Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring Break?

I have been so bad about updating my blog!

Three weekends ago, in a makeshift spring break (we don’t get one), my roommate Jess invited me to go to Sicily with her and Shinika, another girl on our program. It was kind of nice to take the backseat on planning trips, and I had never been to Sicily before, so this was great (and nice warm spring-breaky location). Plus, I needed a break because I was really stressing out over my oral presentation the week before.

In Sicily, we met Shinika’s friend Jaime, her best friend from home. It’s really kind of a circular story because Jaime and Shinika went to the Dominican Republic for their senior week at a resort and became friends with several Italians there. Supposedly, a few were from the north, and a few from central Italy, but their favorites were from the south J. I think it inspired both of them to learn, and major, in Italian. Jaime actually did the Perugia Immersion program a year ago, which inspired Shinika to come here. Now Jaime is studying at a University in Catania (in Sicily) and I think her Italian is so good that, to me, she could pass for a local. I would have liked to do more sight-seeing, but Shinika and Jaime’s connection in Sicily definitely made our trip more interesting…

The trip down to Palermo was such a pain because we took a really early flight and ended up crashing at Nadine’s (my old roomate’s) apartment in Rome for a few hours the night before, and then taking a flight down, and another train, etc. [we were exhausted!] but as soon as I got out of the train station in Palermo, I just got a really good feel from Sicily. We were laughing because it was probably around 10/11 o’clock on a weekday and everyone was out on the streets (and not working). It was crazy though! Talk about no driving rules at all.

The three of us got to our hostel and wanted to sleep for a bit but our room wasn’t ready. The owner told us all of the places we should go around Sicily and, I think what sparked Jess’ attention the most, were the arrancini (I talked about this in Naples too) that are *huge* called “bomba” (bombs?!). Talk about the heaviest, most filling, greasy thing you can eat (I couldn’t finish mine)…a rice ball with tomato sauce and/or vegetables/meat/cheese all fried into a ball. The Italians are all amazingly skinny, but not necessarily the Sicilians ;-). Jess joked that she wants to retire to Sicily and just get fat. Ahhh I have to say, though, I had a cannoli (well, maybe the plural is appropriate, but you should say “cannolo” – singular) in Sicily and it may be better than gelato!??? I *never* thought I would say that. Pretty much, southern Italy has the best food…and we’re all still trying to work it off.

Our first day was very relaxing, though. There was a huge lawn area by the beach and we were able to relax and people watch, after exploring Palermo a bit, and then crash at the hostel. Jaime came and woke us up, and got us going. We went to a great restaurant with a fixed menu (so we got to splurge on a primi and a secondi) and we had some Sicilian wine (Dad…I think it was good? I’m sorry, I don’t know. We’ll just have to go and get some Nero d’Avola). Then we kind of saw what the local bar scene was. There was nothing really going on except some guy trying to kiss all of us (those Italians trying to slip in more than kissing on both cheeks) so we decided to leave and find the owner of our hostel, who Jaime is friends with because she had stayed there before. He was taking out the other kids staying there (some Americans studying in Florence, some Spanish students, and a couple from Penn State studying in London) so we all met up at an outside bar that I liked better.

The next day we took a day trip to Cefalu, a popular beach town. It was really nice because I hadn’t been to a small-town in Italy in a while (besides Meranda, which was, very, very small). I think the train ride was an hour and I was getting a little sick but it provided great views of Sicily, which is just gorgeous with all of the lemon trees. We had the best lunch at this cute little place that had everything (I really regret not trying strawberry risotto!) and then stayed by the beach. There’s not too much to say about my time there, just that it was nice and relaxing, I got to walk along the rocks on the small beach found and watch Italians play soccer.

That evening, Jaime and Shinika’s Italian friend, that they hadn’t seen in 3 years? told us he wanted to take us out. He happens to be a DJ (DJ Lux [who started looking more and more like my boss :-P) and I learned that they became friends with him because there were very few guests staying at the resort and those two would always dance for him. It was all very VIP. He drove us to a little bar we would have never found with a great outside sitting area, as well as an inside area where there was a band playing. I really enjoyed the music (there was a violin and a surprisingly good Bono impression) but it was making Shinika fall asleep. Then DJ Lux started going (we had to get there early so he could set-up) and people started dancing inside the bar. What was nice, though I am unfortunately not good enough at Italian to be conversational at all, is that we got to meet some of Lux’s cousins/friend’s friends who are girls. We’ve found it difficult to meet/make friends with Italian girls here and I’ve been told by several people that Italian women are just not interested in Americans (or foreigners?) but much rather keep to themselves. I’ve heard that the women are very jealous, supposedly, and very protective of their Italian men….Jaime was actually looking at a guy sitting on the rocks when we were hanging out in Sicily and we heard, I guess his supposed girlfriend say, “vi piace!?” [Do you (all) like him!?]…but Italians tend to date the same person since they were 14 years old for their whole life and never get married, just have the guys have several “flings,” but that’s another story. It was just nice to meet some nice Italian girls.

The next day we woke up early to go to the markets. I just don’t know what to say about the markets in Italy anymore. The produce ones are amazing and I bought some little strawberries to snack on (as I was trying to choose basket of strawberries I wanted, the guy just popped one into my mouth J). We just decided to get lunch there at a little place and everything is just so cheap. We then went to another market, which I loved, which was full of antiques.

