Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sum up a week of adventures into a blog of resonable length...GO!


For the past 3 days I have been caught in an endless cycle. I've been avoiding updating this blog because it had been so long, I had too much to write about. However, the longer I put it off, the more stuff I now have to write. Well, here goes nothing!

Since Monday and Tuesday of last week were just classes, let's start with Wednesday! Wednesday here is Rome have become my adventure day. My only class is in the morning and it is always on site somewhere in the city. So basically, I have the entire day to get lost in Rome. And I am very good at getting lost :)

This particular day, though, a few of my friends from Holy Cross and I decided to go explore the Vatican. If I was impressed by seeing the outside of St. Peters, I was completely floored by the inside. The art itself was spectacular, such as Michelangelo's Pietá, and many other paintings, mosaics, and statues. See for yourself:

La Pietá

Even more amazing than the art, however, was the feeling you get walking through the door. I'm not sure how it is for other people, but I am Catholic and I take my faith pretty seriously. So walking into basically the heart of the Catholic Church was like getting smacked in the face with the Spirit. It almost brought me to tears and definitely took my breath away. It's just amazing to see people from all over the world coming together at this one special place. Praying at Pope John Paul II's grave (or altar in front of his grave) was especially powerful.
Painting in front of John Paul II's grave

After the Vatican, we went to a small bar, aka coffee shop, to make a game plan. After I made friends with the lady making my hot chocolate, we decided to walk around and explore until some of our other friends met us near the Pantheon for dinner. One thing's for sure, when you wander around a city like Rome, you see some pretty interesting things. Like this

We eventually found our way to Via del Corso, which is Rome's version of 5th Avenue. Brian, one of the people in the group, wound up buying some shoes. We walked past the Parliament building, which was completely blocked off and crawling with police officers. While trying to investigate, I wound up having a conversation with a cop named Massimo from Bologna. Apparently the taxi drivers, who had been on strike for the past 2 weeks, were having a protest. Yay. On the plus side, I apparently know more Italian than I though I did, because Massimo and I had an entire conversation. Mostly a mixture of broken Italian and broken English, but a conversation all the same! I'm quite proud.

Friends eventually showed up at the pantheon (an hour late, mind you, but who's counting?) and we went to this whole in the wall place for pizza. It was Sicilian style, so it was a thick crust. All I can say is those Sicilians really know a thing or two about making pizza! After visiting the "place you have to go to while in Rome" gelato place, we headed back to campus. Just a side note for anyone planning to eat Italian gelato soon: banana and lemon gelato flavors do not go well together.

At this point, I realize I am failing with my attempt to keep this blog short, so I'm going to try to be a bit more succinct now. Ready, go!

This past weekend was our orientation study trip to the region of Campania. We left ridiculously early Friday morning. I found my way onto the Sunshine Yellow bus, which turned out to be the best bus ever! Though I didn't know that at first because it was 7 IN THE MORNING! After I slept for the majority of the 3 hour drive there, I began to appreciate Professor Evers and his group sing-a-longs of "You are my Sunshine" and "Take me Out to the Ballgame". We also blasted music ranging anywhere from current music, to 80's pop and rock, to Dean Martin. There were many dance parties. We also received impromptu history lessons. According to Professor Ever, who is from the Netherlands, everything we saw, from Greek and Roman temples to mozzarella, was taken from the Dutch. Absolutely everything. What a goof!

So back to the point. Friday was incredibly rainy, but that didn't stop us from visiting la Reggia di Castera, a huge Italian palace. While my camera died at the start of the tour (serious sadness), I can tell you the art and overall magnitude of this palace rivaled that of Versailles. Absolutely huge and had some amazing murals. I would pay big money to be able to play hide and seek in that place.

