Thursday, December 24, 2009
Rome and this past semester almost feels like a crazy dream. Even on the plane back to Chicago, I was writing on my journal, and I could hardly believe that everything I was saying was real. Did I really spend the past 4 months living in Rome? Did I really spend most of my weekends traveling around Europe and Africa with my friends? Did I really hike the seven miles linking the Cinque Terre? Did I really skip around the gardens of Salzburg? Did I really ride a camel around the pyramids? Did I really spend Thanksgiving in Paris? Did I really see the house my great-great grandfather was born in in Germany? And by the end did I really know Rome like a local? Yes, yes, and yes.
At the beginning of the semester, I feel like most of us at the J-Force lived our lives in a constant state of disbelief. "Guys, we are on our way to Italy for 3 months... We just landed in ROME!... Oh my gosh, we're at St. Peter's... I can't believe we just spent the weekend at Capri... We just had class at the Colosseum... You can buy good wine for 2 Euro?!?!..." and so on and so forth. Much like David, we often wondered, "Is this real life?" The answer was always "yes" and "no." Yes because it was real, but no because it wasn't permanent. We always knew we'd have to pack up our bags in a few short months and leave this experience behind.
After awhile, statements of disbelief stopped being quite so frequent in our lives. They were instead gradually replaced with ones more along these lines: "Yeah, I'm just staying in Rome for the weekend. Nothing too exciting... Okay, we'll meet you at the Spanish Steps at 10:00 and then go to Campo like normal... We're just going downtown to get gelato and walk around--it's a pretty chill night... Another Art in Rome class in a Baroque church this morning... I just booked a plane ticket/spent a weekend in [insert European destination of your choice]..." Rome and our way of life there became comfortable; it was never remotely close to a routine, but it was comfortable in it's inconsistency, drama, and excitement. Despite the fact that things were always crazy and different, after awhile, it was a sense of change that we grew accustomed to.
At the very end of the semester, we all began to realize that this change in perspective had taken place almost without us noticing it. As our time drew to a close, we all focused on appreciating our last moments in Rome by spending them in the places we had grown to love.
As for me, while I said many of my goodbyes with my fellow J-Forcers before they returned home on the group flight, I had an additional round of goodbyes with Rome because of my travels to Germany. After returning to Rome on Friday afternoon, I had all day Saturday to spend the way I liked before flying out on Sunday.
So, on Saturday morning I got up early and walked to the Vatican, where I watched the sunrise from St. Peter's Square. So beautiful. There are no words. After that, I paid my last visit to the Basilica itself before it became crowded with tourists groups. Instead of standing on my tiptoes to see a glimpse of the Michelangelo's Pieta, I looked at it by myself, admiring the emotion and detail in the work. I knelt to pray for the last time, in thankfulness and gratitude for my gift of a semester.
Then, I left the Basilica to spend the rest of the day wandering around Rome, reliving my memories, visiting my favorite sights, and bidding them goodbye. I spent two hours at the Borghese Gallery, hanging out with two of my favorite artists, Bernini and Caravaggio. I ate my last real Italian pizza, pasta, and gelato and drank my last glass of wine. I remembered beginnings at the Colosseum, art classes in churches, nights out at Campo de' Fiori, meals eaten with my parents, afternoons shopping with my friends, and all of the moments in between. As I walked miles around downtown for the last time, I realized how many memories I really had acquired in Rome; they were every corner I turned. I ended my day in Rome the way it had began and the way my time in Rome had begun, at St. Peter's Square--my favorite place in the city. It was the perfect ending to the best semester of my life.
Then before I knew it, my alarm clock was ringing at 4:30am, all of my bags were packed, I was armed with snacks of pizza and Italian pastries for the plane ride, and I was stepping into a Roman taxi for the last time. I chatted with the cab driver in Italian on the way to the airport about simple matters, how long I had been in Rome, what I was studying, the weather, etc. "Fa molto freddo!" he commented, almost shivering in Rome's low 50 degree temperature, while I wasn't even wearing a real coat at the time. As I had recently returned from snowy, windy Berlin, I corrected him saying, "Germania fa molto freddo!" He laughed at that and agreed with me. He asked "Ti piace Roma?" (Do you like Rome?") to which I could I could only answer emphatically, "Si, mi piace Roma molto," my Italian-speaking abilities falling short in expressing how dearly I have grown to love that city.
Once at the airport, I thanked the cab driver for his kindness, checked my two suitcases, bought one final beginning-of-a-trip muffin, and eventually stepped onto the plane that would take me back to the United States, leaving Italy behind. As the plane ride went on, two emotions overwhelmed me: thankfulness for my wonderful semester and excitement to be going home. You see, it's Christmas Eve today after all, and I can't imagine being anywhere but here, with the friends and family that I love. At the end of the day, it's the people that matter, not where you are--even when where you are is Rome--and I don't know if I have ever appreciated being home so much.
