Thursday, December 24, 2009

"We'll always have... Rome."

It's been almost 4 days since I arrived back in the USA; home is both entirely different and entirely unchanged at the same time. It's strange how quickly I have been able to slip back into my old routines and leave tiny parts of my life in Rome behind without almost even realizing it.

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.

Love always,

la fine.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Guten Tag!

A quick note...

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

"Just blame Rome..."

Rome, you're no good for me.

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

"Let's see how far we've come."


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

Even the smallest things.

“When I told someone that I was from Rome / it didn’t feel like a slip of the tongue.”
--from the student farewell speech at the end of the semester banquet

This semester has changed me, shaped me, and reminded me who I am—but that’s all underneath the surface. On the most basic level, this semester has also taken a toll physically on me.
I’ve been sore, beaten, and bruised. I’ve walked miles around Europe’s most famous cities, hiked trails linking the tiny towns of Italy’s coast, climbed a volcano, and even walked a mile just to go to the supermercato. I’ve acquired strange bruises of mysterious origins. I’ve tripped and fallen on the cobblestones of Rome more often than I care to admit. I now bear a scar on my left knee from tripping while playing calcio in the rain—a scar I hope doesn’t fade anytime soon because it serves as a physical reminder of my time at the J-Force. My feet are still sore from wearing heels to last night’s end of the semester banquet downtown (not the smartest idea I’ve ever had).
I’ve gotten knocked to the ground while trying to board the train back to Rome after a wine festival, squeezed onto the crowded 913 bus on the way to on site class, and generally forgotten about having any sense of personal space. Living, eating, studying, and constantly being in one building with the same 150 people will also do that to you.
I’ve woken up at 1:30am to catch a flight and almost as early for trains, napped on more train rides than I can count on two hands, considered six hours of sleep more than adequate, and generally grew to view late nights followed by early mornings as normal. Weekend mornings where I slept in until 11:ooam have been non-existent this semester, in exchange for exploring some of the world’s most fascinating cities. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I slept until 11, but I can remember waking up at 7am yesterday morning after going to bed at 2:30am.
I’ve eaten more train station sandwiches than I can count, bought over-priced muffins from Rome’s Termini train station on numerous occasions, feasted on McDonald’s at the end of many trips, and considered beginning to drink coffee more than once. I’ve also snacked on trains, not ordered water, and eaten sandwiches instead of full meals to save money. I’ve learned to love olive oil, buffalo mozzarella, and olives, and I can at least sound like I know what I’m talking about when it comes to wine. My main food groups have become pasta, pizza, sandwiches, and gelato, and that has probably had an effect on the way that my clothes fit, but it was worth every bite, every meal, every 60 Euro cent cornetto from Rinaldo’s. I’ll start running again once I’m back in Missouri (where flat ground does occasionally exist).
I suffered through the heat of Rome in August without air conditioning, the days when our window was always kept open in hopes of a breeze and we would shower right before going out just so we would at least feel presentable. Some people here didn't see any sites in Rome during the day until we'd been here for a month because we never went out in the city when the sun was out. Then, two months later, I slept in layers of clothes before the heat was turned on at the J-Force. I’ve stood in the rain at Auschwitz, frolicked in the snow of Salzburg, and had shoes full of sand in Egypt. Just last week, I walked across the bridge in front of the Eiffel Tower with my best friend in the world in the pouring rain as we both got soaked. Standing and watching the Eiffel Tower light show afterwards with our respective umbrellas is one of my favorite memories of that entire week.
There’s been other things too—I’ve skipped showering more often than I care to admit (usually in favor of sleeping), my hair has grown at least 2-3 inches, and I think I even dress a little bit differently. New clothing has crept into my wardrobe, from scarves from Cinque Terre, Cairo, and Florence to the purple coat I bought yesterday at the Roman clothes market.
But I’ve adapted to this physical change. All of the behavior I’ve just mentioned somehow became normal to me over the course of the last 3 months. I been so conditioned to a certain sort of behavior that it's hard to imagine how I'm going to go back to the way I was before, although I suppose the short answer is that I'm not, but that's the point. I have changed, and it will leave effects on me, even though I will probably go back to sleeping in until 11 pretty soon.
And I’ve loved every minute of it; I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I’m going to miss it more than I can express.

I just want to say...

Dear John Felice Rome Center Class of Fall '09,

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

The real lessons are outside the classroom.

Oh, Roma. I can't leave you. I can't let you go.

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 fall '09 semester: a few words.

nouns; places.

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.

nouns; things.

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

A moment of thanks.

It's Saturday night in Rome--one of my last Saturday nights in Rome--but I decided to stay in tonight in favor of having some time to relax. The past week has gone by in such a blur, and I needed some time to catch my breath.

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

Playing catch up; Rounds 2 & 4: Visits to some of Italy’s most beautiful cities, Venice & Florence.

