It’s my last day living here:
In the words of my friend Zac, “Mary Chapman Court is the ugliest building in Norwich—by far.”
The stories we’ve shared of the first time we experienced this prison block involve some of us filing for room changes immediately, exclaiming “OH HELL NO” as we sat on the bed, and wanting to cry at the sight of the cinderblocks we have for walls. Yeah, no joke. Cinderblocks for walls.
One month in, all requests for room changes were pulled because I think we all realized how amazing we actually had it. Aside from the eye-aching hideousness and the prison cell resembling rooms, we were a bunch of students living in the center of a small—but beautiful—English city.
I’m sure I could write a novel of all the memores I’ve acquired in this ugly prison. I’ll talk about our conversations around the kitchen table, shared vegetarian dinners, evenings on the balcony and birthday parties. I’ll remember to write about how we laughed, cried (well, I cry AND laugh at the same time…) and did everything else together. How some of us didn’t even have a single friend on campus because who needed anyone else when we all had each other from the beginning?
I leave Norwich tomorrow morning. I don’t know how to write about all I’ve learned. I don’t know how to say thanks to every person I’ve met here from all around the world. Even those who may have hurt me without knowing, to those whose words mean more to me than they might ever know—everyone has contributed to my growth and made me such a better person.
When I came to England, I realized there were so many things I didn’t know that I didn’t know. I thought I understood the power of diversity. I didn’t until I really experienced it. I thought I had a grasp on my country’s role in relation to the rest of the world. Nope. I thought I knew what it meant to be worldly, what it meant to be educated, what it meant to even live. You can never know any of these things until you’re stripped from your comfort zone.
While I’m anxious to return and see the city skyline as I drive down the Turnpike enroute to my hometown, and go to the beach and lie in my bed and give my best friend a hug, I fear losing everything I’ve learned here. Even worse, I fear losing this “high on life” ecstasy I’ve found while in Norwich. I’m worried that I may get frustrated, when I realize the people around me might not and probably will not understand because they could not understand everything I’ve gone through.
Despite my fears, I have an aura of excitement. I’m excited to reenter the U.S. and my final year of college with this brand new attitude that I’ve acquired. It makes me wonder how wonderful I’ll make my senior year of college for myself and how this experience will shape the rest of my life and all the choices I make in it.
Thank you to everyone who’s been reading this by the way. It makes my day to hear good comments. Because of the response from my friends, I think I’m going to continue blogging, but not here. I’ll probably take it to a wordpress or blogspot. Something like that.
My flatmate Becca has gone. : ( Becca was the first English person I met in England. She took us out the first night she came in and showed us aroudn town and where to go. Becca became my little sister really. We became so comfortable with each other that the whole “roommate courtesy” line began to disappear and we fought like siblings:
"Becks, you’re leaving a mess."
"Nadia, shut up."
"Love you tooooo."
I love you Becca for late night convos and being my cooking buddy and listening to my ranting/raving. For running errands with me and hearing my advice whether you heeded it or not (and I thank you for your advice whether I heeded it or not). You’re my sister so come to America.
After I blew off all that steam, ate some porridge and watched clips of French films (hehe) I’m ready to discuss my beautiful four days in what I’m willing to bet is the most beautiful city in the world.
Oh Paris, where to begin? Perhaps with Sophie’s wonderful grandmother who housed us, fed us, gave us her films to watch, paid cab fare for us and even took us out to dinner our last night in France. We kept insisting that we could pay ourselves but she was so adamant about it and legit got angry when Sophie would refuse on behalf of us. (Sophie was our translator, well, everywhere.)
"She doesn’t get many visitors, so just let her do it because it makes her happy," Sophie told us.
She was an incredible woman and I loved her.