Ok, so now for some self-deprication. I didn’t realize this but the complete bottom of one of my boots that I’d been wearing all of the time had completely come off at the heel so I had no tracking left and I was sliding all over the cobblestone (I even fell down once or twice! I’m such a loser). I guess that’s the only way to get me to go shoe shopping. I’ve been really particular about the kind of boots I want (there are just so many all over Italy) but I found a good cheap pair and just had to settle with it. Then we passed another store and I saw cheaper boots that I liked a lot more. Then we passed another store and I saw my same boots for even cheaper!!! That’s why I hate shopping…I couldn’t get off that easily though. DJ Lux wanted to take us out again. I don’t go out a lot so have gotten away with not having “going out” clothes but I really packed lightly and this event was supposed to be at a rented-out castle!? so I knew I had to just put on a good face and force myself to buy something. I ended up buying this really cheaply made cover-up of a dress that was ok I guess (I got compliments but I think that’s just because Jess has never seen me in a dress before).

DJ Lux took us to his garage where we got to see all of his cool DJing equipment, which took up his whole car, so we ended up driving with his friend, who we had met the previous night. We got to meet two other nice Italian girls and drive up with them. I don’t know, though, it was a bit crazy…he was blasting music and passing around a big plastic bottle filled with sweet wine and we were swerving around the hills to the top of Palermo. The moon looked orange and it was beautiful up there. We randomly got out and had them take a picture of us in the hills.

When we got the “castle,” which ended up being a hotel that looked like one, we found out that, oh those Italians, a permit had never been signed and that the party couldn’t happen. This party was a very last-minute thing anyways and Lux was afraid of how many people would be able to make it. But it’s southern Italy! A party had to happen, Lux’s friend drove us to his family’s empty house, also in the hills, and, as if nothing had ever happened, they turned his house into a house party, with a smoke-machine and everything. It was funny because the four of us, and our two Italian friends, were the only girls there so we were getting a lot of attention (and stupid Italian boys trying to make us “go for a walk” with them, or have us go around the side of the house to “talk”). It’s ok, though, because I dance like a rag-doll at a rock concert and can’t speak to anyone. I guess, besides boys being immature, it was nice to recognize some familiar faces from last night, and they ended up taking us out to a place to eat, very early in the morning, to get some traditional Sicilian specialties.

I really am not a partier, but I guess it was just a nice ending to be able to dance (horribly, and try not to care) and try to stop worrying about not being able to speak at all and feeling uncomfortable.

Oh Sicilia!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Small Town Italia

Ever since the first week I came to Italy, my roomate, Jess, was talking about how her grandparents live in a small town, near Naples, call "Miranda," a short car ride from Isernia. Jess has being coming here throughout her childhood and has a lot of Italian friends/family here and last weekend, our friend, Shinkia, and I were lucky enough to go with her this time.

I was really excited to experience a small town in southern Italy (especially to experience the home-cooked food!). We took the bus there from Perugia and Jess had some funny stories about Italians. The bus came over half an hour late (because everything is a "suggestion" she said) but no one seemed to care. There are two bus drivers "to keep each other company" she said, and they always stop at this cafe where one flirts with the barrista and has an espresso and everyone waits for everyone else to have a smoke break...everything's at a leisurely pace here. We did go to a rest stop at an autogrill and for those who haven't been to Europe before, it completely destroys any rest stop that American has - it's just so nice!

The bus took us to Isernia where Jess' cousin picked us up. I was really scared as she was whipping through all of the tight turns on the way to Miranda but it was beautiful as we started approaching this small town on a hill (oh, also, Jess said that Italians don't really have traffic lights because they don't know how they work and are more cautious when they don't need to follow colors that they don't understand).

Miranda was so quiet and seemed covered in a golden light with all of the street lights out. Her grandparents lived in the United States for a little bit but missed Italy - having more personal attention from doctors with house visits, a quieter way of life, always people in the town to help them get something if they need it since they can't drive, etc. It's just a better life for them here. Her nonna made us the best dinner (and the best everything after that for the rest of our visit) and afterwards, we went to the 1 hangout spot, the pizzeria, at around 11 where it seemed like everyone was. [By the way, I don't think the town has a supermarket, or a bank, it used to have 2 bars but they may have closed down. You need to go to Isernia for everything.] It was a great small town feel because everyone was coming over to Jess and pinching her cheeks and asking how her family was. But basically, everyone was just sitting around socializing, maybe having a drink, and watching TV.

The next day, we made a day trip to Napoli. I was happy because I briefly got to visit when I went to visit my aunt in Ischia, but by briefly I mean take a taxi from the train station to the port. I'm surprised we hadn't gone to previous visits but a lot of southern Italy is still foreign to me and I really want to drag my family down here when we visit Pompeii. It was really funny because last night, at the pizzeria, when Jess was asking relatives or friends (there are supposedly only 12 families in the city, Jess' grandparents each coming from one of them) how to get to Naples/what to do there, they *all* warned her to not bring anything valuable, not wear necklaces because they will get ripped off, that we're all going to be pickpocketed etc. They were all so paranoid and, what I still feel, for nothing. But it's that Italian paranoia that we were laughing about.
Jess' cousin told us that you either go to Naples for shopping for for sightseeing if you are doing it in a day, but you can't fit in both. Shinkia had gone to Milan the previous week (which I also still haven't been to yet!) and, for that being the fashion capital of Italy, we were both surprised to learn that Naples has a lot better shopping.
I stupidly forgot my camera, but have to say that we kind of causally walked around and didn't do major sight-seeing (I'm going to steal pictures for you guys from Jess and Shinika's camera and post them for you after this so you can see). What was great, though, was that Jess is doing a project on pizza for midterms and so we had an excuse (like we would need one?) to go to a very old pizzeria and have some original, Neapolitan pizza. I learned that the only true recognized forms of pizza are Margherita and Marinara and that they have to be a certain thickness and diameter and cook at a certain heat for a certain amount of time (I'll learn this in her presentation on Wednesday). Ahhh, but it really was the best, and maybe even the cheapest!? pizza I've ever had.