In the past weeks, I’ve done a far amount of traveling around Italy as well. Halloween weekend I headed to Venice with my friend, Emily, and last weekend, I ventured to Florence with another friend, Carly.
To go to Venice, Emily and I got up bright and early on Friday morning, following the J-Force Halloween party the night before. (I was Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s for Halloween, if you’re curious.) Since we had been up late the night before, we were both pretty tired, but we had a 6 hour train ride to get to Venice, so we had plenty of time to rest on the way there!
After arriving in Venice (at sunset!—so beautiful), we checked into our hostel, found a place to eat dinner, and then wandered over to St. Mark’s Square, where we spent the rest of the evening eating gelato and wandering around. I’ve decided that St. Mark’s is magical at night; it’s one of my new favorite places in all of Italy. Various cafes on the square each have orchestras that take turns playing music, and lots of people hang out there, and we even saw some couples dancing. So cute.
Since we were essentially only there one full day, we spent most of Saturday just wandering around trying to see as much of the Venice as we could. We started off at St. Mark’s again, where we went inside the Cathedral. It was so beautiful (like everything else in Venice)! From there, we basically just worked our way up the Grand Canal, just wandering wherever we pleased.
It was a really relaxed day overall. Besides St. Mark’s, there’s really not a lot of big sights to see in Venice; the main sight is really the town itself. Venice has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Rome is beautiful too, but in a completely different way from Venice. Venice feels perfectly preserved; I spent half the weekend expecting to turn a corner and run into people in 16th century clothes. It’s almost eerie at times. I took so many pictures that day because every corner that I did turn seemed to be more beautiful than the last. That kind of beauty never gets old no matter how many times you see it. Emily and I literally felt like we were walking around in a painting all weekend.
We also ate a lot of excellent food that weekend and cheaply too, which is always nice. Oh, and I had the BEST gelato of my life in Venice, as per Rick Steve’s recommendation. It was chocolate mousse gelato, and it was fantastic. Emily and I finished Saturday evening at St. Mark’s again, before heading back to our hostel in preparation to get up early and head back to Rome.
Then, last weekend, Carly and I took a whirlwind trip to Florence! We made it short and quick because we both wanted to make sure we spent part of the weekend in Rome, but we still were able to fit plenty in. Even though we were barely in Florence for 24 hours, we managed to visit the Duomo, climb the Duomo, go to the Academia and see Michelangelo’s David, go through the Uffizi, eat a great dinner, get gelato, and even get some shopping in! Whew. Like I said, it was definitely a whirlwind trip, but a great one all the same.
I visited Florence when I was in Italy for 3 years ago, but it was so nice to be back there again. It reminded me of the all the reasons why I loved it so much to begin with. Florence just has such a good vibe to it; it reminds me of all the reasons why I love Renaissance history.
We also stayed in the nicest hostel EVER in Florence. It was called Plus Florence, and it was amazing. There was a pool, steam room, restaurant, bar, etc. They even gave us towels and little containers of shampoo for free (unheard of behavior for a hostel). It basically felt like a hotel, and it was approximately 16 euros a night. So fantastic.
So there’s a summary of some of my past weekend trips! I still have Egypt to write about, but hopefully that will be coming soon. That will be an epic entry, I assure you.
But for now, I have to finish up some schoolwork, and then go to bed to get up bright and early to meet my friend, Kate, at the airport tomorrow morning! She's going to be here for the rest of the week, and I’m so excited! I can’t wait to see her! :)
To the remaing adventures ahead!

Friday, November 20, 2009

All good things must come to end.

Unfortunately, it is always true that “all good things must come to an end,” whether it’s a cone of the best gelato I’ve ever tasted, the Pink team’s Calcio season, or even this semester in Rome.
This past Wednesday evening was the beginning of Calcio playoffs. The top 8 teams were matched up, and only the four winning teams continue on to the next week. Unfortunately, although the Pink team played a great game, we had a round of bad luck and ended up losing. Therefore, for the pink team at least, the calcio season is now over. And the most ironic thing about the end of the Calcio season is that I never realized how much I enjoyed it until it was over.
I’ve fallen into a routine over the course of this semester, where Wednesday nights automatically equal Calcio matches and going out for beer and pizza afterwards. While we still have one more week left, I will just be standing on the outside, which is so strange.
Let’s be honest: frankly, I was a bit freaked out about playing Calcio in the beginning, and I wasn’t much better at the end. My roommate/teammate, Beth, informed me that every time someone asked me if I wanted to go in, I looked terrified, which I fully believe. However, underneath all of that, I genuinely did enjoy a lot of things about Calcio; it really was a great bonding experience.
Much scarier than trying to play defense against boys a foot taller than me though is realizing that I’m never going to do it again. Never again will I stand with those people on that field, chanting for the pink team, and being amazed at my more talented teammates Calcio abilities.
However, this all just brings me to the scariest realization of all: understanding that this ending is only the first of many that I will have to see through in the next month. And when I say month, that’s an exact number. I fly back to Chicago (and then St. Louis) on December 20th.
With every passing day, I’m becoming more aware of the other endings I’m going to have to face (including the dreaded final exams). I don’t think I’ve ever really handled endings well. I’m far too nostalgic of a person. Beginnings are exciting, but they make me nervous. Middles are comfortable, but they don’t last.
Endings are so bittersweet—weve learned to love Rome, the J-Force, Europe, gelato, and (perhaps most importantly) each other over the past few months. Soon we will be forced to leave it all behind, as we return to our normal lives and seek to understand the many ways that this semester has changed us with only a few cheesy souvenirs, greatly depleted bank accounts, and our memories to show for it.
We will always have our memories though, and perhaps they will be enough. I certainly know that they will be counted among my most treasured. All I can do now is be thankful that I was blessed enough to be able to have such a wonderful opportunity.