About the Sophie translator thing—we abused our poor friend’s bilingualism. (Is that a word?) hahaha, and it certainly entertained all the people around us. We were a unique group—two Americans, an Australian and a French girl. When standing outside the Notre Dame, waiting to go in, a woman kept looking back at us and smiling as we constantly asked, “Sophie, how do you say this? Sophie, what’s this in French?” Another couple was all out laughing as they looked on at us in amusement when we were out for lunch. Sophie kept going back and forth in English and French while ordering for all of us while we kept trying to clarify with her that we were going to be receiving the right thing. I don’t know if I could have had as much patience. But we certainly abused our privilege of being with a French speaking person in France. I was getting ice cream in the artsy area of Paris (twenty minute walk before it got sleazy in the Moulin Rouge area) when Sophie walked away for a second.
"Sophie, I need you!" I said.
"I understood what you said," Ice Cream man says. "I speak English too."
Sophie kept telling us, “Guys, I’m pretty sure more people speak English in these areas than French. You’ll be FINE.”
Especially at the Eiffel Towel, we kept beckoning Sophie to ask people to take pictures for us.
"You have a bigger chance of asking an American than a French person!" she kept saying. "Just say it in English!" hahaha, I love her.
So, our itinerary:
We arrived Thursday night. Friday night, we went to the Notre Dame, walked along the river outside it and just took a walk all through Paris really. We went outside the Louvre, had lunch, bought some food and ate it in the park (so relaxing) then took a stroll by the Arc de Triomphe. Oh, so um, everyone knows how I love James Franco. Amanda found his collection of short stories for 3 Euro. I bought it, only to realize that evening that…IT HAD HIS AUTOGRAPH IN IT. I couldn’t believe it was actually James Franco’s autograph, but I googled his autograph and it was the same. Is it a joke or is it for real?! It was the only English-language book too. Weird, weird, weird. Awesome, but weird.
SATURDAY was my favorite. We woke up very late—but took the train into the city and walked all through the artistic area of Paris where all the bohemians live. It was BEAUTIFULLLLLLL. I bought lovely postcards. The Moulin Rouge is in rather a skeevy area of Paris, I must say. A little Red Light District-esque. Then we went to the Eiffel Tower. We took the lift up all the way and the ride up was scarier than actually being on the very top. It was such good fun.
Sunday was Louvre day! We got on line at around 10 AM. A sign outside said the wait was 5 hours but it was only a bit under 3. I’d say 2 1/2 hours. All right, call me a bad tourist but I was a little let down by the Louvre. I honestly think the Met has a better collection. I did see the Mona Lisa though and you have to see the Mona Lisa, simply because it’s the Mona Lisa. I think the fact that the Louvre is HUGEEEEEEEEEEEEE and it was so hot and our feets and backs were aching intensely from having walked for hours on end over the previous days, detracted from my enjoyment. It was extremely crowded as well (first Sunday of the month is free) and people at the Mona Lisa were like paparazzi. You even had the ‘bodyguard’ telling people who had already taken a lot of pictures to go. “Move along! YOU! You’ve taken enough! Go! Go! You! Go!” It was crazy.
We decided we’d try and find a cheap film to split the cost of so we could have something relaxing to do that evening. Anneke, Amanda and I were extremely disappointed to find that French films in France do not have subtitles in any other language other than French. (It would say on the back of the box.) Sophie kept saying it was because it’s a French film in France; they wouldn’t expect anyone to need subtitles. But virtually every film back home is equipped with French, Spanish and English subtitles. Anyway, we ended up watching the last Indiana Jones at her grandmother’s house because we all could understand it.
Alas, my days in lovely Paris had to come to an end. : ( Cue the trip back to Norwich from HELL.
Paris, you were good to me and I enjoyed you very, very, very much.
I literally just got off the coach a half hour ago after my trip to Paris. No one be discouraged by the subject—I had an AMAZING time in Paris with my wonderful friends, Sophie, Anneke and Amanda in Sophie’s grandmother’s beautiful home. I’ll get to all that in the next post because I feel I need to blow off some steam.
Before I get to the details, this is very important: my bank cancelled my debit card last week because a website that I used it with was “associated with fraud.” Mom and Dad: Amanda, other American, also had her card cancelled after booking with National Express recently. Her bank was kind enough to reactivate it again. MY bank said they’d transfer money to my savings so I could use my bank card for withdrawals. I thought all was well, right? RIGHT?!
