Florida: How I discovered home-cooked Indian food, Homeland and the Atlantic Ocean, and forgave Florida for the 2000 Election. And then went to Cleveland.

In November 2013, my roommate Roshan, who is originally from Florida, suggested that for New Year‘s, all of our college friends meet at her place in Ft. Lauderdale/Miami Beach to bring in 2013 together. This is Roshan:

400514_3146290341962_1299209755_n

I know what you’re thinking—but no, she’s actually not Beyoncé. But like don’t feel bad—Beyoncé’s still got time to live up to that.

Because I’d already had plans to fly from LA to Cleveland to celebrate my grandma’s 80th birthday, to make both trips, I just exchanged my ticket from LA to Cleveland for 2 cheaper tickets: One from LA to Ft. Lauderdale, and another from Ft. Lauderdale to Cleveland. I was stoked. I was overwhelmed. I was counting down the days. And, as it turns out, I was the only one of our friends who was going.

Of course, neither Roshan nor I cared. We we’re excited. First of all, I felt like this would just be a preview of what it was going to be like when we take Rio by storm in March. Second of all, this is what our relationship is like, so you can understand we don’t need much to keep us entertained:

It had been a long day.

It had been a long day.

Anyhow, I was going to Florida for 4 days. I’d never been to Florida before, and I was very okay with that. To be honest (as the title of this blog post suggests), I’d never really forgiven Florida for the 2000 election. One miscount led to 8 years of political hell. As Roshan said, “We [Florida] just can’t get our shit together.” I agreed, but, for I so loved Roshan, I was ready to go to Florida to hang out with her and her family and willing to look past where she was from in order to appreciate who she was as a person. (Just kidding—this is just a long-winded way of me saying I’d never been like, ‘Yeah! Florida!’ But I was still psyched to get a geocache in another state I’d never been in.)

My flight to Florida from LA had one layover in Houston, Texas. I got off the plane and this was the first thing I saw:

68669_10200323924486507_1238300537_n

It was too much too soon—a Fox News gift shop? Harrowing. Absolutely harrowing. I was nervous that I was flying further into the belly of the beast. But I swallowed my fear and got back on the plane to reach my final destination: Ft. Lauderdale.

I got off the plane there and Roshan was waiting for me at my terminal. I was so happy to be in Florida. It’s always such a strange feeling to see your college friends in places that aren’t college. When Roshan was driving me back to her house, I was still trying to reconcile how weird and serendipitous it felt (thought it totally wasn’t—we’d straight up planned this meet up for months) to be with Roshan in a state that wasn’t Illinois.

From the very beginning, I was already warming up to Florida. The weather was incredible. Every day I was there, the sun was out and the temperature was in the 80s—it was almost as if the weather was defying the season out of spite or something. Three important things happened to me while I was in Florida:

  1. I swam in the Atlantic Ocean
  2. I celebrated New Year’s by going to bars—for the first time
  3. I watched both seasons of Homeland in 2 days. 24 hours of television in 48 hours. You decide how you to feel about that, because I already have. And I feel like a god.

Roshan and I had had it in the back of our minds that we were going to try to get through Homeland together and finish both seasons before school started. And boy, when we put our minds to something…

When I got to Roshan’s house from the airport, I met her family: her mother, father, older sister and older brother. Roshan comes from an Indian family that keeps their family traditions alive. Her house has a beautiful room reserved for prayer—it’s the only room in the house in which no one is allowed to wear shoes. Her parents are just about the two most adorable people you’ve ever seen. Her father is a doctor who faithfully goes to and from work and spends his evenings relaxing in his living room in full surgeon’s regalia. Her mother is always cooking the most delicious Indian food and, to my great joy, was always having me eat it. I remember being so overwhelmed by her family’s adherence to tradition and being so jealous of it in my own life that I asked Roshan if one day I could try to participate in her family’s prayer ceremony, thinking it would be very technical and methodical and serious and wanting to show my respect for the process. Roshan looked at me like I was an idiot and said, “Sure, but it’s gonna be boring. They’re just gonna be singing stuff.”

I also had it in my mind that, when people of other cultures make food for you, you should eat it all and always request more and never deny anything. To be honest, literally everything her mother made me was so uniquely delicious I can recall the tastes in my head today and still salivate at the memory. Everything was amazing—except for this one yogurt-y thing. It was the one thing her mother kept serving me and I  kept eating like a machine in a desperate attempt not to offend. I told Roshan about my yogurt predicament and she said, “Well just tell my mom you don’t want it.” I scoffed in Roshan’s face. “Yeah, sure, of course I’m gonna do that. Then I’m gonna put on a pair of muddy hiking boots and dance an Irish jig in your prayer room. Nice try.” The next day at dinner, her mother, in usual form, was bringing the yogurt over to my plate and I was preparing my most commanding “Ooo-this-is-delicious” face. Roshan saw this happening and gently said, “Mom, Emilia doesn’t like that stuff, stop giving it to her.” The moment I heard that, if I could shoot bullets from my eyes, I’d have released every round in my arsenal. I immediately fought like Plato in front of his Athenian jury, trying to make Roshan sound crazy—and I’m pretty sure I succeeded, because I never stopped receiving a side of that yogurt with every meal—though it was a small price to pay for the other incredible delicacies I was served.

After my weekend in Florida, I realized something: I was so anal about adhering to the cultural traditions in that house and not offending anyone because I’d grown up in a pretty Americanized home. The Barrosses (my family) didn’t have many cultural traditions we followed on a daily basis. So, for me, all of the food, all the prayer, all the norms were so fascinating and new that I overcompensated, while Roshan, who’d lived with those traditions since she was young, actually understood what they meant and knew they weren’t something to be slaved over or worried about. It was fascinating to see the differences between the first and second generations in that house. Roshan’s parents worshipped frequently, and Roshan’s mother went to mass on New Year’s, trying to get her kids to come along (no dice this time, though—we had a limo and a date with Miami Beach we weren’t about to miss!). But Roshan and her siblings, being second generation Indians, had a beautiful dichotomy in their lives. They’d been exposed to all the traditions their culture had to offer, and it was clear they had a respect for those traditions and their parents’ adherence to them—but they were able to have the best of both worlds. Because they were raised by families with strong cultural ties in a nation that strayed from them, they’d become worldly and wise in a way so few people are. Going from Roshan’s parents’ house to her cousin’s house—all Roshan’s cousins are also second generation Indians—was such a fascinating change of scenery. All these people who were brought up in staunchly Indian families, who all have such reverence for the traditions of their culture and the values their people hold, can gracefully fit in with just about any crowd they find themselves in. They’ll go from having a traditional meal with their parents and an after dinner prayer, to hitting the Miami clubs, knocking down shots with even the most debaucherous of Miami’s frat boys. It is a grace I never procured—and it is this absence in my cultural upbringing that left me choking down that yogurt concoction until the day I left for Cleveland. But again, I would’t have traded the experience of living for those few days beneath Roshan’s roof for anything.

Speaking of debauchery? So, New Year’s happened. The plan was for us all (me, Roshan, her cousins and her cousins friends and spouses) to rent a limo and go clubbing. This was the first time I ever did a New Year’s like that. I’d only ever gone to house parties and stayed in one place all night. I’d never gotten all dressed up with heels and a tight dress and a flask of spiced rum in my purse. (One of Roshan’s cousins got us all flasks with our names on them. I still have mine to this day. Never forget. Never go thirsty.) Because I’d never done anything like this before, I was informed by Roshan that the attire I brought simply wouldn’t do. Like FEMA dropping supplies down from helicopters to homeless Louisianians, Roshan made sure I had clothes and shoes to wear so I didn’t look like the inexperienced clubber I was. I couldn’t have been more grateful. With black heels and a tight, gray dress, I was ready to bring in the New Year. The following photos show a pretty accurate progression of the night:

Leaving the house, in our New Year's finest. From left to right: me, Roshan and her older brother, Jai

Leaving the house, in our New Year’s finest. From left to right: me, Roshan and her older brother, Jai. Note Roshan’s awesome, yellow shoes. Not just anyone could pull those off. Again, sorry, Beyoncé. Maybe in another life…

Surveying the limo. How do I feel?

Surveying the limo. How do I feel?

Pretty good. Pretty derned good.

Pretty good. Pretty derned good. Bring in the infantry, I’m ready to get shwasted.

The fun has arrived. We're on our way to the first club. Then, we didn't know it'd be our only club.

The fun has arrived. We’re on our way to the first club. At that moment, we didn’t know it’d be our only club.

Party girl just livin' her life, doesn't care what anyone thinks about her. Just havin' a good time.

