20/52

In honour of International Holocaust Remembrance Day I’ve decided that today is the best day to publish my trip to Auschwitz and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.


May 11-17 2015


“The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.” ― George Santayana

This week has been one of the busiest ones I’ve encountered since living abroad.

I decided that I was at the point in my life where I was finally ready to visit Auschwitz, a concentration camp used during the Holocaust. It was not going to be easy but it was something I had to see for myself. That was how Jillian and I found ourselves in Oświęcim, Poland.

I have read countless books, watched many movies and have heard first-hand stories but nothing can prepare you for what lies behind those fences.

One of the first things you see as you walk into the extermination camp is a sign that says arbeit macht frei which means work will set you free. And I have never felt as much anger as I did when I saw people taking selfies in front of that sign. This is not the Eiffel Tower or the Leaning Tower of Pisa or even Tower Bridge, this is a place where millions of people were killed for their religion. Have. Some. Respect. It’s absolutely despicable, especially if you understand the true meaning of the phrase.

From the moment I stepped onto the grounds I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was breathing in ashes and walking over dead bodies. Although I have no direct connection to anyone who was killed in Auschwitz or the Holocaust I couldn’t shake that feeling off my body. I was stepping on the remains of my family.

I’m heartbroken. The fact that there is so much hate in the world for a specific group of people that this our history.. my heart physically hurts. I felt everything, every single emotion all at once.

I just don’t understand.

This was not easy to write about and perhaps that’s why it took so long to put pen to paper. But it is crucial for EVERYONE to know the horrors that occurred under the Nazi regime. Soon the last of the survivors will have passed on and it is our job to carry their stories to future generations. We need people to understand the past; if they don’t it will also become our future. It’s important that never again actually means never again.

Sidenote: They also need to stop charging visitors to use the bathroom at Auschwitz. You’ve already killed millions of my people but hey.. let’s continue to take away a basic human right.

I’ve been asked what the hardest part of the experience was. For me it was walking through the gas chamber. That was the first time in my life that I found myself physically frozen in a space. My eyes roamed the room imagining what it would’ve been like to spend the last moments of my life trapped in this prison. The amount of people that were murdered in the very space I stood.. I can see the bodies laying all around me. Piles and piles of innocent people killed for no reason. This is where I was when I noticed myself crying.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau was the largest of the Nazi extermination camps. You can tell.

In January 1945 the SS attempted to remove the evidence of the crimes they committed by blowing up buildings such as the crematoria. As I looked on from the tower it was clear they failed. Yes, parts of the camp had been destroyed prior to liberation, but majority of the barracks stood in the condition they were left. I was in a complete disbelief at the size of this prison. They weren’t even finished building it when they tried to cover their tracks.

I hate that this is the history of the world we live.

Sincerely,
Melissa

 

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19/52

“For someone with such an intense need to be liked you’d think I would have figured out how to be less of an asshole.” ― Anna Kendrick

I am done! I am done! I am done!

I can officially wave third year goodbye since I have now handed in my last project of the school year, For Love and London. And as happy as I am to be finished it also means that i’ll be heading home soon, something I deeply dread.

As everyone knows I am a celebrity enthusiast, so I was thrilled when I found out Anna Kendrick would be in town to promote Pitch Perfect 2. Partially because she’s supposedly my doppelgänger (I mean seriously, someone stopped me in Spain to take a photograph with me) and partially because I absolutely adore her. If you’re living under a rock and have never heard of her go watch Up In The Air with George Clooney. You can thank me later.

Anyway, my friend and I went to BBC Radio 1Xtra studios in the hopes of meeting her. Never mind the rain or the crowd that magically appeared 5 minutes before she was due to arrive, none of that would get in our way. It was true. We successfully managed to get three photographs with the starlet in one evening.

The third however, was the most memorable (it’s not that exciting in text so I kept the story short).

After getting photos with Anna at the May Fair hotel where the private screening was taking place we decided to go for a drinks at a different hotel. It was the only one I knew of that celebrities stay at sometimes but I honestly had nothing to show for it, just my gut feeling to go by. As we were getting ready to pay from the corner of my eye I noticed a figure stand up from the couch across the room. All I remember thinking is, “no way has she been here this entire time.” Literally. There was no way. I have no recollection of her entering the room but somehow we managed it, to be in the same place at the same time. When in London.. right?

I also may have planned a last minute trip to Poland with Jillian. Just maybe.

Love Always,
xo Melissa

 

18/52

“It’s not easy being a princess but hey.. if the shoe fits.” ― Unknown

I’d like to apologize in advance for the short length of this post. Unfortunately this past week after returning from France was spent completing finals (two essays that made me cry). Once finished I’m free and officially done my third year of University. This time abroad and school itself has gone by in the blink of an eye. I can’t believe that once I return home I’ll have one last hurrah.

