Wednesday, May 22, 2013

La Fine a Milano

Too much has happened in the last few weeks for me to be able to explain it all. I will definitely do my best. Well I am writing to you from the train station in Prague and will attempt to detail what I have done in the past two or three weeks. Last time I wrote about my experience in the French Riviera. The following week was filled with lots of work- presenting a number of projects, getting ready for exams, and beginning to pack. Trying to fit in spending time with everyone, doing everything we had wanted to do before we left, and eating everything for the last time was particularly stressful. That weekend was very busy. Usually during exam week, I hibernate in my room to prepare for exams. Well that was not really possible this time. On Friday, my Italian Fascism class held a field trip. I had actually been looking forward to this field trip all semester. A 6:30am wake-up call was not pretty. Several hours later we arrived in Carpi, in the Province of Modena, Emilia-Romagna. In Carpi, we met a tour guide who gave us a tour of Holocaust Museum. There is a Holocaust museum there in Carpi because Fossoli, the major deportation camp of Italy is just outside the city. The museum was really nice, filled with a lot of symbolism (the colors, the materials, etc)- there were beautiful quotes on the walls from famous Holocaust writers like Primo Levi. After the museum, we went to where the Jewish ghetto used to stand in Carpi and what used to be a synogogue there. Now it is just offices, but it was interesting to see what used to have been. That really is the theme for Jewish-ness in Europe- what used to have been. After the synagogue, we drove to Fossoli, one of the major concentration and then deportation camps in Italy. Primo Levi stayed in Fossoli before going to Auschwitz. Most deportees went from Fossoli to Auschwitz. I had learned a great deal about Fossoli in the class and also in my studies of Levi for a presentation, so I was particularly interested in seeing Fossoli. All of us in the class I think were a bit disappointed in our visit to Fossoli. I think we expected more evidence of what happened there, but it wasn't so obvious. The only evidence were these cabins/bunks around us, which were destroyed in this major earthquake that had hit the region. So we saw these ruined bunks, but were not able to go inside and see living conditions or anything like that. In any case it was interesting to see, and I think the tour guide planned it well: she had each of us read a quote from a famous holocaust writer who had stayed in Fossoli. We read a quote that explained some element of their life there in Fossoli, whether it was the check-in process, the line-ups or leaving to go to Auschwitz. The last part of our trip was the best though. After leaving Fossoli, we drove to this fast food restaurant. We grabbed a bite to eat and sat there for a long time. We weren't sure what we were waiting for- since we were up since 6:30am we were itching to get back home. Well, our teacher had a little "surprise" for us. At the Holocaust Museum in Fossoli, we learned about a man, whose name I forget I apologize, who risked his life during the Fascist era and ended up saving many many Jews. He hit people in his house and in his office. It was a really inspiring story. Well this man's granddaughter came to speak to us, she was a close friend of our teacher. She had devoted her life to studying the Holocaust and people like her grandfather who saved the Jews. It was a beautiful experience- to hear her talk about her grandfather's story and how it inspired her. That really made the trip.
The next day, on Saturday, I went to Lake Como with Brent. Living in Milan, only 30 minutes away from Lake Como, I couldn't not visit it and time was getting crunched so I had to go on Saturday. Well it worked out well because we had the most beautiful weather! Shiny sun and blue sky! When we got to Como, we visited the Como Duomo and then walked to get some breakfast. Afterwards, we luckily made it in perfect time to get on the ferry boat that takes you from town to town on the Lake. We were heading to Bellagio, a small and beautiful town on Lake Como- perhaps you've heard of the Bellagio in Vegas?? Well that's named after this town. The ferry took 2 hours to get from Como to Bellagio! Took a lot longer than we expected but totally worth it because we got to see the beautiful lake, the snow-capped mountains and all the giant beautiful houses on the water. In case you've never heard of Lake Como, George Clooney has a house on the lake which made it quite popular. A number of Bond movies were shot at some of the beautiful villas along the water also. Lake Como is famous for its silk. So when we got to Bellagio, there wasn't that much to do other than to walk in the little alleyways and to buy lots of silk :) In general, the lake was just so beautiful and the town was hopping with tourists. Several hours later, after some shopping and gelato, we headed on an express boat back Como and then on a train (which took about 3x as long- about 1.5 hours and was 1/3 the price= 5 euros!) back to Milano. A nice slow-paced day in a beautiful place!
Well that brings us to Sunday. Sunday = the only day I have to study for exams. lol. 2 exams Monday, 2 presentations and 3 short essays due Tuesday, nothing on Wednesday and 2 exams Thursday and saying goodbye to everyone on Thursday = one hell of a crazy week. All my exams went well I think. I spent my free day on Wednesday packing and studying. On Thursday, after my exams, I took my normal after-exams week-nap and then went to the IES final concert. There were a number of amazing music students in my IES program and they held a final concert for us. EVERYONE WAS AMAZING. Chris was amazing on the saxophone, Anna B. and Joe T. had amazing opera voices and sang solos. These three each only had one song. Erin A. and Anna L. each had a solo opera song and 2 duets. THEY WERE FABULOUS. They were so animated and were really putting on a show. All the songs were in Italian of course- SO IMPRESSED. Lindsey (playing the violin) and Julie (on the viola) each had a solo song and played 2 duets as well. SO FABULOUS! They were both so amazing! We were able to hear them practicing all semester while they were in the practice rooms, but we had never heard any of them play/sing so it was so nice to actually hear them perform. After the concert, we went to the Farewell dinner. Sounds exactly what you think it would be - a major bawling experience. The dinner was at a place called Da Willy's- food was fabulous- bruschetta, pizza, pesto pasta, lasagna- everything we could possibly want. Many classes showcased papers or presentations- my photo class showed each of our final projects which was a multimedia project (I did mine on the poem by Robert Frost "Fire and Ice"). Afterwards they showed pictures from the semester and everyone started saying goodbye to each other and crying and taking pictures and then crying even more. The whole experience didn't really feel real- it wasn't sinking in that I wasn't seeing these people again. A large group of us, after dinner, walked to the Cologne, which is this really old square with like old columns where a lot of local italians come and drink and hang out. We had wanted to go there all semester, but never had the opportunity so I am glad I made it there before I left. It was nice, it was a good social setting- able to see and talk to everyone. I was there about an hour and then had to say officially say all my goodbyes to everyone. That's when I started crying. It was my last time with these people and it really started to feel real then :( Well I got no sleep that night, I was up being sad and anxious about packing and stuff.
At 6am on Friday, Anna, my roommate left. Ugh more tears. I spent the next few hours cleaning the apartment and then I had to say goodbye to Hannah, one of my housemates who left then too. After finishing packing, I met up with Arturo to get Luini (the most amazing panzerotti, remember?... from the first week) for the last time. We chilled in Piazza Duomo in disbelief this would be our last time staring at the Milano Duomo. AHHH! We walked to our favorite gelato place, Shokolat, to get gelato for the last time. AHHH! And then relaxed in Parc Sempione. It was such a nice day and it was a perfect end to my time in Milano. An hour later, I gathered my things (umm... I have 5 bags- 1 major suitcase weighing 80 pounds, my smaller roller carry-on size suitcase, one backpack, and 2 totebags!... and I am schlepping this all over Europe for the next two weeks... oh and lets not forget that I am stupid enough to try to schlep around my Parmesan cheese and pesto pasta in a cooler so that I can take it home!) and had a teary goodbye to my Italian CA (RA/housemate), Alessandra. I met Zoe at Centrale and we had Rossopomodoro for dinner before we boarded our overnight train to Vienna (more about that in the next blog post).
Just a recap on two pizzas that I had that I hadn't gotten to explain to you about. Rossopomodoro. O.M.G. Best pizza I had in Milano. Gusta Pizza in Florence was still the best but Rossopomodoro. Heaven on a plate. I got the La Verace, which was basically sauce with Bufala Mozzarella (too much yumm for one word) and basil and then they sprinkle olive oil on top. Crust was so amazing. Just it was all fabulous. Sadie and I had gotten Rossopomodoro- we ordered a liter of their house wine which was just TOO good and then had fabulous dessert there too- it was these donuts drizzled with Nutella. Best meal ever. Ok.... Pizza Ok. Pizza Ok was good. The sauce was fabulous and they really threw on a TON of Bufala Mozzarella, so that made it amazing. Unforutnately, the crust is kind of weird- it was super thin and flat- kind of like a tortilla. So, overall not my favorite, but I can't get enough of mozzarella so still ranks high in my book!
Ok well, I guess that about wraps up my time in Milano. CRY! HOW IS MY 4 MONTH SEMESTER IN MILANO ALREADY OVER!? An amazing experience...great people...great place. I am SO sad it's over, I am going to miss Italy so much. I won't miss not having dryers, not having free water in restaurants, not having ice, the crappy teaching and educational process. I will miss... everything. I will miss all the super cute dogs everywhere, I will miss standing in the metro and not really understanding anything that is said around me and getting excited if I understand something, I will miss walking everywhere and using public transportation. I will miss mozzarella (I ate a ball of mozzarella every day!), I will miss my teachers- they were all such great people, and I will miss EVERYTHING.
Ok. Well, several more blog posts to come before this experience is officially over. :(
Ci Vediamo (which means like see you- which is actually true, see you in a few short weeks!)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sunburning in the South of France