But no worries, Rome. I am fully confident that I'll be back; I threw my coins in the Trevi Fountain to guarantee it. You couldn't keep me away if you tried. And until then, we will always have our memories.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Well, the semester in Rome has now officially come to a (rather dramatic) end, and I have found myself in Germany for the week! So far, Beth and I have been to Rothenburg and Munich, and today we leave Munich for Berlin. I LOVE Germany so far!!! It is definitely one of my favorite places that I have traveled to. It's wonderful... and I especially love being here during Christmas Market season! I fly back to the States on Sunday, and I am starting to get more excited about coming home though. I think once I finally get there after all of my traveling, it will be great. :) Okay, well, I have to go make one more quick round around the Christmas Market before we leave!
Monday, December 7, 2009
You make me crazy, make me laugh hysterically one minute and want to cry hysterically the next. I make decisions that don't make sense to me, do ridiculous and impractical things, and when I wonder "why?" out loud, all I'm told is to blame you.
You--with all of your inconsistency, your chaos, your completely disarming and yet charming sense of beauty. There is no place like here, no place like you, and you know it. You are proud, but not cocky; regal and majestic; ancient and full of wisdom--wisdom you don't share easily. You know what's gone on before, and you know that it's not worth the trouble to deal with it again. You don't even have to try; you are content to exist, to just be. You understand that being is an art grander than the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, or even St. Peter's. Rome, you know how to live.
Rome, you're no good for me; you make me weak, lower my defenses, let me stumble, leave me exhausted. You push me around, and when that's not enough for you, you knock me down on my face. You shape me; you make me. I get sucked in by your mystery and your romance, and you spit me back out laughing, making me stand up on my own two feet again. You have taught me passion, to live in the moment, to seize adventure with both hands and take off running.
Oh, Rome, we've had less than four months together, but a lifetime wouldn't be enough for you. After all, you're the Eternal City--you've been here for thousands of years before me, and you'll still be here after me. In a city of this scale, I never thought I'd really get my hands on you, but I've made pieces of you my own. And I haven't left yet, but before I do, I'm leaving a piece of myself here too. I'll be the girl in the dress sitting on the cobblestones of St. Peter's Square, gazing up at the Basilica with a cone of gelato in my hand, still as completely in awe of you as I was my first night here back in August. Others may not see me, but a memory of me will always remain; you'll know I'm there, and that's enough.
Oh, Rome, you're no good for me, but I've loved you relentlessly all the same. I've defended you, and I keep coming back to you over and over again. You're intoxicating, and you draw me back in every time--from the alleys of Trastevere to Via del Corso and back to Monte Mario. Somehow my roads have led me to you, and I can't escape--and I don't want to.
You have given me everything, but you've taken all of me too. I can't get enough of you because there will never be enough. You're everything, and you're definitely too much for me.
Oh, Rome, you have been so good for me.
"... Each, in its own way, was unforgettable. It would be difficult to - Rome! By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live." --Roman Holiday
Sometimes it takes stepping onto that plane to begin the best journey of your life.
Sometimes it takes being away from your family to realize how much you treasure their presence.
Sometimes it takes leaving your best friends to make yourself realize exactly why you became friends in the first place.
Sometimes it takes being halfway across the world to understand that when it comes to the people that matter, distance doesn’t change a thing.
Sometimes it takes making the effort to meet new people to remind you how worthwhile of an effort it is.
Sometimes it takes pushing yourself to do new things to experience all that you came to experience.
Sometimes it takes taking a chance to have the memories you’ll never forget.
Sometimes it takes wandering Rome by yourself to really start to see it.
Sometimes it takes seeing history firsthand to reassure yourself of the value in studying it.
Sometimes it takes having nothing to rely on except God to realize that He always provides.
Sometimes it takes questioning yourself to understand who you really are.
And sometimes it even takes making the wrong decisions to make you realize what the right ones are.
Rome, I’ll miss you, but I’m almost home.
Less than 3 days left at the J-Force… Rothenburg, Germany on Thursday.
Friday, December 4, 2009
--from the student farewell speech at the end of the semester banquet
Thank you for making this the best semester of my life. Thank you for your passion, your enthusiasm, your willingness to have a good time, your desire to embrace this culture, and most of all, your friendship. After being in Rome, you have been what made this semester what it is.
I'm usually more wordy than this, but no amount of words could ever convey my gratitude. But I'll say it again anyway: thank you, thank you, thank you.
In the words of an Irish blessing (I should probably have picked something Italian, but oh well):
"May the road rise up to meet you;
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand."
Love & memories,
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Final week of class. Last Theology class yesterday. Last Italian class tomorrow. Calcio championships/last night at BP tomorrow night. Last paper due Thursday. Final day of class Thursday. End of the semester banquet Thursday night. Study day Friday. Finals starting Saturday afternoon. Last night out in Rome Saturday night. Last Sunday Mass at the JFRC chapel. Finals Monday and Tuesday. Packing, packing, packing Wednesday. "See you later's" and then Germany on Thursday.
It's coming too soon, especially finals. I am so bitter that my last real week in Rome is mainly being spent in the JFRC library, tucked away with notebooks and textbooks by myself, rather than out exploring the city with my friends for one last time. It has been unanimously agreed upon that we have learned exponentially more on the weekends than during the week anyway, so why are my final days in this wonderful city being ruined by something as trivial as exams? In the end, what is really more important?