Party girl just livin’ her life, doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her. Just havin’ a good time. Don’t care what kind of hatorade ANY of the haters are sippin’ on.

At da club. I'm drunk and leanin'. Roshan's lookin' like a prom queen. Just keeping up appearances.

At da club. I’m drunk and leanin’. Roshan’s lookin’ like a prom queen. Just keeping up the usual appearances.

At the club, what the night became was finding a way to sneak in and see Drake perform. Apparently, Drake was performing at the party we were at, and if you finagled it right, you’d be able to get in and see him—free of charge. Only a few brazen, bold members of our crew made it to see Drake, while the rest of us pretended like we were gonna find a New Year’s kiss. A gentleman was flirting pretty ferociously with Roshan, and Roshan wasn’t to be flexed with. She was busy trying to find me a New Year’s kiss, but was fighting against the fact that I have no game or confience when it comes to romance. The result of the equation? Us sharing our own New Year’s kiss. Hear that boys? We don’t need you anyways!

Keepin' it above the waist.

Keepin’ it above the waist.

After hitting the club and cheering for the New Year, we were all drunk and knew we needed one thing: sustenance. We headed to the Miami strip and went to the first restaurant we saw. I got a gigantic chicken parmesan sandwich that a sober Emilia would never have finished, but that a drunk Emilia pushed past her body’s signals of, “Dude, you’re full,” and emerged the victor in the eternal battle of Man vs. Food.

Limo ride home. Ready to sleep forever and then watch more Homeland.

About to head home. Ready to sleep forever and then watch more Homeland.

I left for Cleveland on Jan. 4—so there was a lot of time to kill between New Year’s and my flight home. That time was spent going to the beach and watching Homeland. To be honest, Roshan and I didn’t really know 100% if we were going to watch all of Homeland, but after the 3rd episode of the 1st season, it became clear. I wasn’t leaving the state until we had watched all of Homeland together. We finally finished the 2nd season at 4:30 am on Jan. 4. We had to wake up 3.5 hours later to get me to the airport, but did we have any regrets? Yes, probably. But do we now have the “I’ve Watched Homeland” bragging rights? You bet we do.

Though I’m not going to pretend like we didn’t spend a lot of time watching Homeland, we spent a fair amount of time outside as well. We went to the beach nearly every single day, and I could never get enough of the Atlantic Ocean—or the Florida beaches for that matter. Growing up, I had the Pacific Ocean, and I got used to swimming with the understanding that, once you stepped in the water, you just weren’t going to be able to see your feet. Not so in the Atlantic Ocean. The water is cleaner and warmer and gentler. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that it was early January and the beaches were packed with people in swimsuits—tanning! In 3 days I would be in Cleveland where it was snowing, while our fellow compatriots just to the south were tanning and beach bumming. Even still, I can’t believe the wonders of the Floridian weather. It was when I was swimming in the Atlantic Ocean at 2 pm on Jan 2 that I decided I loved Florida. I didn’t care that it had wronged me in the past. I was in love with Florida and I understood that every now and again we’d disappoint each other, we’d get mad at each other and we’d make up—but isn’t that the case with all the great loves in one’s life? Here are photos of one fantastic day in particular where we went to the beach, got a late lunch, then went to the arts district in Miami to get a late dinner with Roshan’s family to celebrate her cousin’s birthday. Literally a flawless day:

Me trying to look calm when inside I'm freaking out that the weather is so perfect and that I'm wearing a dress when I know that in a few days I'd be swaddled in winter clothes battling the sleet in Cleveland.

Me trying to look calm when inside I’m freaking out that the weather is so perfect and that I’m wearing a dress when I know that in a few days I’d be swaddled in winter clothes battling the sleet in Cleveland.

Just tryna be in an awesomely-framed photo is all.

Just tryna be in an awesomely-framed photo is all.

Lunch at a restaurant overlooking the ocean. And I'm still alive?? How can real life be this good?

Lunch at a restaurant overlooking the ocean. And I’m still alive?? How can real life be this good?

Me trying to understand art—and failing—at a Miami art gallery

Me trying to understand art—and failing—at a Miami art gallery

The whole crew. These are some of the best people I've ever met. I'm not related to them by blood, but from the moment Roshan introduced me to them, they treated me like I'd known them forever. Such great memories.

The whole crew. These are some of the best people I’ve ever met. I’m not related to them by blood, but from the moment Roshan introduced me to them, they treated me like I’d known them forever. Such great memories. So grateful for my experience with them.

After an excellent time spent in Florida with my buddy—and with the beginning stages of a tan that just never really got a chance to thrive—Roshan and I woke up in a groggy Homeland-marathon-induced stupor and headed to the airport. I’d see Roshan again in a matter of days back in Chicago, but it wouldn’t be the same as it was in Florida. I’d had an absolutely idyllic experience in Florida and got over the grudge I’d been harvesting against Florida for 12 years. That’s how great of a host Roshan was. Don’t believe me? Well…then I’m sorry, I guess. I don’t really know what else to tell you…

I got to Cleveland later that day to prepare to celebrate my grandma’s 80th birthday. The rest of my family arrived the next day. Here are pictures from the 2 days I spent with my own family:

Me and the birthday girl!

Me and the birthday girl! I’m fresh off the plane and fresh out of ideas for what to do with my hair. Solution? Hide it.

Me and the birthday girl's cat. Fast friends. Best friends.

Me and the birthday girl’s cat. Fast friends. Best friends.

Me biding time in my room, waiting for the rest of my family to arrive in Cleveland.

Me biding time in my room, waiting for the rest of my family to arrive in Cleveland.

The puzzle whose completion became my obsession during my time Cleveland. I woulda gotten away with it too—if it wasn't for crippling jetlag.

The puzzle whose completion became my obsession during my time Cleveland. I woulda gotten away with it too—if it wasn’t for crippling jetlag.

The birthday party! Everyone's there! Yaaaay! Cue music...(and cake)

The birthday party! Everyone’s there! Yaaaay! Cue music…(and cake)

photo 1-1.JPG

Me and my big sis bein’ silly.

photo 4.JPG

Bein’ less silly, but still pretty durn sillz.

My grandma, hearing something that made her make that face. And my mom is on her right (camera left) being like, "Ohhh," to whatever was being said.

My grandma, hearing something that made her make that face. And my mom is on her right (camera left) being like, “Ohhh,” to whatever was being said.

My favorite photo of my parents ever that I found while looking through Grandma's old photo albums. That's the best thing about being at grandparents' houses—snoopin' around and finding incredible blasts from a past that came before my past!

My favorite photo of my parents ever that I found as I was looking through Grandma’s old photo albums. That’s the best thing about being at grandparents’ houses—snoopin’ around and finding incredible blasts from a past that came before my past!

After a Winter Break that couldn’t have been more relaxing, fun and filled with people I love, I headed back to Evanston to start the Winter Quarter of my senior year. Today, as I write this post, it is the day before the last day of Winter Quarter, and I will be heading for Rio de Janeiro tomorrow. I’ve got my visa and everything:

Roshan and I bright and early headed to the Brazilian consulate to get our visas. Now we got 'em—it seems the travel gods have been on our side from the beginning if this photo is any evidence...

Roshan and I, bright and early, headed to the Brazilian consulate to get our visas. Now we got ’em, and it seems the travel gods have been on our side from the beginning, if this photo is any evidence…

I’m hoping the weather in Rio will be more like it was in Florida than in Cleveland. Regardless, until tomorrow, my mind will be consumed with one prevailing thought, “Brasil, aqui vamos nós!”

Philadelphia: How I saw the Liberty Bell, befriended a Minuteman, lost my wallet and found it again, all in one weekend! (Part 5/5)

I woke up early that morning, everything was packed and I was ready to head home. Of course, I was reluctant to leave Philly—it had treated me like I was a princess. But I needed to go home. I had to study for finals week, get ready to go home to LA and, most importantly, I had to take a shower.

I left my host’s apartment and left a thank you note detailing how humbled I was by his incredible hostmanship. (New word, I get at least 10% of all proceeds from usage of that word.) I headed directly to 30th Street Station, taking in my last few moments of Philadelphia on my walk. My train was at 11 am, and I was still floating on good vibes and great memories so much so that when I got to the station at 10, I realized I hadn’t eaten anything. There was this cool smoothie stand that offered strawberry-banana smoothies with my name on ’em. I had to search awkwardly through my backpack—which was filled to the brim because it was the only bag I brought to carry my luggage—because my wallet wasn’t in my coat pocket like I thought it was. To my chagrin, it wasn’t in the outside pocket of my backpack like I thought it would be. Then it wasn’t in the inside pocket either. Then, it wasn’t in any of the pockets. But, could it be? No…

With my smoothie waiting for me on the counter like a faithful Civil War housewife, I proceeded to empty my backpack of all its contents, take off all my layers, search through every pocket on my body, and become increasingly frantic as I did so. Luckily, my train ticket home had been in my jacket pocket all week and I wouldn’t need any money or identification to get home to Chicago—but once the Amtrak dropped me off in the Loop, what would I do?

