Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Assisi. The hometown of St. Francis. I have been waiting to go since I arrived, and I am glad I waited until the weather was nicer. The train pulled up to the station and I stepped out with my roommate Alex. We saw Assisi, on the hill overlooking the Umbrian valley. There was not a cloud in the sky and the temperature was absolutely perfect. The bus ride up the hill took 10 minutes and brought us right up to the entrance of Assisi. It was quiet. Sunny. Clean. A beautiful city. The green of the valley looked almost fake but it was very very real. Many hills and alleys in this medieval town. I appreciated the architecture as I passed and watched as monks walked by frequently. The stillness of the whole area was tranquil and reassuring. There were churches every ten feet and the franciscan symbols everywhere. We spent a whole day there relaxing in the fields. Lots of hiking and vineyards. We ate at a great place and then walked around some more visiting the main Church of Saint Francis which was awesome! Assisi was a very touching experience to be so close to something as holy as St. Francis...I loved it.
For now, I venture back to Rome, only a short time left...
My mission in Sarno was to acquire the certificates of my great grandparents. I tried this but could not find the exact person to match my description. However I did meet some relatives and stayed with them. They took me by storm. They drove me all over the city to meet more relatives. I could not keep track of who was who and got a ton of practice in italian. They were all so accepting and giving. The hospitality was phenomenal! I ate a HUGE lunch the first day and sat and talked about my life and relatives in the States. Then I went to my cousins house named Danny and I stayed their with him and his mom. I was pampered and doted upon the whole time. I woke up to fresh espresso and a croissant every morning and I spoke in italian the whole time. I then walked around the town and sat at the beach looking out at the coast. These days passed quickly with all the activity and eating. I enjoyed myself immensely but knew it was time to leave. After giving my goodbye kisses to everyone, Danny drove me to the port where I met my two friends Molly and Jacob and we departed on a ferry to Amalfi and the the island Capri. The ferry ride was my favorite. It gently glided across the clear blue water staring at the rocky coast with houses and villages tucked away. The salty sea air whipped around the ferry's flag making a gentle swishing sound. I just stared at Sarno/Salerno as it grew smaller in the distance. The homeland of my grandparents is right there. I am a part of this as well. It was a great experience.
We soon arrived at Capri and started exploring the island. The water was amazingly blue! Capri had a lot of steps because it is basically one large rock. Needless to say we were tired at the end of the day! The coolest part of it though was the Blue Grotto. We got into a small row boat and the guy brought us into the grotto. It was quiet, dark, and the water shown bright azur reflecting the light from beneath. The guy then sang "Come Back to Sorrento" which was beautiful! Exiting the Grotto we then took a bus back to the port to take a ferry to Sorrento! By far my favorite city on the Amalfi coast, Sorrento was small but not miniscule, large but not enormous. We rolled up to it on our huge ferry and entered the city. The center was bustling with activity. The sun was out and the weather perfect. We wandered around near the coast and the shops just meandering around enjoying ourselves. We eventually found the hostel we booked and it was a cooking school! We also got upgraded to a private room with a bathroom and balcony! That night we decided that after dinner we would buy wine and sit out on the patio and play cards overlooking Mt. Vesuvius and the sea. A marvelous night it was indeed with friends.
The next day we caught a train to Pompei and explored a Roman city caught in time by the explosion of a monster. The ruins were chilling. People still in their poses when they died were lying in eternal rest. Everything looked like it still functioned and was very real. The city was just so huge it took most of the day. After that though we took another train to Naples. Here, we did one thing and one thing only. Pizza. We each at two pizzas because they were so good. We chose the best place in Naples too. 4 hours later we are back on a train on the way to Rome once again. The trip was well worth it because we got to see about 6 cities in a weekend! I used tons of italian and love meeting new people! The landscape down south was some of the most beautiful I have seen and hope to return! Now back in Rome I feel at home and await my next journey.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
This was a sudden trip, planned about 5 hours before the train...I had no hostel and no plans, just an idea. But thats the wonderful part of Italy, things like this can work for a weekend or more. I packed a bag and popped the ipod in, put on some andrea bocelli and looked out the window onto the countryside of Italy as it sped by. I always feel more comfortable on the move, going somewhere, doing something. I feel more accomplished, and more relaxed. Anyhow, after 5 hours traveling north we pulled into the city of La Spezia where we found a bus to take us to a little city out of La Spezia called Biassa. Biassa was nestled on top of a beautiful hill overlooking the ocean. It was incredibly high and my ears popped everytime going up or down. We arrived at the hostel and I asked if there was room for me...he said no. Although it was not the answer I wanted, I didnt panic, but tried to look around for another hostel...nope, not in this town of 300 people. The guy then stopped me and said he could fit me into the hostel. I was very grateful and...hungry. I wasnt the only one hungry, the others in my group were as well! So, stanging outside in the little town in the sun on top of a hill we pondered at where to eat...everything seemed closed. Suddenly we see a kid biking down the street right in front of us and seeing this as the only opportunity for help I shouted, "Ciao ragazzo, scusa!!" He screeched to a stop and I asked where we could get some grub. He then spoke in the coolest accent I have heard in Italy. I was so fascinated I didnt even know what he said, but evidently he was goign to come back after getting us a reservation somewhere...I took this as, "ya, im not coming back because you guys are odd...". I was wrong though, because 10 minutes later he runs up the hill with a skateboard now and shouts to us to follow him. We do and he asks the usual questions...where are we from, what are we doing etc. I tell him and he tells me I have a southern italian accent, haha, I tell him I live in Rome and he then understands why. Anyway so Davide brings us to this awesome restaurant and then says goodbye after we thank him.
After lunch, we start walking to Cinque Terre...this took us way longer than anticipated and by the time we arrived at the first city it was already 5 o'clock. On the bright side though, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. The first city held breathtaking views of the water and coastline of the Italian Riviera. The cool blue water lapped upon the jutting rocks. The sound was so calming and rythmic. Looking back on the towns as we passed from one to the other we beheld the magnificent colors of the buildings in the bright sun, and the vibrant fishing boats in the water bobbing up and down following the orders of the sea. The temperature was perfection and everything was working out.
