Archive | June, 2011

Random, Roman Reflections

22 Jun

At 7:30 a.m. this morning, I awoke to my alarm clock. My instincts and longing desire to sleep in led me to hit the snooze button a couple times before climbing out of bed. Today was the day where we would venture to the Vatican to be part of the papal audience.

After eating breakfast and taking a shot of espresso, I was able to take on the morning. Bridget, Katie, Kelsey, Andrew and I took the bus to Ottaviano and walked about 10 minutes to the Vatican entrance. Along the way we were attacked by solicitors, advertising tours at the Vatican. I noted a funny observation today. No matter where I go with a group of people, Italians just know we’re American. I must have a giant stamp on my forehead that says “speak to me in English.” Is it the fact that we travel in larger groups like freshman traveling to a campus party? Do we dress differently? Or maybe it’s because we have some blondes in our group. Regardless, they have a 6th sense of picking us out no matter where we are.

When we got there, we took on the sweltering heat, stood on our tiptoes and held our cameras in the air, hoping we would snap a shot of the Pope riding around in his little Pope Mobile. When he came around, I saw him through the crowd, wearing a red hat, smiling and waving to his attentive and excited audience. Because of the heat, we didn’t stay long. But we listened to him talk for a while.

After leaving the Vatican, we walked around Rome browsing different stores and picking through the clothes at the markets. We took the bus back and Bridget, Katie and I walked down to OVS, which is their main department store here. All three of us bought a dress (which I probably didn’t need) and then we walked back.

Half of the group (the Italian class and Education class) went to Bologna for the next three days. Those who stayed behind are getting treated to a nice dinner tonight courtesy of Mother Xavier. Not having to buy dinner tonight makes up for my new dress, I suppose. Or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

That’s all for now. Ciao 🙂

 

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I’m still alive, I promise!

20 Jun

Ciao everyone. I know it’s been a while, but now that my art class in finito, I will actually have time in the day to update. This past weekend, my friends and I (Natalie, JR, Sami, Becca, Sarah, Stephanie and Morgan) took the train and headed to Auola, which is 15 minutes outside of Cinque Terre. When we got to the train station, we had a moment of panic when Sarah and I went off to information to find out which train was ours. When we had returned to the spot we left, everyone had gone (in search of us, of course). Without cell phones, we trusted our instincts, did what they did in the old days and stopped and asked passersby for help. When we found our train (which was in front of us the whole time), we boarded and hoped everyone else did too. Sarah and I walked through all the cars and murmured”scuzi” to those blocking the aisle ways. We still weren’t sure if it was the right train until we met 3 nice British girls, on their way to Cane (Cane, really??) who assured us we were on the right train. Sarah and I then proceeded to our cars. I was in 7 and she was in 6. When I got to my car, I heard my name and FINALLY, I had found my friends. That stressful part of the day had come to a close. I hadn’t felt that way since I lost my mom in Walmart when I was little.

With all the stress aside, the train ride was pleasant. The 6 of us had our own little compartment and spent the 4 hours (we took the slow train to save money) talking, listening to music and playing “celebrity.” And then…..we arrived!

Auola was beautiful. Not to mention, in the middle of nowhere. Quite different from the hustle and bustle of Roman life. We had no idea where our hotel was, but because we all were nice, attractive, American girls, we got a free cab ride to our destination. He dropped us off at the bottom of the mountain and told us it was about a kilometer to our hotel. So, with luggage in hand, we began the trek. We walked, and walked, and complained, and dragged our suitcases almost 2 miles up the mountain. Did this hotel really exist? ONLY a kilometer? There were no signs of civilization and I was half expecting a bear to waddle out of the woods. And then I realized I forgot how to survive if encountered with a bear. But all of that aside, we kept walking..and walking. We stopped and talked to this Italian mother and daughter on our way up. And even though there was a language barrier, we had a great conversation. After chatting with them, we continued on, and it wasn’t until a man from Holland drove by and asked us if he could drive our luggage up (I was not about to put my luggage in a strange mans car) that we were finally saved. He told one of the hotel owners we were walking and she drove down in her nice car to take us up in 2 trips. Our hotel was by no means 1 kilometer up the mountain. According to her, it was about 5. We were not even halfway.