The sun came out in Naples and we just ate the whole time (gelato, arranciatas? I believe they're called [little fried rice balls]) etc. I feel like there's nothing more to say than the little domestic side streets were filled with stacked apartments which all hand laundry hanging outside of their balconies and it was just the perfect day.

That evening, we relaxed and watched Italian television. I barely watch any in my apartment, though it would probably be a good learning tool, but I don't think I've mentioned yet how Italians don't use subtitles but dub everything ("they don't want to go to the movies to read"). So, basically, yes, there is an Italian Leonardo DiCaprio who does all of his parts. Personally, I think that's a very strange idea and much prefer subtitles. I also think it would be easier, for me, to learn the language that way. But we had fun watching dubbed American crime shows that I don't know but Jess seems to really like. What's the best, though, is watching Italian knock-offs of American shows. I don't remember if I mentioned this when I visited my aunt in Ischia, but she laughs when she says that they copy everything we do. We saw a version of Deal or No Deal but it's soooo drawn out. They have really cheesy music and sit and talk about everything forever and the suspense just kills you, on top of Deal or No Deal just being a horrible show to begin with. When I was in Ishcia we watched Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and it was the same thing, talking talking talking. Jess said, jokingly?, that they don't even call "talk shows" that here. There was also a popular show called Amici that seemed to be a version of American Idol, except, silly Italians..., instead of three judges they have a panel of 10! How many opinions do you need!? And everyone behind the scenes is just trash-talking each other. It's hilarious, and her grandparents seem to be really into it.

That night, we tried to go out but everyone seemed to want to just hang out at the pizzeria and have a late dinner. There was a concert in Miranda that night at the big stadium down the road and, supposedly, the population of this 1,000 person town doubled that night with concert-goers. We laughed at how completely unnecessarily the policemen guiding traffic seemed to be, but it was quiet an excitement for this small town and everyone went!

The next day, we took a tour of Miranda, which only took about 15 minutes. There are ruins of an old castle though, and the most gorgeous view. Jess is lucky that her grandparents have put so much work into their house (actually a few houses that are all connected) and that she'll always have this peaceful retreat to go back to with her family.

It was the perfect weekend before the stress of midterms and I really liked her grandparents. (Her nonno called me "bella kara" :)).

What In The World Was Going On In Venice!?

Two weekends ago (I'm sorry for the delay) I was lucky enough to return to my favorite Italian city, Venice, and even luckier to be there during Carnivale! I was pretty sure that this was going to be the absolute highlight of my trip...and so far it still stands up to that. Either way, it was completely crazy, beautiful, celebration.

We got into Venice Friday afternoon to go the weekend before Fat Tuesday. I love getting into the train station in Venice because you get to see the first stores with Venetian glass and then, right as you walk out, you're *right* at the Grand Canal. It's such a perfect welcome.

Now, here's more of the reality of it all. Venice is very expensive, and I'm sure they jack-up the prices during Carnivale. So it goes either way. I think you just need to realize that (I'm completely paraphrasing Rick Steves again) these group of islands have always been a tourist refuge and just give into it. Spend a possibly ridiculous amount of money to have a drink on the Piazza San Marco (which I don't know why I didn't do!). I guess I was so in love with it in middle school that I didn't really notice, or care about the crowds, but a lot of people I've met complain that Venice is extremely touristy and that the food is awful. I've read that a lot of locals are leaving Venice because it's hard to raise children and it is an expensive place to live. There are a lot of foreigners there making Italian food. Oh, and it's sinking...

But it's the most beautiful, romantic place in the world!!! :)

We took our first short ride down the grand canal to the Rialto Bridge where our hotel was (great location right?). While it was frustrating that no good pictures were coming out at night, there's nothing like riding under the Rialto when it's all lit up.
We went out for dinner at one of the cheaper restaurants we could find (yes, the food wasn't that good, and the wine was supposedly awful but I don't love wine that much anyways so it was just an excuse for me) and then we headed over to Saint Mark's Square. What's funny, for the directionally challenged (me) is that, as completely ridiculous as Venice can be with all of it's little side-streets and impossible maps, you only really need to follow the signs that either lead you to the Rialto or lead to you Saint Mark's.