After the tour, we had lunch and got back on the road. We reached our hotel in Salerno that night and after dinner (which included some of the best white wine I've ever had), a few of us went out to explore! Pre dinner exploration resulted in basically shopping and wandering in the rain. The Christmas lights were still up and it was spectacular! Unfortunately though, camera battery was still dead. I'll work on stealing other people's pictures from facebook, don't worry. Post dinner explorations, a really nice group of Italians led us to an Irish pub (in Italy, so weird!) and we got a drink. Stephanie and I decided to leave after that, with our desire for sleep much stronger than the desire to drink more, so we headed back to the hotel. One thing is for sure, the Italian people are a very vocal people. I think we tallied it up to about 9 cat calls by the time we got to the hotel, including a group of boys who yelled "Che bella! Bella Americana!" at us for about 2 blocks. Italy definitely knows how to boost a girl's ego haha!

The next day, we went to the Caseificio Vannulo Mozzarella di Bufala, a farm where they make buffalo mozzarella. Speaking as a Wisconsin girl, cows have got nothing on buffalo when it comes to mozzarella! So good!

We then headed to Paestrum Scavi, where we saw the ruins of an ancient Roman city and 3 very well preserved Greek temples. They were incredible! Just as with the Colosseum, I cannot figure out how they managed to build them though.

 Outside one of Hera's Temples
 Hannah, looking mighty!

After the temples, we got lunch at a small place in Agropoli. While the food was cosí cosí, what was really cool was the entertainment. The people at the restaurant put on a show for us, playing music, singing songs, and dancing! We even danced with them. I now know why Italians can eat all those carbs and still stay skinny! We then explored Agropoli and saw an amazing sunset and oh yeah...a castle! A castle we got to go into and climb on. I was like a kid in a candy store
 What a view!
Storming the Castle!
Looking artsy

what a view

After going out again in Salerno, we checked out of the hotel and headed to Sarento. Our bus driver deserves a medal, by the way. Small italian hill streets plus a big coach bus equals very tricky driving. The police actually had to close off the street for us to get down the hill! We eventually made it to Il Convento, a convent that is also a farm. They make olive oil, organic mozzarella, and limoncello. Lots of limoncello. It tastes like someone soaked a lemon head in vodka. Delicious, tart, but very strong.

We then explored the town of Sarento. Even in the off season, it is beautiful! They are famous of hand carved music boxes and my friend Alexis bought one. I bought a mask. After all, Carnevale is coming up :) We wandered around, taking pictures and exploring the small shops. If I ever get back to Italy, this is my first stop for sure.

The rest of my week was pretty uneventful, classes mostly. I'll got other stories, but this post is too long as is.

So ciao for now!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

When I shamelessly take a gazillion pictures like a good tourist should...

Buona sera! I'm currently killing some time waiting for pictures to upload, so I thought I would share with you more of my foreign travels! I can literally see you bursting with excitement.

The past few days have been a blur of sightseeing and school. I'll say one thing, the JFRC definitely knows how to plan an orientation. So far, they've taken us out to dinner in the Balduina, to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Villa D'Este, and the town of Tivoli. And we've got another trip planned for this weekend. Expect updates soon!

But now to talk about my current trips! On Saturday, we went on to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. While I missed to lecture about the Colosseum and the Forum (I was still trying to recover from my 4:30am lack of direction experience) I had the next best thing: 7 classics majors! My friends from Holy Cross happily acted as my tour guides, which helped because there were almost no signs explaining the different ruins. The Roman Forum and surrounding ruins were spectacular! The history geek inside me was squealing. Not only were the ruins incredible, but the view was gorgeous. I swear I'm failing at descriptions, so I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Looking down on the Forum
Not sure what this is. Pretty cool though!
Me and Alexis
I found Jersey Shore!
After the Roman Forum, we walked over to the Colosseum. I still am baffled at how the ancient Romans managed to build something of this magnitude and with this kind of intricacy with the technology they had. It's mind-boggling. The running theory amongst our group is that the aliens helped them. I'm totally kidding, but still! It's amazing!
Yup. Definitely aliens.
Really makes you want to watch "Gladiator", doesn't it?