     Guess where I went last weekend?? I went to Nice and Monaco in the French Riviera! OMG! How beautiful! On Friday, after Italian class, Stephanie, Victoria, Chris, Sadie and I took a very long train ride to Ventimiglia, Italy, and then another train from Ventimiglia to Cannes. We reserved an apartment in Cannes. The apartment was a bit smaller than we expected, but it was beautiful and in a great location. We got to Cannes late that evening, grabbed some yummy food at the small grill next door to the apartment. Funniest thing happened- we wanted to buy a bottle of wine, but we didn't know where a local supermarket was. We asked the lady at the grill where a supermarket was, and she responded by asking what we needed. We responded saying we wanted to buy a bottle of wine; she says hold on, gets her keys and says follow us. We follow her to the shop next to the grill that was closed; she opens it up and lets us buy a bottle of wine from her store. She was so nice! Also, this was the best bottle of wine we've like ever had. It was like grapefruit flavored white wine! Yum! In any case, we had a nice night overlooking the beautiful French Riviera! 
    The next morning, we took a train into Nice. We wandered around looking for crepes. The city was just beautiful- all the buildings were bright and decorative. We finally made it to the Promenade- just breathtaking. We stumbled upon the Cours Saleya flower and food market. The smells were overwhelming... the flowers, the fruit, the herbs. I smelled strawberries so sweet and tasteful- it was amazing. We got crepes at a small restaurant overlooking the water! Nutella and banana crepe... could it get any better! OMG. We went out onto the beach... which I wouldn't really call a beach. It was a rock beach- with these huge stones. Was not comfortable to walk on and definitely didn't look comfortable to lay on. Regardless, Chris, Victoria and Stephanie decided to lay out and soak up the sun. Sadie and I decided to ride bikes along the Colonnade. Took us a while to figure out how to rent the bikes, but once we managed to figure it out, it was so worth it. Just a side note, being where everyone was speaking French- it was HARD! Harder than getting around Italy- I didn't understand anything. Well, we rode our bikes along the Colonnade. It was so much fun- the weather was beautiful! The sun was shining and the wind blowing in our hair. We were so nervous- hadn't written bikes in so long- and there were pedestrians, other bikers, and cars everywhere. It was really scary, but we managed to get the hang of it. The sun was hot and strong! When we got back to the beach, everyone, particularly Chris, was so BURNT- so red! Poor things. Turns out actually, we all got really burnt- it didn't even feel that hot out; the sun was just so strong! We were so tired out from the sun and hurting a lot, so we took the train back to Cannes. Oh god, this story is so sad. So- so far no one had checked our train tickets, and they were starting to add up and get a bit expensive. Sadie and I decided to buy the tickets anyway. But of course, one of the few times that the others didn't buy a ticket, the man came and checked our tickets. Poor things had to pay 35 euros, even though the ticket only costed like 6 euros. When we got back to the apartment, we made a big pot of pasta for dinner and fell asleep nice and early. 
     On Sunday morning, we woke up nice and early, burnt and in pain and looking absolutely ridiculous! We headed to Monte-Carlo, Monaco. EEEK! We made it to Monaco, with all of our bags and to our surprise, there was no bag check, so we had to schlep our bags around the city all day. It was rough! In any case, we started walking around Monte-Carlo, heading to the Prince's castle first. We had to walk up this really big hill to get to the Prince's Palace. We were definitely on the struggle-bus- but we made it! We had a beautiful view overlooking the harbor. We saw the Monaco guards outside the palace- they wouldn't let me take a picture with them. The little streets outside off the square outside the palace was so cute. The buildings were colorful and bright. There were so many vendors selling Monaco souvenirs. I ended up falling in love and buying a polo shirt that says Monaco polo team- its so cute and perfect for me!! The man was so nice at the store- he also gave me a Monaco poker chip for free because he saw me eying it! We walked back down the hill and headed to the Monte-Carlo casino. It was a rough walk because we were schlepping our baggage up and down hills and it started to rain on us! Of course it was raining- it always rains on us! We got to the casino ... I have never seen so many fancy cars in one place in my life! I saw: ferraris, bentleys, a rolls royce, a Lamborghini, Porsches! Of all colors- yellow, cherry red, etc! OMGGG! Everyone around us was well dressed and beautiful! We saw the Hotel de Paris by the Casino. We were not allowed to bring our baggage into the casino, so Sadie waited outside with the bags as we went into the Casino. IT WAS BEAUTIFUL! I guess it looks like how all the movies portray it, but it was still so cool! I watched some people loose lots of money playing blackjack and watch Chris and Victoria play some of electronic slot machines. SOO COOL! I left shortly after to relieve Sadie of bag watching duty, while she went inside to look. Everything in Monaco was so expensive- we went to look for gelato and would have had to pay like 3 euros for 1 scoop of gelato.. NO NO NO! OMG! Because of the rain, our sunburn, our bags, we decided to take an early train from Monaco to Ventimiglia and waited in the Ventimiglia train station for a short time before our next train to Milan. 
    Overall it was a fabulous weekend in an amazing, beautiful place. I definitely want to come back to this area and explore more of the towns- I really would have liked to see Cannes, and to see Antibes, etc. This was my last trip of the semester with my IES people! :( so sad. So many great memories and adventures in the past semester with these people. 
    Well, now I am back to homework and exam crunch time. BOO! I am getting so sad- last week to be with these IES people. So much to do- so much work to do, so much still left to see in Milan, so much food to still each, and so much fun to still have with my friends.
   Wish me "in boca al lupo" (good luck- literally from in the wolf's mouth- kind of like our break a leg) on my exams. and I will respond "creppi" :) My Italian teach, Renata would be so proud :)
Ciao for now. xoxo,

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Don't Worry I Didn't Turn into a Leprechaun!