When we got there, instead of the huge piazza, full of pigeons and string-quartets that I lovingly remember, there was a huge stage and...a drag show performance! (Excuse my french mom and dad) but all we could say was "those men have balls"....they were pretty into it [I have some bad pictures in the begining of my album]. But it was actually a really fun time, though very strange and we didn't understand a lot of what was going on. I think it was a contest for the best costume or something.
Afterwards we wandered the streets between the Rialto and Saint Mark's, where there are little squares randomly placed inbetween, and came across all different types of street-parties (techno raves?, bar crawls, live bands, etc.). Every had a mask on and was drinking and dancing and making-out. It all felt like one small, hometown party. My friend Anna and I, in our nights here, tended to settle around the square where the fisherman's market is next to our hotel where there was a cheap hot dog stand and our favorite band (that sounded like Man Man but looked like the Flaming Lips...if that makes any sense). It was a fun, mostly percussion, band, with a sax and a whistle-blower who played some popular, and traditional, Italian songs and lots of other fun, easy-to-pretend-you-know-the-melody-to, songs.

The next day, I just wanted to get lost. Yes, there are definitely sights to see in Venice (and I'm embarrased and not going to to admit what I *still* haven't seen there yet because I'm really frustrated), but the real joy is just walking along the small streets and window shopping. There is just entirely too much charm here. Probably my favorite thing, next to Venetian/Murano glass, is to walk into an old mask store that's completely, completely cluttered with masks with the artist sitting at a little table in the back covered in paint. I like to think that I went to Pittsburgh because I guess it's the closest American equivalent to the number of bridges in one city...not that it gets anywhere close.
And I bought a beautiful, but expensive, mask! (It's the white one in my photo album) I unfortunately realized that I have very expensive taste when it comes to masks, I think because I've bought two masks in my previous visits from stands and wanted a nice one from a shop, but I was stupid enough to forget to bring my contacts and had to tie it to the top of my head so I could still wear it out! (don't try putting glasses over a doesn't work)

I should say something about the costumes. The whole fun of Carnivale is that you get to hide behind a mask, gain a little confidence (not when it's stupidly sitting on the top of your head!), and go out. Yes, it used to be an excuse, years and years ago, for people to run around and get with whoever they desired, married or not, BUT now I saw it as a wonderful way for people to get into character. The highlight of the highlight of my trip may have been when, during that saturday, we were walking around Saint Mark's for the first time in the daylight and the square was *filled* with couples (I appreciate any man who will powder their face, wear a wig, tights, and maybe even heels) completely decked-out in matching costumes. They would come out of nowhere, mute and in character, and would passively pose while groups of tourists frantically took pictures, and then casually stroll until they were stopped again by mobs. And you hate being that person just joining the crowds, but I got some amazing pictures and I really hope, if anything, you just look at those.
Not all of the characters are as pristine as I just mentioned. Some of the guys were a little mischievious and, even though in their respectable period costume, they would nudge you with their walking stick and stand next to you and surprise you while you were trying to take pictures or drag you into pictures, etc. etc. It was just all part of the fun.

I didn't realize this, but Venice is shaped like a fish, and the next day, Sunday, Anna and I decided that we wanted to explore the "lower fin" down to the coast and then take a boat up the full grand canal. I don't think I had ever strayed the Rialto-Saint Mark's area before and this was a nice change. We were in much more of a residential area and discovered churches and squares (with little street shows continuing for Carnivale) that we had never seen before. It was also a nice way to get away from the crowds and spend a quiet Sunday.
We came upon a bigger square where there was an outdoor market and I was in heaven! Venice + flea market!? Unfortunately, Mom, I guess you're right, that there was just "junk" there, but maybe next time. It definitely got me extremely excited though.

That night, there wasn't much going on but we were able to peek into, off of Saint Mark's Square, fabulous, and high-class, tea rooms. They are these huge-windowed cafes where supposedly you could only get in if you had a costume. It was like we were peering back hundred of years ago! And of course it's all show and extremely expensive, and such a paparazzi moment, but it's all a little bit of show and fun.

The next morning, we went to an island off of Venice, Murano, where all of the Venetian glass is made in factories. I was sorry to say that I really felt like it was in the off-season because not as many stores or factories seemed to be open. I would have liked to stay there more and explore though, but sometimes, all of the glass stores can be completely overwhelming. We got to see a demonstration though and I was very happy.
I knew I wanted to come back to Venice and invest in a good glass piece ever since we came the first time. I shopped around in Murano but I couldn't forget this glass wire-hanging lamp I saw near the Rialto and went back there, the next day, to buy it. Maybe all of my speeches about "giving in" to how expensive Venice can be are because I feel a bit guilty about how much I spent on it, but I look forward to having this in my house/apartment/box where ever I end up post-college. It's a beautiful, single piece of hollow blown glass in millefiori style in red and orange. I've never seen a piece like it and think it's very Venetian-looking. I'm very happy and sorry I don't have a picture to show right now (currently, it's all sealed up in a box right now).

Our complaint was that there wasn't a schedule of events going on for shows and such this weekend (especially in Saint Mark's like on the first night with the drag show). But maybe there really isn't too much of a schedule and you need to stumble upon things. We unfortunately missed the opening show earlier the previous week, where, I believe, they release doves and someone dressed as an angel being lowered down?, and also boat races down the grand canal on a later night...
After the excitement of Friday and Saturday night, things seemed to drastically slow down and when we went to Saint Mark's on Sunday and Monday night, to our amazement there was nothing going on!
But, on our last night there, Monday night, on the fringe of Saint Mark's, behind the Campinile, there was a piano bar where this old couple were energetically dancing to Mamma Mia together outside, and it was the perfect, romantic way to end this crazy experience :-D.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Vacation From My Vacation

Almost misssing my train, falling on my butt on the platform and pretending I just wanted to sit on the ground, late trains, not being able to understand questions Italians were asking me, getting train-sick, sitting in the wrong class and getting told to move...all of the joys of traveling (alone this time). Oh, but I really do love long train rides!