Anyway, trouble begins when I run out of cash in Paris on Day 2 1/2 of our trip. I go to a cash point and it won’t let me withdraw money. My friends are shrugging it off—“No, it’s because it’s a swipe card, no chip, it’s France, etc, we’ll let you borrow some money, pay us back in pounds when we get to Norwich, etc.” I have pounds with me so I get those changed for a small conversion fee and used my credit card for the time being to go up the Eiffel Tower. (Hell yeah!) Thennn we all owed Sophie money cause she put all the train tickets on her card so my Euros went to her and I was left with my credit card. (Yes, I’m aware of the multiple of irresponsible things I did so far. 1) Not enough cash. 2) Not keeping cash with me, yes, I know.)
So anyway, I traveled back to Norwich alone because Sophie went to her other set of grandparents in Bordeoux to meet up with Joanna and Anneke and Amanda stayed an extra day. At the train station en route to Charles de Gaulle, the ticket machine won’t accept my credit card. Nerves kick in and I’m getting afraid.
I see a couple policemen. (They were pretty good-looking, but that’s irrelevant…hehehehe)
"The machine isn’t accepting my card to pay for a ticket to the airport."
"Why? You have Visa. Oh—American?"
"Oh. You need cash."
"I don’t have cash on me."
"No cash?! Oh. Oh—upstairs, left, left, left, window. Help there."
They accepted swipe cards at the ticket window. Phew. Hurdle one, overcome.
So I get to the airport. My plane is departing in two hours according to the ticket. I get to the arrivals board. The plane to London Luton is delayed FOUR HOURS. FOUR HOURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRS. I keep calm. I have a book. It’s signed by James Franco. (Other story, will get to later in the happy Paris blog post.) I literally read 200 pages of this book in the hours that I’m stranded there, while the Internet machine thing eats whatever coins I have left. Lovely right? It gets better. In maybe hour three, a group of military men with semi-automatic weapons start ordering everyone to move back. Someone asked what was going on.
"Bag check. Security."
Apparently, someone abandoned a bag in the middle of the airport. So I’m in a Parisian airport, in midst of a security check, wondering how the hell I’m going to get back to Norwich when my bus tickets are all for earlier times. There’s a loud bang. Everyone gasps. Was there actually a BOMB in there?! No idea, but after being quarantined for 30-40 minutes, we’re finally set free.
I’m allowed through security. They stop me.
"Is this your bag miss?"
At this point in the trip, I’m expecting everything to go wrong. I reluctantly nod as they ask if they can search it, as if I’m really going to say no. I kind of laugh, and she notices. I wasn’t laughing at her, I was laughing at my utter rotten luck. She goes through my entire bag and throws out my face wash/mask. My FACE WASH. (I told you Mom, they wouldn’t let that through security. They’re actually vigilant in Paris.) But that wasn’t the problem. I was half afraid they’d toss my Venus Spa Breeze self-lathering razor too but they didn’t. (Yayyy). You know what the problem is? The logo on my 20 dollar onsale Express Jeans that Nina bought for me before I left. Yeah. The LOGO on my jeans.
So I finally get on the flight. My pilot was a speed demon and I briefly feared for my life as we descended into London. It’s twenty to eleven when I land in London, nearly five hours after I was supposed to. I quickly learn that EasyBus won’t reimburse me for a ticket to London Victoria and I have to buy a new one. Lovely. Oh and the National Express woman gave me awful advice: “Have your ticket to Norwich reimbursed when you get to London Victoria via EasyBus in case you accidentally miss it.”
I get to London Victoria. I search for a help desk. It’s a quarter past midnight. No one’s there. I have to buy a new ticket. It’s not even a direct route to Norwich—I have to change in Stansted. I go to wait at the gate. We’re kicked out of the station because they’re closing. It’s chilly outside. We’re told the 12:30 was cancelled and we have to wait till 1 AM.