I had a fantastic weekend in Dublin 2 weekends ago! I enjoyed Dublin and Ireland much much more than I expected to. We left Thursday night on a Ryanair flight (one of the notorious budget airlines); I didn't think it was nearly as bad as everyone talks it up to be. We arrived in Dublin late Thursday night and took a bus and then a taxi to where we were staying. We reserved through airbandb a room at a charming house of a lady named Adrienne. She had gotten such positive reviews, we just had to stay with her. She was the cutest and nicest lady I have ever met! She greeted us at the door, offering us tea and scones! She was so nice to wait up for us and was just so helpful the entire time. We hadn't eaten dinner, so we much appreciated the DELICIOUS HOMEMADE SCONES and JAM! OMG. Let me just say this was the best jam I have ever eaten in my entire life! Adrienne was so nice- she offered to take us to the bus station very early the next morning so that we could catch our bus to Cork to visit Blarney castle. We had the most charming rooms, and we snuggled in our comfortable beds with a heated blanket! So heavenly! It was so hard to wake up and get out of bed early the next morning.
Our Friday in Dublin was fabulous! We did a day trip from Dublin to Cork and the Blarney Castle. We woke up super early and caught a bus to Cork (Adrienne gave us croissants in the morning and then drove us to the bus station). Cork is in the southern-western part of Ireland; it was about a 3-hour bus ride. We arrived in SUNNY (woo!) Cork and took another short bus ride to Blarney Castle, the home of the Blarney stone! The grounds of Blarney castle are just beautiful! Everything in Ireland is just so green and luscious. During the bus ride, although I slept through most of it, I got to see the BEAUTIFUL GREEN countryside of Ireland. Blarney Castle is basically an old ruin. We got to climb through the castle and see what it would have been like in the castle. At the top, (having to go through tiny doorways and up tight spirally staircases!) we had a beautiful view of the Irish countryside. SO  GREEN! At the top of the castle, we got in line to kiss the blarney stone! With this kiss, I got the gift of eloquence. J I definitely need that! You lie on your back and the man there, holds you and lowers you down (you are upside down hanging!- there are grates there to protect you since one time someone died). He lowered me down and I kissed the Blarney Stone (where thousands of others have kissed…ick!). I wasn’t really sure what to expect- but it really just looks like another rock/piece of stone. A little shiny and smooth- but nothing I would have been able to pick out as super special. Overall, the whole experience was SUPER FUN! After exploring some of the other parts of the grounds of Blarney, like this garden full of poisonous plants and a little cave, we decided to head to lunch. We took the bus back to Cork and explored the little city. It was a really cute city; reminded me a lot of the shopping streets I had seen in Copenhagen. Just super quaint. We ate at the English market, under Adrienne’s recommendation. The queen ate there when she visited Cork, so it was bound to be good enough for us. Lol. We each picked food from different stands- so many options of a variety of different foods, although most of the stands were for raw meat. After some food and exploring the little shopping area of Cork, we took the bus back to Dublin. Slept again for most of the ride, and arrived back in Dublin around 6pm. We didn't have a map of Dublin and didn't know how to get back to the apartment- oy... so after getting lost for 2 hours (even though we were actually only 15 mins away from the house if we had just walked a little further in the opposite direction), we finally made it back to the house. Exhausted from the tiring, yet amazing day, we napped in our heated beds and then ordered burritos for delivery and had an early night.
On Saturday, we began our tour of Dublin with the Guinness factory. I don't like beer so the taste testing part of the tour wasn't as exciting for me as it was for other people, but it was interesting to learn how beer is made and see how Guinness has evolved over time. Have you ever associated Guinness beer with the Guinness book of world records? Well you should... pretty cool! We got our beers at the end of the tour at the top of the factory, at the Gravity bar. There are windows surrounding the entire bar, so you can see a great view of Dublin! We had a nice sunny day; we relaxed and looked out at the Irish countryside, while Chris and Sadie drank their and my beer. Drinking at 11am... normal I guess. The Guinness beer is different than other beer I've tried- it's got a very rich flavor and is very thick. Also, we had to wait two minutes in the middle while the beer was being poured for the beer to settle. It was interesting to see it turn a different color after it settled. Also, the lady that poured the beer, drew an Irish shamrock in the white froth at the top- super cute! After buying lots of souvenirs, mainly for all the guys in my life, we headed into the center of town. We walked on the Trinity college campus. Wow, the school is beautiful; has an ivy league feel to it, with the stone buildings and green quad area. The Book of Kells is in the Trinity College library. After waiting in line to enter, and learning how expensive they were charging for entrance, we decided not to go in :-\ After a quick bite to eat, I separated from Sadie and Chris and walked to the Jewish museum. I had seen signs all over the city for it; I figured it would be closed, but wanted to check it out anyway because it was the only available time I would have for it. Besides, the Copenhagen Jewish museum was open on a Saturday. Well it was closed... bummer. But at least I found it. Sadie and Chris went to the coast during that time. We met back up and then went to the Temple bar area to meet up with other IES people for dinner (Brent, Joe, and Joe's sister). We wandered around for a while, but it was a Saturday night so every bar was packed and there was no room for us. We ended up just grabbing food at a fast little shop. We then began our pub crawl. :) We started at The Temple Bar of course! This was just great! The music was fabulous- it was really packed! The players there hold a world record for longest time playing guitar- like 6 days I think. SO COOL! The music was an acousticy, folky, country spin on some pop rock songs. Really fun! Boy do the Irish love their beer- most bars barely offered any other drinks. Everyone was drunk! People of all ages! and they were drunk early! Here in Milan, people don't start drinking or partying until 12 maybe 1 am. People were drunk by 10 pm and the pubs all closed by 1 or 2am! SO DIFFERENT! After a good amount of time at The Temple Bar, we walked down the street to Auld Dubliner. Phil, from Skidmore, was also in Dublin that weekend and came with two of his friends to meet us! It was so great to see him! We chilled at Auld Dubliner and listened to the fun live music. After a while, we parted ways and I met back up with the IES people at a different pub. On the way there, I SO COMPLETELY RANDOMLY ran into Ellie, from Skidmore and on the riding team with me! So random and so great to see her! RUNNING INTO TWO SKIDMORE PEOPLE IN ONE CITY! CRAZY! It was so exciting! So funny, that from such a small school, I still have contacts all over Europe because everyone is studying abroad this semester! I met the IES people at the bar and then we walked to another pub to try to find Chris, another IES person. We walked all the way to the other side of the city! No luck. We ended our pub crawl back at the pub next to The Temple Bar, called Farrington's. Funnily enough, the singer and guitar player from The Temple Bar was singing there now, so we ended up hearing their set twice. We had the best time at Farrington's. The people at the table next to us were college-aged Irish people, who knew how to Irish dance. They got us and were having lots of fun. We clapped for them and then decided to join in. They tried to teach us how to Irish dance. We were singing and stomping and clapping and dancing and twirling. It was just such a blast.We ended the night as the pub was closing, at 2am and were just happy to have had such a great time.
Sunday morning, Chris went to mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Sadie and I woke up a bit later and started the morning with a fabulous breakfast that Adrienne had prepared for us. OMG... she made crepes and with some of her mother's amazing jam. It was SO delicious! Adrienne was just the sweetest; we talked with her over breakfast about the places we've been and are going and we just loved being with her. In general, we found that everyone was just the nicest in Dublin. Everyone was helpful, even if you didn't ask them for help; everyone was just so nice and jolly. WE LOVED THEIR ACCENTS! and we loved the subtle differences in the words they used. Everything is just grand :) Sadie was in heaven seeing so many red heads! After breakfast, Sadie and I did a whirlwind tour of Dublin, as usual. Both St. Patrick's cathedral and Christs Church were holding services by the time we got there, so we went to find Dublin Castle, which unfortunately was closed because a major meeting was happening there. We bought some souvenirs and then walked by Trinity College again and then on  Grafton street, the major shopping street in Dublin. The city is just so bright and clean and there were street performers everywhere. I took a picture with a leprechaun and made a wish!
At the end of Grafton street, we ended at a really nice park, St. Stephen's Green. It was just so nice to see so many families and children out playing. We then went back to St. Patrick's Cathedral and Christ's Church to go inside. It was really beautiful- I really liked all the celtic symbols around the church, like on the floor tiles. This and Christ's Church had a different feel to those churches I had seen in Italy. Less extravagant in some ways, but still absolutely beautiful. The outside of both of these churches are just amazing. Christ Church looks like a fabulous castle, right out of a movie. We were so exhausted by the end, it was a struggle to walk back to Adrienne's house, but we made it and just in time to pack up and get to the airport to go back to Milan.
I really enjoyed Dublin- the people are just so nice, the atmosphere is fun, and it just seems really down to earth. I would really like to get back to Ireland to visit Cliffs of Moher, which Brent and Joe got to see on their day trip.
Overall, it was a fabulous trip. Really different than the other places we had travelled to yet!
Only 7 days left in Milan! Getting really sad and scary!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cinque Terre!