But when we got there, it was totally worth it. Our hotel was perched at the top of the mountain. It made me want to burst out singing “The hills are aliiiiiiiiive, with the sound of music.” I didn’t, of course. We had nice rooms, nice neighbors from England, a nice swimming pool and an amazing view. All for 36 euro for 2 nights. Can’t beat that in the States. That night we bought pasta and sauce in the main room downstairs and made a delicious pasta dinner for all 8 of us. It was the perfect way to end our night there.

The next morning, we headed to Cinque Terre for the day and everything went smoothly, aside from the weather. We started out our day lying on the rocky beach and people watching. After about 2 hours there, we decided to walk around and see the islands. Some of us jumped into the ocean for a quick dip. Stephanie lost her dress when it floated off into some cave and most of those who jumped in lost to the barnacles on the rocks. Toes were cut up and knees were scraped. It was a good thing I brought my first aid kit! After everyone changed, we headed off in search of pesto (created on Cinque Terre and the best around) and seafood. We took the train to another island and found the best meal I have had on this trip. I had spaghetti con vonglua (spaghetti with clams) in garlic and oil and I was in heaven. There was silence at the table as everyone was chewing. That’s when you know the food is good. After dinner, we headed back to Auola for another night of talking and playing “celebrity.” Day 2 had come to a close.

In the morning, we took a cab back to the train station and headed to Pisa for lunch to see the leaning tower before heading home to Rome. We ate lunch in Pisa which I spent way too much on, but it was delicious and I topped it off with gelato afterwards. We hurried to the leaning tower with limited time before our train left, snapped a few pictures and headed back to the train station. JR, Sami and I spent the extra 18 euro (42 euro) to take the fast train back while the others spent 18 euro for the slow train with no seats. Spending the extra money was totally worth it. We got back earlier, it was a pleasant ride and I was able to sit comfortably by the window. Perfect. When we got back in Rome we headed to dinner at my favorite Chinese restaurant here, Zen Garden for a very cheap and very delicious dinner. It was the great way to end the weekend.

Welcome to Florence, Ya’ll

6 Jun

Friday

This past weekend, we loaded up the vans and began our journey to Florence. The bus was jam-packed with everyone in the group and I was sandwiched in the backseat, uncomfortable, sweating and claustrophobic. Not a good combination for a 4 hour bus ride, but I was in it for the destination. Our professors were raving about how the bus had air conditioning. But if air conditioning is the equivalent to blowing hot air out of a drinking straw, then clearly I have been missing something. Two hours into the ride of doom, we stopped at a rest stop to get cappuccino and something to eat. Finally, we could stretch our legs! Things were especially looking up when I by mistake, received a free orange juice.

After downing my cappuccino and orange juice (not the best idea), we all hopped back on the bus and pressed on. We drove through the beautiful countryside of Tuscany. One of these days I hope to visit there. I’ve always seen pictures of the vast fields of sunflowers and it would be amazing to experience it in person.

And then, four hours later we finally made it. We received our roommate assignments, and took our luggage to our rooms to unpack and freshen up before we gathered for our art class. Suzanne (our art teacher), does not mess around. For someone who is about to be turning 50, she is in better shape than all of us combined. She walked us all over the city. We visited museum after museum after church until finally, we saw the greatest piece of art work in all of Florence, and maybe even Italy…The David. I am not, by any means, an art buff, but once I saw him, I had one of those artsy moments. An artsy moment, in my opinion, is when you literally stare at a piece of art for over 10 minutes, putting your hand to your chin and pointing and occasionally walking around it, . That was me.  It was the most beautiful sight I had seen in a while. From the time I was in grade school, I always saw pictures of the statue, but what I had pictured was completely different in person. Once you turn the corner to enter a different room of the museum, there he is at the end of the hallway, 18 ft tall, glowing and gorgeous. If he was a real man, girls would definitely be taking numbers.

After art class, we walked around the city for a little bit. Some of the girls went their separate ways to go shopping, but some of my friends and I yearned for more. We decided to climb the Duomo. The Duomo is this gorgeous church in the heart of the city and for 8 euro, you can climb it, all 500 steps of it. Definitely would not recommend for those who just scarfed down gelato in under 5 minutes while waiting in line (me) or those who are extremely claustrophobic in tight spaces. But all of that aside, it was the greatest experience. For those of you who ever travel to Florence in your lifetime, you MUST do it. The view is incredible.