At this point, I want to rip my hair out. When the coach FINALLY comes, I go all the way to the back and fall asleep. When the bus brakes, I roll off the bench and bang my knee on the floor. Don’t laugh readers. I know you’re smiling.
I change coaches at Stansted and manage to sleep the whole way to Norwich where the sun is up and the birds are chirping. It was an awful experience if ever there was one, but at least I have a good story to tell.
Sigh. Next post will be happy happy joy joy about Paris. I promise.
I’m going to Paris tomorrow and when I return, two of my closest friends in England will no longer be here. That’s absolute insanity. It’s so weird to fathom the absence of people that you’ve seen every single day for the past five months (give or take). Even stranger, is the fact that you don’t know when you’ll see them again.
Asha’s American, but she’s not from the Northeast like the cool people. Nor is she even from the East coast at all. A native of Califor-ni-yay, Asha Canady will be the same distance away from me as Norwich, England is. How weird is that? The U.S. is so big that New York City is the middle point between Los Angeles and London. I’ll tell Asha all of this tonight, but just so the world knows how much I love this person—she and I have had some of the best conversations about everything there is. She constantly has good things to say about me and she’s been there when I needed her. By the way, she’s the funniest person you’ll ever meet in your life. Asha’s many quotes:
"Vegemite’s the devil."
"Nutella is crack."
"Isle of Man is a country? I’m not convinced." —to Will, the token Manx.
"When your passport says the United States of America, all you need is a smile! They were like, WELCOME HOME!" —on entering England without the proper papers.
Asha, I adore you to pieces.
So I’ve blogged about Joanna a lot because Joanna is just like me in the sense that we both talk all the time. This can be both endearing and get us in trouble with some people who just long for us to shut up. Joanna’s Australian, though people forget she is because her accent rivals a British one more than an Australian. A story that she stands by, has people back home asking, “How long have you been in the country for?” She replied, “Um, nineteen years. I was kind of born here.”
Anyway, Joanna is often holding a teacup in her hand. She wears a Michigan hoodie even though she’s never been to the U.S. and doesn’t even want to go.
: ( “It’s big,” she says.
Joanna has been my buddy on the balcony at late hours of the evening. She’s the kind of person you can always rely on. She’s always knocking on everyone’s doors making sure they’re all right and that they’ve eaten enough.
You both have been such good friends to me and I’m still so thankful that we were so lucky to live with each other. You never know if there’s going to be a psycho in the block when you get placed in communal living spaces but I think we’re all pretty sane.
Love you both,
Going to Paris on June 2nd. Did I say that already? Well, if not, I’m going to Paris on June 2nd. Staying there till the 6th, coming back to England one last time and then spending the last twelve days packing, relaxing, and getting ready to return to the Yankee states.
I’m starting to feel that homesickness thing again. It’s funny how it works. If you told me to go home one month ago, I would have cried and said abso-freaking-lutely not. Now that it’s winding down, I’m dreaming of a soft bed and a room that doesn’t have cinderblocks for walls. I’m thinking of decent sized portions of food and automatic cars that I can drive, where the traffic runs on the right side of the road. Good coffee beckons me. Hot weather and a beach to lie on sounds so lovely and I can’t wait to start school again at Rutgers. I’m excited to go back to my routine—wake up, drive to school, tutor for a couple hours, go to class, drive home, study, relax, and enjoy the weekends.
I’ve had such an amazing time here—I’d start listing and discussing it all but I think I should save that for my very last day in Norwich. It’s hard to imagine me leaving so soon when this place has done so much for me, but it’s got to happen.
I departed Helsinki at 6:05 yesterday. My grandparents gave me a traveling angel that’s meant to protect you on journeys. It worked because I came home safe. I don’t have many stories to tell except that three people found it appropriate to have a very loud conversation for an hour on the coach ride at 11 PM. I was ready to cry from happiness when they got off at Stansted Airport. YES.