I got into Naples and wished I could explore a bit (I've never actually had the chance to see the city, we've just always gone straight to Ischia), but I took a taxi to the Port (Molo Beverello). This Neopolitan taxi driver asked em about Obama (supposedly all of the Italians are paranoid that he's going to be assassinated) and talked about how people come to Napoli and ruin their diets because the food is so good. He also asked how many boyfriends I had (and when I awkwardly laughed he said it's because people on TV seem to have so many) and lectured me for not remembering that tomorrow was Valentine's Day but said that I'm going to be engaged tomorrow...I'm sure something got lost in translation.

I took a hydrofoil over to Forio, the second largest city on the island (which happens to be where my aunt lives). My "cool" Aunt Dani was there to greet me and it was so, so nice to see family again, plus to be back in a place I had been so many years ago. A lot of memories started coming back to me b ut it was so strange to be here during the off-season, where so many stores were closed down and so any people had left for their other homes.

My aunt went to Ishcia several times when she was a teenager/young adult (she talks about falling for a drummer when she was 16) and I know my grandparents rented a house here (which we saw again mom!) where my mom stayed when she was a little girl. My aunt came to Italy several times when she was younger but said tha she always found herself coming back here. It's her escape from the hustle and bustle of the stressful "real world" but ironically, with these crazy southern Italians, she laments that things are even more backwards here. From my perspective I am just very impressed with the life she has made for herself here. She has a faculty for language and siad she learned form popular music and films.

My aunt and I caught up a bit and then went out to an internet cafe, where she introduced me to the store owners she's friends with. I went for a bit of a walk while she was in there and then we reunited and looked for this pottery store that one of my other aunts loves (my mom's the youngest of 8!)! While I'm saving my money for Venetian glass (next weekend!!!!!!!) I was very tempted to buy some pottery here but the place was closed for the season (Aunt Felicia, she wasn't lying). Che peccato! We then went to a wine bar, where Aunt Dani is friends with the owner, Salvator, and we enjoyed some local white wine. The place was beautiful (the owner designed it with real volcanic rocks!) but we left early because this American "cowboy" and his "6 ft wife" [as Aunt D liked to call the pair] came into the bar and were being really embarrasing. Salvator couldn't understand their english so my aunt had to translate. We have no idea how they even found this wine bar, let alone Ischia (maybe they should have gone to Capri).

I was really tired after my day so was glad we had dinner early, by Italian standards. Mom, Dad, and Julie, we went to La Tinai! We each got delicious pizzas and ate them in front of a roaring fire (remember, I'm near Naples so the food is amazing [and they put salt in their bread!]).

The next morning Aunt D was going to take me around the island in a rented car (more like a car someone wasn't using and just rents out) but got a call that morning that they found out the car wasn't working (an example of how crazy they are here, she said). Instead, we took a bus around and saw Porto, the biggest city in Ischia. We then changed buses and then went to Ischia Ponte, where there was a big citadel build into the rocks (a lot of Pirates used to be in these waters) . I didn't realize that this is one of the areas we had hung out so many summers ago, and Aunt D treated me by takign me to an area where there's a good amount of sea glass and pieces of ceramics (I could have stayed there looking all day!).

That evening, Valentine's Day, we went out with Aunt Dani's friend, Maria. I thought so highly of her rasing three boys while her husband was in the states working . She said that it's hard to make girlfriends here (this is still a mostly patriarichal society where women tend to stay in). It's also hard with young boys during riposo (1-4/5pm) when they wan to be outside and play [supposedly there's a law here that you have to be quiet between 3-5pm]. It's much safer here to raise children with the lower crime rate than in the States, but I think they miss things from America, and it frustrates her that nothing gets done here (with half of the day spent resting).

We were going to go to a restaurant up in the hills (the contrast between this and the beach down below is stunning) but we didn't realize how many Valentine's would be be out when everything's usually dead. Maria and my aunt thought the owner was joking about needing a reservation, and I got confused with my poor Italian, but only in Italy would they put us in the kitchen and hand us pieces of salami, that were a bit too fresh for my liking, and a little glass of Prosecco. I felt so in the way but got a great look at how they prepared everything back there. It took us a little bit to realize that we'd have to wait at least an hour to be served so we went to look elsewhere. We drove up in the hills (I had absolutely no sense of direction) in the next town over, Panza, for over 1/2 hour trying to find thise other restaurant, with Maria and Aunt D cursing the poor signage here. We finally found it (closed) so we went to this other restaurant at about 11 o'clock (and could you believe people were still coming in? they eat so late here!). My aunt was a sweet Valentine, though,and gave me a little heart-shaped candle, and a kiss :).