Arriving at our last city for the day we watched the sun set between two cliffs filled with tiny squat italian houses. Then, we ate seafood with the local wine overlooking the coast. Now after dinner we left for the hostel in Biassa which was about an hour away. By the time we got there it was 10 at night. On the way to the door I hear my name, "Hey Biaggio!", I turned around and it was Davide! Him and a bunch of friends were just roaming around and they asked us if we wanted to join. The girls of the group said absolutely because they saw the guys all had motocicleta helmets with them. So after some wandering of this town about 5 feet wide by 10 feet the girls asked me to ask them if they could ride a moped. The italians eagerly obliged and one said in italian, "wait here while I go get the bigger one". 10 minutes later we hear a growl of an engine as this crotchrocket bike races down the hill. He asks the girls which one wants to go first and he gives them a helmet and dashes away. After them he turns to me and asks if I've ever ridden and I said no. He then gives me the helmet and says hop on and hold tight. I get on the bike only to be brought speeding away down the hill at breakneck speed! We arrive at a tunnel about a mile and a half long, he shouts back for me to duck and hold on, then he races through the tunnel at about 150-160 km/hr!!! It was AWESOME! I couldnt believe how fun it was! We got back to the group and hung out for a little more until we had to get back to the hostel. What an experience! At times like these, I appreciate so much that I can speka the language, because so many more things can happen! I love being able to participate in a culture so entirely!
We woke up the next morning bright and early so we could get a head start on the hiking. It was a good idea because the weather was suppose to fall through in the afternoon. We took the train to the last city and began our hike backwards to the rest. Yet, the hike from the 5th to the 4th was a major one. It reminded me of boy scouts. I loved it. The rest of the group did not however and there was a lot of "come on, only a little more, you can do it". Then, one of the girls said, "god, how could this get any worse..." I laughed...because it started raining. We continued on however, and made it to the fourth city for a lunch break. It was my favorite city because it looked like Venice. The food was great and the view as well. The italian riviera is phenomenal.
It was at this point that we decided to head back to home...Rome. BUT, since there was a layover in Pisa I told everyone we HAD to go see the tower. So, in 40 minutes we got a taxi sped over to the tower, looked at it, took pictures, held it up, got a cafe, sat ont he lawn in the sun, and went back to the station...basically you can do Pisa in 40 minutes. No but really, Pisa was a very beatiful city and had great architecture along the river. I was super stoked we stopped there though and can now check it off my list!!! The train the brought us home and we sat down after visiting 10 cities in 48 hours. Rome, Civitavecchia(layover), La Spezia, Biassa, Cinque Terre(5), and Pisa. Wow.
I have to say that the first chance I get, I will go back to the italian riviera and stay for a bit more in better weather. But for now, there are other parts of Europe that need exploring! Ciao!
Friday, April 16, 2010
Anyway, so I was suppose to couchsurf in Barcelona, but the host was not at his house and so I decided to just get a hostel in the city. Traveling alone is a very interesting experience. It is a reflective time, but also an opportunity to meet tons of people.
The main city hit me by surprise because the architecture was so much like Romes but with a spanish flare. There were fountains and noise and lights everywhere. A city that seemed not to sleep! I was overwhelmed and just walked everywhere for a couple hours. Then I met some Basque girls in the Hostel and we started talking(stuttering) spanish. I was overjoyed though because I could understand them quite well! They also were impressed with the accent I had acquired. We then went out to some bars and tapas for the night and had a great time. However, they stayed out until 7 in the morning and me till 2...Haha, well thats some culture for ya!
The Spanish food was quite good! I went to a cooking class and met two australian couples on their honeymoons...talk about third wheel...and we cooked together and then went to some bars after! One of the australians name was Mitch and he fought in Afghanistan for 9 months and told me all about it! He was not shy at all about his expereinces and I got a very good idea of whats happening. I asked though who was the friendliest nation among the troops, and without hesitation he replied "the Americans". This made me happy and I asked why. He said it was because they were so generous, humorous and well trained.
The next day we all took a bike tour of the city and beach of Barcelona. We stopped for wine at noon and sat in the sun before continuing the journey back to the center. That night I took it easy and explored the city. I was VERY careful though because Barcelona is NOT safe. It is a city of thieves. I can't believe I stayed for 5 days and nothing happened! I was always very attentive and aware throughout just because of this.
Finally, my favorite part of Barcelona was the artist Antonio Gaudi. He built and designed basically everything in Barcelona. He adored mimicking nature and never using straight lines. This was probably because he drank absinth everyday and couldn't see straight lines! Thats besides the point though because I loved all of his stuff. He made parks, fountains, buildings, lamp posts, benches, plazas...everything. I took tours of his stuff and they were well worth it! I made some more friends too! Some guys on a tour in Paris turned up in barcelona too and so we did some tours there as well! I felt like such a nomad!
I left Barcelona content that I went, but I knew I wouldn't go back if it was a choice. It was small and dangerous. The beach was filled with crazy people too, and so hanging there was awkward. Haha, random naked people ride by on bikes and its...normal I guess...
I can't express how happy i was to land in Italy again. It really was like coming home. I know the Rome airport like the back of my hand by now and all the transportation to and from and within Rome. I do it automatically and am home in my neighborhood without a thought.
Spain, I will return again, but this time somewhere in the way north or the south. I also have to be more comfortable with the language...
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Breath-slowly. Smell the luxurious rich scent floating upon the breeze, filling the streets and cafes with a culture so unique and full of life. I have arrived. Bonjour Paris, je suis arrive'.