     When you say to someone, “I’m going to Cinque Terre” and they say “Oh, it’s the most beautiful place in  Italy, or even in the world,” you know you are going some place amazing. Cinque Terre, literally meaning 5 lands, is a cluster of 5 coastal tiny towns. These colorful tall buildings are built into the massive rock coast. Shades of pink, yellow and orange light up the coast. Magnificent! The towns are so tiny, with one market each, with no wifi locations, and the most amazing pesto and seafood.
On Thursday morning, Brent, Sadie, Victoria, Stephanie and I ventured to Cinque Terre for the long weekend. Thursday April 25 is Italy’s liberation day form the Fascists and is thus an important holiday in Italy. Unfortunately our luck with weather while traveling (as usually) was going to complicate things. While we arrived on Thursday, the weather was pretty decent, so we decided to do our hike that day. There are these amazing hikes that you can take from town to town. Unfortunately due to these gigantic mudslides last year, major parts of the towns and the trails were destroyed. There was only one part of the hike open, the hike from Vernazza to Monterrosso. We were staying in Vernazza, so after some delicious pizza for lunch, we ventured on our hike. Brent and I got separated from Victoria and Sadie, but we ended up finishing around the same time. The hike had the most AMAZING views!! The first half of the hike was hard- straight up the hill, with lots and lots of stairs. BUT COMPLETELY WORTH IT- amazing view of Vernazza from above. Up and down stairs, over bridges over creeks, through the trees and through a vineyard and along the coast…. Wowow… a fabulous hike! At the end, we arrived in Monterrosso, the largest of the five towns. We rewarded ourselves with gelato and rain into some other IES people who were headed to the Monterrosso beach. We looked around at the different shops and then took the train back to Vernazza to meet up with Stephanie for dinner. There is a great train system that connects all the different towns. We went to this really cute restauarant for dinner. I got delicious homemade pasta with pesto—yummy! What a long day after that hike; we crashed so early that night.
      On Friday morning, we explored Vernazza a little. We went through this mini-cave that ended at this rocky beach. AMAZING. The water was sooo blue! We climbed up to the top of this huge rock and had a major photoshoot (of course!) lol. Afterwards, we took a boat ferrie to the furthest town, Riomaggiore. The other IES people (Alexis, Erin,  Najah, Anna, Julie and Cassie) were also on the boat. We passed each of the towns and had a beautiful view of them from the water. Riomaggiore was a cute townp lots of little tourist shops and restaurants. Brent and Victoria got some amazing fried seafood, while I had some fabulous homemade pasta. Nothing beats homemade pasta!!! We decided to venture to the next town north, Montorola. Pretty small- not much there. But we found this landing on the water that we chilled at. Brent cliff-dove into the FREEZING water. We took a short walk along the coast and saw a beautiful view of Montorola. We decided to train back to Vernazza afterwards. We changed for dinner, ran to the train station to catch the train and accidently took the train going in the wrong direction! We got off at the next stop, Corniglia, the only town we hadn’t seen yet. We were supposed to be going to Monterrosso to meet up with the other IES people for dinner. But the next train back that direction wasn’t for another hour! OY! The town of Corniglia was way up the hill and requires a bus. We took the bus and did a little exploration and ate dinner at a cute café. Sadie had pesto lasagna J (EVERYTHING IS PESTO THERE – pesto pizza, pesto lasagna, pesto pasta, pesto focaccia, even PESTO GELATO!!!... GOOD THING I LOVE PESTO!) We made the bus back and the train back and then took a nap back at our apartment. Around 8:15pm, Brent and I ventured back on that hike, back to the famous photo location of Vernazza, at the top of the mountain. Photographers were already camped our waiting for sunset to get the perfect photo. There was no room for us there so we had to keep climbing to the top of the mountain. We literally did the entire hard part of the hike again…and we were going pretty fast because we had to make it there for sunset at the perfect time. Huffing and puffing up that hill for the perfect picture! We ended at this huge overlook at the top of the mountain. Brent and I are both in the photo class at IES, so we were trying to get the perfect photo given all the knowledge we had learned. Brent has a super legit dSLR camera so he got super amazing photos. It got really dark very fast and we had a super scary hike down. The only light we had was from Brent’s tiny flip-phone. At the bottom, we grabbed delicious gelato. We all went to bed early again… there is literally no nightlife in Cinque Terre. I hadn’t gone to bed this early all semester.
      On Saturday morning, it was raining. BOOO! All day Saturday it rained. BOOO! But at this point, the rain doesn’t even faze me. But the others were not so happy about exploring in the rain. We decided to go to Portavenere, another coastal town, but not one of the five Cinque Terre towns. We had to take a train to La Spezia and then take a bus from there to Portavenere. Throughout this whole trip, we met and talked with such interesting people. On that boat ride the day before, talked with an old couple from Seattle who was travelling in Italy. In La Spezia, on our way to Porta Venere, we followed this group of middle aged ladies in full out hiking gear- each lady had a different colored waterproof gear. After talking with them, we learned that once a year, the group of them (from Holland) goes on a week hiking trip in a different country. They had done Scotland, Austria, etc. There were so great- I hope I can be like them, still an explorer, when I get older. Portavenere was BEAUTIFUL! Like the other towns, the buildings were colorful and the town was on the water. We explored the little streets and saw the church on the edge of the water. When we got there, a wedding was ending. We saw everyone throwing rice and we saw the bride, who was wearing a bright lime green dress, and the groom leave the church. Up the stairs on the side of the church was the most amazing view of the Mediterranean and the waves hitting the massive rock coast. Of course it was really raining at this point! OH JOY! We wandered back through the streets and stumbled across this pesto shop, literally only selling pesto. We tasted the best pesto IN THE ENTIRE WORLD! Of course I had to get some to take back to the US. Expensive bottle of pesto! BUT WORTH EVERY EURO! Afterwards, we took the bus back to La Spezia and then the train back to Cinque Terre. We rain into Ryan at the train station and she came back to Vernazza with Stephanie and Victoria. Brent, Sadie and I stayed on the train to Monterrrosso where we went on this walk- we heard about this walk that would take us to be able to see all give towns down the coast. Unfortunately due to the major cloudy rainy sky, it was only possible to see a few towns down the coast. But still very cool. Afterwards, eventhough it was freezing both outside and int the water, Brent jumped into the sea! BURR and the waves were really rough! Afterwards we went back to Vernazza and took a long long nap. Brent and I walked around Vernazza before dinner and go to see a beautiful sunset. The water and the waves were so rough- the waves came up onto the landing all of us tourists were on. We all went to this fabulous really authentic hole in the wall restaurant in Vernazza. Expecting everyone to be locals, we walked in hearing all English! Every single customer was an American- all ages, a young couple, a middle aged couple, a group of elderly couple from West Palm Beach! We talked with the cute old couples for a bit about their trip. Cinque terre was such a tourist destination, but it wasn’t filled with college students like us. It was filled with more older travellers. Super interesting. Well our food was super delicious. I had this ravioli with pesto- OMG.  So delicious! Definitely in the top pasta dishes I’ve had in my life. We had an early early night because Sunday was going to be a busy busy day.
      On Sunday morning, we took the slow slow inter-city train (well multiple trains because we had to transfer several times) to Bologna. We couldn’t live in Italy and not get to Bologna, especially when you are best friends with a girl who is OBSESSED with lasagna. Bologna is where lasagna is originally from. Several hours later we made it to sunny Bologna! Next stop: food! All day: food! We went straightaway to Trattoria del Rosso for lunch, which came with good recommendaitons. We had a bit of a wait, but it was well worth it. Well, we had our Bologna lasagna- and it was certainly not what we expected. There wasn’t really any sauce. There were just layers of a super super super cheesy béchamel sauce, green noodles and ground beef.  It was delicious, just definitely not what we expected. Afterwards, completely full, we embarked on our short walking tour of Bologna. It mainly consisted of a bunch of beautiful churches and piazzas. Every single building in Bologna was a different shade of brown, red and yellow. What I loved about the buildings was that every building had this covered arched walkway attached to it. Bologna was really a beautiful city! We wandered through alleyways and ended up finding the Jewish ghetto. Sadie says I have a 6th sense, always able to feel that I stumbled upon something Jewish The main highlight of our stay in Bologna was climbing the major tower in Bologna. 498 stairs!!! It literally winded and winded up the tower forever! I don’t know how many stories that it is, but boy was it exhausting and really scary!! The view at the top was 100% worth it. We were SO HIGH UP!  We could see the whole city around us; rows and rows of brown buildings and roofs. AND WE HAD THE BEAUTIFUL BLUE SKY! Oh it was so great; but let me reiterate that it was an incredibly tiring way up and A VERY VERY SCARY CLIMB DOWN! My feel barely fit on the stairs and the stairs were wooden and so steep! After our climb, we rewarded ourselves with dinner. We went to Osteria dell’Orso, which got amazing reviews. Well the first hiccup was- they don’t serve lasagna. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE! IT’S A RESTAURANT IN BOLOGNA?! Well, I think everyone like their meals anyway. But I ended up with a pasta filled with pork, and I didn’t realize that when I ordered it. Oh well! Everyone else enjoyed eating it. Stuffed and content, we wondered around Bologna until our train back to Milan. Another LONG inter-city train. OY! Well, overall it was a fabulous adventure to Cinque Terre and Bologna! Boy are we tired- travelling it hard work J
     Now the next few weeks are going to be bitter sweet. L I don’t want to say good-bye to everyone! And I’m not done with Italy- the food, the language, the people, the art, the history, the beauty! AHH! Also trying to fit in everything into these last few weeks, while I am being overloaded with daily homework, group projects, and finals! AHH! Culture and cuisine or school-work? Hmmm….(parents please don’t kill meJ) Anyway, grazie mille for sticking with me and reading about all my adventures.
Ciao for now,