The smoothie proprietor took pity on me and told me to “pay for the smoothie when I got a chance,” and I told him, “I don’t live here. If I don’t pay for it now, it’s never gonna happen.” I don’t think he wanted to accept that as truth, so he just said again, with a smile that said, ‘Play along, bitch, I don’t want to make this anymore awkward than it already is,’ “Just come back when you have your wallet.” I nodded, took my smoothie and drank it in despair. I began making frantic phone calls as I walked on to the train. I called, texted and left voicemails on Mary’s phone. “Hi Mary, thank you, again, for an incredible weekend—just wondering, is my wallet at your house or in your car?” E-mailed Hans and Cam—”Hey guys, thank you so much for giving me the best couchsurfing experience I could have hoped to have—by the way, did any of you guys notice a wallet lying around the area around the couch I’d been sleeping on?”

I kept getting nos. When all my options were exhausted, I did what I thought was most responsible: cancel my credit and debit card. On the train, 5 minutes later, I’d cancelled my credit card and made the hardest call yet: to my mother.

“Mom, I lost my wallet in Philly.”

“Okay, did you leave it at the bar?”

I froze. The thought never crossed my mind. I’d been so taken with McGillin’s that I never imagined anything bad could have happened there. It was mentally impossible for me at that point to associate it with any negative feelings. But no one knows me better than my mother, so of course, I tell her I lose my wallet, she knows I went to a bar, she knows about my alcohol tolerance—and she hits the nail on the head within seconds of hearing the news.

I immediately called McGillin’s, and, of course, it being the Graceland that it is, they had my wallet.

“Oh, yeah, we’ve got it right here—you just left it right on the bar!”

“Is there any way you could send it back to me?”

“Sure thing! Just give us your address and we’ll have it out to you today!”

Thank god I tipped 100% when I was there. But now, I was in a predicament. I’d get back to Chicago the next day early: 8 am. Three days later, I would leave for Los Angeles to go home for Winter Break. Where would I tell them to send the wallet? I’d need my I.D. to get through security at the airport to get to Los Angeles, but would the mail travel fast enough? What if I left for Los Angeles before it got to my apartment, and then the whole time in LA I’d be without a driver’s license or identification of any kind? How could I fly like that? Or, should I just try to get through security knowing I wouldn’t have my wallet, but certain I’d at least have it in LA for break? I decided to go for the gold.

I gave them my Chicago address. And I told them about my predicament. They assured me they’d have the wallet out to me by the end of the work day. I began fretting.

Hearing that my wallet was indeed alive and well was good news and bad news:

  1. Good: my wallet—and all of the important contents within—was saved
  2. Bad: my debit card was cancelled. I had no money whatsoever and no means by which to procure money. I was out of cash, running low on food at my apartment—oh the humanity.

Considering that I was in for a 20 hour train ride in close quarters, I decided not to think about it. What would stressing about it in a small, enclosed, claustrophobic space do for me? Nothing.

I decided to focus again on enjoying this trip to the fullest. I had an hour layover in DC, and I was gonna try to make the most of it: I was going to go home with a geocache logged from our nation’s capitol.

After a 90 minute train ride, we stopped in DC. I immediately got out of the train and embarked upon my reconnaissance mission: I was getting back on that train with another cache under my belt, or I wasn’t going back at all. (Not true, but it sounds super compelling, doesn’t it?)

Union Station in DC was absolutely awesome: the coolest train station I’d ever been in. It was like a thriving metropolis—but I didn’t have much time to stop and ogle, I had a job to do. (Plus, I knew in the back of my mind I’d be coming back here for Emilia’s Solo Adventures Pt. II, so I didn’t fear I would miss much.)

Cool, right??

Cool, right??

A quote on the side of Union Station. It's a quote that harkens back to cool quotes we've all heard throughout our lives.

A quote on the side of Union Station. It’s a quote that harkens back to cool quotes we’ve all heard throughout our lives.

To make the most of my brief fling with DC that afternoon, I took photos of everything that even vaguely caught my interest. I was going from Union Square to Stanton Park to find the geocache located there. It wasn’t a far distance, but I didn’t want to be fighting against time to make it back to my train. I wanted to get in and out of there with no casualties. No body count. 1 cache count. All systems were a go.

This was my mission. I was all business.

This was my mission. I was all business.

 

When I first got off the train, the McKayla Maroney in my heart was not impressed. The first thing I saw was a fake Liberty Bell. After having just been weak at the knees for the real one just the day before, I thought to myself, “DC, stop playin’.” But then, I was back on track, ready to find and retrieve the geocache on my GPS.

photo 1.JPG

Stop triflin’

Here were some things I saw on the way to Stanton Park that got me excited for my real DC trip (the one that, now, I know will be happening in April!):

photo 2.JPG

This is cool—right?

photo 3.JPG

This church says Capitol Hill on it, so I took a photo of it!!

photo 4.JPG

This street sign says Capitol Hill on it, so I took a picture of it!!

photo 5.JPG

This is what happens when I don’t wash my hair for a weekend. It takes on a whole new personality: my hair becomes Mr. Hyde while I remain Dr. Jekyll.

photo 1-1.JPG

This has totally gotta be cool, right? I mean, it says Thurgood’s name for chrissakes!

Luckily, I found my geocache with no hitches in the plan and made it back to Union Station with enough time to admire the architecture and the businesses therein. There was one in particular that caught my eye .

Everything I need, especially if the President is also in there on one of the shelves...

Everything I need, especially if the President is also in there on one of the shelves…

But soon enough, it was time to get back on the train. I made it back to Chicago, channeled a homeless person and stood on the L platform asking people for fare money to make it back to my apartment. When I finally got home, I dropped everything, hopped in the shower and went to sleep. My wallet ended up coming the morning I left for LA, so luckily, I had enough fare to get to O’Hare and I had the identification to get me past security and on the plane that brought me home to sunny LA. I’d be Florida bound in 2 weeks to celebrate New Year’s, and I couldn’t have been more excited. If Florida ended up being even half as fun as Philadelphia, I knew I’d have a great holiday. And how could it not be? This time I’d be visiting my college roommate and one of my best friends, Roshan, and bringing in the New Year with her. Here’s a little preview of our time in Florida. I’m also headed to Brazil with her tomorrow, so this photo I’m about to share with you is both a preview of my Florida trip and my upcoming trip abroad (which will be my first time out of the country in 5 years. It’s about time, eh?)

Yeah, it was premarital, but can you blame me?

Yeah, it was premarital, but can you blame me?

 

Philadelphia: How I saw the Liberty Bell, befriended a Minuteman, lost my wallet and found it again, all in one weekend! (Part 4/5)

 “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” —George Bush, Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002
.
Not to be trifled with again—and completely in the tourist zone, I made sure to set my alarm clock and get out and into the streets of Philly by 9 am that morning to make sure I hit every destination on my list.
.
And boy, did I.
.
Destination #1: Reading Terminal Market. Pronounced “Redding,” which I learned the hard way so you wouldn’t have to. (For I so loved the world…) One of the greatest things in my life that I have available to me is food. In many ways, I’m a simple girl, and I believe that life’s simple joys—in abundance—can be life’s greatest pleasures. If one was to take that previous sentence as scripture, Reading Terminal Market would be my Vatican. Armed with nothing but an umbrella and an empty stomach (the day I planned to sight-see most, would be the day that rained most, of course), I made my way to Reading Terminal, and found the promised land.
Excited to go to mass.

Excited to go to mass.

My, the pews are full today!

My, the pews are full today!

I ambled the aisles for an hour. I bought chocolate-covered pretzels for my hosts as a parting gift (I was leaving the next day, after all), and drank a lot of coffee to prepare myself for my long day of sight-seeing ahead. One thing that added to the beauty of Reading Terminal—and the feeling that it was, truly, a congregation—was that everyone was so congenial and talkative. Everyone talked to everyone else like they were all neighbors. I remember buying a loaf of raisin bread from an artisan bread stand (as a partying gift for Mary & Roy, who had been such excellent guides and hosts during my visit as well), the cashier, the customer in front of me and I all began talking about our day’s plans, and the both of them ended up giving me excellent suggestions of places to go for an excellent Philly Cheesesteak (after my prompting, of course. I don’t want to give you guys the wrong idea that all anyone in Philly talks about is Cheesesteaks—though that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing…).