Stepping off the plane onto French soil was so surreal I knew it was a dream...I ventured off on my own for the shuttle to Paris. The morning was still fresh with the smell of dew in the countryside airport of Beauvais 1.5 hours north of Paris. My excitement could barely be contained as the bus whirred along the French highway. Already differences were apparent from my home in Italy. Farms were organized, clean, and proud. My mind was full of french words and grammar still trying to reconnect what has been lost while in Rome. Looking at objects and retrieving their meaning and word, I was preparing for the French, harsh about who speaks their native tougue, and full of pride with every breath. I was ready to be thrown into Paris to survive with the tools I possess.
Later, poking out of the distant horizon, the eiffel tower bore its face, ever solid and gracefully ruling the skyline above the city. What a welcome! I made my way to the hostel once the bus dropped me off at the station. It took awhile because the shear beauty astounded me! I felt the differences in this city from that of Rome. Yet no comparison can be made, for they are made of different materials. I enjoy each for their own specialties.
The first day I just walked. Walked until I couldn't anymore. Like I have said before, I like to get a feel for a city. I observe. Listen. Watch. I can feel the vibrations in the air and the energy of the city. Paris is delicate and amorous. Facades shown with integrity in the Parisian fashion, and the people, heads held high yet going about their daily duties. I felt oddly out of place in my Roman fashion clothes and walk. I tried to blend and mimic and learn. My french was coming back wonderfully, using it with a soft touch just like the French would want. I acquired the most knowledge just by hearing others speak and learning the mode of Parisian French. The rhythm of the city was difficult for me to adjust to coming from chaotic Rome. It was like a personality disorder for me having both these languages and cultures inside and trying to display them both up to par with the locals. I achieved a balance though, and in the end really developed a feel for the Parisians.
The next day I ate breakfast consisting of a croissant, orange juice and a small baguette. Full and ready to move, I left for a free tour of the city! I worked the metro like a dream and arrived at the tour just in time. I really loved walking around learning about the history of the city and taking pictures of all the main sights. I went to Notre Dame, Louvre, Champs-Elysees, l'Arc de Triomph, Les Jardins Tuilleries, and much more. Paris was full of hidden gems of history and architechture!
I ate crepes during the day and always espresso. There was a calmness to the city that I could not place my finger on. I was astounded at the French way of life, so absolutely different than the italian mindset.
The next morning, I stopped at a caffe facing the rising sun. I drank my espresso and made plans for the day. I would explore the northern city and then make my way down to the center. The sun was gently grazing the city of love with its light and I saw Paris in its full splendor. The Seine flowed strong and steady like the vein of the city. Notre Dame ruled over the island in the middle watchful with its soaring buttresses and gothic architechture. Its Rose Window as ever an eye of color and art swirling with light for all to behold. Its enormity gives way to grace as the stained glass windows cover its sides and its architecture draws every eye.
Paris at night is just as beautiful as during the day. The moon over the eiffel tower is drawn from a story book and I am reminded of its fame. I meet my friends the next day who live in Paris. After catching up for a bit we then toured their part of town in the Garden of Luxembourg and the Pantheon. I ate a excquisite french dinner yet I made a faux pas...when I went to cut the Brie cheese for my baguette I cut the tip of the triangle. All of the sudden I heard laughter and shock. I looked up to see all faces towards me. I was then told that the tip of the cheese is NEVER cut like that and I should shave the side instead of taking the whole tip. I now know for future reference to absolutely never make this mistake again. I am very happy I learned it though in a fun environment as apposed to an official French dinner in the future!
My time in the fair city was coming to an end when I traveled to Versailles for the day. A quiet yet still large city that was the country getaway for the french court. I toured the Palace of Versailles and roamed its exquisitly cut gardens for the day. Swans swam gracefully upon the lake at the center. The winding paths curved and encircled beautiful fountains and flower beds. I could have spent days in the garden and not seen enough. I plan on returning in the future.
Honeslty there was so much I saw and did in Paris it is hard to fit it into a blog! I spent 5 days there and achieved so much, yet I know I could do so much more! The whole environment was amazing and it drew me in for good. The language helped me fit in so much better. I love not feeling like a tourist. Yet the Parisians were colder to me than I would have liked. I guess it was because I was a stranger and they do not act the same as Romans...obviously. I anticipate my return to Paris to uncover the rest of its mystery and regality. But for now, its splendor and majesty will always hold it as one of my favorite cities. Au Revoir.
Friday, March 5, 2010
Finally, I have left the country! I packed my things and my roommate Zach and I went to Greece. I was anticipating a tiring weekend full of new language and experiences, and it all started on the thursday night when we left for Fiumicino Airport. Leaving our building with backpacks and smiling faces we encountered our door woman who jumped up and gave us both kisses goodbye. Then walking down our street our bread store came out and shouted goodbye and I told them how baklava was on the menu! Then we passed our cafe we frequented and they got so excited about our trip! It really feelt already like this was our community! I was laughing so much because it was like a movie!!
We flew Alitalia who switched our gate at the last second and was an hour late. While we were waiting at the gate, stupid me hadn't realized that people were not all italian anymore because we were waiting for a plane to GREECE. That is why I turned to the young couple sitting next to us and started chatting in italian...only to receive blank looks...I was shocked and uncomfortable...what do I do? Why aren't they responding? So then, I did something insane, I SPOKE GREEK! Haha, wow what a sight. I started two days earlier with basic phrases and structure, and it worked! The couple immediately started chatting with me(in english) and helping me with greek! We spent about 30 minutes writing greek down learning! So alrready at the airport I experienced what I feared already, inadequacy and inability to function in a language. I did not like it.
The plane landed in Athens at 2 in the morning and we boarded the bus to get to the terminal. On the bus an old man was standing and I was sitting, so I stood up and said παρακαλώ, which means 'please'. He immediately responds ευχαριστώ which means 'thank you'! It worked! I was already speaking greek! Once we go to the terminal I stepped off the bus and looked around...Greek script, letters, everywhere. I got chills. I started immediatley reading everything and figuring out the letters and their corresponding english equivalents. I took pictures of signs and read them again and again. It was like a game! I realted words to Latin and english, there were roots everywhere in these words! I was not even thinking about how to get to the hostel.But we got to our hostel at 3AM and went to bed.