After the Colosseum, I opted to head back to campus. I was still desperately sleep-deprived and was eager for a quiet night of skyping the family and curling a good book. I guess even in a foreign country you need to take some time for yourself.

I'm glad I took that time to rest, because I had another packed and crazy Italian day on Saturday! Early Saturday morning, we started off for Tivoli, a small town outside of Rome. I found this ironic, because there is a movie theater near my school named the Tivoli. So here's what I think of when I hear Tivoli: 

Here's what I saw at the Tivoli in Italy:

Big difference, huh? We began our day with a tour at the Villa D'Este. The house belonged to a cardinal during the Renaissance period with ambitions of becoming pope. Don't ask me why a guy wanting to be head of the Catholic Church wants his walls painted with frescos of Greek gods and goddesses. I haven't got a clue. I was really impressed by the beautiful art covering the walls. Just look:

As we walked outside, our tour guide explained to use that the Villa D'Este is famous, not for the art inside, but for the gardens and fountains. After walking around outside for a few seconds, I understood why. It was utterly spectacular! The most beautiful place I'd ever seen (so far) and all built during the Renaissance. Check it out.

The best part though? All of these fountains are functioning solely through natural water pressure.That's right. No pumps, engines, or any kind of technology. Just water pressure!

All-natural water pressure, baby!

One fountain was a musical fountain. It contained an organ inside, which was played by the flowing water. How do you like them apples? Can't upload a video, but here's a picture

Also, on a fun and completely unrelated fact, at the Villa D'Este, we found a cat running around. We named him Herbert. However, Herbert, like many celebrities, preferred to hide his face from the camera, so this was the best I could do:
Come on Herbert. Just look at the camera!

After touring the Villa, we were taken to dinner at a place called "Antiche Terme Di Diana". What a very nondescript exterior hide, though, was an underground restaurant built in ancient roman ruins! Now, you'd think that this kind of thing would be a well planned ploy by the Italian government to use history to make a profit, right? Or that the restaurant owner carefully scouted out the location for a gimmick to draw people into their restaurant.

Turns out, both options are wrong. The owner of this restaurant found room after room of Roman accident! And I must say, after all those years, they did a pretty nice job keeping it looking good

The food wasn't bad either. Good white wine, several courses, including lamb, lasagna, sausage, and tiramisu for dessert! Food coma, here I come!

 Olive spread: Looks good, olives
 Lamb=best meat ever!
 Yummy tiramisu!

After dinner, we went out and explored the town. We found a castle and tried to get inside

From the look of it, I think someone might actually live there! Could you imagine that?!? Even though we couldn't get in, it was still pretty nice to look at. After that, we wondered some of the small streets of Tivoli. If I had to guess where Epcot got their design ideas for the Italy section of their park, I'd guess here.

After wandering for a bit, I bought my first coffee in an Italian bar (that's their name for cafes). Twas great!

Sunday was a relaxing day. Mass on campus is really nice. There's something very moving about a small community coming together for an intimate Mass without a need for a massive ceremony. It was perfect. After Mass, they played the Packer game on the projector in the lounge. A fun experience, even though it resulted in a painful and disappointing end to an otherwise remarkable season. Don't worry, Packers, I still love you!

Classes started Monday. So far, they are pretty good. One culture class I have to take is a bit dull (because of the teacher, not the subject). Other than that, classes are good. I'm actually enjoying my Italian class and my History of Organized Crime is already fascinating. I think I need to drop something though, since I've signed myself up for 18 credits (yikes!).

Since Wednesday my only class ended at 11:00am today, leading a few of us to go on an adventure to downtown Rome. But that, my friends, is a story for another time. So ttfn! Ta Ta for now!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Getting lost in a foreign to a great start!

Ciao tutti! I am now officially living in Rome for the next few months. I got in this past Wednesday and have managed to cram in quite a bit in only 4 days. Woot woot!