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Cold Copenhagen Conquered

(This blog post is being posted late- it is actually from the week of March 8-10).
Last time, I updated you on my amazing experience skiing in the Alps. Just three days later I hopped on a plane (alone!) and landed in Copenhagen. Before I tell you about that trip, that morning, on Friday, Sadie, Chris, Joe, and I went to the church of Santa Maria della Grazie to see the Last Supper! Getting tickets to the Last Supper is so difficult. You have to book months and months in advance. Somehow we got lucky and got tickets. Only a small group of people are allowed in at a time, for only 15 minutes total, and no pictures are allowed. Tight rules! I mean all I can say is that it is amazing. The work itself is very faint, but the details are still just exquisite. Sadie and I had just watched the DaVinci Code, which dedicated a decent portion of the movie towards an interpretation of the painting, so it was cool to see the movie and then see this painting in person! I SAW THE LAST SUPPER! Many people don't get to say that. Most people don't know that the Last Supper is located in Milan!
After class on Friday, I hopped on a plane to Copenhagen. It used to be that travel in Europe was done by trains because everything is fairly close to each other and flying was too expensive. Now, there are  budget airlines that fly all around Europe for cheap. These are airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet. The flight is cheap but then they really hit you with costs like checking a bag, printing your boarding pass, etc. Also their carry-on regulations are different than standard American regulations, so if your bag doesn't fit in the designated box, you'll end up paying to check your bag. I had heard numerous horror stories about flying with these airlines and I was a bit nervous to fly on one for the first time by myself. I am so thankful- everything went very smoothly!! 
I landed in Copenhagen and boy was I hit was a surprise. It is as cold as the North Pole up there! I had not packed correctly- I wanted to pack as little and as light as possible to avoid having to check my bag- I didn't bring gloves, a scarf, a hat, warm clothes. I thought the weather would be like Milan's which was cold- but I didn't expect this amount cold! 
Kayla, my friend who I was visiting in Copenhagen, wasn't going to return to Copenhagen from her own trip until 11pm, but I arrived in Copenhagen at 5:30pm. Because it was so cold, I ended up passing the 5 five hours getting dinner and then in a cute coffee shop, the Living Room, that Kayla recommended. Coffee shops are your best friend in Copenhagen. It's too cold to ever be outside, so coffee shops are there for you to warm up. Unlike in Milan, where going in and sitting down without ordering anything would be rude, in Copenhagen, it is pretty common for people to hangout in the coffeeshop without having purchased anything. The time went by pretty quickly and I met up with Kayla at Norreport Station.
Let me say that Copenhagen and Danish people look exactly like you would expect Scandinavian people to look like. The people are angelic- bleach blond hair and beautiful pale skin. Everyone is so beautiful.
Copenhagen is a weird mix, having the old regal buildings- tons of palaces- and very modern architecture- silver and platinum mixed with clear glass. Also, my favorite part of Copenhagen were the fabulously colorful buildings. Every building is a new light color- it's so cute! Picturesque!
Copenhagen is one of the most of bike friendly cities. You would expect that having negative degree weather would deter people from biking; nope- the city was designed to be as sustainable as possible, so bike lanes are just as important as the lanes for cars. Everyone bikes everywhere! The downtown city itself is not very big and it was possible to walk everywhere inside the city center. It was only necessary to use the bus system to get to Kayla's apartment outside of the city center. 
Copenhagen is a huge study abroad destination, particularly through the program DIS. DIS has a lot of cool elements; mainly that their program organizes trips for them through their classes. Kayla's class about health care had gone to Vienna and Budapest and had learned about the health care system in those cities. I wish that IES would plan more trips for us- while I loved going to Florence and Venice with my friends, I wish that IES had organized it and had given us tours. 
Anyway, we woke up on Saturday morning (I don't think that Kayla knew what she was getting into) and I wanted to see EVERYTHING. I only had Saturday to do it since my flight was midday on Sunday. I had a long to do list and Kayla was a great sport, schlepping me all over the city to see it all! When I say I went on a whirlwind tour, I really mean it. 
We started at Tivoli gardens. Unfortunately it was closed until April. BOO. Then we stopped by the Copenhagen City Hall. Then the beautiful Christianborg Castle!! CASTLES IN COPENHAGEN ARE CASTLES!! After a warm-up break with lunch eating Samoas, which in the future don't ever let me eat because Samoas= not yummy to Erika. We got to Rosenborg Castle just in time to take photos before it closed! After some hot chocolate, we made it to Nyhavn, the colorful and picturesque harbor. We also walked to see the the Royal Danish Theatre and the Copenhagen opera house. We ended at the Amalienborg Palaces, which is where the actual Queen of Denmark lives! Really cool! Since we braved the cold for so long, we warmed up in a coffeeshop before we met Tom and Therese, two other Skidmore students studying in Copenhagen, for dinner. We went to dinner at this fabulous restaurant- it was having a sale of getting a drink with dinner. The restaurant had a line down the street... it was so popular. Midway through the dinner, the waiter asked us to move to the table next to us, and in return he gave us complementary dessert! So we had a fabulous dinner! It was too cold to go out, so we went back to Kayla's apartment and finished watching Eurotrip :)
Early the next morning, I had a flight back to Milan. Eventhough I was so glad to have spent the weekend visiting Kayla and seeing Copenhagen, boy I could not wait to get back to Italy, where they used the euro, people were speaking Italian (which is a much more beautiful language than the weird Danish), and it was less cold outside!
I am sorry that this blog post was so late, but I think it hit the highlights!
Great trip!