Once I was satisfied with my samplings at Reading—and with almost no more room in my purse for extra purchases (if I was gonna go all out anywhere, it was gonna be there), I embarked upon the rest of my journey through Philadelphia—taking random photos of anything that looked cool to me as I passed it.

I passed Philadelphia’s Chinatown:

Ni Hao!

Ni Hao!

The Federal Detention Center:

I assume this is the face you're supposed to make at these kinds of places?

I assume this is the face you’re supposed to make at these kinds of places?

A Crispus Attucks memorial:

I was actually really glad I saw this and decided to stop and read it because, shame on me, I hadn't thought of Crispus Attucks or his sacrifice since high school—or maybe even before then—and he was such a significant figure in the American Revolution. To jog everyone's memory—though I hope I don't have to—it is believed that Crispus Attucks was the first American to be gunned down in the Boston Massacre. A moment of silence is indeed recommended for remembering him.

I was actually really glad I saw this and decided to stop and read it because, shame on me, I hadn’t thought of Crispus Attucks or his sacrifice since high school—or maybe even before then—and he was such a significant figure in the American Revolution. To jog everyone’s memory—though I hope this isn’t necessary for everyone—it is believed that Crispus Attucks was the first American to be gunned down in the Boston Massacre. A moment of silence is indeed recommended when remembering him.

The Whispering Bells of Freedom, to honor Crispus Attucks' sacrifice

The Whispering Bells of Freedom, to honor Crispus Attucks’ sacrifice

I stopped in quickly at The National Constitution Center. I only made it into the lobby because it cost a fancy fee to get in to see all the goods, but I still felt the lobby was inspirational enough—check out the quotes on the wall!

I'm clearly stoked to be there—and this is before I noticed the lady at the information kiosk and approached her to take a picture of me 'neath the quotes. I'm just using the tools available to me...

I’m clearly stoked to be there—and this is before I noticed the lady at the information kiosk and approached her to take a picture of me ‘neath the quotes. I’m just using the tools available to me…

Straight outta munchkin-land. Make sure you read da quotes!

Straight outta munchkin-land. Make sure you read da quotes! How cool are our ancestors, am I right?!

My number one priority when I first purchased my ticket to go to Philadelphia was to see the Liberty Bell. When I had dreamt about the trip before I actually went on it, I’d always imagined I would have seen it by now. I thought it would have been one of the first things I did in Philly. Yet here I was, my final day in Philly and I hadn’t yet seen the magnificent bell that chimed the song of freedom for our country. And yet, my next stop still wasn’t the cherubic bell, but the most important building in America (no, it’s not America’s first Chipotle…): The Independence Visitor’s Center. Why is it the most important building in America? Because I met this guy, and he was awesome:

I don't remember his name, but when you're so overwhelmed with passion, it's not unlikely to forget what year it is, let alone things as insignificant as first names!

I don’t remember his name, but when you’re so overwhelmed with passion, it’s not unlikely to forget what year it is, let alone things as insignificant as first names!

It was this man that pointed me in the direction of the Liberty Bell. I have no sense of direction—I will elaborate further on this defect when I describe how I finally made my way to Independence Hall. Then finally, I saw it. Well, not it, yet, but the building it’s housed in.

Not as flashy as you'd think, huh? I mean, the Liberty Bell's got nothin' to prove. You could house it in a shoe box, and whatever shoes came next would have a pretty big box to fill... (I apologize sincerely for that joke. The next jokes I make won't be that cheesy, I swear...)

Not as flashy as you’d think, huh? I mean, the Liberty Bell’s got nothin’ to prove. You could house it in a shoe box, and whatever shoes came next would have a pretty big box to fill… (I apologize sincerely for that joke. The next jokes I make won’t be that cheesy, I swear…)

There are a bunch of exhibits and fantastic quotes from our Founding Fathers written in wood and stone on the walls of the building leading up to the precious bell.

photo 5-10.JPG

And so it was!

And so it was!

And then, there she was.

You know how crack kills? Well, this crack created a nation! (was that joke worse than the last one? Feel free to leave me a comment with your jurisdiction)

You know how crack kills? Well, this crack created a nation! (was that joke worse than the last one? Feel free to leave me a comment with your jurisdiction)

Yes, Mr. DeMille, it was ready for its close up.

Yes, Mr. DeMille, it was ready for its close up.

It's Christmas already.

It’s Christmas already.

When I got to the bell, I just kept circling it and circling it and circling it in awe—and also reading what was written on it. This was it. This was the bell I’d sung about and read about and heard stories about since my first 4th of July. It was by no means gigantic, and it wasn’t overpowering. It was just moving—for me at least. My eyes began to burn, literally—but that wasn’t just because of the bell itself, but more because of what was written on it: “PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF LEV. XXV X.” I know it’s a Bible verse—but it’s an example of a moment when the teachings of the Bible were used to free people and bring justice, and not to enslave or exclude people for fear of the unknown. I think this is an excellent example of how the Bible, both Old and New Testament alike, should be interpreted. Anyhow. The amount of family photographs I accidentally photobombed while circling the Liberty Bell like it was the eye of a Tornado probably lands somewhere in the late teens. But I couldn’t focus too heavily on that, my next conquest was in my sights: Independence Hall.

I remember trying to find my way into Independence Hall, navigating around the various fences in the rain proved quite difficult, and I had to be escorted by several security guards off of certain premises on which I had no business being. Unfortunately, I was born with no sense of direction, and it is a genetic oversight I’ve struggled with all my life. To compensate, the levels of shame which I am able to sustain are inordinately high, and therefore, being escorted off the grass of Independence Hall by two security guards to the actual entrance of Independence Hall, which, to most people, is clear as a bell to find, is no crippling embarrassment—it’s merely my primary and most fruitful mode of transportation.

To my great pleasure, free tours of Independence Hall, The First Congress and The First Supreme Court are given for free by volunteers. So, needless to say, I took three tours that day. First I took a tour of Independence Hall. The following photo stream details my journey of trying to finally actually find my way to the Hall itself.

Ain't she a beaute?

Ain’t she a beaute? Now how to get around the ropes…

This is a cool quote I found when I was in a room that I thought was in Independence Hall, but most definitely was not. I was assured this by the elderly gentleman with a name tag that walked in and let me know that I was not allowed to be in that room without a tour guide.

Awesome statue I found and took a photo of moments before being escorted off of the carefully mowed grass outside of Independence Hall.

Awesome statue I found and took a photo of moments before being escorted off of the carefully mowed grass outside of Independence Hall.

Once again, was almost positive I was in Independence Hall, but was assured by the folks handing out brochures in the room that I was actually in The American Philosophical Society Museum. Not too bad, though!

Once again, was almost positive I was in Independence Hall, but was assured by the folks handing out brochures in the room that I was actually in The American Philosophical Society Museum. Not too bad, though!

Finally, though, I breached the walls of Independence Hall and waited there with the tour group for the tour to begin. When the tour guide came out to introduce herself to us and to prep us for the tour, she asked those of us who travelled the furthest to be here to raise our hands. I was among the last ones standing (since I said I was from LA, not Chicago—which is technically true!) but I was beat out by a couple from Germany. Damn.

Waiting with the tour group! The anticipation is mounting!

Waiting with the tour group! The anticipation is mounting!

So you know it’s the real deal:

When the lowercase 's's look straight up like lowercase 'f's, you KNOW some historical shit's 'bout to get seen.

When the lowercase ‘s’s look straight up like lowercase ‘f’s, you KNOW some historical shit’s ’bout to get seen.

Then, I saw the following in this order:

A conference room!

A conference room!

The OS (Original Senate!)

Where the Declaration of Independence was edited!!

A BETTER picture of the OS!

A BETTER picture of where the Declaration of Independence was edited!!

Banquet table on the second floor to unwind after some especially stressful meetings. I mean, I get it. The whole revolution thing must have been at least as stressful as an NU finals week, right?

Banquet table on the second floor to unwind after some especially stressful meetings. I mean, I get it. The whole revolution thing must have been at least as stressful as an NU finals week, right?

Once the tour of Independence Hall was through, I wanted to get in on the tour of Congress. There was about 15 minutes to kill, so I went into a room where they had original versions of important, historical documents on display. And, of course, being the history buff that I am, I freaked out. If you care anything about US history, though, you would have too. Check this out:

Original page of the original Bill of Rights edited by an original member of Congress. Eeeeee!!!

Original page of the original Bill of Rights edited by an original member of Congress. Eeeeee!!!

Original page of the original Constitution edited by an original member of Congress. Eeeeee!!!

Original page of the original Constitution edited by an original member of Congress. Eeeeee!!!