While I've never ever been someone that has blown off school (and I'm still not), I think that one of the most important lessons I have learned while studying abroad is that there are so many things that are far more important than school. And what matters now, in these final, fleeting moments, is Rome, with all of it's inconsistency, all of its chaotic beauty, all of its passion, all of the lessons I have learned and have yet to learn.
Oh, Roma. I have to leave you, but I won't let you go.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Roma. the aegean sea. matera. alberobello. sorrento. pompeii. capri. cinque terre. la spezia. levanto. pisa. velletri. assisi. marino. krakow. auschwitz-birkenau. vienna. salzburg. prague. london. venice. cairo. giza. alexandria. florence. paris. versailles. Roma. monte mario. J-Force. mensa. room 311. rinaldo's. BP's. calcio fields. campo de' fiori. scholar's. old bridge gelateria. st. peter's square. villa borghese. via del corso. piazza navona. trevi fountain. trastevere. Roma. museums. churches. bridges. cafes. mcdonalds. alleyways. bus stops. airports. train stations. train compartments. metro. hostels. hotels. Roma. frankfurt. munich. berlin. home. Roma—always, always, always.
friends. wine. carbs. heat. scarves. gelato. pasta. trains. maps. guidebooks. buses. fountains. water. nutella. mountains. beer. pizza. calcio. karaoke. visas. hiking. backpack. traditions. mass. journals. cobblestones. laughter. tickets. visits. picnics. classes. beginnings. endings. change. phone cards. bakeries. euros. cameras. tourists. loss. pictures. camels. language. olives. castles. art. gossip. mornings. crepes. the eiffel tower. questions. pierogis. rain. snow. love. canals. the sound of music. passion. music. homework. time. souvenirs. skype dates. to do lists. postcards. viewpoints. history. rivers. chances. markets. adventure. memories.
descriptive words; adjectives & adverbs.
good. scary. beautiful. overwhelming. rewarding. spectacular. loud. rushed. warm. welcoming. comfortable. ridiculous. quick. exciting. ancient. new. historical. competitive. crazy. wonderful. fantastic. amazing. magical. educational. better. uncertain. confusing. peaceful. moving. thrilling. foreign. silly. pink. hilarious. intense. spiritual. nostalgic. quiet. nerve-racking. awkward. frustrating. hectic. fun. fast. difficult. worthwhile. best.
walking, walking, walking. running. traveling. climbing. growing. wandering. changing. loving. losing. discovering. being. waking up. sleeping. hiking. posing. riding. dancing. playing. eating. seeing. shopping. drinking. winning. wondering. admiring. failing. photographing. learning. planning. laughing. smiling. missing. treasuring. packing. relaxing. studying. falling. going out. writing. remembering.
p.s. only 10 days left at the J-Force, then 10 more days in Europe, then I'm home.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Kate arrived from the US early Sunday morning, and the next few days were spent showing her around Rome (and you know, attending class). On Tuesday night, we jetted off to Paris, where we stayed until Friday night, when we flew back to Rome. Then, we got up early this morning, saw a last few Roman sites, then I dropped her off at the airport to fly back to the US. Whew. Quite a week, I must say, but a wonderful week all the same.
With American Thanksgiving this past week, the idea of "giving thanks" has been on my mind lately, and for good reason. In addition to all of the other wonderful things in my life, I have so much to be thankful for just in regards to this past semester. I've traveled to amazing places, met fantastic new people, and done a lot of things that most people only dream about. From sitting in a rowboat in the Blue Grotto on Capri to going up in the Eiffel Tower, I won't hesitate to say that this past semester has been the most incredible experience of my life thus far.
I just looked through the pictures that everyone has been putting up on Facebook over the course of the semester, and I can't even comprehend everything that I've experienced in these few short months. I'm so grateful for where I've been and what I've seen on my weekend trips, but I'm equally grateful (if not even more so) for my time in Rome itself. Rome really has become comfortable to me; I feel like I love and know this city as more than just a tourist, which is exactly what I wanted to get out of this semester.
So, here's to still celebrating the real meaning of Thanksgiving, even when my Thanksgiving dinner consisted of eating an omelet and crepes in a French cafe outside of Notre Dame. After all, the point is still the same no matter what country I'm in or what food I'm eating.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
“airports, see it all the time
where someone's last goodbye
blends in with someone's sigh
'cause someone's coming home
you can't build a house of leaves
and live like it's an evergreen
it's just a season thing
it's just this thing that seasons do
you just might find if you give it time
you will wave hello again
you just might wave hello again”
Monday, November 16, 2009
To eat dinner the Italian way, most people won't go out until at least 8:00. They will eat several courses (antipasti, primo, secondo, etc). They'll linger for hours over a meal, drinking wine, and enjoying conversation. Unlike in US, no one rushes you away from your table. Waiters expect you to stay for at least a couple of hours.
Everything here is so fresh. Even the simplest things are so good; I end up eating tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella almost everyday, just because it's that good.