Parmesan from Parma! What what?!?!

Hi all,
I officially only have 1 month left studying abroad in Italy! Ahh! How is this happening? When I ask other people how they feel about it, most say it will be very bitter-sweet; they feel ready to come home and see their friends and family, but are sad to leave the people they met here and the amazing European life they are living here. Not that I don't love and miss you all, but I really really don't want this experience to end; for me, it will mostly be a bitter farewell. Sadie lives in California, so chances of me seeing her any time soon are very slim :( But luckily I do have an amazing month following the end of this program. Did you hear? I got placed on Birthright trip! So... after my finals, I am off to Budapest, Vienna, and Prague with Zoe, and then to Amsterdam, Brussels, Bruges, and Paris with my mom, and then will return to Baltimore for all 7 hours to then hop on a plane with Birthright to go to Israel for 10 days! Can life be any more exciting? So yes I am excited to start that whirlwind travel experience, but I am sad to be having my life in Milan slowly come to an end. There are still so many aperitivo places and clubs that I haven't tried, and there are still major sites and museums that I haven't been to. Now that it's nice out, I finally can enjoy it... there's only this little thing called school work getting in my way!
The last time I wrote, I detailed about my fabulous spring break experience. Well, it's been two weeks since then, and I didn't write because I spent the following week (including the weekend) shut up in my room hibernating! I never left my apartment, well I barely left my bed, for that entire weekend. I did make yummy pizza again with Sadie on Thursday night, although it wasn't as good as the first time we made it. We watched Roman Holiday, which I LOVED, in order for us to recall our amazing time exploring Rome! We kept showing Colosseum... we were there! Trevi fountain... we were there! Other than that fun part, I was super productive and caught up on a lot of necessary sleep. The work is starting to pile on- I have three major projects (two of them group projects) that need to get done, on top of the busy work that they give us. It is a lot harder to do work here, not just because there are so many exciting things distracting us, but because there really isn't a good study environment here for me. The library closes at 8pm- Italians don't do work there like Americans do. At Skidmore, I'll get to the library at 10pm to work there until 1 am. That doesn't exist here. Here, I either have to get work done in between classes at the IES center or at home. It's hard to get work done between classes because that's when I need to eat, but if I go home to eat then that's an hour of travel time and no time to do work. OY. And getting work done at home is hard because 6 girls in an apartment doesn't really provide for the best study environment. In any case, I have lots of work to do in the next month and seemingly no time to do! But hey, that's college.
During this past week, other than getting work done, I finished creating my photobook on shutterfly of all my trips prior to spring break. If you know me well enough, you know that I used to scrapbook all my trips, but since the fabulous invention of shutterfly, I've moved to doing an online scrapbook. The book came out pretty good, even if it was a bit rushed. I also have been participating (I've done it twice) in a weekly skype session being trained to be a dialogue facilitator through Soliya. Last semester, I skype weekly with other Americans and Muslim students from around the world to dialogue about the relationship between the West and the Middle East. Having gone through that experience, I am now being trained as a facilitator for these dialogues. It has been really great so far, meeting lots of interesting people and gaining a lot of new skills in communication.
This past week was very special in Milan. It was Milan Design Week, which is a huge fair of major furniture designers. There were exhibitions all over the city. Milan was packed! So many people came in for the design show. On Thursday after class, Sadie and I went to several free exhibitions of the Salone del Mobile in one area of the show by Porta Genova. We saw some super interesting and innovating interior decor and furniture. It was really fun- interesting to see who will be the hip new designers and to experience this major cultural experience in Milan. This fair is the largest design fair in the world!! Milan = fashion and design!!
This past weekend, I went on a trip that was organized by IES that went to Cremona, Parma, and Mantova. On Friday morning, we left fairly early and drove for about an hour and a half to Cremona. Interestingly, my Fascism professor lives in Cremona (and commutes to Milan for my class!). He met us and gave us a tour of the Cremona Duomo. We were split into two groups; Sadie and I were ambitious and decided to join the tour with Professor Malletta that was being given in Italian (designed for the students in 200 and up). Well being in 100 Italian... we surprisingly caught more than we thought we would, but really only caught bits and pieces of the information. Anyway, bravo to me for understanding what I did!
Cremona is famous for violin makers! I think there are over 100 violin makers from all over the world that have settled in Cremona. It is very cool. We went to a violin maker's store and he gave us an explanation of how he makes his violins. He taught us about the different woods and the process to carve and shape what we see in stores. He makes his varnish from scratch! It was really really cool! Then, Lindsey, because she plays the violin, tried one of the artist's violins for all of us. The artist told us that many famous concert violinists had played on that same violin. The scales and music Lindsey played were beautiful! It was really cool!
Afterwards, we got a tour of the Cremona theatre, Teatro Ponchielli. So beautiful inside! It was not quite shaped in semi-circle, like usual. It was more ovally- the tour guide said it allowed for people on the sides to see better that way. (So why aren't all theatres built like that??) I believe the theatre had burned down twice before, so it wasn't the original theatre. The stage is very famous, one of the deepest stages. We got to go back there and we were shocked at how far back the stage went! Really cool! Afterwards, we got super delicious pizza! Definitely in the top 4 I've had so far. Of course it was HUGE, but don't worry, I still got the clean plate award. It would be a crime to leave any bufala mozzarella pizza!
We then drove to Parma, and checked into our hotel. How nice to be in a hotel and not in a hostel! :). After a much needed nap, IES took us to a nice restaurant for dinner called Trattoria Corrieri. The primo piatto- first dish- was a pasta with ragu sauce. Was YUMM YUMM! The second dish... mmm.. some kind of meat- maybe veal?- noone was sure- but not so yummy. What was great was the wine, of course. Boy am I going to miss the wine!
After dinner, Sadie and I went with AJ and Bryan S. to this outdoor concert in Piazza Garibaldi. It was actually really cute; the band mixed American pop music and Italian- it was kind of confusing, but great. Also weirdly, there were people wearing capes at the event, not sure why. Joe, Matt, and Chris met us there and so it was a good time.
On Saturday morning, we got a tour of Parma. We went to the Palazzo della Pilotta and the Teatro Farnese, which was the great beautiful theatre built by the Duke for a Medici family visit. The theatre was destroyed in World War II, but they reconstructed it. We of course also went to the Parma Duomo and Baptistery.
After the tour we drove to Mantova, known as Mantua in English. I had learned just a few days before from the guest lecture for my Fascism class that all the Jews who came to Milan when Jews were finally permitted to live in Milan came from Mantova. We grabbed lunch and gelato and then walked through Palazzo Ducale, which is this great beautiful Palace of the Gonzaga family. The rooms were decadent and beautiful! Sadie and I ballroom danced in the ballroom, and we all wanted to jump on the fabulously magnificent bed in the bedroom. No pictures were allowed in Palazzo Ducale :( Palazzo Ducale also had two beautiful gardens.
After Palazzo Ducale, Sadie and Chris came with me to find the synagogue, since I had just learned that Mantova had a significant Jewish population. We found it but it was closed (it was Saturday, silly me). It was just one of the houses in the block of row houses, hidden, no sign- it was weird.
Let me say- WE HAD BEAUTIFUL WEATHER!! Since we had a few hours of free time in Mantova, we sat in a park for a while soaking up the sun, and walked down the major shopping streets. We ended at the side of the lake- where coincidentally most of the rest of the IESers were relaxing as well. We rested in the beautiful sun and then headed to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere for an epic feast. All of the food was made from locally grown products! All anyone would say was that we would eat very well tonight... The restaurant, called Agriturismo "Corte Belfiore" in Viadana, gave us two first dishes, two second dishes, and two desserts. Well, the second dishes were both pork dishes, which I couldn't eat...they nicely gave me a fish meal, which was really nice of them, but I also don't eat fish. So... I very much enjoyed the risotto that they served, but I think most people enjoyed the meal more than I did. Following the dinner, we played this funny game called 'mingle.' All of IES played it- in the courtyard area of the restaurant we all had to walk around until Susanna or Walter called a number, and we had to get into a group of that many. Those who couldn't get in a group, was out. The game got super intense- people were pushing and shoving to stay in the game- but it was really fun!
On Sunday, we had to wake up very early in order to get to the parmigiano reggiano factory, in time for us to watch them make the cheese. WOOO Coolest part of the trip. Also, smelliest part of the trip- not a good smell of heated milk, etc. turning into cheese. We saw the cheese being stored, and the men working in the factory to make the cheese. I bought some 36 month aged cheese- which was the oldest you could buy there. I hope it tastes good. :)
Afterwards we went to Castell'Arquato, which was this castle on top of a hill. It was beautiful! The view of the Italian countryside was exquisite. There was a little artisanal market at the top of the hill as well that was really cute. After delicious pizza, Sadie, Mary, Julien and I sat and relaxed in the park. While relaxing, an old crazy man came up to us and started yelling and flailing his cane around. SCARY! Julien is fluent in Italian, and even he didn't understand what the crazy man was saying! OY! At least we had a great laugh about that. We got home to beautiful sunny Milan, packed with tourists because of the Furniture fair. We ended the weekend on some fabulous Shockolat gelato! Well... back to real life... of study abroad :)