Original page of one of the original Declarations of Independence edited by an original member of Congress. Eeeeee!!!

Original page of one of the original Declarations of Independence edited by an original member of Congress. Eeeeee!!!

Okay, so, I get that this document in particular didn't end up being used for that long, and this isn't actually a copy of the real thing, just words painted on to a piece of wood put there centuries later, but like, this is still cool to me.

Okay, so, I get that this document in particular didn’t end up being used for that long, and this isn’t actually a copy of the real thing, just words painted on to a piece of wood put there centuries later, but like, this is still cool to me.

Okay, same idea here, but at least this time, this is the Constitution, which, you know, ended up being a much bigger deal than those Articles up there...

Okay, same idea here, but at least this time, this is the Constitution, which, you know, ended up being a much bigger deal than those Articles up there…so this is pretty much as exciting as life gets for anyone ever.

Then, once I stopped being “that guy” in the document display room, the tour began. And I got my OC (Original Congress) swag on.

Me, straight up sittin' in the House of Representatives. This was taken by the tour guide, who has a shakier hand than I do when it comes to photography.

Me, straight up sittin’ in the original House of Representatives. This was taken by the tour guide, who has a shakier hand than I do when it comes to photography.

I could soooo have done this on the daily in the 1770s.

I could soooo have done this on the daily in the 1770s.

Oh what's that? This is the original Senate? Oh, and the walls are green? I hear geniuses love green. Coincidence? I think not.

Oh what’s that? This is the original Senate? Oh, and the walls are green? I hear geniuses love green. Coincidence? I think not.

After I had familiarized myself with Congress’ original headquarters, I made my way deeper into my bucket list. I checked out Carpenter’s Hall, which was soooooo beautiful.

Signage.

Signage.

photo 5-5.JPG

You KNOW that's right. Respect, Carpenter's Hall. Massive respect.

You KNOW that’s right. Respect, Carpenter’s Hall. Massive respect.

After visiting Carpenter’s Hall, I was getting hungry and realized I hadn’t had a Philly Cheesesteak yet, and I’d already been in the city for three days. After talking to Hans and Cam, who claim they’ve both lived in Philly for 3 years and still had not had a cheesesteak, I knew that was not the sad way I wanted my tale to end. My next destination was Christ Church, the first Protestant Episcopal Church in America with regular A-list worshippers like John Penn (governor and proprietor of Pennsylvania), George Ross (signer of the Declaration of Independence) and James Wilson (signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution), and I decided to get a cheesesteak at the first place I saw. Either way, no matter where I go, it’s gonna be an authentic sandwich as it’s a cheesesteak being sold in the city that is the sandwich’s namesake.

So I did. And it was good. You decide which of these pics is the before and the after—whether or not I consider you an idiot depends on it.

photo 2-5.JPG

photo 3-5.JPG

Serendipitously, just down the street from the restaurant at which I ate lunch at Christ Church was another place I’d had on my bucket list: Franklin’s Fountain. It’s an ice cream shop featured on so many traveling food shows as a must-eat place. It would be the perfect capper to my cheesesteak adventure.

Someone's excited for her ice cream...and if you look real close you can see her—can you make out the chick through the glass in the door right underneath the "CASH ONLY" sign? Yeah, she's excited. I'm also stoked about the ice cream.

Someone’s excited for her ice cream…and if you look real close you can see her—can you make out the chick through the glass in the door right underneath the “CASH ONLY” sign? Yeah, she’s excited. I’m also stoked about the ice cream.

Right outside of Franklin’s Fountain, I found this:

photo 5-3.JPG

This plaque meant a lot to me especially because it’s evidence of the important role print journalism has played in not only our nation’s history, but also the world’s history. At a time when print anything is so under appreciated, it’s always comforting to be reminded that there are still a lot of people out there who remember the power of print and respect its legacy.

When I was done being all sentimental, I headed over the Christ Church and admired its beauty. I’m not the religious type, but I sure as heck do appreciate fine architecture.

Can I get an “AMEN”?
photo 4-5.JPG

Can I get an “AMEN”?

photo 2-4.JPG

Look at me, all ready to pray like a colonist and stuff!

photo 3-4.JPG

Then, like any good Christian worth her salt, after a good 5 minutes of worship, I needed a beer. I made my way to McGillin’s Olde Ale House, and en route, I made a few stops to complete my list.

photo 3-3.JPG

Isn’t this thing cool?

photo 2-3.JPG

And this building also?

photo 4-3.JPG

This is the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier. I had a moment of silence here and tears welled in my eyes. The realization that many fought for a future they never got to see still resonates with me today. We are a nation founded upon bravery and sustained through respect and humility

photo 2.JPG

At the monument there was a marble coffin and a fire that always burned to symbolized the flame of revolution they fought for would never die, sot heir sacrifices would never be in vain.

photo 1.JPG

A powerful truth on this coffin.

photo 5-2.JPG

Overwhelmed.

Far shot of the whole monument.

Far shot of the whole monument.

photo 1-2.JPG

An additional monument for our fallen compatriots.

photo 2-2.JPG

An important first! America still has a ways to go!

Now, this is where things truly go awry—unfortunately, I was having such a blast and in such a good mood, I had no idea. This is probably going to be important to remember in my future traveling endeavors—I have an extremely low alcohol tolerance. It is something I always try to forget because not being able to knock a couple back with your travel buddies raises an awkward wall between you, your friends and the camaraderie that comes with travel and shared drinks.

Anyhow, I get to McGillin’s Olde Ale House, and from the moment I walk in, I know it’s the best pub/bar/you name it I’ve ever been to. It’s the oldest pub in Philly, and it’s no question how it’s been able to stick around for so long. I knew I wanted to get one drink there, just so I could really say I’d been to McGillin’s Olde Ale House, so I walked right up to the bar and ordered a beer. I’d almost reached Nirvana, I was so happy and excited.

Me, stoked to be at McGillin's.

Me, stoked to be at McGillin’s. If only I’d known what was to come. If only.

The one drink I'd ordered and/or consumed throughout the entirety of my stay in Philly.

The one drink I’d ordered and/or consumed throughout the entirety of my stay in Philly.

The entirety of what I drank while at McGillin's.

The entirety of what I drank while at McGillin’s.

I began to feel woozy after literally half a glass—and don’t worry, I know I wasn’t drugged. First of all, shame on you for suggesting that any of the saints that work at McGillin’s would do such a thing. And second of all, I’m no stranger to this happening to me. I’m a one-half drink wonder. Anyhow, I was so overwhelmed by the brotherhood-ly spirit at the pub, and how it seemed that all of the bar goers were friends and genuinely loved each other, and I was truly coming to understand why Philly is really the the “City of Brotherly Love.” I was—and still am—convinced that McGillin’s was single handedly generating 75% of all the happy, warm feelings anyone in New England feels at any given moment on any given day.

In a delirium of warm-wishes, joy and slight inebriation, I got my check, tipped 100% (literally a miracle on Earth I did that) and walked happily back to my host’s apartment. Floating on the triumphs of the day, fueled by the memories and warm from the beer from McGillin’s tap, I was ready for a relaxed sleep before my 20 hour train ride back (an hour shorter than the last time! This time, the layover would be in DC and only one hour. Hooray!). Philly had been a paradise, and I had forgotten that the real world existed. I’d be reminded soon enough.

Thanks to the CTA, I’d be back in the real world in a matter of about 24 hours.

Philadelphia: How I saw the Liberty Bell, befriended a Minuteman, lost my wallet and found it again, all in one weekend! (Part 3/5)

I awoke the next morning to a nudge from Hans’ roommate, Cam.

“Hey, we’re all gonna grab brunch, wanna come?”

I was startled. “What time is it?!” I asked with a look in my eye even wilder than the one I had here.

“It’s 1—” “AM OR PM?!” I shrieked at Cam, who was already beginning to recoil like I was Circe and he’d just seen me turn his living room coffee table into a warthog. “AM,” he said. “Brunch?” “Yes,” I said, quickly remembering that I needed to start acting normal before Cam, too, began to question who they’d just allowed to sleep on their couch for two more nights. “I’ll be ready in 5!”

Cam left and I felt deflated. I’d spent $140 to go to Philly to sightsee and all I’d done so far was sleep. I’d had so many plans for things I’d wanted to see by noon today, and when I looked at my phone and saw that Mary had texted me asking what I was doing that day. She wanted to take me around University of Pennsylvania’s campus—her son, Oliver, had gone there for his Undergrad. If I went to brunch then hung out with her, it would 100% ruin the itinerary for that day, which I’d drafted up weeks ago. I was in a spot. Would I roll with the changes and accept life as it came, abandoning the schedule I’d carefully laid out, or hurry post-haste to the historical district and begin crossing things off of my bucket list?