So I came back to the flat in Mary Chap at about 3 AM to Victor and Joanna, sitting around the kitchen table. There’s nothing better than coming home to lovely companions and flatmates. Brief catchup was in order. I showed off my very boring photos (they will be on facebook). They’re boring because the majority of them consist of me, swinging on a swing and climbing a net thing in the playground in Hyvinka. My mom and I decided to take a walk to the park and get nostalgic about the times when I was a little kid and liked the swings. She and I even went on the seesaw. Good times, Mom.
I booked a ticket to Paris for June 2nd. Wheee!! Off to France! That will be my last trip in Europe, making my list of visited cities Dublin, London, Helsinki and Paris. Not as grand as others’ and I would have loved to see Amsterdam, but I’m sooooo happy and soooo content and I will totally be back to see the rest one day. Barcelona, Madrid, Amsterdam—I’m coming. One day. I’ll be back.
I’m going to head to the movies tonight with my fave Aussie Jo and my French tour guide in Paris, Sophie. Life’s good during lazy days in Norfolk.
P.S. I believe a countdown is in order for my return home, because it is now, under a month! How many days till I land in Newark Airport? 27. Faithful readers and self-proclaimed stalkers of this blog, Tobi Sigona and Amanda Matteo, be excited. Love you both.
Asha said the way she likes to explore European cities is just by eating and walking. Well, I’ve done plenty of that in Helsinki and in my grandparents’ hometown an hour south of Helsinki. I went to the city yesterday with my mom and aunt. They’re fraternal twins but they start looking strikingly identical the more time you spend with them. They’re exactly the same. I’ve never met two women who trip or stumble as much as my mom and aunt do. I just realized they’re both going to read this, but it’s okay, I love you both.
My mind gets fuzzy when I think of what we did because the most vivid memories of yesterday involve us sitting and drinking either tea or coffee or eating a big meal or ice cream. Oh yes, there was lots of walking around Stockman’s, Helsinki’s giant department store. And a lot of walking around the market in Helsinki where this man was selling awful full length fox scarves. I mean, you saw the head on this scarf. The HEAD OF THE FOX. I’m staring it with gaping eyes and a dropped jaw in terror when the vendor comes over and asks why I’m so upset. I tell him I’m mostly shocked—I’m a vegetarian; I don’t even eat any meat. He says, (as if this is going to make me feel any better)
'It's not from the wild. It's raised on a farm.'
Okay, so the fact that this scarf is the product of industrialized skin farming is supposed to be better as opposed to a single fox being shot in the wild?
In other news, I finally got a cool Suomi shirt. I’ve been wanting a t-shirt that just says Suomi on it. No Suomi Finland, just Suomi. It happened. I feel victorious. I also got a Finnish flag to hang from Jeter’s mirror. (Jeter’s my car for those who’ve not been introduced to my blue machine friend, named after the brilliant shortstop of the New York Yankees.) Jeter’s super personalized now—he rocks a co-exist religion circle on his back window and another unity dangly thing from his mirror. There was a Rutgers magnet but that was stolen, per usual in RU and he has his special parking permit stickers on the driver’s side passenger’s window. Now everyone will know his driver’s part Finnish. All right, I’ll stop talking about my car. It’s quite sad really how much I miss him. It’s a MACHINE. AH.
I finally got my Finnish passport renewed. I look like a psycho in my passport photo. But that’s typical of all passport photos isn’t it? Now I can join the ranks of the bad traveling pictures. We then returned back to the grandparents’ home and ate more bread and cheese. I love Finnish bread and cheese.
Isn’t half the fun in traveling actually traveling to that place? Did that make sense? Well, I always have stories to tell about the coach ride and the plane ride. Anyway, I boarded the coach at 9:30 in the morning in Norwich, armed with half a can of Pringles, a trail mix pouch and a bottle of Vitamin Water. My coach is scheduled to arrive in Gatwick Airport at 2:45, an hour before my gate closes so I’m already pressed for time a bit.