We woke up the next morning to an absoutely beautiful sunshine and started our journey by looking at a map! Once we had something planned we hit up the first bakery we saw...for me of course, and I got BAKLAVA! Wow, it was very good, but very sweet! With it of course we had to try greek coffee...absolutely disgusting...at least that is checked off the list. Anyway, we then ventured to the famous acropolis of athens! We passed monuments and temples along the way and tried to figure out what everything was! We got into the acropolis for free because we were students and then began our hike to the top. Ascending this ancient hill, we were astounded at the age of everything! Greece is 5000 years old! WHAT! But as we got higher and higher Athens began to lay our before our eyes in every direction. Then the sea showed its horizontal beauty in the distant port. We stopped many times to take pictures and Zach go the one of me looking out at Athens on top of the Acropolis. I loved every second of this because the country was completelety different than Italy! The houses were different structure and color, and the noise was different as well. The sun shown differently and the wind smelled of the cool blue sea. We reached the top of the Acropolis and I was feeling a little depressed that I couldn't understand anything...It was not fun and strange. It was like my silent thought was answered when I heard italian in the distance...at first I thought it was a trick, but no...there was an italian class taking a tour here! I rushed over longing for the comfort of the beautifully energetic language I call home. I arrived at the group and started talking to one of the students immediately...they were from the Venice region and here on a class trip! It was amazing how that one thing lifted my spirits so much! Then, just when I thought it couldn't get better, another student tour group passed and...no, could it be? I heard silk, the sweet smooth silk of the french language. I detached from one group and went to the next. Blending in the back I just listened, then asked where they were from...Paris region. Zach was just laughing at my actions but my mood immediately changed and I was ready to tackle Athens some more!
After the Acropolis we went to lunch and obviously we ordered greek salads and rice wrapped in grape leaves. I almost died because the salad was so good! There was no lettuce just tomato, onion, cucumber, olives, and feta cheese with olive oil! I could not believe how good it was! Anyway, after the great lunch we went on to this great part of the city with lots of monuments and shops as well. It was about 65-70 degrees and we were loving it! We spent the rest of the afternoon in the sun and walking. We returned to our hostel for a breif respite before dinner. Then we went to dinner at a restaurant that overlooked the Acropolis and this other temple. Then after we walked some more then went to bed early because we were going to an island the next day!
Waking up very tired but excited, I used the greek I knew to get us on a bus to the Port and then we ran to a ferry boat and were off to Aegina island! The sun was just in the sky and burning off the morning layer of fog. I could tell the day was going to be brilliant because I saw a rainbow off the boat. An hour later we got off and decided to look for a place to rent bikes! Really easy and cheap...5Euros and we had the bikes for the day! Then, we began our journey south. Rising along the coast we immediately exited civilization and were engulfed by nature on the left and the sea on the right. This water, this cool crisp water was so blue I thought it was a trick. We couldn't stop taking pictures! By this time, I bought a new scarf of the Greek colors so I would blend more...haha, ya right, already my skin was turning red from the two minutes in the sun, no greek would be fooled.
Our bike ride to a small southern town was so enjoyable that we needed to eat and rest. It was about 12 and the sun was at its zenith. We chose the main street of the town which happend to be on the port. There was no one there. Only us and some locals. Tourists would not be found here yet for anther couple of months. So we picked our table and sat at the edge of the water overlooking the bay. The sun was shining on us as we ordered our greek salads and chicken souvlaki. We both turned our chairs and just looked out over the sea. We were both schocked into silence and just sat there. Now, we stayed here for the whole afternoon, literally at this reatuarant for three hours eating, drinking, and laughing. There must be something in the air on islands because they are just a completely different feeling from anywhere else! I had not a care in the world other than when my next bread and oil plate was coming.
It was so quiet there. Closing my eyes I felt the cool salty breeze grazing my cheeks then warmed by the perfect sun. It touched my arms and shoulders, warming me gently. The rythmic lapping of the waves on the shore brought peace and a calming background. The rocky island cliffs off the shore whispered of a time of wooden boats and angry jeaolous gods. You could almost hear Homer reccounting the Odyssey as the winds of Aelious brought a storm of Poseindon. I have never felt that calm in my life. I would say without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable afternoons/lunches of my life, if not the most. No one cared about anything, we ordered the greek frappe at a cafe and sat outside some more for about an hour and a half. The sea mesmerized us with the sun dancing of its surface. The trees gently swayed all around us from the push of the wind. Birds were in the backround as well adding a sweet sound to the already gorgeous afternoon. I literally cannot describe how absolutely amazing this island was. We tore ourselves away and biked in the direction of the port. Then we stumbled upon this dirt path veering to the left...we took it. It wound us around to the top of a hill that overlooked the bay and the town. The wind had picked up and white caps appeared on the water as it began to thrust and pull against the cliffs. We were on top of the world on that hill, the wind whipping us about, but the whole island and its neighbors surrounding us. What beauty and power! It was an unforgettable experience. Sadly though, we had to leave to catch our ferry boat to Athens.
We returned to Athens and went to dinner. I ate for my first time a Kebap! It was so good! I loved how I ate it in Greece too, haha what a dinner! After that though, we were so tired from the biking we had to go to bed.
We slept in the next day and slowly woke up and went to the bakery again for some great cookies! Then we saw the Acropolis museum and learned a ton about the history of it and how it came to be. We ate lunch at a small local place and had greek salad with stuffed tomatoes and some meat and potatoes. Then we decided to climb the talles hill in Athens. The hike took us about 30 minutes, but it was really worth it as we arrived at the surface panting and thirsty. The Acropolis looked tiny from up on the hill. It was so high the sea looked large. Again, since we had nothing pressing to do we sat up here overlooking the city with the sun on our faces for a couple hours. Then we walked around some monuments and went home to change and get dinner. Of course we got Kebabs again but at a new place, and a different kind! Still, they were really good!