Everywhere in Italy and especially in Rome, there's so many good restaurants, bakeries, and cafes. And everything is [almost always] excellent.
Other people have been complaining about becoming sick of pasta since the beginning of the semester, but I'm not. At all. And frankly, I'm not looking forward to going back to American food. I feel like food here is a lot healthier here and better tasting.
Yes, the food is definitely going to be one of the hardest things to give up. I will miss it so much.
It was a fantastic weekend (or rather "brilliant," as the British would say). As I'd already been to London a few years earlier, I already knew that I would love the city (which I do now more than ever before), but being there again was wonderful! Unlike a lot of the traveling I had been doing up to that point in the semester, London was extremely relaxing. Instead of running around and doing tons of sightseeing, we mainly just hung out, went to the pub, walked around, went to the pub, ate, and oh yeah, went to the pub again. (You think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not.)
In all seriousness though, it was so nice to experience a city the way that locals would experience it. I actually felt like I was living in London for a few days rather than just frantically running around trying to see every touristy site ever. Staying in a real house instead of a hotel or hostel definitely helped enhance that feeling as well.
I hardly saw any of the typical tourists sights --no Big Ben, Parliament, or Tower of London--and didn't set foot near a museum this time around when I was in London, but I feel like I actually saw London; I actually experienced London as more than just a tourist.
One of the things I have been thinking about a lot this semester is the different approaches people can take to traveling and what suits me the best. While I do love to sight see and visit museums and other historical sites, I think it is also really important to find that critical balance between doing things in a place and just taking time to just be in a place. London was a weekend of being, and I loved it.
Oh, and a bit of advice for those traveling to the UK anytime soon: make sure you know the address of where you are staying because if you don't, they will not let you through customs. And apparently, saying that your father is meeting you and you are staying with family friends is not sufficient! Ah, it's just another lesson learned, right?
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
I've really been wanting to write about the weekend trips I've been on, but time to do so just hasn't materialized quite yet. I've been gone every weekend since Fall Break, each time off to vastly different places--from London, to Venice, to Egypt (!!!), and back again.
Each of these weekends has been so wonderful. When I returned back to the Rome Center this past Monday morning, my roommate, Beth, asked me how my weekend was, to which I responded, "Amazing. Probably the best weekend trip I've had all semester." She laughed at me and replied, "You say that every week," which is honestly the truth. I've truly been blessed to have some amazing travel experiences this semester, and I don't take them for granted.
All of this traveling has made time here pass so quickly, and the end of the semester is suddenly looming over all of us here at the Rome Center. Today marks one month until the group flight back to Chicago for most of the students here (me excluded, I'm staying for 10 extra days), and our next month is jam packed full of tests, papers, projects, presentations, and eventually the dreaded final exams. In addition to all of this schoolwork, most of us are still traveling on the weekends, and we have to fit in time to do everything we've been putting off doing in Rome. See how busy we are?
Even now, I'm writing this post as a break from memorizing the names of Baroque architects and Renaissance painters for my Thursday morning Art In Rome test. Later tonight, we're supposed to have a karaoke night here; we'll see if I make it to that one.
And now, I should definitely go back to studying for Thursday's test. Wish me luck!
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Things are always changing in Rome though, although they are subtle changes. The weather has cooled down slightly, and I’m finally beginning to feel a hint of fall in the air. I’ve finally stopped wearing shorts and have moved on to blue jeans and tights. Everyone at the JFRC seems to have gotten to that level of comfort with each other that can only come about with time and constantly living all on top of each other. Classes have become a comfortable (albeit somewhat annoying) routine. I know what foods I look forward to eating in our cafeteria and which ones I avoid. I think I’ve even mastered showering at the perfect time to get hot water!
And as my roommate just said, “It’s almost November. It’s crazy. When did that happen?” I think all of us at the JFRC feel similarly. It’s so difficult to comprehend the passing of time here; everything goes so quickly, yet it seems like we have been here for months and months instead of a day over two months.
Last night, I went downtown with a few friends to get gelato and then walk around St. Peter’s Square—just another Tuesday night in Rome. I had such a sense of déjà vu as I did this, however. My second night in Rome, some of our SLAs (Student Life Assistants) at the JRFC organized a gelato crawl for anyone that wanted to participate. That night, my group went to the same gelateria and made our way over to St. Peter’s. Repeating these same actions, even with different people, made it so clear to me how much has already changed over these last two months.
As we looked upon St. Peter’s in the moonlight (in my opinion, a much better experience than being there with all of the crowds during the day), I thought a lot about my time abroad thus far: where I’ve been, who I’ve met, what I’ve learn, and because of all that, how I’ve changed.
That first night at St. Peter’s, everything was new and exciting in Rome and I had no idea what this semester would hold, but I’ve grown into things a little bit now. Everything’s basically fallen into place. I have basically all of my weekends and trips planned out for the rest of the semester. It seems like we’re just starting to get really comfortable here, and before we know it, it will be time to leave.
Here’s to making the most of what time we do have left.
-meganp.s. I wrote this on Wednesday and forgot to post it until now... oops. Better late than never though, right?