In a gametime decision, I responded to Mary: “I’d love to! I’m going to grab brunch with my hosts, but I’ll be done around 3—see you then?”

I’d decided long ago that I was going to enjoy this weekend to the max, which meant that, sure, maybe today wasn’t gonna be the day I ogled the Liberty Bell or hyperventilated in Independence Hall. Life has twists right? Things don’t always go as planned. And some guy once said that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference. So, I got dressed, assured my mother that I was still alive by sending her this:

"I'm alive!! I accidentally slept in until 1 :("**true life text from real life

“I’m alive!! I accidentally slept in until 1 :(“*
*true life text from real life

It wasn’t long before I knew I’d made the right choice:

Pumpkin custard-stuffed french toast.

Pumpkin custard-stuffed french toast.

We met up with some of Hans and Cam’s friends at brunch, and, strangely, their friends were hosting couchsurfers too! At brunch, we all talked about travel, how to get around cheaply and finals week (it was Hans’, Cam’s and their friend with whom we met for brunch, Daria’s, finals week that week—amazing they could find time to host us!). I remember there was a moment at brunch when I looked around the table and felt so international. I was sitting at brunch with 5 other people, 1 American, 2 Germans, 1 Russian and 1 Canadian. Daria was a Russian exchange student and her couchsurfer was from Canada. Again, I felt so happy to have chosen to couchsurf through Philly rather than get a hotel or stay in a hostel. I learned more about the world and different cultures from that one brunch than I did all year in AP Euro in high school.

After that, I quickly met up with Mary, who offered me 5-star service my picking me up in a car right outside of the café. Mary is hilarious, and we got along like peanut butter and jelly. We went to U Penn and she showed me all the sites. Mary and I share a—how would I say this—a sense of humor that holds a strong appreciation for some of the more vulgar, PG-13 aspects of comedy.

She showed me the “button” on campus and asked me what I thought it meant. Had I been Sherlock Holmes, I’d have had the answer for her in a jiff, but unfortunately, I had to bite—no pun intended. It was a loving homage to Ben Franklin and his appetite. (**Side note: anyone who’s been to Philly or has any inkling of what that city is like knows that you cannot walk more than 2 or 3 steps without either A) seeing a statue of Franklin, B) seeing a building dedicated to Franklin, C) walking down a street named after Franklin, or D) hearing a conversation about the man. He’s been dead for centuries but is present in that town as though he was the current mayor.) But, because Mary was telling me the story, I also learned that it’s on every student’s college bucket list to have sex underneath the button. She wanted to get a picture of me looking up from beneath the button, but after he quaint allegory, I chose instead to remain above the button forever and always.

Above the button, but still sultry. In staunch respect for the button's 21st century symbolism.

Above the button, but still sultry. In staunch respect for the button’s 21st century symbolism.

Remember how, just a few seconds ago I told you Ben Franklin was everywhere? Well. I wasn’t kidding. Mary also showed me a statue of Franklin on campus that’s a huge national and international tourist attraction. We had to wait politely for a group of Korean tourists to exhaust their flashes before we could take a whack at Franklin ourselves. Being so close to the man—whether in flesh or in stone—sparked desires in me and Mary that quite shocked the both of us. We allowed ourselves to sit on his lap and be overwhelmed by the passion brewing in the both of us for his intellect and confidence. And of course, for those glasses he wears so excellently.

Hey, Ben, my eyes are up here

Hey, Ben, my eyes are up here

"Oh, Ben, really?—did Paul Revere say that? You can't tell that guy anything or else he'll shout it to the whole neighborhood!"

“Oh, Ben, really?—did Paul Revere say that? You can’t tell that guy anything or else he’ll shout it to the whole neighborhood!”

"I wish I could elope, Ben, but I'm still in college. You value education—you understand where I'm coming from!"

“I wish I could elope, Ben, but I’m still in college. You value education—you understand where I’m coming from!”

"I'll make sure to leave the money on the vestibule armoire"

Mary with Ben. “I’ll make sure to leave the money on the vestibule armoire”

After we had satisfied our most prurient desires on U Penn’s campus, Mary invited me to take a tour of Eastern State Penitentiary with her. Because today was such a day of me writing blank checks in the amount of “YES,” we went. And, now, for the second time this trip, I was so glad to be there with a local. Again, of all the places on my Philly Bucket List, I’d never even encountered this name: Eastern State Penitentiary. This place has it all—it looks haunted, it’s got stories, it housed Al Capone, for chrissakes. Mary and I stopped over there for a guided tour—and even though I would have never glanced at this place without Mary, it became the favorite thing I saw in Philly. Mary invited her son, Oliver, to come on the tour with us, but because of the prison’s haunted and creepy reputation, he passed. So off Mary and I went, from U Penn to prison, all in a matter of minutes.

The following photos were taken by Mary herself. Finally, I’m not the photographer!:

At the beginning of the tour—as you can see, I'm all eyes and ears.

At the beginning of the tour—as you can see, I’m all eyes and ears.

Here, I'm standing in front of a diagram of the prison. This was the first prison to function as an all-seeing-eye. All the cell blocks were lined up in such a way that one prison guard could see every inmate in every cell in every block of the prison simply by standing in one spot. Which brings me to my next photo...

Here, I’m standing in front of a diagram of the prison. This was the first prison to function as an all-seeing-eye. All the cell blocks were lined up in such a way that one prison guard could see every inmate in every cell in every block of the prison simply by standing in one spot. Which brings me to my next photo…

I was selected by the tour guide (man on the right) to stand in the "Eagle Eye" spot where the guards would stand back when the prison was functioning. Here, I'm pointing out to him—as he already knows—that I can see clearly down every single cell block. I was the all-seeing-eye. I was...The Barad-dûr of Philadelphia.

I was selected by the tour guide (man on the right) to stand in the “Eagle Eye” spot where the guards would stand back when the prison was functioning. Here, I’m pointing out to him—as he already knows—that I can see clearly down every single cell block. I was the all-seeing-eye. I was…The Barad-dûr of Philadelphia.

This awesome lady wanted her picture taken, so we did.

This awesome lady wanted her picture taken, so we took her picture.

Once Mary and I were finally released, (which, honestly the PPD should have thought twice about), we went over to her home for another lovely dinner. I asked to be dropped off in the city centre so I could sight-see on my way home. I knew I still had a long list of things I wanted to make sure I saw in Philly and wanted to get started on crossing things off the list. I had no regrets about the way my day had gone—I would have made the decision I did 100 times over—I just thought, “Hey, well, why not?”

On my walk back from the city center, I checked out the following:

The masonic temple!

The masonic temple!

What he said.

What he said.

City Hall!

City Hall!

photo 4-13.JPG

These guys!

Moment of silence was taken.

Moment of silence was taken.

...followed by no silence at all.

…followed by no silence at all.

OMG SO WEIRD ANOTHER BEN FRANKLIN THING

OMG SO WEIRD ANOTHER BEN FRANKLIN THING

Logan Square!

Logan Square!

A much better shot of Logan Square!

A much better shot of Logan Square!

I got back to Hans’ where I had a second dinner. Hans and Cam brought the same people from brunch over for a home-cooked meal, which was fine for me because I’d vote for Mitt Romney before I’d pass up an excellent meal. (Which means that it’s literally, figuratively, mentally, physically and emotionally impossible for me to pass up an excellent meal.)

With a full stomach and an even fuller bucket list tearing a hole in my pocket, I hit the hay, ready to sight-see the hell out of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia: How I saw the Liberty Bell, befriended a Minuteman, lost my wallet and found it again, all in one weekend! (Part 2/5)

My host was a gentleman named Hans. He is a German exchange student studying in Philadelphia to be therapist. And boy, he’s gonna make a good one. When I arrived, two things were clear: 1. I was very energetic and 2. Hans was very chill.

He invited me in and made me coffee, which, in true European form, was steamed milk with a shot of espresso. It’s what I would call a latté, but then again, I’m a child of the Starbucks dynasty. Hans was an incredible host. He was a great listener, excellent person and gave me an all-around excellent experience in Philly, but that first coffee with Hans was absolutely excruciating for me.

In retrospect, now that I know more about Germans and their culture, I realize it was a perfectly fine meet-cute, but I, being the aspiring comedian I am, and running on 0-hours of sleep as I was at that moment, was in a hell from which I seemingly could not escape. I have since learned that it is not uncommon for Germans to show very little emotion when having a conversation, and so when we spoke and I could crack jokes and he would show no sign of having heard anything, I began stressing. Stress was not the energy-drain I needed after my long train ride.