Only 1 month left! EEEK. Well I am off to Dublin tomorrow! I am going to get to kiss the blarney stone and hear some great Irish accents! I'll keep you updated!

Ciao for now!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

When in Roma... Do as the Romans Do...

Ciao regazzi,
Could the last few days have been more of a whirlwind? Probably not... I want to tell you about my amazing experience in Rome!

... sorry just needed to get that out there!
Here's a picture that my friend Chris took of the pope when we saw him! WOWZERS!! AMAZING RIGHT?
Photo Credit: Chris DeFilippi  
Ok, well maybe I should start from the beginning. I had a flight out of Sevilla on Saturday morning at 7am!... which meant I woke up at 3:45am! Sì, sono stata stanca! I found Sadie at the Rome train station at 1:30pm. She was frantic! So much to achieve in the next few hours! So... Chris got us tickets to Easter Vigil Mass at St. Peter's Basilica for that night (amazing right??). Mass started at 8:30pm, but they started letting people in at 7pm. Chris and Joe got in line at 3pm! Sadie, frantic when she met me, told me that we would only have the next two hours to get into the Vatican Museums to see the Sistine Chapel, but our apartment that we rented for the weekend was far away, and we had a huge debate about what to do with my bags in order to get to the Vatican Museums before it closed at 4pm for Easter. Well, we ran, and rushed, and sprinted until we had no breath left... We got to the Vatican Museums at 4:02pm and it was closed! :( Our hearts broke. We tried SO hard! Well... this was the opportunity cost associated with coming to Rome for Easter and seeing the Pope. At 4:02pm, starving, bummed, and tired, we headed back to a gelato shop that we had ran past, which happened to be considered one of the best gelato shops in Rome. Epic? YES! Amazing? YES! Delicious? YES! Dear Old Bridge Gelato, thank you for giving me the greatest gift of all, your amazing gelato! My gelato worker was a beautiful flirty Italian guy, who gave me a delicious cone of stracciatella, cookies, and nutella flavors gelato. YUMM YUMM! After we gobbled that up, we realized that Easter... Sunday... Rome... = food stores, restaurants, etc = closed! We frantically found a supermarket to stock-up on some lunch food for the next day, when we were to conquer Rome. We gobbled down Margherita pizza at a tourist restaurant near the Vatican, since of course we were still starving, even after 3 scoops of gelato. Then again, even if we weren't starving, who could turn down pizza in Italy? 
After pizza, Sadie and I found Joe and Chris in the very VERY very long line that had wrapped around the Vatican square. Languages from all over the world were being spoken around us. Everyone was forced into this same line, which had been started since hours before we had gotten there. Priests and nuns were in squished in the same line as us; we were all anxiously waiting to get into the Basilica. Remember that time when I told you that wherever I travel to the rain seems to follow me? Yes, as we waiting in line, it started to pour! I don't mean drizzle, or rain, or rain hard. I mean, it downpoured. Initially it was just raining, and everyone put their umbrellas up, and it made for a sort of overarching cover for everyone. It was actually quite cool.
 While we waited in line, people would chant and sing, kind of as if we were at a soccer or football game. I know that there were some in line that felt that the chanting was disrespectful and were not pleased. Understandingly. But if we hadn’t been standing outside of the Vatican to wait for mass, it would have been perfect. Because everyone was gearing up for a stampede. First ones into the Basilica got the best seats and the best views. Plus, we heard that they gave out 3x as many tickets as seats, so no one wanted to get stuck standing for the three hour mass with a horrible view. In any case, just around 7pm, when they started letting everyone in, it downpoured x1,000. We were drenched. The rain drenched us, umbrellas pouring their water directly on us drenched us. We were wet, cold, and anxious to finally just get inside! Security was letting very small groups in at a time, so it took a very long time to finally get through. Right before we got let in, I am not really sure what happened, but either someone got trampled, or someone snuck through security, but something very scary happened because we heard a lot of screaming and were pushed ferociously hard. It was actually really scary. 
We finally pushed our way through! We got to security and Sadie yells and tells me that she lost her ticket in that mess of a crowd when we got pushed! Oh that poor girl, my heart broke. I seriously thought there was no way she was going to get in! After not getting to see the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, and not getting in to see the pope, this trip would have gone so sour in 5 hours! Heart breaking every beating second. At each step of security, they kept asking to see tickets; so even though, the first nice man waved her through, she kept getting stopped at the next ticket stop. Heart still breaking. Still breaking. We got to one ticket stop and the guy tells us there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY TO GET IN WITHOUT A TICKET. WE ARE PLEADING. IM YELLING AND SCREAMING: “LOOK HERE’S MY TICKET. HERE’S GOT LOST IN THE CROWD.” He keeps saying you must wait on the side, there’s no way you are getting in. Poor Sadie. She starts crying, my heart is breaking. We pleaded and waited and pleaded. The security man saw Sadie crying and waived us through, OH THAT MAN IS A MENCH! Bless his heart!
WE MADE IT IN! Sadie sidestepped the last ticket check, and we found the boys and got pretty good seats. Not on the aisle, like they were trying, but not so far back. At the entrance, we were given a candle, and a prayer book. What an amazing experience this was about to be! First let me say, St. Peter’s Basilica is the most beautiful building I have ever been in. It’s so decorative, and yet it’s not overwhelmingly so. It’s just so beautiful. I love the gold, but it’s not too much. Joe said that it has a lot of Baroque details in it. 