Monday, October 26, 2009
To sum up the trip, I decided to write an “awards show” version of everything because it would be both quicker and more fun!
So, here we go:
Best train ride: Vienna to Salzburg – comfy train, absolutely beautiful scenery, and just the right length.
Other memorable train experiences: riding the night train for the first time (not bad at all) and riding in compartments like in the Harry Potter books on the way to Prague!
Best hot dog ever: At the Plac Nowy in Krakow. I ate two. Sooo good.
Best hostel: it’s a tie between the Balloon Hostel in Krakow (super cheap, really homey feeling, and fun people) and the YoHo Youth Hostel in Salzburg (fun people again, lots of Sound of Music greatness, and it basically had everything you’d ever want right there including a restaurant/bar).
Place that felt most like Disneyland: Prague. Between the Castle and the Clock, it just felt a like bit magical.
Best public transportation: Vienna, hands down. Clean, so frequent and reliable, and the trams were designed by Porsche!
Classiest moment: Going to the Opera at the Opera House in Vienna. Yeah, I wore jeans and paid 4 Euro for a standing room ticket, but I still felt really classy.
Favorite square: Krakow’s Old Town Square. So fun! And so huge!
Cheesiest experience: Going on The Sound of Music tour and taking pictures in the Mirabella gardens (where they filmed most of “Do Re Mi”) in Salzburg.
Best dessert: Apple strudel with vanilla sauce during the Sound of Music tour.
Fantastic surprise: our train to Prague from Salzburg went through Germany! So, I have now officially set foot on German soil (we had to switch trains at one point).
Most memorable (?) experience: visiting the concentration camps at Auschwitz. There are no words for the kind of horror and tragedy of seeing that with your own eyes.
Best weather: The first day of the trip, unfortunately enough. The rain started the next day, followed by more rain, snow, much colder weather, and wind.
Favorite castle: the one in Prague (I forget the name…).
Best airline: Wizz Air. Besides the name, the plane was also pink and purple. Need I say more?
Favorite country: Austria.
Minor disappointment: I technically went to four different countries, yet didn’t get a single new stamp in my passport!
There's so much more to say, but it's so hard to sum up a week in a quick and concise format, so for now this will have to do.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
And after my class this afternoon, I'm leaving right away to head to airport again! I'm flying to London to spend the weekend with my Dad (Papa), who's been there this week. I'll be back Sunday night, just in time to studying for my Theology midterm on Monday. After that, hopefully I will get around to updating about Fall Break and everything else that has gone on!
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Tuesday night, we had a karaoke night at the Rome Center. It ended up being a lot of fun and was just a really good bonding time for everyone. We sang a lot of 80's and 90's music, and had huge dance party.
Wednesday morning, we had to get up early to go the Papal Audience. Unfortunately, although I got there pretty early, it wasn't quite early enough, and I ended up not being able to get into the actual audience with the Pope. FYI: just because you have a ticket does NOT mean that you will get in to the actual audience. On the bright side, I still got to see the Pope up close because he drove by in the Popemobile only about 10 feet away from me!
Classes were canceled on Wednesday so that everyone was free to go the Papal Audience, so that afternoon I went back downtown to the Villa Borghese for a few hours and did some exploring. Villa Borghese is essentially Rome's version of Central Park (or I guess it's technically the other way around because I'm pretty sure that the Villa Borghese is older), and it quickly became one of my favorite places in Rome.
Wednesday night, we had the first set of calcio matches for the semester. Calcio is a huge deal here at the Rome Center. Of course, I've never really played soccer before, and I'm really not very athletic at all, but I signed up to play anyway just because I thought it would be a fun bonding activity. I'm on the Pink Team. I did play for part of the game, but I have to admit that I spent most of the time I was out on the field repeatedly thinking about how scary I think soccer is. I'm hoping that feeling will diminish after a few more weeks. After calcio is over, it's tradition for everyone to go out together to this local pizzeria that we call BP. I think I enjoyed that part more than the actual calcio!
Thursday night, it was one of the girl's from SLU's 21st birthday, so a bunch of us went out to celebrate that with her, which was very fun. We actually visited an Irish pub (complete with Irish music), as well as a few other places.
I stayed in Rome this weekend, which has actually been fantastic! As much as I enjoy traveling, it's also really nice to be more relaxed and hang out here, plus there's always more exploring and fun to be had in Rome.
Although today I did go on a day trip with my Italian class to a nearby town named Velletri, where our Italian teacher lives. We got to meet his family, and we all went grocery shopping, then made dinner. His town was having their annual wine festival, so we also went to that.
And just to wrap everything up, tomorrow morning I'm getting up early to go the flea market, and then my parents should be getting to Rome sometime during the afternoon!
It should prove to be another exciting week. :)
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
We left for the Cinque Terre early Friday morning by taking a taxi to the train station at 5:00am! The taxi drive was crazy—the streets of Rome were almost deserted since it was so early, and the driver was going so incredibly fast. To my still-asleep eyes, everything just seemed like a blur.