Because it seemed to me like he thought me to be an tiresome boor, I was take aback when he suggested that he give me a tour of the neighborhood around his apartment in Philly—he lived several blocks away from Rittenhouse Square. I, of course, obliged, and it was during this walk that I realized how much better every travel experience is when you get to meet and interact with locals.

I am a huge film buff, so, of course, I’ve seen Rocky approx. 71 times. This will make me sound like a poor journalist, but after all the research I did on sites to see in Philly, and the 30-something destinations I had on my Philly bucket list, one huge thing had never crossed my mind or my bucket list.

Hans and I were walking, and he took me to some parks and the restaurant district. It was all very beautiful—and it was getting dark because I had arrived in Philly at 4:20 pm, so it was around 6:30/7 when we finally went walking. Here are some things I saw and of which took pictures (ensuring no one mistook me for a local):

Note the Christmas lights!

Note the Christmas lights!

Restaurant Row! (You'll just have to take my word for it...)

Restaurant Row! (You’ll just have to take my word for it…)

Goat statue in Rittenhouse Square—maybe the greatest artistic achievement in the United States—arguably North America

Goat statue in Rittenhouse Square—maybe the greatest artistic achievement in the United States—arguably North America

And though all these things were obviously incredible sites that shook my understanding of the world today, we walked further East and I had no idea what was in store for me. Hans assumed, of course, that, with me clearly being the talkative, brazen, American girl that I was who was in Philadelphia to fulfill every tourist desire a human heart could ignite, that I knew exactly where we were headed. With a smile and a comment he probably felt was unnecessary, he asked me, “Do you know where we are?” I said, “A large building with a lot of wide, gorgeous steps?” (I was very complimentary about the architecture in Philly that evening. Everything was rainbows and shooting stars as far as I was concerned. Even though if I wasn’t sleep-deprived and delirious, I’m certain I would still have felt the same way—The Art Museum in Philly is quite lovely.)

Hans was surprised. He said, “Have you ever seen Rocky?” And I said, “Well duh, of c—” and then I realized where I was. I realized what this meant. And I knew there was only one thing to do. I turned to Hans and said, “I’m going to run up these steps and start punching at the air at the top, and you’re going to take photos of this, alright?” And, like a true sport/gentleman/host, Hans said, “Uh, okay.”

That’s my boy.

The following resulted:

Me channelling Stallone/Balboa. **Note: still wearing the backpack that carried all of my luggage for the trip. When I say I went straight to Hans' place after the train ride, I really, truly, literally mean it.

Me channelling Stallone/Balboa. **Note: still wearing the backpack that carried all of my luggage for the trip. When I say I went straight to Hans’ place after the train ride, I really, truly, literally mean it.

Sorry, Hans. I'm still goin'.

Sorry, Hans. I’m still goin’.

Victory

Victory

You KNOW I'm gonna go the distance.

You KNOW I’m gonna go the distance.

Excellent form.

Excellent form.

Hans is so glad he accepted my couchsurfind request right now.

Hans is so glad he accepted my couchsurfind request right now.

In case you can’t tell from the photo steam, I was ecstatic about this revelation. My excitement was multiplied by the following things:

  1. I did not expect this to happen. It had never crossed my mind to anticipate the Rocky steps, and yet there I was, in the same place Rocky found his courage to go the distance.
  2. I had never been courchsurfing yet, but this very moment was proof to me that my decision to find lodging using this site was excellent because, without Hans, I wouldn’t be embarrassing him right then like I was.
  3. I was getting to be Rocky Balboa. Had Hans’ discomfort not been so viscerally palpable even in the 25 degree weather, I would have begun shouting, “Adrienne!” But I am an excellent guest. So I refrained.
  4. Again, I was delirious and sleep-deprived. I cannot stress enough how much that was affecting me.
  5. Plus, this was the view from the top of the steps:

    photo 5-15.JPG

    Not too shabby, eh?

After this, much to Hans’ relief (most likely), I had been invited to get dinner with my mom’s college friend who lives in Philly (call back from Post 1/5—didja read it?? If not, go back and read it and then come back here and finish the story—don’t worry, I can wait!). I thanked Hans and headed over to her house. My mother’s friend’s name is Mary, and she and my mother tore up the theater scene when they went to college together. When I got to her house, she was finishing up an acting lesson (she has a steady stream of clients), and so, to pass time, her husband, Roy, decided to take me to some of his favorite places in Philly before dinner. He took me to South Street (awesome, by the way) where I got to see this:

The Magic Gardens!

The Magic Gardens!

You may also be noticing that I am wearing a dress here even though I have previously mentioned that the weather is below 30° F. Both things are true. Don’t bother trying to wrap your head around it. I don’t really get cold. I don’t know why. If it ends up being because I’m some kind of a superhero, I’d be a little bit surprised, but honestly, I’d also say that I’ve noticed the signs so my superhero-dom wouldn’t TOTALLY be out of the blue.

After a lovely dinner and tentative plans to spend more time with Mary & Roy, I was dropped back off at Hans’ place, met his roommates (all American, all more than willing to share more than a few good laughs with me) and met another couchsurfer who was staying with them at the same time. He was also German, and we slept that night on adjacent couches. We fell asleep talking about travel—the places he’d been, the places I wanted to go—and laughing at cultural differences that arose in conversations. I kept laughing out-of-place and inappropriate at his accent and his rendition of American clichés, and he laughed at how American it was to laugh at his accent and rendition of American clichés.

I fell asleep finally that night at around 3 am, after 41 hours of waking life, ready to wake up early the next morning and take Philadelphia by storm. I should have set my alarm…

Philadelphia: How I saw the Liberty Bell, befriended a Minuteman, lost my wallet and found it again, all in one weekend! (Part 1/5)

It all started in my Media, Law and Ethics class. My professor was giving us a lecture on landmark Supreme Court cases that have expanded the rights of the media and lessened the privacy of our compatriots. (Go, Founding Fathers!)

Anyhow, I started thinking about how much I love New England and how I’ve only really been to NYC and Boston over there, but never Philadelphia or Washington, DC. And I thought, “Alas, it’s tough for a California girl like me to get all the way out there without a pricey plane ticket and a bunch of spare time.”

And I don’t know why it had never occurred to me before, but I was in Chicago, not Los Angeles. A quick train ride oughta do the trick. Being the cheap college student I am, I checked ticket prices and realized that fare is pretty cheap—$70 each way. In that very classroom, I found myself a free weekend, purchased my tickets and began making an itinerary. (Thank you iCal and Google.) And don’t worry about the lecture—my professor posted the powerpoint online for our whole class to see. I still aced the class.

It is at this point that you may be wondering who my travel companion was for this trip. I’ll tell you—it was my iPhone. It is my firm belief that all the plans I make must rely on no one but myself—I knew I wanted to see Philadelphia and I didn’t want the fact that no one else had a free weekend at that moment stop me. You can call me independent or you could call me socially vacant—either way, you’re right, so pat yourself on the back and read on!

Now, though I am more than content to travel alone, my mother is more reluctant about that concept. Luckily, she has old college friends in the City of Brotherly Love whom she immediately contacted to ask if they could serve as my security detail. I found a place to stay through couchsurfing.org and my mother made sure her friend, Mary, checked out the address and did some reconnaissance to make sure if it wasn’t a crack den fronting as a Philly college student’s apartment. Fortunately, it was the latter.

I knew before I bought the tickets that the train ride to Philly would be 21 hours each way. And of course, I was DELIGHTED. Seriously—I was very excited. A full day? On a train? With windows? And, as I learned when I got there—a dining car?? Almost too good.

When I got to the station on my travel day, I realized something else that was awesome—I was to board a train filled with Amish people. I quickly did some research as to why, in a country in which the Amish are outnumbered over 1000:1, I would be so significantly in the minority at this train station. Then, after quickly consulting both Wikipedia and Google Maps, I discovered something I probably already should have known: A strong contingency of Amish in the US live in Lancaster County, Penn, a mere 80 miles away from the destination on my train ticket.

Image

I didn’t know if they were going hoist themselves upon horseback and gallop the last 80 miles of their journey once they made it to 30th St. Station in Philly, but I did know that, once on the train, I was the only person seated who owned a cell phone.

It was pretty funny to sit at my gate surrounded by the Amish—men with eccentric facial hair stylings and women with no eccentricity to their style whatsoever. Little Amish children ran around me yelling and laughing loudly—starkly contrasting with their stoic parents. They seemed so much like every other child I’d ever seen running around bit city streets, and I wondered at what age Amish children begin to shed quirks that tie them to the rest of humanity and don the cloak simplicity and traditionalism the Amish are known for. What I was most curious about, though, was why I saw several Amish fathers wearing digital watches. Until I do more research I’m sure I’ll remain confounded.