Our trip to Greece was ending, and I had already figured the alphabet and could read quite quickly words and phrases. I learned my words by just listening and mimicking everyone I heard. I already began conjugating words and forming complete thoughts...yet my comprehension was still very small, although I got more than I thought! It is such an interesting language, and hard to believe it was what everyone spoke in ancient times if you were educated! Greece now seems poor and in hardship. Riot police were everywhere, and in general people seemed more alert or suspiscious. We left Athens behind as Alitalia took off towards Ρώμη(Rome). The lights of the ancient city where philosophical thought was matured and taught was slowly getting farther and farther away. Zach and I were both dead tired and immensely content at our trip. I learned so much in 3 days that I couldn't believe it had only been that long! Our faces were burned and our bellies full of baklava, salad, and kebab. What could be better? Greece was a dream, and can now claim one of my most fulfilling afternoons in my life. Congrats. Now though, back to the "young" Rome and seeing what new adventures await me here. Thanks to all, and until next time, αντίο(goodbye)!
Βλακε(Haha, this looked a lot cooler in my head)
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The weekend started on Friday as it usually does, but this Friday we went to the Vatican Museums to see the Sistine Chapel and all the other...things. Just kidding, everything was beautiful there and we really enjoyed ourselves. But, as you can see from the photos we loved seeing open windows and taking pictures of the outside. The Sistine Chapel was grandiose and dark. No pictures allowed yet everyone took them. We sat in there for a good 30 mintutes staring at the ceiling revered by so many. What a masterpiece of skill and art. But more importantly, after the museums we went to eat the best Tiramisu in all of Rome. I was so excited and saved room at dinner so I could indulge in the sweet cacao dream that was tiramisu. We arrived at Pompi and I ordered it with a coffee. Let me first of all say that I love tiramisu and I would consider myself pretty knowledgable in all its attributes... Now this tiramisu was so far beyond any I have ever eaten I had now words. I LOVED it. Absolutely phenomenal, so good that I thought they were joking. (Mom, we are going when you get here and you will know what I mean). I took a napkin with the name of the place so I will always remember the King of Tiramisu.
What a beautiful weekend in Rome! My friend Antonio came from Sicily and stayed with us at our apartment in Trastevere. I picked him up from the Train Station and we begun our weekend fun. He met all the guys and then we decided to go explore some of Rome! Tony loves Rome, but hates walking...a bit of a problem. Anyway, we walked to Piazza Venezia which holds a very large government building as well as a monument of sorts. Then we walked the famous Via del Corso. It was so busy that everybody was just walking in the streets! We took this all the way up to the northern gate of Rome, Piazza del Popolo. This is one of my favorite spots in Rome. From it you can see three major roads built to connect the renaissance city. They all converge at Piazza del Popolo with a magnificent Obelisk at its center. Here, we stopped for some lunch at a restuarant and I ate bolognese with fresh bread and red wine. Also, per usual, an espresso at the end of the meal and a glass of water after that.
Once our bellies were filled and our thirst quenched we walked to the enormous park in Rome called Villa Borghese. Once we entered its lush green depths, Rome was drowned out and replaced by this serene atmosphere filled with birds and running water. Fountains were every 100m and the paths were small stones that crunched under our steps. What a change to walk into the heart of nature after being in ancient Rome!! This walk brought us laughter and fun as we joked around and took pictures of all the new sights. Tony's pace is very slow, and so it took us a bit to walk anywhere, but I found it enjoyable, it gave us time to appreciate what we were seeing in every aspect. Stopping at an outdoor cafe tucked in the woods gave us a small respite as we drank our macchiatos, cappuccinos, and coffees. The sun threw shadows in every direction as it hit the leaves making a constant flicker all around the park. Archways and statues solidly stood watching everything. Tony and I spoke of school, life, and Italy. He always speaks in english, so stubborn in that way, so I return and only speak in italian. I think each of us really wants the other to switch languages, but this will never happen. It is great practice for each of us and we both help eachother out whenever mistakes are made.
We ended our adventure of the green woods of Rome at the Spanish steps where they touch. From here we walked on Via Condotti which is where the stores are like: Gucci, Prada, Fendi...etc... We walked all the way home from their much to the disapproval of Tony, he got over it though. It was too funny.
Dinner was Sushi. Japanese sushi that is. I loved it! I ate it all! Except once I said thank you in japanese to the bus girl she says she is chinese...awkward...so then I speak some chinese, she is overjoyed but my lack of vocabulary halts our conversation. Therefore I return to Italian but she says she doesn't speak it yet. Now I'm really confused and I try english but to no avail. O well, we tried 4 languages and we couldn't work, not for lack of effort!
After dinner we went to Campo di Fiori and all the bars there. Then we went to our normal bar in Trastevere. It was a really fun night for all of us. Tony enjoyed himself and slept till 1 the next day! Wow!
Everyday Tony and I went to Sant'Eustachio Caffe' which is rated one of the best coffees in the world. So I had a cappuccino and macchiato there whenever we went. It was very good. He loved it because he knows the difference betweem coffee anyway and told me how good it was.
Unfortunately, as Sunday and Monday rolled around he had to return home. All the roomates really liked him and he fit in well with us. We had a phenomenal weekend and I look forward to visiting him within the coming weeks!
Now, I must pack for Greece and do some homework. I will write again once I return! Ciao!
Sunday, February 21, 2010
So now to catch up on some blogging!
Last weekend I took a solo trip to Pescara Italy, it is on the east coast straight shot to the right of Rome. I left on the day that it snowed in Rome for the first time in 25 years! It was a blizzard on the train leaving Rome and it reminded me of home! Anyway, the train ride took about 3.5 hours in which I stared out the window at the wonder of Italy. The landscape changed so often that I couldn't look away! But 3.5 hours later I arrived in a small town near Pescara called Chieti and that is where my adventure starts.