Starting in the airport, I have become aware of one thing since I arrived in Italy: I am very very blonde. Who knew?

  Looking around the airport, I found I stuck out like a sore thumb. Not necessarily a bad thing though :) On my flight from London to Rome, I met some other people heading to Loyola, so we were able to share a cab. On the ride, we were mostly too tired to talk, which did not suit our taxi driver in the least. After a few attempts at broken, language barrier conversation, he decided to fill the silence by playing music and whistling. Maybe it was the jet lag, but I found that extremely amusing!

We got to the John Felice Rome Center (JFRC) campus late. I basically had time to eat dinner, unpack, and then head off to sleep! Speaking of unpacking, here's a picture of my very small, but mildly messy room:

I tried to post more perspectives of the room, but the program is refusing to allow it.

Anyways, on to the good stuff. The next day, I went out with a few girls from Loyola and SLU in search of shampoo and a hairdryer, among other things. Having missed the neighborhood tours the day I arrived, I had absolutely no clue where to go. Apparently, the rest of my group was also struggling with our sense of direction, leading to my first experience of getting lost! After a long while of walking mostly uphill, we were able to find the Simply Supermercato. For any of you ever missing America while in Italy, go find a supermarket. Firstly, Italians like American music, so blasting over the speakers in the store was Bruno Mars and Coldplay. Also, they apparently have a lot of American brands in terms of shampoo and other like products. Now, I'm all for trying new things, but when it comes to my hair, I'll stick with my Garnier products, thank you very much! 

Fair warning, though, if you don't speak Italian, it is rather difficult telling the difference between hand soap, body wash, and lotion. Don't believe me? Try scratching the labels off of all the bottles in Walgreens and see how you do! Detergent vs fabric softener was also tricky. Now cereal, that is a much simpler task.

Though I never did find that hairdryer, we managed to find our way back to campus. Later that night, a group of us took the bus to downtown Rome. We started at the Vatican and then wandered through a few of the nearby piazzas (not pizzas!). For starters, the Vatican is absolutely gorgeous! In addition to the spectacular architecture, they also had a giant Christmas tree and a life size nativity scene of the 3 kings visiting Jesus. No shepherds in this scene. The Vatican people like accuracy ;)

After the Vatican, we wandered a ways to il Catillo del Angelo. It used to be a palace/fortress for the pope, complete with a large (though now dried up) moat. There is a passage way connecting it to the Vatican, giving the pope an escape route. It is still in use, however, so we stuck to the street. We crossed a bridge with sculptures by Bellini and wandered around some piazzas.

 Il Castillo del Angelo
Bellini Bridge

It's crazy because what looks like alleyways to me are actually cobblestone streets that people drive on! The problem is, there is only enough room for one car, so I'm looking forward to see what happens when two cars come at each other from the same direction! We eventually found the Pantheon, which is ginormous! I wished I was spiderman, so I could scale the columns. We also got gelato in one of the piazzas. It was delicious, and the man working there was funny. I asked for un gelato piccolo (a small gelato) and he kept pointing to the large cone saying "Piccolo" and the small cone saying "Grande!". It got a bit ridiculous, but we eventually all got our proper size of gelato. 

We encountered some complications trying to find the right bus, leading to a longer walk back to campus uphill. Apparently, it is pretty easy to get into Rome, it's getting back to campus that's the problem! That became extremely clear the next night, but I'll get to that later.

Friday night was the night I got more lost than I have ever been. The evening started out really good. A few of us attempted to plan a trip to Bologna for my birthday on the 28th. It fell through because, being so close to the travel date, prices were pretty high. Sadness :( The evening improved from there, with dinner at one of the neighborhood restaurants. Small, very cute place with amazing food

 Hungry and ready!

 In typically Italian fashion, the meal was 3 courses lasting 3 hours. I thought I would fill up in the first hour, but it was actually very leisurely, with smaller portions. I could get used to that (especially with food this good!).
  And this was only the first course!