A group of us on top of the Duomo after conquering Florence.

After climbing the Duomo, we wandered around Florence, in search of a local bar for some cold beer. We made a pit stop at the ATM, and to our surpise, the cast of Jersey Shore (Pauly D, Deena, and J Woww) walked past us. So of course, being the typical American reality show fans, we did what anyone else would do. We followed them, cameras in hand. Let me just say, the TV does not give them their orange appearance, they really are that color. That was a nice little encounter to end our extremely eventful day. We stopped at a little supermarket for some Peroni and snacks and headed back to our hotel.

For dinner we gathered at a local pizza place and I got my usual, the Caprese sandwich. Seriously, I have a problem. After dinner, we stopped by a little stand and bought a bottle of wine. We made our way to the rooftop of our hotel to join other people in our group sharing in wine and star gazing. It was a great first night in Florence.

Saturday

Saturday morning, after a restful nights sleep, I woke up bright and early to eat a delicious breakfast and head out for art class. Saturday’s art class was definitely not as eventful. In fact, it consisted of me almost falling asleep standing up. Have to say, I did not have one artsy moment on Saturday. After being at one museum for 3 hours, and after having previously been at another one for 2, our day of class was finally over and we were able to experience Florence. The shopping that is. Mom, if you are reading this, I really can’t wait to give you your gift. You will die. With that being said, I’m not going to say exactly what I bought because it would totally give it away. Let’s just say money was spent and the damage was done. But it was so worth it.

That night we all dressed up and headed to a restaurant for the most amazing meal. It fed me for days. The singing waiter brought us eggplant, cheeses, caprese salad, toasted bread with white beans and tomato paste..and those were just the appetizers. For the main course we stuffed ourselves with 3 different kinds of pasta–ravioli, pesto pasta and penne with a spicy tomato sauce. I of course, was stuffed but not enough to not eat my tiramisu. The wine was flowing, waiters were singing and banging on pots and pans, we popped the champagne and everyone was having a great time. It was an amazing last night in Florence.

Roma: Day 1

6 Jun

Ciao! I clearly have not had time to update my blog as often as I would like. But ah, what can I say..I love Roma. I however do not like the time difference. Sunday night (our first night here), I had set my alarm for the following morning for my first day of class. On mistake, I had set the time on my clock an hour earlier than the actual time was (go figure). This presented a lovely problem Monday morning. My art class had a plan to meet at 7:30 a.m. to embark on our exploration of Rome, and I was sound asleep in my little pleasantly uncomfortable twin bed thinking it was 6:30 a.m. Let’s just say after the knock on the door, I had a set a new personal record for getting dressed and looking presentable in under 5 minutes.

We rode the metro for the first time to become acclimated with different forms of transportation as well as learn which stops would take us to certain locations. For our first art class we traveled by bus and by foot around the city. Unfortunately, the buses had gone on strike so finding one was a bit of a challenge. We traveled to Piazza Navona where we all gathered at a local cafe for espresso, spremuta (freshly squeezed orange juice) and pastries. The cafe was across from the most gorgeous church. I took so many pictures, but even pictures could not portray how the sight of it all was in person. It was enough to make even the most cynical person cry. The ceiling was so ornate and painted in the most beautiful dark, rich colors of green, red and gold. The natural light that came in through the windows made the entire interior glow. I have never been an art buff, but just imagining the detail and the true talent that went into beautifying the church, I had gained a new-found appreciation for all art.

After spending time in the church, we traveled to the Villa Farnesina. The Villa  was built along the Tiber river, at the foot of the Gianicolo, by Baldessare Peruzzi (1508-11), to serve as the Roman residence for the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi.  The entrance leads to the loggia, with its rich marbles, attributed to Rafael, Giulio Romano, as well as the collaborators of ‘La Favola di Psiche’ (the tale of Psyche). It was amazing to see how well preserved the frescas (painting on plaster) were preserved. Everything looked like it was just painted yesterday. You could see the brush strokes, the rich colors and the different sections that each piece was painted in.

Lastly, we traveled to my favorite spot so far–Campo dei Fiori. The area was younger and so lively. At night, apparently it’s a prime hangout spot for American college students because of the atmosphere and the bar scene. I had the best panini with fresh mozzarella and prosciutto. Delicioso!