Of course, on the train, I couldn’t sleep. I took some INCREDIBLE photos on the 19 hour ride to Pittsburgh where we had a 3-hour layover in Pittsburgh at a tiny train station some 20 miles out of the city.

Image

The beauty is almost unreal, isn’t it?

Though, admittedly, the ride could have been a bit more scenic, I did recognize that I was on a train travelling from the Midwest to the East Coast in December, so I wasn’t necessarily in for an African Safari site seeing adventure. Still, though, when we got to the Pittsburgh station, I was alive with the excitement of being in a place I’ve never been.

Image

Me at the Pittsburgh train station in the middle of the night.

Admittedly, there wasn’t much to do there for 3 hours between the times of 2 am and 5 am. In the whole station, there was one waiting room, two vending machines and one television that wasn’t loud enough to drown out the snoring of the large man sitting in the chair next to me.

Image

Headed to the one waiting room at the train station in Pittsburgh

Image

One of the brother vending machines, and a sign proving that Liberty Avenue was only a threshold away! Too bad it was 2:46 am and raining.

I had to fight the urge to leave the station and find a geocache. I could hear my mother’s dissuasions in the back of my head, and even I had enough sense to guess that leaving a train station in the middle of a stormy night in a town I’d never been before and would only be in for three hours tops was not the smartest course of action. I abandoned it and tried to sleep for a bit. No such luck, but thankfully my anticipation of arriving in Philadelphia in a matter of hours was enough to make time pass more quickly than usual. In was seemed like only a mere two and a half hours instead of the 3 hours it actually was (time flies, see??), we were back on the train and headed to our final destination!

By the time we arrived in Philadelphia these were my stats:
Amount of time since I last slept: 31 hours
Amount of time since I last ate: 13 hours
Willingness to begin adventuring and taking in the sites from the moment the train entered the station: 20 (on a scale of 10)

The second I got off the train in Philadelphia, everything excited me. Everything was new, hence, everything was fascinating.

Image

One thing I was struck by was how beautiful 30th Street Station is. Especially in December.  Everything was ready for Christmas! (Or whatever holiday you choose to celebrate—get off your high horse…)

Image

The pretty ceiling! With respect to my maniacal face, keep in mind: 0 hours of sleep that night

Image

Image

The most important area of any establishment

Once I left the train station, I will admit—I think I got a little too trigger happy with my camera. But you have to understand—I’d just been traveling for 21 hours straight (and that doesn’t even count the hour-long commute on the L to get to Union Station in Chicago!). Finally, I was walking around in the great outdoors, subjecting my pupils to brands new lights and objects, which sent signals to my brain to be excited which then sent commands to my hands to take photos. The following are all the photos I took of things that may or may not have been landmarks on my 2 mile walk from the train station to the apartment of my couchsurfing host. The moment I knocked on his door, the journey would be over and the sight-seeing would begin!

**Note, I realized only after my trip to Philly that almost every picture I took, I made an effort to get myself into it, hence the weird angles. This so governed my photographer’s consciousness because in 6th grade, my school went on a weekend-long field trip to Colorado where my parents bought me 2 disposable cameras to take photos to bring back to them, and all of them were poorly framed photos of things: objects, locations, weather. I hadn’t thought to put myself in any of them because, in my mind, my parents knew what I looked like—why wouldn’t they wanted a poor-quality, poor-resolution photograph of a nonspecific tree in an indiscriminate field taken by a 13-year-old? All I can remember once the photos were developed was my mother saying as cheerily as possible in spite of her disappointment with this 13-year-old artist’s vision was, “Make sure you get yourself in a few of ’em next time, honey.” I am willing to admit that, in this case, I over compensated.**

But also, another excuse for all these photos, besides the fact that my ecstasy was doubled because of the amount of time I’d spent in cramped quarters before this—was the fact that I was doing this alone. I was so free and independent. Any time I’d ever travelled, my itinerary wasn’t mine—it was the group’s. My family wasn’t there to tell me where we were going next; my friends weren’t there to tell me what they wanted to see or what they were in the mood for. I was the Sacajawea of my own destiny, and I could not have been more ready to blaze my Philadelphia trail.

Image

The bridge I crossed to get from the train station to Downtown Philly

Image

Cool art in a tunnel!!! In Philly!!!

Image

A building! Yeah!!!

Image

Me and a statue! Just shootin’ the breeze!

Image

Me and a BUNCH of statues!! We’re not shootin’ the breeze here because they’re clearly giving off the vibe that they want to be left to themselves, and, of course, I’m the kind of person who will respect someone’s privacy.

Image

THIS IS COOL. JUST GO WITH IT.

Image

……even I know that I’m reaching here….

Image

The street where my couchsurfing host lives! Who’s gonna be inside….?
**If you can’t tell my the almost crippling anticipation in my eyes, I’m pretty much as excited about this as anyone could be.

Who am I?

I’m Jean ValJean! Just kidding. Call me Ishmael. That’s not my actual name, but if you’re into the pet name thing, I prefer Ishmael.

My name is Emilia Barrosse. This is me:

Image

You might recognize me from this: Image

Yeah, I saw the president’s victory speech at McCormick Place on Nov. 6. On that night, many excellent photos I will use as head shots in the future were taken, like this one:

Image

And this one:

Image

And this one:

Image

Mine might be “the face that cried ’round the world,” and if that is how I am remembered by humanity, that’s alright. This, however, is not alright:

Image

But that situation has since been remedied.

People who know me personally know me from my sketch company, Snickerdoodlin’ Productions:

Image

Others know me from my improv teams: One Group Mind and my two-man team, Em&M:

Image

Or my rap group, Damn Straight:

Image

Sometimes, people see me like this:

Image

But really, I’m like this:

Image

To be honest, though I’ve recently cut my hair short, so really, it’s more like this:

Image

But every once in a while, it’s like this:

Image

And no matter what, it’s always about Snapchat.

Why am I making a blog? Because I am about to finish up being here:

Image

Because of this:

Image

And I’m itchin’ to go here:

 txu-oclc-264266980-world_pol_2008-2

I have been here (Greece):

 

Here (The Abacos):

Image

And here (The British Virgin Islands):

bvi_sailing

And only ever with these guys:

 

Those G’s up there are my family: from left to right it goes me, my lil sis Eva (an incredible singer/songwriter), my mom (an incredible actress, and a damned fine comedienne when she wants to be), my father (a renaissance man of the highest caliber) and my big sis Maura (also an incredible singer/songwriter. She’s also got a knack for wearing green. True story.)

This power point presentation of a blog post is intended to be the beginning of a discussion of my overseas adventures as my time in college winds down and I venture off into the real world of taxes, bills and AARP mailings (though hopefully that will take a lot longer to get to me than the taxes, bills, etc.).

I caught the travel bug last year (and by last year, I mean last school year, beginning in 2011), and have since been using any excuse I could summon to get out and go to places I’ve never been. In the Fall, I discovered how cheap train tickets are, so I booked a one-woman trip from Chicago to Philadelphia. I’d never been to Philly and I wanted to test how strong my resolve was to travel and experience the thrill of the unknown. In short, my experience was incredible, and it shall be summed up in a blog post shortly after this one. Then I went to Florida (another place I’d never been) to visit my friend over Winter break (who goes to Florida during winter break? I do!). Yet another blog will accompany that statement, as well.

Travel tickets I currently own in my name (tickets are the most important—no trip is certain until a ticket has been fetched, and even then, who knows?) are as follows:

•Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: leaving March 22, returning April 1 (yeah, exactly! That’s this Friday!)

•Washington, DC: leaving April 11, returning April 15

•Cork, Ireland: leaving June 22.

And that’s all (so far) folks!

What do I want to tell you with respect to my travels?

  1. I want to tell you about the geocaches I find
  2. I want to tell you about the people I meet
  3. I want to relate to you the motley ways in which I embarrass myself both at home and abroad
  4. I want to show you pictures of the food I eat
  5. I want you guys to know when I run out of deodorant
  6. I want you tell you guys what I think about things when I think them
    —>Should you not actually care about what I think about the things that I think about, no worries, I completely understand—leave me a comment so I can understand more completelyt!!
  7. You’ll all be the first to know when things go awry
    —>I want you to know when things go awry because
    •You’ll all be the first I ask for money when the loan sharks come at me for back payments on baguette. But hey, a girl’s
    gotta eat!
  8. I want to tell you all about how the experiences I have change me
  9. I want to tell you about what I learn
  10. I want to share this experience with as many people as possible in as open a manner as possible.

So, here’s to the future. I’ll keep you posted.

196035_1611209597271_6810052_n