After walking to campus, a different group of us (I kind of bounce from group to group) decided to go out and explore the Italian night life. One of the guys in the group, Garrett, turned out to also go to SLU. Anyway, we took the bus down to Piazza Navona and found a small sidewalk cafe type place. Lorrena, who was going to be my roommate, but switched before I moved in, speaks fluent Spanish and charmed the owner of the restaurant to the point that he gave us all free shots. Don't worry, the drinking age is lower here, so I was not doing anything illegal (I knew you'd be concerned lol).
An Italian night on the town

After sitting for about an hour with our drinks (mine was the house chardonnay, case you were wondering), we drank our free shots and headed to another bar. While it was fun to people watch there, it definitely isn't a place I'd go back to. Fun atmosphere, but 10 euros for a mixed drink is nuts! Here was another example of staring Italians again. I didn't do so bad keeping a straight face this time, but some of those guys were actually pretty cute ;) 

We moved on to another more crowded bar next door, which was not a favorite of the boys in our group. Matthew and Garrett were in guard duty mode and they were not pleased with the guys ooggling the girls in our group. According to Matt, his "spidey senses were tingling". We didn't stay long, but while we were there, I tried to talk to two Italians with Lorrena. I attempted to speak Italian, but they very nicely told me I could just speak English (basically, stop before you hurt yourself). Before leaving though, I met another American. His name was LJ and he was studying at the Pantheon Institute. It's amazing how friendly fellow Americans are when we meet each other abroad. Instant bonding! 

After one more stop in an Irish pub (there are a surprising amount of Irish pubs in Italy) called Abbey Theater, we decided to head home. This was at 2:30am. Keep that in mind, because our travel plans did everything but lead us home. 

The buses in Italy stop running at midnight, except for the night buses. We knew the N6 would take us home. Unfortunately, we could only find the N5. We tried to ask this man for directions, but he didn't know. He was sweet though, trying to figure it out. He told us to get on the N5 bus. While waiting, a really creepy guy came up and started to kind of circle us, moving very close to us. His glasses were askew and he had blood running down his nose. Whether it was the right way or night, we all jumped on the next bus faster than you could blink!

The bus driver told us to stay on until the end of the line, claiming it would bring us closer to campus. On the bus, I met a guy from Ohio who'd been living in Italy for the past 7 months. We talked for awhile and then mentioned that he did card tricks. Obviously I asked for a demonstration. Not only were the tricks impressive, but he managed to do them while standing in a speeding bus, which kept whipping us around. He definitely got points for style :) 

We eventually got to the end of the line, only to be told by the bus driver that we were no where near campus and he had no idea where we should go, but we needed to get off the bus. Not good. By then, it was past 3am and the streets were pretty empty. We actually tried to chase after mopeds and cars to attempt to get directions. Eventually, two guys pulled over and asked me if I needed help. Problem was, the directions they gave us were in the opposite direction of the school! After some more walking, we found a group of people buying food from this stand (open at 4 in the morning, what?!?) and they pulled up GoogleMaps on their phone. With their help, we found the N6 bus stop...just as the bus was driving away! We literally jumped in front of the bus but, like a typically Italian driver, the driver swerved around us and kept going. 

We convinced ourselves we were supposed to go in the other direction anyway and crossed the street to the other bus stop. Bad idea! We got on the N6 bus alright, which took us in completely opposite direction! We eventually just gave up, got off the bus, and started the 4am. After a lot of blind wandering and climbing up too many hills, we finally found the area we recognized! We all but ran home! While it was nerve racking at the time, looking back, it was actually pretty fun. I just wish it hadn't been so late and we weren't so darn cold!

In conclusion, while getting lost in a foreign city lets you see a lot of places, it is not recommended in the middle of January or in a place with this many hills! 

Well that's all for now. Buona sera!