Sunday is a day for family and they usually have big Sunday lunches. Aunt d's friend, Ilauria, took us over to her house (it was right across the street from the house grandma and grandpa rented, mom! and right near that little cove we swam around when we rented that boat that one time in San Francesco Forio!). They lived in a beautiful villa. It was truly a girl's day (all of their husbands were in Naples and they came to their house here for the weekend). They made us bucatini, which I think is fair to call my favorite pasta, and rabbit (like the last time we were here, dad!...don't tell mom) with something similar to broccoli rob and potatoes, which are much better here. Then we had a little cake for dessert (it was one of the woman's son's 2nd birthday yesterday and I have to say that Italian kids are so much cuter than American ones [especially when they speak], but wow, they are so loud and I'm told they all turn into little brats :-)).

We stayed there for over 4 hours and then had a nice walk back, where Aunt D found me some more ceramic pieces, and we saw the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen (I jokingly told Aunt D that this was more romantic than last night).

On the way back, two Neopolitan taxi drivers got into a fight over who was goin to give me a ride and I'm so afraid of their firely southern Italian temperaments here. Then, when I was buying a ticket to get back to Perugia, I had to repeat myself several times for the guy to understand what city I wanted to go to, and then he said "merci" to me as I was leaving. Really? Then I really must be awful with pronunciation. The dogs know italian better than I do!...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ciao Roma!

I regret taking so long to update and I hope I can briefly capture my Rome experience for you guys. This is a huge cop-out, though, but really, just look at the pictures.

So another girl in the immersion program, Emily, put up with my last-minute antics and together we booked a very, very cheap hostel the night (you could argue early morning) before we were planning to go. Then we just jumped on a 3ish hour train to Rome and that's that (buy a map, bring your guide book, and it's really that easy).

Our hostel was right near the Rome train station, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, which we immediately started gawking at. We had lunch and checked-in to our hostel and then, around 5pm, started our walking tour.

I have to say that I really can't believe how much we accomplished (and walked!) that evening. Maybe because I'm so type A and we were quickly going from point to point, but we did most of the major sites our side of the Tiber. Rick Steve's scoffed at how impossible it is to do Rome in a day - well just think about how hard it is to really only have 2 full days, if you're really being generous, with so many things closed on Sundays (and being stuck with your backs after check-out)!

We started off in Santa Maria, which was gorgeous! I don't know what to say about churches anymore! After, we found our way over the the Trevi Fountain. It was just the best feeling to see it again and it really is so stunning. There we were, just walking along some small side street, and then you quietly start hearing the sounds of water. Then you just turn the corner and it jumps out at you, right in the middle of the square!
-People have been complaining that I don't take enough pictures of myself, so here we go:



Err, Three....?

This one is obviously fake, but there's my shot.

So if you don't know what this is about, legend has it that if you throw a coin in the fountain over your shoulder, you will oneday return to Rome (it's worked so far). I was definitely stubborn about getting that "perfect shot" though...

We then walked over to the Spanish Steps. It was strange to approach it from the top and at first, I didn't know where we were. But then we looked down and we could see down the steps onto the whole square. I was amazed with how walkable Rome is. Everything was covered in a golden light and everyone was out on the steps that Friday evening. I have to say, there was a bit too much rome-ance going on for my liking....
(We briefly walked down Via Condotti but, like Florence, window shopping doesn't hold my attention for that long. I wish I had asked where the Monster Door was again Mom!)

Next stop was the Pantheon. Just like everything else we saw so far, it literally just jumped out at us, without warning, as we turned the corner. All of these monuments are right in the center of Romans' daily lives and it's hard to believe they can become so desensitized. I felt bad the Emily didn't have the opportunity to see inside of it, but it really did look much more stunning in the dark. (It was really, really fun being inside the Pantheon, though, when it was raining and it all came through the hole at the top :)).

Continuing behind the Pantheon, we saw the National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II. I had never seen it before! Then, in the distance, Emily thought she spotted the Colosseum but it was too far away and I wasn't sure. As we started approaching it (yes, she was right), we saw some ruins to our right and realized it was the Roman Forum! I was really losing any credibilty as a tour guide.

Rome may be better at night. The monuments were all lit-up, everyone was out, and I felt so safe on the streets. It was a much more intimate look then roaming around with tourists during the day.

I felt like such a shy girl in my hostel. Everyone was in the common room drinking and socializing and were from all over the world. The owner sadly ruffled my hair up as I walked past because I was probably being so square. I forgot that hostels are a place that people come to meet other travelers, and not just a really cheap place to stay. I climbed up to my top bunk, in a closet of the room with two sets of bunk beds and barely space to walk in between the middle, and was in bed before 12, as a party was going on two rooms down the hall. I'll never be a troubadour!
We woke up early the next morning and went straight to the Vatican Museum (Finally! Let's get out of this country!). It's very strange, though wonderful, to be here in the off season. What was even more strange is how little I remembered the area the Vatican Museum was in or all of the exhibits that led up to the Sistine Chapel. You really have to earn the right to see the Chapel because you go through a maze of other exhibits. Not that their Greek sculptures and Egyptian artifacts aren't worthy in their own right, but it's all just too much...and you haven't even gotten to the big show yet. I was really starting to get stimulus-overload when all of the sudden I turned the corner, and there I was! (Why must it happen like this every time!?). My roomate said that when she's gone in the past, she thinks it feels like one big gynasium full of people. It is kind of like that. I was lucky to get a seat on the wall and rest (I hadn't sat for several hours in while touring the Museum) and be able to slowly take in all in.
Mom, Dad, and Julie - they still yelled at us to be quiet! But this time, a little announcement was played over loadspeakers. Unfortunately there wasn't any obnoxious clapping. I still couldn't believe how many people were taking pictures when they weren't allowed to there, but that just shows how much of a zoo it is.
Oh! By the way, I also saw the School of Athens and am embarrased to admit that I didn't know it was in the Vatican (some HPS major I am).
What a build up for such a finale. It's worth it, but it's draining.