The one thing I’ll never forget is being in London for the birth of the Royal baby.

WE HAVE A PRINCESS!

Congratulations to Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge on their little girl. I would also like to thank Kate Middleton for not going into labour until after I finished travelling. My friends and I waited in line outside Buckingham Palace to catch a glimpse of the official birth announcement placed on an easel outside. It’s something that you only have the chance to experience once. And personally I loved seeing Tower Bridge lit up pink in celebration.

Sadly this is it until I submit my project on May 5th.

Sawry!

Love Always,
xo Melissa

17/52

“And if I was from Paris, if I was from Paris, I would say, ooh la la la la la la la.”  ― Grace Potter and the Nocturnals 

I have never been so happy to hear English in my entire life.

As a Canadian we sometimes get judged for not knowing French even though what we learn is completely different. That Québécois French slang is a mess and should not be trusted. Was anyone else aware that Bonne fête à toi was not sung across Europe as “Happy Birthday” cause I sure as hell didn’t. Apparently it’s Joyeux anniversaire, except that’s not what I was taught in school.

France allowed Sarah and I to experience real European life. We stayed at the house of a friend in Bergerac and man did we enjoy the wine.

J’adore Paris.

It’s eloquent, beautiful and magical (or maybe that’s because I went to Disneyland). The streets are alive with the sound of music. Actually that’s Moulin Rouge playing in the back of my head. I watched that movie more times than I can remember growing up. That’s why it was a must on my list of things to see. And because it’s mentioned in Lady Marmalade. You know that song that goes voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir. The one we sang as kids and only realized years later what the words actually meant. Yeah. That one.

But finally the one thing I couldn’t stop talking about for weeks was happening, EuroDisney. I would not shut up about being able to meet Elsa (but apparently you can only meet her in the Winter). Before you ask, the Florida one is better and I haven’t been there since I was 7.

The baguettes, the barrettes, the moustaches.

I actually only tried the baguettes..

I wish that I had time to do everything I wanted. Unfortunately I never got to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night or walk through the Catacombs of Paris or see the famous Mona Lisa or the pyramid outside Musée du Louvre. But I guess everyone needs to have one of those trips in their life. Now I have an excuse to return.

Someday, someday, maybe.

Love Always,
xo Melissa

16/52

 “A [wo]man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority.” ― Samuel Jackson

Florence may be my new favourite city. Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely in love with London but their food stinks. And they definitely don’t know how to make a good pizza.

For the past 5 years, my parents have done nothing but rave about their favourite restaurant in Italy, Il Profeta and let me tell you, it was worth every penny euro. This, quite possibly, was the best meal I have ever had.

I can’t express how badly I want a bagel. As I continue travelling from place to place, eating nothing but the finest food, there is nothing I want more than a bagel with lox and cream cheese. I have dreams about bagels. Yes, it’s come to this. You can experience life in different cities and new countries but there’s always certain things you’ll miss about home. This however, would explain our excitement in finding New York style (as they called it) bagels in the middle of Florence. They stand nowhere close to the excellence of Montreal bagels, but it was able to do the trick. Still, my first breakfast back home is going to be at Bagel World.

Tempio Maggiore Israelitico di Firenze or The Great Synagogue of Florence is the most gorgeous place of worship (from my perspective of course) that I have ever stepped foot in. I’ve been to temples in Curaçao, Barbados, Canada, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Venice but this one has a beauty of no compare. It doesn’t matter your religion, this is a place to see.

If the idea of seeing Michelangelo’s David doesn’t impress you I’m not sure what will (although I’m an artist so I guess we could have different ideas of what impressive means). Located in the Accademia Gallery, the statue of David is a masterpiece. He also has a really cute butt. Aside from that, I am fascinated by these statues that people were able to hand sculpt out of marble. That thought alone leaves me mind boggled.

One of the things Jillian really wanted to do was go to the Gucci Museum. That Gucci. I bought a Gucci leather postcard in the gift shop partially because it was cute and partially because it was the only thing I could afford.

After an incredible first trip through Ireland, Spain and Italy it was finally time for a two day break back in London (to sleep and do laundry) before heading out to Portugal and France. I literally did nothing but sleep so we’re going to skip right ahead…

Sarah and I flew into Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Filled with orange roof buildings, it gives the city colour. The most remarkable view can be seen from São Jorge Castle, a Moorish castle occupying a hilltop that looks over the entire Portuguese city.

Everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve seen thus far have held beauty different from the last. All beauties that dream to be discovered.