In part because of the speed of our taxi driver, we arrived at the train station with plenty of time to spare. We then took the train to Pisa, where we switched trains for La Spezia. Have I ever mentioned how much I enjoy traveling on the train? It’s just so much more relaxing than flying, plus you get to see a lot more scenery.
We stayed in La Spezia for the weekend, which is not actually one of the Cinque Terre towns, but it was only a quick train ride away. Staying in La Spezia actually meant we got to stay in a nicer place—a hotel instead of a hostel—that was actually cheaper too!
We spent most of our time at the Cinque Terre on Friday and Saturday completing the 7-mile hike that links the towns together. We broke the hike up into two parts and did the first half on Friday and the rest on Saturday. The second half was much harder than the first, but the views/scenery were gorgeous! The last half of the hike was a lot of up-and-down action, steps, and really narrow ledges, but I felt incredibly accomplished when it was over.
As soon as we got to the last town, we went swimming and hung out at the beach! Spending time at the beach was wonderful, of course, and we then wandered around the town for awhile. We got dinner and gelato and just enjoyed ourselves. :)
Sunday morning, we woke up early and took the train back to Pisa. It was already pretty cloudy at this point and starting to sprinkle a little bit, but we were hoping the rain would hold off. Unfortunately, just when we arrived at the Leaning Tower, it really started to rain hard. We stuck it out for a little bit and took a few pictures before heading back to the train station, where we had McDonalds for lunch! FYI: McDonalds in Italy tastes almost exactly the same as McDonalds in the US, except that it’s more expensive. But it is excellent comfort food.
After lunch, we grabbed another train that took us back to Rome, and that pretty well wrapped up the weekend. I absolutely loved visiting the Cinque Terre and really hope that I get to go back there again someday. Overall, it was really an excellent trip!
A few more tidbits of exciting news:
Tomorrow everyone at the JFRC has the opportunity to go to a Papal Audience! I’m really looking forward to it; this isn’t an opportunity that everyone gets. Also, my parents arrived in Italy yesterday, and I’m so eager to see them this weekend when they come to Rome!
Thursday, September 17, 2009
These include, but are not limited to:
military time, living in dorms again/eating in a cafeteria for my meals, not using my American cell phone, paying to do laundry, not using a dryer (most of the time), no wireless internet in my dorm room, taking public transportation everywhere, shampoo/other toiletries costing twice what they do at home, not really eating breakfast, stores being closed for siesta times, marble floors everywhere—not just in nice places, and of course, the obvious language barrier.
And last but not least, finding a balance between schoolwork, traveling, and all of the other miscellaneous things I have to do (laundry, going in the grocery store, keeping in touch with people from home, writing in my journal/this blog, etc.).
I say these things not because I view them in a negative light, but rather for the sake of reflecting upon the differences between cultures/residential situations.
With that said, the hardest/worst thing is definitely not eating breakfast. I look forward to the day when I’ll be able to have my cereal and orange juice every morning again.
Monday, September 14, 2009
On Friday evening, we took a bus to the subway to the train station, where we took the train to Naples. Once we arrived in Naples, we had to buy yet another train ticket to get to Sorrento where we stayed for the weekend. Once arriving in Sorrento, however, our hostel was an approximately 25 minute walk from the train station. With our backpacks. At night. On tiny, winding roads. Uphill.
Needless to say, we were all exhausted and rather relieved when we finally arrived in at the hostel! It was a pretty nice place, just in a very inconvenient location.
This was also only the beginning of the various transportation methods we employed throughout the trip that included more trains, buses, ferries, subways, cars, tons of walking, and even a rowboat!
On Saturday, we went to Mt. Vesuvius. We took a shuttle most of the way up the volcano and then hiked the rest of the way up. Seeing the crater was amazing, as well as the fantastic view from the top. It was also very appropriate considering that we went to Pompeii afterwards. Just seeing the volcano that caused all of that was really impressive.
Pompeii itself was fantastic. I loved it. Seeing an almost completely preserved Roman town was just so compelling. The history major in me was basically thrilled. However, walking around Pompeii after hiking at Mt. Vesuvius basically wore us all out so we were again extremely tired by the time it was over.
Sunday morning, we got up early and took the first ferry over to Capri. At Capri, we visited the famous Blue Grotto and did a little bit of shopping. The Blue Grotto was wonderful! It definitely looks like something that is man-made, which makes it even more miraculous that it was solely created by nature. (You have to ride in a rowboat to get into the grotto, if you were wondering where the rowboat came in.) Capri itself was a beautiful island, but it was also a little bit too crowded and touristy for my taste.
After spending some time at Capri, we took the early afternoon ferry back to Sorrento. We planned on riding a bus back to Rome, but it unfortunately ended up being full, so we were out of luck on that account. Instead we ended up taking the train back the way we had came, which was a bit stressful. However, we all got back to Rome just fine, even though we were exhausted.
All in all, it really was a good weekend, even with frustrating things that happened. There were a lot of things I learned that will be very useful on future trips, so even that wasn’t all bad (for example, I overpacked—that backpack got really heavy after awhile).
And then, I had to get up and go to class this morning! School doesn’t stop, even when I’m gone traveling for the weekend, but I really can’t complain. Afterall, I’m still in Rome!