Anyway, life is good and the coach is dull for the first four hours of the trip until we make a stopover in Heathrow Airport, aka, Heathrow Hell. This place is possessed. Before I get to the possession part, my fellow passengers include a young Italian who smokes and listens to music at full blast and an older Brit who verbally chastises the young Italian for smoking and listening to music at full blast. They get to be good friends with the older Brit asking him,
'Where you from?'
'Yeah but you're not American. Where you from?'
'Italia! I go to school in America. I havent been to Europe in two years.'
I’m casually leaning in and the older British guy asks me if I’m traveling to Ireland because I’m wearing my Ireland hoodie. I explain that no, I’m going to Finland. Young Italian guy jumps on my accent:
'You're American! Where from?'
'New Jersey. I'm studying in England now, though.'
'I go to school in Arkansas. People are nice in Arkansas. I went up north to New Jersey once and New York City. They're mean up there. I thought you were Spanish. I kept trying to see your passport because you look Spanish.'
Oh by the way, this conversation is taking place amidst the search for our driver. You get that? They can’t find the driver! So while I’m explaining that I’m an American traveling with an EU passport, studying in England, wearing an Ireland hoodie and flying to Finland, they’re trying to find our driver. We’re about to get transferred to another coach when the driver shows up. Everyone is rightfully annoyed. He acts like we’re entitled because we’re annoyed.
FINALLY we get to Gatwick airport after a good six hours. I make it to the gate just as they’re beginning to board and proceeded to sit for another three hours as we flew over Europe and landed in the wonderful Helsinki. Reunion with my mom was fantastic. Then, once in the lovely Hyvinkaa, my grandmother fed me till I was ready to pop. It was amazing—spinach soup, Karelian pastries, good rye bread and Finlandia muenster cheese and ville and orange juice and blueberry juice and tea and I loveeee my grandparents’ house. Who doesn’t?!
I’ll be back in prison with my fellow cellmates on Saturday at 2 AM. Technically, that’s Sunday. I’m going to soak in this nice home living for the next week.
So I recently wrote that I want to be a nomad and just pick up and leave whenever I want. I want to travel place to place and never stay put and keep meeting people and keep learning and experiencing. This all sounded so idealistic and so exciting. Along comes my flatmate, Victor. Have I introduced you all to Victor? Victor is a no-nonsense German who has become my ‘guru’ of some sorts here in Norwich. He has advices, stories and opinions about everything you can imagine—politics, religion, ethics, personal relationships, the list goes on. I’ve spent the past two nights sitting in my kitchen having conversations with my German guru until 3, 4 o’clock in the morning.
We started talking about how I’m leaving soon and what that’s going to mean for me and how it’s going to affect me, etc, being that it’s the first time I’ve spent a significant amount of time away from home. By the way, Victor speaks German, English, Mandarin and French fluently. (He doesn’t think he speaks fluent French, but Sophie—who’s French—insists that he does. I don’t know, but if a French person is telling you that you speak French, I think you speak French.) Anyway, I told Victor I want to keep traveilng and I think I’m going to feel limited back home and frustrated and all these other things I’ve already discussed.
He said to me, “I felt the same way after I spent a year in China. I practically hated everything that had to do with Germany and wanted to keep going places because I didn’t think people understood or realized what I’d learned when I was abroad. But then I realized, I’m German. That’s who I am and it’s who I’m always going to be. You’re American; that’s who you are and it’s who you’re always going to be. Don’t focus your energy on continuing to get this experience and to continue moving all the time because that only benefits you. Take what you’ve learned, bring that back to your country and try to teach others.”
Now I’m rethinking my nomadic lifestyle. Rah. Why so wise, Victor?
Anyway, I watched The Simpsons episode “Bart vs. Australia” yesterday. That is easily one of the funniest episodes of TV I’ve ever watched. I remember seeing it when I was younger but it’s a million times more hilarious when you know Australians.
Boarding a coach to Gatwick airport tomorrow at 9:30! Off to Suomi! I’m coming Aiti kulta! Mina rakastan sinua!
Love to allll,