Love Always,
xo Melissa

15/52

 “To wonder like Picasso in the Barcelona heat.”  ― The Cheetah Girls (Strut)

If you go to Ireland but don’t go to Guinness were you even there? I may think the beer itself is disgusting but it’s kind of a right of passage. You have to go and after the factory we took a horse and buggy ride to see Dublin Castle.

As I stated previously, we stayed at the Dean Hotel which was marvellous in all ways. From the grilled cheeses we ordered after midnight to the feck off & don’t disturb sign hanging on the door. It was so lively, everything young tourists could ask for in a place.

The next day we arrived in the ever-gorgeous Barcelona, Spain. But because travel days waste so much time our adventure didn’t continue until early morning. The girls and I took part in a private tour that guided us around the city showing us Casa Mila, Sagrada Familia, Hospital de Sant Pau and Parc Güell. And for any of you who have watched the second Cheetah Girls movie they actually strut through Park Güell as they sing.

You’ve got to strut like you mean it, free your mind, it’s not enough just to dream it..

Since we’re dorks, we obviously took a moment to appreciate the ground we were walking. I mean Raven Symoné once pranced there.

I’m completely kidding. I swear.

Following the tour we went to the Jewish Quarters to find Major Synagogue, which is supposedly the oldest in all of Europe. There is something about seeing Hebrew elsewhere in the world that has the ability to make me feel completely at peace. It’s like finding home when you’ve been lost.

We also took the time to see the Cathedral of Barcelona, the Picasso Museum, Citadel Park, Arc del Triomf and La Barceloneta. Although the weather wasn’t warm enough to go in the water a long walk on the beach does absolute wonders. I love the feeling of sand between my toes (even though it was beyond cold to do so). We spent the evening feasting on seafood paella and drinking sangria. Without sounding completely cheesy, this is the life.

Next we flew to Venice, the floating city that I had to see before it’s completely underwater, which is likely to happen within the next 100 years. It’s remarkably beautiful.

Being in Italy I don’t know if I was more excited about eating pizza or pasta. You can’t go wrong with either or. If I lived here I would weigh a million pounds. No doubt about it.

Of course I had to take a ride on a gondola and walk through the Jewish ghetto. Those were the two musts that had to be accomplished on this trip.

Everywhere we went was mesmerizing. Especially Burano, an island in the Venetian Lagoon famous for its lace and brightly coloured houses. Fisherman painted their houses so they’d be able to find their home easily after being away. You have to take a boat to get there but it’s worth it. I’d say even more so than Murano which is famous for its glass making.

The adventure continues in Florence, stay tuned!

Love Always,
xo Melissa

14/52

“We may have bad weather in Ireland, but the sun shines in the hearts of the people and that keeps us all warm.”  ― Marianne Williamson

As my friends like to say, I’m super lucky when it comes to contests, even in London. I won 4 passes to the UK Premiere and private screening of The DUFF with actress Bella Thorne in attendance. She is sweet, funny, beautiful and only 17. In my opinion the film was a little too much, but only in the sense of over-exaggeration. If you’re a teenager, you’d enjoy it either way. Hiding in the back of the audience was James McVey from The Vamps, a British band. I honestly only know of them because of their song Somebody to You that they featured Demi Lovato on.

I’ve been in London for months and I have only now stepped into Hamleys for the first time. The 8-story toy store is the dream for any child, even myself. I got sucked into purchasing a London Build-A-Bear. His name is Prince Harry. What can I say? I’m honestly 5 years old; I can’t even hide it.

For dinner we decided to go for burgers near Carnaby Street and under their gourmet fries/sides there was Canadian Poutine listed. Of course this excited me, until I read the description. “A mouth-watering combo of fries, free-ranged poached egg, caramelized onions and Bearnaise sauce. No cheese curds!” I’m sorry but that is NOT poutine, and calling it Canadian is just downright offence. We don’t want credit for something that disgusting.

This week was also the start to my big European adventure. Ireland, Spain and Italy.

Jillian, Sarah and I flew into Dublin, Ireland where we stayed at The Dean Hotel. It gets extra points for having Netflix on the TV. Not that we watched television all day long or anything…

We arrived after midnight and started our first full day bright and early. We booked the Cliffs of Moher tour with Extreme Ireland, a sight I highly recommend for everyone to see. The magnificent views from the platforms are positively breath-taking. For lunch we ate beef stew at Fitzpatricks pub. I’m not a big fan of meat but it was fantastic. Afterwards we stopped at The Baby Cliffs, did a short trek around The Burren and saw Dunguaire castle.

Aside from being exhausted from our lack of sleep this was a great way to start our adventure.

It’s hard to believe that it’s only just begun.

Love Always,
xo Melissa