Thursday, September 10, 2009
I just really love the feel of the Rome Center. It’s such a great place to be. Since it’s a pretty small group of people (approx. 150 students), it really does become a very close-knit community.
Today, I actually signed up to play calcio (soccer) as part of the JFRC intramurals. It’s a big thing here at the Rome Center, and I got talked into doing it… My soccer skills are limited to say the least, so I’ll let you know how this one works out. I’m still a bit skeptical about it, but hopefully it will be fun.
And now I just got done spending way too much time with my Italian-English dictionary and Italian textbook. School has definitely begun.
I’ve now had all of my classes. Today was my first Art in Rome class and one of our rare classes not on-site. Tomorrow, however, we’re meeting at the Roman Forum/Colosseum for class. What’s that? Class on Friday? Aren’t I not supposed to have class on Fridays while in Rome?
Ah, that’s what I thought too. However, as we all unfortunately learned once arriving at the Rome Center, we do in fact have classes on some Fridays. Initially this didn’t seem like much of problem, but it has already made travel plans rather complicated.
Speaking of travel plans, I’m actually leaving to go somewhere tomorrow afternoon! I’m taking the train to Naples, then Sorrento, where I’ll be staying for the rest of the weekend. We’re planning to visit Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius, and Capri, before we come back Sunday night! It should be a busy weekend, but a lot of fun.
I’ve also made a few other travel plans and am working on getting more lined up. Next weekend, I will hopefully be going to Cinque Terre and Pisa! And I also bought my plane ticket for Fall Break. Things are starting to come together, which is very exciting.
More soon about my first real trip this weekend!
Monday, September 7, 2009
However, since I am in Italy and my schedule allows for it, I'm only taking 12 hours this semester, which will be a nice break from my usual 15-16 hours. My classes are as follows:
- Italian III
- Roman Catholicism
- Food & Wine of Italy
- Art in Rome
I am really excited for Art in Rome though because it's taught almost entirely on site; for example, the day that we learn about the Colosseum, we actually go to the Colosseum. I'm definitely looking forward to it.
Today I went on a small adventure with a few of my friends to the "Bone Church"! (Actual name = Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini) However, it's nicknamed the Bone Church for one very important reason: the crypt is decorated with the bones of over 4000 monks! You can read more about it/see some pictures here. Pretty crazy stuff. It was certainly a sight to see!
On the way to the Bone Church, we actually stumbled upon another really famous church: San Carlo alla Quattro Fontane. That's one of my absolute favorite things about Rome--how I stumble upon such beauty and history everywhere I go. I am also (finally) the proud owner of a Rome bus map, which is basically a neccesity here. Overall, it was a very successful afternoon!
And... I'm already excited for the weekend!
As part of orientation, we went on a small trip. Monday morning, we all loaded onto a bus, and drove all day to get to a town named Matera in Southern Italy. Matera is not very big city and not many tourists really go there or know about it yet. It was incredibly beautiful and not a place I would have gone on my own, so I was so glad that it was included as part of our orientation. Fun fact: it is also where The Passion of the Christ movie was filmed!
But what really makes Matera so special is the houses there that were built into the side of cliff; they essentially started caves that were dug out to become homes. They call this part of town the Sassi, which is Italian for stone. Walking around the Sassi was almost like walking through a maze, everything was winding with lots of hidden nooks and corners.
After touring the Sassi in the morning, that afternoon I went on a hike to another hill that overlooked the Matera. The view was so beautiful, and I just loved being there—definitely one of my favorite things I have done thus far on the trip.
Since coming back to Rome from Southern Italy, I’ve really just been working on getting more settled in and exploring the city some more. There’s so much to see just in Rome, and I feel like I’ll never get to half of it. Even the smallest things here are such an adventure, from buying laundry detergent to finishing all of the paperwork for my Italian visa.
Today we have been having wonderful weather—like mid-80’s instead of high 90’s, sunny, with just the right amount of breeze. I spent most of my afternoon just sitting in the JFRC courtyard, reading and catching up on my journaling.
I also had my first experience going running in Rome! Of course, the Rome Center is located on a hill, so parts of it weren’t too fun and it was definitely different than going running back at the track in Perryville. Instead of the track, I was running on narrow, winding streets, dodging all kinds of plants and being careful to avoid vespas. I definitely got a few strange looks from some Italians (I don’t think they really go running like we do), but it was way worth it.
And now classes start tomorrow morning, which will be another kind of adventure in and of itself… just maybe not quite as exciting as the other kinds I’ve been having. However, it will be good to be learning things again, and it will be nice to have some kind of routine.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
In the past week, I have:
moved into my room at the JFRC, met many new people, wandered around Rome, seen many of the most famous Roman landmarks, had way too many 3 course meals (I do understand how Italians eat like this on a regular basis), traveled to Southern Italy, looked out over one of the most beautiful views of my entire life, attempted to speak Italian to real Italians, and much more.
It's difficult to describe how it feels to be in Rome again. As I find my way around this city and see all of the sites that I fell in love with while visiting three years ago, it almost feels like coming back home to an old friend that has been neglected for far too long.