Joe had already seen the pope 3 times this week! He had went to mass with pope the previous days! ... very dedicated! So this didn't seem like that big of a deal to him, but to Sadie and I... we were freaking out! How often do you get to see the pope! Joe is very knowledgable about Rome, Catholicism, and Italy in general. He is fluent in Italian and recently became an dual-Italian citizen! He taught me a lot about Catholicism as we were waiting for the mass to start. What is really cool about the Easter Vigil service is that it starts in darkness, because its during the time that Christ is dead, and then everyone's candles are lit to bring light into the room. This sounds very beautiful; during the service, it wasn't quite executed as such. It started in darkness, as the pope walked in, but everyone was flashing their cameras that it distracted the mood away from this symbolic element of the service. Also, they turned the lights of the Basilica on before all of our candles had gotten lit, which was a bit disappointing. The service itself was extremely interesting and really moving. It had readings and songs in several different languages, in order to appeal to all the different nationalities in the room. There was Spanish, Italian, Latin, and English readings. I thought that was really beautiful. The service was very long, longer than a usual Easter Vigil Mass, according to Joe, who said this service had a lot of fancy add-ins (which makes sense... it was mass with the pope!). Everyone stood whenever the pope spoke. His homily, what I gather was like a sermon, was in Italian, but Joe understood it and what he summarized to me was a beautiful message about openness and being receptive to change. I felt very inspired and moved by the tunes sung in the service. The song, Alleluia, tune and words sounded fairly similar to the hallelujah song I am familiar with from the Jewish tradition. Overall, the service was very nice and it was an amazing experience, to be exposed to and to learn about another faith and to have had the opportunity to see the Pope! There were some Argentinians in the row in front of us; when the pope exited the mass, everyone was standing and trying to take pictures. They yelled and screamed and showed their Argentinian flag, and he loved it and engaged with them! I know that there are lots of conversations about "the good, the bad, and the ugly" about his past, but it seems as if he's going to take the Catholic Church in a good different direction. What an amazing it experience that night was. We exited the Basilica and the Vatican was beautifully lit! How beautiful! Well, what an amazing day. The next day would be the day we would conquer Rome! 

On Sunday morning, Sadie and I woke up early (thanks to daylight savings, we also lost an hour of sleep) to conquer Rome. We kept saying to each other, Rome wasn't built in a day, but it was conquered in one by us. Sadie knows that I don't half-ass my travel; I wasn't going to let us leave without having seen everything. And in our case, see everything twice, since we went back everywhere at night too. LOL. We started at the Colosseum, then the Roman Forum. We didn't go inside either because we were pressed for time and the lines were long. Joe and Chris were making us an Easter dinner around 4pm, so we had to be back at the apartment fairly early. On our way to find the Pantheon, we stumbled upon a bakery that was open (WOO!.. I was so nervous everything was going to be closed!). Since being in Italy, I hadn't had a cannoli yet and it was breaking my heart that I might leave Italy without having one. Cannolis are really a southern Italy thing, and I didn't have any plans to be in southern Italy during my time. The woman stuffed the cannolis right there in front of us, filling my cannolis with chocolate chip cannoli cream and then adding more chocolate chips on the sides as well! BOY WAS I EXCITED! Sadie got one chocolate chip one and one chocolate one. Yummy yummy! 

We got to Piazza Navona, which is a beautiful square. There were paintings being sold everywhere in the square, which gave the square an artsy feel. The fountain in the middle, the Fountain of the Four Rivers, was beautiful, which is a masterpiece of Bernini. Each statue represented a major river on four continents. After Piazza Navona, we made it to the Pantheon. There was a mass being held in the Pantheon when we got there, so no visitors were being let in. We made it there in good time, because only five minutes later, the mass ended and they started letting us visitors in. We were in the front of the line, so we got into the Pantheon before a massive crowd filled it. BEAUTIFUL! After the pantheon, we headed to the Trevi Fountain and did out best to get our perfect pictures with the Trevi. Of course, we were hurried by the millions of other tourists trying to get their perfect pictures too. After the Trevi, we went to the Spanish steps, where we sat on the beautiful, white steps for lunch. We had packed our lunch, fearing nothing would be open, but turns out that a lot of the tourist restaurants were open. After lunch, we walked to Piazza del Popolo, our final destination. We saw an overlook above Piazza del Popolo. We went up there, and saw a beautiful view of Rome. At this point, it was nearing 3pm, and our feet were starting to really hurt after walking around Rome all day. We did it; we saw everything that we had wanted to that day! 
Rome was surprisingly very walkable; once you get to one major site, it is very easy to walk to all of the rest. The public transportation system in Rome is horrendous. There are two metro lines- expansion is nearly impossible because all of the historic landmarks get in the way. The bus system is horrible- buses in general are just really unreliable. In general, the buses and metros that I was in were really dirty, like it really isn't clean or well-kept. The city itself is beautiful, its well-lit and there are beautiful buildings everywhere, but outside of the tourist areas, it's really not very clean or well-kept. We headed back to our apartment which took a long time, because we had to take the metro, switch lines half way, then take a bus to our apartment. Took maybe 30-40 minutes I guess. Except for waiting for the bus, which could last anywhere from a minute to an hour! We were greeted at our apartment with a wonderful dinner prepared by Joe. Joe's friend studying in Rome joined us for dinner, which was very nice! She had seen the Pope that morning when he rode around in the "pope-mobile" around Vatican Square. After some delicious dinner and dessert, Sadie and I, joined by Joe's friend, headed out to conquer Rome again, but at night. 
We started at Old Bridge Gelato by the Vatican. We couldn't leave Rome without seeing if our favorite gelato place was open. It was! Yum yumm and the cute gelato guy took my order again :) After seeing the Vatican again for one last time, we walked to Castel Sant'Angelo and across the Tiber River. The Castle was beautifully lit that night. The rest of our stops were short walks from each other. Again, we walked to Piazza Navona, and then to Pantheon, and then ended at the Trevi Fountain. Going to the Trevi at night was one of my main goals for Rome. I had never been there at night. BOY IS IT MAGICAL AT NIGHT. Beautifully lit! I threw my coins and made my wished and we got lots and lots of pictures! Sadie and I parted ways with Joe's friend afterwards; Sadie and I ended the day with seeing the colosseum (AMAZING!) and rushed on the metro to make it to our stop before the metro closed. We had to wait a good 45 minutes for our bus to the apartment. We were so happy to make it home- what a long and tiring day! Who knew we could conquer Rome twice in one day? Well, what an amazing end to the day; what an amazing end to spring break. 
We left for Milano early the next morning (and sadly left our last cannoli there!). I was so thankful to get home, to be in my own bed, and to have a break from being on the go 24-7. I got home, and was greeted by Alessandra and lots of her friends, who were putting together a Pasquetta party in the apartment. In Italy, the Monday after Easter is a holiday; many people go on picnics or have gatherings with friends. The party went all afternoon and evening. It was quite an event. 
Well, that concludes my summary of my spring break. Pretty awesome, huh? It was an amazing 11 days, a whirlwind cultural experience, and a fantastic time with friends exploring new cities. Once again, came and conquered and left my mark! 
What's up for the next few weeks? Well, IES has a trip planned for us to go to Parma and see how parmesan cheese is made and then the following weekend I am going to Dublin with Sadie and Chris. So lots more coming up. But for now, it's back to semi-real-life of school work and editing photos and living my amazing life in Europe :)
Ciao amici,