After that, we got lost trying to find our way from the Vatican to St. Peter's, which seems pretty silly because you can see one from the other. We started walking around the Vatican and got pulled over by some weird French guy who was trying to give us his designer clothes and then asked us for gas money....

And then there we were in front of St. Peter's! I walked inside and just really gave up at that point. In my head I thought "Look Rome...Rick Steves already hailed you [St. Peter's] as the richest and most impressive church on the earth. Give it a break! Stop trying to overdo yourself. You've already won!" I really, really have, just given up. But then I forgot that you could finally take pictures in this church so I quickly turned into this sacrreligious tourist who went around like a camera-happy maniac just to prove a point that I can show people back home what I can't do any justice in trying to describe. It's all a bit ridiculous, and makes me feel like I shouldn't be in the church to begin with, but it is such a museum. We saw Pieta but unforutnately I wasn't able to rub (kiss?) St. Peter's foot (they had him fenced off for some reason).
Next we got to climb to the top of the church. Elevators are for whimps (and I'm scared of them) so we climbed ... oh, I don't know how many there are, 500+ stairs? It really isn't that bad, just terrifying in those extremely narrow spiral staircases with no railings, but I truthfully couldn't have been happier getting a panorama of the entire city.

Finally, we went to a much smaller church, Santa Maria della Vittoria, and between one T(h)eresa to another, I learned the true meaning of her ecstasy.

***What I can't emphasize enough is how nostalgic Rome made me for my family. That was the first place I ever saw in Italy and our memories of sneaking in pizza behind the nuns' backs is still just as funny. Rome just felt like a completely different place when I was traveling with you three and I fear that, because of the nature of my program, I really am forced to zip through as much as I can. I am very grateful for all of the care you put into planning our vacations and I can't wait to see you three when you come to visit in a few months!

Monday, January 26, 2009


After cutting an hour of class and rushing to meet everyone else to get on the train to Florence, my roomate called me telling me, and my two other friends, that there's a strike going on and that we wouldn't get to go. I forgot that in Europe they have scheduled strikes (and of course don't put it up on the website).
Oh Mom...I'm having flashbacks to when we were in Paris and this happened :(.

But it's just all part of the adventure of traveling!

We found out that the strike ended at 5pm so we just had to delay a few hours and then took the ~2 hour ride to Florence (it's very nice to be centrally located in Italy!). When we got there it was pouring rain and very windy. I'm sorry to tell you that that kind of set the tone for the rest of the short weekend. (Though, as we were leaving the train station, a guy, in a funny-accent, did tell me "I love you" - what nice people in Florence! :-P) Jess did a wonderful job booking a hostel close to the train station but our shoes were completely soaked from the moment we stepped off the train until we left that Sunday.

Mom, everyone continued to bash the Rick Steve's book [it doesn't help that you sent me Andy's site :-P] but I'll tell you that Jess soon took my Rick Steven's book, as she mockingly calls him, and never gave it back. I helped find a restaurant that night, with his help, which had a fixed menu (a primi, secondi, and contorni) for 12 euros! so I think I convinced them as well.

The rain had finally stopped so we were able to wander the streets a bit. I forgot how centrally located and walkable Florence is. I didn't realize how many up-scale shops there were or how many hotels were right around the historical section of the city. It was just very strange being here in the off-season and being here without my family. The four of us were very conscious of the fact that we could have chosen to study abroad here and that this could have been our Perugia. There are thousands of Americans that study here, as opposed to the 200ish that study here, so there is a completely different feel. The Americans stick out a lot more and it appeared stuck to more American bars where they don't even try to speak Italian and go much more for the alcohol then the social scene that draws the Italians, even though the four of us had trouble finding any nightlife while we were there. My friends liked to make fun of how completely ignorant some of the girls were being, but it is scary that some of them really do try to run off with these Italians when they can't even understand what they're saying...

At least in Perugia we're just seen as a small part of the many foreigners that make up the city.

I didn't care about the shoes or the high-fashion. I was just racing to see the Duomo again. The two Annas we went with (my friend from Brooklyn and my roomate from Australia) were making fun of me because they didn't understand (because they have never seen it before!). I'm also not much of a shopper....

But anyways, we turned the corner and saw it in all of it's glory!
The white marble is unfortunately not as striking as it is during the day (and I'm sorry, it was too rainy for me to take pictures of it during the day) but I hope everyone is fortunate enough to see this building at least once in their lives.

We slept a little too late for being in Florence for such a short amount of time. Jess suggested that we go to the Medici Chapel, because her aunt had taken her before, and I can't believe we didn't go there (Mom, Dad, and Julie!). I wish I could have taken a picture of the inside, because the gold-leaf dome was incredible and looking at it hurts your neck in a way that only the Sistine Chapel can rival. What was so striking about it was the contrast between the gold top and the very dark marble that covered the rest of their tomb. The Medicis were definitely showing their wealth and influence they had in Florence by this monument...
Right behind the chapel were the famous outdoor markets. There were entirely too many "ciao bellas" and superficial attempts at making conversation in the market, but that's all part of it (plus bargaining which I fortunately didn't have to do too much of). There was that familiar scent of leather (jackets, belts, shoes, books, keychains, bookmarks, etc.) and tons of scarves pouring out on the street but I wasn't really looking for anything in particular. (Mom and Dad, I can't help but remember how scared I was when that guy took us back into his store and started putting his lighter up to the leather jackets you were thinking of buying...) We all kind of split up and I bought some nice stationary and then tried to find something to eat.

