the hell do I know? If I had the answers, I wouldn't have been to all the low places I have come to know like the back of my hand. Despite the popular saying "Don't run from your problems", it's actually been a great way for me to feel like I tackle them head on. It's kind of an oxymoron to me now. No matter where you are, you will run into yourself eventually and traveling gives you a lot of solo time, which also means time to think. Everything kind of sorts itself out in my subconscious because it's constantly in the back of my mind, no matter where I am or what I'm doing. I have learned that pushing myself out of my comfort zone really makes me bounce back simply because I have to. Sure, I sulk on the couch with ice cream, wine and Netflix just like any other girl, then I have the period where I go out every weekend, drink, flirt and have a few one nighters, but that gets old real quick. In my early 20s, that was the norm, but now I feel different. Call it maturity or the fact that I don't speak Italian well enough to flirt, but I haven't been interested in that cycle this time.

Let me fill you in.

The day I left, S and I were on good terms (shockingly enough), and to be honest, a small part of me thought about staying because things were...well, nice, really nice. But, I remembered why I was doing this and I suddenly felt really good about my decision. No tears, no regrets about leaving the relationship I knew in my gut wasn't right. I was looking forward to my future for the first time in a long time, and that was just for me. For a few weeks after I left, we would text and Skype, laugh about inside jokes, and admit we missed each other, but I was actually doing well. I never thought about going back to him, and I knew this was for good, but he still acted like I was going to have some groundbreaking realization and jump on the next flight back to LA to run into his arms. Nah.  The more days that passed, the more sure I was. I was happy. I was excited about waking up in the morning to explore my new surroundings and loved the thought of not having to worry about anyone else. I did what I wanted, when I wanted and it was amazing. Freedom.

She's pondering life...and smiling. 

During this time, I realized that he was still hanging on and it was partially my fault because I was still talking to him like a best friend when he reached out. Remember, we hadn't had sex for the last 2 months of our living together because I just didn't feel it anymore. I still think that made it much easier to break off when it was time for me to go, since there was much less emotional baggage between us. He wasn't happy about it, I'm sure, but that's what I decided and I'm glad it worked out that way. Anyway, he started bringing up the good aspects of our relationship a lot more and that's when I realized I needed to cut him off. About a month into being gone, it was time. I had a few glasses of wine with dinner, came home and looked at my phone. Right before I made the call, it hit me. Why was I crying now? Was it the alcohol? Was it the fact that I was about to really leave him? Was it the feeling of losing a friend? I didn't know, but I had to do it. He answered, we small talked and I dropped the bomb, with tears. He understood and said he was beginning to get angry with me for leaving, so it was good timing. In all this time, he had some new opportunities come up, changed jobs, and talked to a girl or two. I wasn't jealous, or even mad or hurt. I wanted him to move on, because I knew I was. That's what made me feel ok after we hung up and I was glad.

After 2 weeks of no contact, he wrote me something about our dog and I didn't respond. A few days later, he texted me again. This time I answered and we ended up chatting for a few hours, on and off, talking about regrets and sorrows in our relationship and things that should have gone differently. The chat turned into a phone call and the phone call turned into closure. He apologized for some things, I apologized for some things, and in the end it made me really happy to hear him say out loud what he learned from it all. What shocked me even more was when he hit the nail on the head with the turning point of our relationship, which ultimately led to its downfall being his fault. Thank you! That was it.

"You took your suite case, I took the blame..." (what's that song called??)

Being on the move since I left has really done me a world of good. Not only was it the opportunity to start a new chapter for myself, I've had a lot of time for self reflection. Planes, trains and busses. I carried my journal everywhere with me, and still do for the most part, which always gives me the option to turn my solo lunch into productive me-time. I can't call my best friend to distract me at any time, I can't head my favorite, comfortable spot in town, or go out and have my friends buy me shots and tell me that the hot bartender has been eyeing me all night. Traveling distracts you to a point, but I truly believe it also forces you to learn about yourself more than in any other situation at home; double time if it's paired with a break up.

(Break Up - Comfort Zone) + Travel = Escape + Alone Time = Self Reflection = Realization = Healing

Not only is it hard to be sad when I'm in my favorite city, I can't stop thinking about all the things I need to do to get my life started here. Goals keep me motivated and moving forward. Not to mention, lots of hot Italian eye candy to distract me and make me fantasize about future rendezvous.

My advice: Say Fuck it and use the breakup as an excuse to go somewhere you've never gone, but have always wanted to. You can thank me later when you have the best experience of your life. Ride a camel, hike Machu Picchu, go wine tasting in Italy, learn yoga in Bali. Just go somewhere! Eat Pray Love that shit!

Have you ever traveled after a break up? How was it?