Visiting the Vatican last Friday night was one of the best experiences of my time here thus far. Since it was late at night, we obviously couldn't go inside St. Peter's, but we were allowed to wander around the Square, which was almost more beautiful at night. Last time I was in Italy, we visited the Vatican during the day when it was crowded with thousands of people. This time, there was barely anyone else there besides our group, and we were free to wander as we wished, even sitting down and just soaking up what it felt like to be there. That was one of the first moments I really realized that I was in Rome.
I've been around to other sites in Rome as well since arriving--Piazza Navona, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain (a personal favorite). On Sunday, everyone at the Rome Center went to the Colosseum/Forum together, and on the way back, I stopped to eat at a cafe with a few friends. Since it was Sunday afternoon, all of the Italians were there watching the soccer match (and usually passionately yelling at the TV screens). Even experiencing something as simple as that definitely made me feel like I had become clued into something crucial about Rome.
There so much more to say, especially about my time in Southern Italy on the orientation trip, but I'm off to eat lunch, then explore the Spanish Steps. Ciao!
Friday, August 28, 2009
My journey to Rome went fairly well. I actually had a little bit of trouble with my flight to Chicago, but even that worked out fine. The flight to Rome was long, as expected, but it ended early and all of my luggage arrived safety, so I really can't complain! Side note: on Alitalia Airlines, they serve free wine with your meal. Only in Italy...
Once we arrived at the Rome Center, everyone had to register, then I got to meet my roommate and start unpacking. We had a few other orientation type meetings yesterday, then last night I went with a group of people from here to eat at a local restaurant. The food was wonderful, of course; there was just a lot of it! We also walked around the neighborhood, and I'm trying to get acclumated with the area. Right now, it's still pretty confusing, but I know I'll get the hang of it soon enough.
All of the people that I've met so far seem really nice, and I really think this is going to be a great semester. I'm really excited to be here, even though I am less excited about starting class, but even that should be interesting.
Today we all spent the day the beach, which was wonderful of course! I did get a little sunburnt, but nothing too bad. In a little bit, I'm going to go to get gelato with a group of people near the Vatican! The place we're going to is supposed to be really famous, so I have high expectations for it. I'm honestly surprised that I've made it over 24 hours in Italy so far and have yet to eat gelato, but that will change soon enough. After we get gelato, I think I'm going to go downtown, which I'm equally excited for!
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Italy is just as beautiful as I remembered (as well as really hot). It's so, so good to be here, but the reality that I'm going to spend the next 3.5 months living in this country has not quite sunk in yet at all... that will likely take quite some time.
More about what's going soon, I promise.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
I don't think I've truly comprehended that in a little over 24 hours I'm leaving the country, and I'm not coming back again for (approximately) four months. It's just a hard idea to wrap my head around. It's one of those things that won't be real until I actually do it. There's no amount of preparation that can truly make me ready for this.
I've been rushing around the past few days trying to finish packing (truly an ordeal), run all kinds of errands, and fit in last minute visits with lots of friends and family. This past weekend I even went up to SLU for a much-needed visit with my friends there. It was bittersweet seeing everyone all moved into their new apartments, then having to turn around and leave. The strangest part was realizing that I don't have a place to live there this semester; instead of starting another semester there and falling into that routine, I have a whole new kind of adventure ahead of me.
I'm driving up to St. Louis tonight with my parents and staying near the airport. I fly out early tomorrow to Chicago, where I meet everyone else for the group flight, then we all fly to Rome together tomorrow afternoon. So, the next time I write in here, I'll be in Rome!
It's only been 3 years, but I am so ready to be back there again. Here's to this semester and learning to be exactly where I'm supposed to be.
Monday, August 17, 2009
"The best way to inspect the streets of Rome, if you wish to study as well as to see them, is to break your pocket-compass and burn your maps and guidebooks... take Chance for a mentor and lose yourself."--George Sala"Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc'd by fate,--Virgil, The Aeneid
And haughty Juno's unrelenting hate,
Expell'd and exil'd, left the Trojan shore,
Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destin'd town.""Turn all the pages of history, but Fortune never produced a greater example of her own fickleness than the city of Rome, once the most beautiful and magnificent of all that ever was or will be... not a city in truth, but a certain part of heaven."--Poggio Bracciolini"In Rome, you long for the country; in the country--on inconstant!--you praise the distant city to the stars!"--Horace
Sunday, August 9, 2009
I'm excited, and I'm nervous. But mainly I'm excited. I have lots of plans, of course, but I'm also trying to remind myself to stay flexible. In many ways, I have no clue what to expect, but that's part of the charm of the study abroad experience, at least as I see it. I'm really just trying to stay open to all options and possibilities and to take advantage of as many things as I can, while still retaining some type of balance. It's going to be a lot to juggle--schoolwork, new friendships, a new country, continuing to learn Italian, traveling, keeping up with my friends & family back in the US, documenting my trip (which is where this come in, of course), and so forth. However, I'm (almost) ready for the challenge. At least as ready as I'll ever be.
17 days. It will be here before I know it.