I hadn't had breakfast and was trying to look for a good meal and found a stand right in the middle of the market. They were serving a "typical florentine" sandwich which I thought would be good to try a local favorite here. I tried to take a bite out of it and literally couldn't get through the "chicken". I felt awful wasting food but I just felt so grossed out that I had to get rid of it, and went into an indoor market, similar to the Reading Terminal Market, and bought some fun pasta to get my mind off of it. Anna later asked the people at the stand what it was, and they said it was cow stomach (maybe you would have liked it Dad)!
We continued walking around and tried to get lunch (I wanted anything at this point) but had a lot of trouble finding a restaurant in the early afternoon that would serve us (I can't emphasize enough how restaurants literally turn away service in the middle of the day because they close). We finally found a pizzeria and then went for gelato. Gelato really is the best in Florence and Jess and I have been dissapointed with what we've found in Perugia so far, but no one really felt like going to the good gelaterias I remembered when there were so many teasing us.
We briefly got to go inside the Florence Cathedral, but I wish we could have climbed up the bell tower and explored the Dome more. Truthfully, the inside of the Cathedral isn't too much to talk about, but the outside is so ornate that I'm sure simplicity makes sense in the context (or maybe I was just still so overtaken by the churches in Assisi). It was so wonderful to see the bronze doors facing the Duomo as well.
I realized that I had never seen the original David, just a marble copy in the Piazza della Signoria, along with the The Rape of the Sabine Women and the town hall (pictured), so we all went to the Galleria dell'Accademia. At first we wandered around and they had an exhibit showing the history of musical instruments - a lot of them looking like the originals that the musicians the Medici's hired used (with what looked like real gut strings to me!). I saw cellos and basses with three and five strings, very old guitars, my first hurdygurdy, spinets, and very strangely-shaped brass instruments. I think I enjoyed this exhibit a bit too much considering I should have stopped fooling around and have spent all afternoon looking at David, especially when my friends had already left me at that point.

I wandered my way back and went into a back room and briefly got distracted by unfinished marble works by Michalengelo and other masters of the time, when I realized that David was at the end of the hall! At that point you can't look at anything else. It was amazing because there was barely anyone there, and we sat there like four silly girls thinking we could see him breathe. I really didn't realize how massive he is.

Later in the evening, we went to the Ponte Vecchio which was so strange to see at night without all of the jewlery shops open. It was a bit awkward because several couples were making out on the bridge, but I forgot that couples come to put locks on fencing around monuments to eternalize their love or something silly like that...

We also briefly saw the Pitti Palace, which I had never gone to before. Jess said that there are beautiful gardens in the back and I really wish I could have seen the museum inside, but next time I guess.

We went out that night to some Irish pub, which kind of turned me off because I saw JMU and Villanova t-shirts hanging from the ceiling, but the Americans were good fun for Anna and Jess to mock. As we left, and were walking back to the apartment, two Italians tried to ask us back to their place to have wine with them. NO THANK YOU.

Just some friendly italian men. I'm glad my friend had some good comebacks in Italian.

I'm upset I didn't go to the Uffizi and may try to make it a daytrip in the future. It's just hard to fit in everything you want and to travel together as a group. At least I rubbed the snout of the bronze boar. I hope that gives me good luck for the rest of my trip.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

It's Time To Cut The Cord

I had a mandatory orientation session today and I know that a lot of the students that are part of Stranieri are really starting to complain. Arcadia was really making an effort to include us with the general Umbra students, though, and wanted us to experience an aspect of Italian life - seeing a working farm.
...we got a free 4-course lunch.

Doing paperwork that I feel like I've done several times before, and getting lectured about things that we'll be emailed about later this week anyways, I do want to share the positive experiences of today.

We went to farm off of Lake Trasimeno and got to take a very quick tour of it. Our guide told us about how their old olive trees have produced award-winning olive oil (3rd place in Zurich! and supposedly a favorite among famed racecar driver Michael Schumacher [unfortunately not a fan of racecar driving]). I actually got to try some of the olive oil for lunch and someone lucky will be getting a bottle as a gift! We then got a nice view of the lake, as little farm dogs jumped up to greet us, and quickly saw some basket weaving.

Most-importantly, I have step-by-step pictures of pasta making!

I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining. The people (possibly volunteers?) who worked to show us around and cook us lunch were too gracious. It was an incredible effort because all of our food was naturally-grown products from the farm. I've been hearing about this a few times, but this farm is part of the "Slow Foods" movement, which is supposedly gaining popularity across the world. I know that my friend's international roomate is studying at Stranieri so she can go to a slow food culinary school up north in Italy somewhere. It's very promising to hear.
I'm truthfully just anxious, now, to really buckle-down and start planning where/when I want to travel. I don't think I really want to spend any more weekends in Perugia if my wallet can handle it.