Exiting the train I entered the new part of Italy alone. I was tired and hungry and I just wanted to be at my hostel. Little did I know how far it was from me! I went to a coffee shop and got a map of the area and asked the bartender where I was going. Soon all 10 people in the bar were talking to me about different things. Directions, wisconsin, school, rome, italian etc... I was loving it because the new accent threw me for a loop and I succeeded in distinguishing it finally. All I can say is, if I didn't speak italian, I would have NEVER reached my hostel. But I did it and it was beautiful! It was a vineyard and olive tree farm. I was in heaven. I spent the first hour chatting with the owner about stuff and then headed out to explore! The area was absolutely brilliant. Rolling hills, vineyards, and sun. I loved exploring and being a part of this new city! I ate lunch at a real local place that had excellent food and wine. Then I got gelato...obviously. All of this was in preparation for the next day where I would help teacher at the middle school where she teaches. Her name is Vincenzina and her family took me out to dinner that night! Wow, I do not have any clue how Italians can eat so much! Course after course! The apetizers were fruits and cheeses with nuts and olives. We ate bread and oil, wine and frizzy water. Then little chips came out before my pasta al ragu' and I was having a blast. I found it hard to concentrate on my italian when all this succulent food was before me! I ate lamb, fish, liver, and chicken in one meal. The conversation was great and the environment to match. Needless to say, I was not hungry until lunch the next day!!!
Saturday was an early day because I had to take the bus to middle school. Haha, that sounds funny. When I got to the school the kids flipped out. I had no idea what to expect, but this was crazy. I sat and observed one class, and the next the kids could ask me questions. The funniest question was, "Is it true that you eat...eggs... for breakfast???!!" I just laughed and responded, "Not only eggs, but meat and potatoes and oragne juice and coffee!" The whole class went into an uproar saying, "WHAT! You can't do that! That's CRAZYYY!!". I had to admit, the questions were all hilarious and it was such and interesting experience to see how foreigners view Americans. It is hard for them to comprehend the size of our Country because theirs is so small. They all ask if I go to LA or Hollywood all the time, or NYC. Every sterotypical american attribute they asked me about, and I tried to set everything straight.
School finished at 1 and so Vincenzina and her family took me to Pescara and the beach!! It was a gorgeous day and we had such a great time talking and walking on the ocean. But it couldn't last forever and I had to go back to the hostel and get some dinner! When I got there, the owner was in the kitchen and so we chatted for a while and after that I got a free bottle of freshly squezzed olive oil from her trees as well as fresh pepperoncini sun dried and cut up into a jar of olive oil! Wow! The things that can happen by being friendly just amaze me!
So, the next morning I had to leave. I walked onto the porch and was greeted by the sun rising over the fields of grapes and olives. The wet smell of spring was in the air and it reminded me of Wisconsin. But alas, I had to pack up and go after a HUGE breakfast of an espresso and vanilla cookie.
The train ride home was a really breakthtaking journey. It was warm in the carriage thanks to the heating rays of the sun. The mountains were clear and I could see their clear streams trickling down thier enormous flanks. The rays reflected of the snow that covered the tips and shimmered in every direction. Little towns sprung out from nowhere and were so rustic and calm. I can't explain the journey home just because it was so brilliant and sensorally numbing. I loved traveling alone, yet at times, I wished for someone to talk to. That is why I so anticipated being back in Rome with all my friends and feeling the familiarity of the eternal city once more.
Now I must wake up the others for perhaps a papal audience or a walk to the pantheon for a cup of coffee nominated for the best in the world...I love my life. Peace to all!
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Monday, February 8, 2010
Leaving Rome at 3AM for a 630 flight has its downside, but in reward, I arrived in Milan an hour later. My friend Marta was ready and waiting to pick me up and bring me to her house north of Milan about an hour. I was not ready for the weather in Milan though. It was snowing and foggy...much different than my temperate Rome I left behind. I was excited though for a new city and the new experiences that were to come. To my utter joy, the whole car ride was in italian. I was thrilled at the thought of spending three days at her house where only italian is spoken! What exercise for my vocabulary and grammar!! I quickly found out that they don't get many Americans up north of Milan who speak italian because everytime I met someone and said literally "ciao" they shout enthusiastically, "O my God, great Italian!" This was odd to me coming from Rome where every once in a while someone comments on it...but here, it was incredible, talk about an ego booste--geese. I was some kind of king up there! It made me sad though at the same time because it really shows that Americans feed into the stereotype and just speak english...I will change this, and I am.
I met the family of Marta and they were so generous and nice to me. They loved that I could speak with them in Italian too, although in the beginning I struggled with the speed and the form of speaking. Marta and I then went to tour the town and we ran into one of her friends and we got a coffee. Italian everywhere...no english...I just about died of exuberant joy. And little did I know this was just the beginning! That night for dinner, we went to a chinese restaurant with about 10 of her friends! Wow...Lots of Italian, really really fast, and lots of confusion. But I loved it. It is what I live for. I loved trying to figure everyones accent and method of speaking. It was a game to me, to understand and respond in turn changing my roman to Milanese. After listening for hours, I could understand more and more while mimicking their accents. It didn't matter what they were talking about or what was happening, only that my brain was whirring and computing speeds, pitches and accents, unkown words and comfortable phrases, putting them together and forming complete sentences and logical conversations. I was in heaven. This was what I longed for in Rome, a group of Italians like this. Within two hours, I spoke and heard more than three weeks in Rome. My crutch of 5 american roomates was starting to irk me. Honestly the transformation of my italian in such a short amount of time shocked me. I never stopped asking Marta questions, and I never hesitated to talk, even when it was wrong. Just speaking italian made me so content I was not ready for the beautiful grandiose alps.
The alps rose up in the distance, gigantic, enormous, and blanketed with powdery white snow. As we passed Lake Como on the left, the mountains began closing in around us, shutting out the sun, and drawing long shadows on the ground. Making our way up to a skiing mountain we twisted and veered with the road ascending the monster that was one of the mighty alps. Little rustic mountain houses snuck into cracks and crevices where they could, taking advantage of the protection of rock on either side. I could not stop staring, fixated by the power of these mountains. The village we pulled into was small but warm. Snow covered rooves and terraced yards. It is amazing how they can bend nature to their will, but yet at the same time, it looks weak and fragile next to the enormity of the surroundings. The brief glimpses of the sun beyond the peaks was the only reminder we were not swallowed by the range. Those breif glimpses though reflected off the snow sending a brilliant light in all directions, illuminating the colors and rocks to reveal a beauty pictures could never capture. Then, we arrived at the top of the mountain after a brief ride on the lift. I could see for miles and miles in every direction. Snow capped mountains and valleys with streams of clean crisp water layed before me. It was so surreal that I just stood there in shock. The whole day for me was spent in awe of the immensity and power of the Alps. I loved my time there and learing of the "mountain food" which is very heavy and full of carbs. The elevation made me tired, and so on the return trip I slept in the car.
The next day we went to Milan by train. Exiting the train I was ready to feel the differences that every city holds, and Milan was no exception. The first thing that hit me other than the sun rising in the east, was the cleanliness of the streets. Milan was aboslutely spotless in comparison to Rome. It was actually an oddly discomforting feeling. I love the character the graffiti holds, and how it is perceived. Milan though seemed very businesslike and to the point. This did not detract form the architecture though, which I find in all of Italy amazing and almost impossible. The streets were full of shops of fashion and art. Tourists flocked around the Duomo which I approached in silence, marveling at its gothic design and noting the differences of the Florence Duomo. Such diversity in every aspect! Just amazing! I reached the top and snapped photos which don't capture the heavy age and gothic chill. I loved Milan, but Rome still captures me and will not let go.
I arrived back here in Rome at 730AM after leaving Marta's house at 3AM. I navigated the transportation to a T, and was more fluent in Italian by miles than before. I feel like I have accomplished so much, yet there is still so much more! Rome now is so comforting because of its familiarity. I am able to use every form of transportation with ease, and I at times, I almost feel the city was made just for me.
Now it is back to the grind of planning the next trip and as usual discovering Rome. I can't believe I am here still. I am so comfortable its scary. I feel bad for the others because they have no idea that the language barrier blocks so much more than language. There is a complete disconnect they don't feel like I do. The language is a living thing that reveals everything about a culture and can carry with it thoughts and emotions not able to be expressed in the rigid english words we have grown up speaking. I am trying to teach the guys the importance of it all in order to fully be immersed in this life. We have much time still, and I await the future advances of our knowledge and experience. Ciao for now everyone! (Shoutout to Elyise and Cara!!! HEY!)
Sunday, January 31, 2010
On this lazy weekend in Rome, we decided to leave town and explore what lay beyond the 7 hills. We took a bus to Tivoli, a town nestled onto a hilltop facing east just so the morning sun can warm its pastel colored walls. The bus took us through the outskirts of the city, which were drastically different than the inner Rome. It was dirty and poor, but still there was a feeling of balance and pace. Some might think this would ruin the city in my eyes, yet it only gave it that much more character. There was beauty even here, in the terrace gardens hidden on the roofs, and in the solitude of tiny vineyards in the backyards. Even the swaying of the laundry held a sense of routine and that oh so Italian feel.
Our arrival was quiet and unnoticed. This little town of Tivoli was ripe with new places to see, and new accents to hear. Our goal of the trip was to see Hadrian's Villa and other such sights around...Yet that changed as the pangs of hunger hit. Our search for the right restaurant took a while, but it was for sure the right choice. Generally we decide by the price of the house wine...5Euro per liter...yes, this would do. We sat down and ate our bread and drank our wine while chatting and laughing at the experiences we have had so far in Rome, and what voyages await in the coming months. Our food was exquisite, and we stayed for 2 hours or so, just like the italians! Then it was decided to start our "Tivolian" journey. (We made that name up for the people of Tivoli because it sounds cool). To our dismay though, everything was closed due to the foul weather. On that note we meandered the streets to the bus stop and boarded back to Rome.
That night I wanted to take it easy and relax in my eternal city. Therefore, I took one of my passegiatas(strolls) throughout the upper hill of the western city. I had no destination, no time, nothing. On my way through Trastevere, I passed the local bars and hang outs of the students, even seeing the Americans already loud and tipsy. I passed a street that glided upwards and took it in hopes of rising above the skyline. Up and up I went. Gradually the street rose to greater heights, I passed quiet streets lit up with that golden glow from the street lamps. I passed courtyards and tiny paths that lead who knows where? Finally, I reached a break in the hill, a plateau of sorts, and I gazed at what was strewn out before my American eyes. I was alone, and darkness surrounded me, leaving only the pale liquid light of the full moon to reflect the milky color of the Travertine of Rome. St. Peter's Basilica to my left, the Colosseum in front, and other monuments poked out of the skyline. In the distance outer Rome rose onto the hills like a wave upon the coast. I couldn't help but think of the layers this city has been through, and what still lay undiscovered and unknown. Facades upon facades, and columns within columns. The story of Rome seems so eternal, yet impossible. There is so much just within this city, and it seems a feat to see even the tiniest portion of it. The wind brushed my cheeks reminding me of time. I knew it was time to leave, but I made a mental note to return...soon. I glanced at the moon once more as it was engulfed by a thick gray cloud, and I returned to Trastevere.
Today, a couple of us left for the Vatican Museums at 7AM. It was rainy and cold, so we decided when we got there that we did not want to wait. But, since we were already up we walked to the Pantheon and went to the best coffee place in Rome. I at this nutella baklava thing with a steaming cappuccino. Then we had a leisurly walk back to our apartment. It is never boring to walk here, there is so much to see and watch it is almost wrong if we don't walk! The bridge over the Tevere River is magnificent. We always stop there and stare at the river that has fed Rome for countless years. Now though, It is time to go to the market and bargain for some shoes, pants, and a backpack for traveling. That means I must say ciao and be off. Until next time! Arrivederci!
Monday, January 25, 2010
We left Rome by train. Missed it. Got on another, and made it to Firenze by 10. We walked out of the deserted train station and the colder temperature of the north brushed across our cheeks as we tried to orient ourselves in this new city. The first sight we behold is the rolling dome of Il Duomo. Its height and mass dwarf everything around it. This place, this spot where we were standing was the rebirth of the of the time after the Middle Ages. This is what they call the Renaissiance, and we were staring at one of its peak monuments of achievment and art. Taking our eyes away was tough, yet we had to find our hostel among the curving streets of Firenze. Entering our hostel, we found the key to our bedroom with four beds...O ya, before I forget, two more people came with us than were originally planned, but we just snuck them in the hostel and they had to sleep four to two beds by sliding them together. Funny stuff.
Dinner was not hard to find and we sat down outside. I am so excited to be in a new place I can't make a straight sentence. I am blown away by the differences of Firenze to Rome. Immediately the whole feel was changed. Quieter. More serene, and most of all, artistically genius. Every corner, every turn looked as if constructed with ever so thoughtful plans and strategy. We oriented ourselves always by the Duomo. Its enormity could be seen from anywhere. To continue though, dinner was phenomenal. We then went to a local bar for the rest of the night and after, returned home for some sleep.
I woke up first as usual and roused the small army in our four bed hostel. We got ready and left to find a cappucino. As soon as we leave the hostel we hear noise and shouting. To our left we turn the corner to reveal a huge bustling market of leather, scarves, and belts. The picture above shows just a whisper of it. We walked down the road with the sun sending its warming rays to the dark pavement, warming the air and chasing away the chill of the night. Florence was awakening...to show us all of its splendor.
Our obvious first destinatoin was the Duomo, and to get to the top. We paid 8 Euro and started the climb. Higher and higher. Steps upon steps, but it seemed so little for what was to come. Our heads popped out of the top and what we saw left all of us without words. We just stared. 360 degrees around us stood a city, so brilliant, so different, and so-awesome. The red roofs contrasted ith the white plaster walls. The sun reflected off the river and revealed its sprawling bridges. Vineyards in the distance and siluoetted hills stood silent yet heavy with age. We couldn't leave the Duomo overlooking this beatifully artistic city which held some of the most most famous works of art of all time. Yet after an hour, we started the descent to the ground.
We then made our way to the river and sat on a bridge briefly deciding on lunch. After all this, we went to Piazzale di Michelangelo, the best view of the city. Another ascent, but this time, awaintng us was a full view of Firenze with the Duomo in all its glory. We arrived at the perfect time of the sun as it started to send shadows across the city, creating a beautiful contrast of the pastel colors and feeling of Firenze. Again, the beauty was like nothing we have seen. This place is absolutely incredible. Italy, I mean holds so many secrets and absolutely breathtaking views. Again, we could not leave. We had to stay. Steps nearby seemed perfect to behold the city, and so we sat there, sun warming our faces and the city prodding our thoughts. After a while, the sun started its wane, and we started our walk back. We passed the Uffizi, the fake David, and other monuments as well. Tourists were here and there, and we were somewhere in between, not quite locals, yet not tourists by any means.
We returned home and got ready for the discoteca!! It is called Space, and so we kept making jokes like, "hey guys, are you ready to go to space? " We made every joke possible throughout the weekend. Anyway, we went to dinner and then a bar. At the bar, the table of girls next to us was speaking some language, I couldn't quite hear, so I just went over in french...I mean, hey, how could it go wrong? Well it did. They were German! I felt like an idiot, but at least they spoke French too, and fluent Italian. They were all very nice and we invited them to space! Haha, they came with us and it was CRAZY! There were Europeans everywhere dancing and being...I don't know, Euro. We went to third story of the second floor and danced our faces off there. All American music. It was really funny. After that, we got home at like 330-4, but I got lost on my way out. I took a complete wrong turn and ended up east of the city. Thank God I speak Italian because I ran into two Italian guys my age and they were looking for the train’s station too! They were form Livorno and visiting Florence like me. Anyway, we went together to the train station and had a great conversation too! Once at the train station I knew my way home, so we said our goodbyes and grazie's and parted ways.
So now it’s Sunday in Florence and I am awake at 9. I leave the Hostel knowing the guys won't awaken until 12 or something. I stopped and got an espresso, and sat in a beautiful park with a fountain. I then try to find someplace to rent bikes so we can bike to the countryside. Instead I find a bus that goes to the Chianti region...you know ...WINE! In the afternoon, we boarded the bus to go north! I was so excited to see the countryside because so far, all we have seen is city. It was well worth it too, because as we exited the walls of the city, the country opened its arms to us. Rolling hills and vineyards stretched across acres and acres of land. As far as the eye could see, the classic Tuscan countryside awaited. I was frozen with the expanse and wonder of it all! The bus ride was an hour long, and dropped us off in this tiny town. Our destination was Il Castello di Montefioralle. Evidently, a grand castle of some such thing. Anyway, we started climbing the road, and it was HUGE! Our thighs were on fire by the end! But they view of everything was massively beautiful. I felt like I was looking at the calendars we sell at Barnes and Noble...but no, instead, I am actually here! Our trip was nearing its end and so we boarded the bus, saying goodbye to Chianti, not before buying a bottle, and we ventured back to Florence. Then a train to Rome, which oddly enough now feels like my home. I am so comfortable here in every way. When we exited the station in Rome, I felt more at ease with the familiarity. The bumps of the streets, and the light from the fountains.
So now starts another week of school...if you could call it that. My biggest goal now is to stop spending money. It is ridiculous how fast it goes when you lose so much with the exchange! Thanks for reading everyone! Ciao!!