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
and if you never stop when you wave goodbye
you just might find if you give it time
you will wave hello again
you just might wave hello again”
--john mayer

Monday, November 16, 2009

buon appetite.

I am a little bit obsessed with the way that Italians eat. I've never known a group of people that are so dedicated to food.

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.

Playing catch-up; Round 1: A brilliant weekend in London.

To backtrack a bit, my first weekend after Fall Break, I traveled to London! I flew to London by myself, but once I arrived at Heathrow, my dad met me there. We spent most of the weekend with my Uncle Bill (who is British), his sister, and her family.

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

The whirlwind of life.

I am so behind on posting. There has been so much happening in my life since fall break, and I have unfortunately been sharing precious little of it.

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

A bit of mid-semester reflection.

Since returning to Rome after Fall Break, life has been something of a blur. After recovering from 9 days of pretty intense traveling, I had midterms to deal with in both Italian and my Theology classes, with a weekend in London thrown in the middle. I feel like it’s been awhile since I’ve really spent much time in Rome, even though I’m living here.

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.


p.s. I wrote this on Wednesday and forgot to post it until now... oops. Better late than never though, right?

Monday, October 26, 2009

A quick summary.

I’m back in Rome once again, have finished all of my midterms, and am finally going to update about my fall break! In general, fall break was a really great experience; I enjoyed each of the places we visited for very different reasons. We started off by flying to Krakow, then traveling to Vienna, Salzburg, and Prague before flying back to Rome.

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

No, I did not get lost in Eastern Europe...

Sorry it's been so long since an update! I'm still alive, I promise, but life has been very busy since Fall Break. I've been in the middle of studying for midterms and trying to get tons of travel plans straightened out, as well as figuring out a bunch of things for when I go back to SLU (which feels a world away right now).

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

"It started feeling like October."

I can't believe we're already a week into October. I'm already almost to the halfway point of my time here. Ironically enough, I feel like I’ve just really started to get the hang of being here over the past couple weeks.
I’ve been staying pretty busy lately (which accounts for my lack of updates). My parents were here last week, and it was wonderful to see them! They were in Rome Sunday through Wednesday, so I spent a lot of time with them. Having them here and being able to show them around is one of the things that really made me feel at home here.
On Friday, I went on an adventure to Assisi with my friend Carly! We took and train there early in the morning, and came back the same night. I went to Assisi the first time when I was in Italy a few years ago, and I loved it so much that I desperately wanted to go back. Thankfully, Assisi did not disappoint on the second visit! We had a pretty relaxing day, just walking around and visiting some of the of the churches. Ironically enough, St. Francis's feast day was actually on Sunday, which we didn't even realize while we were there!
On Saturday, I went to the Catacombs, which I loved, naturally. They were just so interesting, but I am definitely glad that we had a guide to take us through them because I can understand how people would get lost in them! They were super confusing.
On Sunday, I went to nearby town with a few friends to a wine festival (sagra del vino). It was a lot of fun, but super crowded. The only thing I know how to compare it to is an Italian version of Octoberfest, except with wine instead of beer. They even had a fountain with wine flowing out of it instead of water!
This past week has been pretty busy with schoolwork and other activities. Calcio update: after losing our first match, and tying last week, the Pink Team prevailed for our first win last night! It was pretty epic with a final score of 5-1.
Now I am done with classes for the week, and fall break has officially started! I leave bright and early tomorrow morning to fly to Krakow and get started on my adventure in Eastern Europe! I will be gone for about 9 days (coming back next Saturday), and it should be a fantastic trip!
Wish me luck!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Livin' the JForce life.

Well, it's been a busy week for me! Although I've mainly been in Rome, there's been quite a bit going on. To sum some highlights of the past week:

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

Adventures in the Cinque Terre.

This past weekend, I traveled with three other girls to Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre (which literally means 5 lands in Italian) are 5 small towns all located on or near the coast of northern Italy, linked together by a trail. On paper they don’t sound that impressive, but the Cinque Terre quickly became one of my new favorite places in the entire world.

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

A process of adjustment.

It’s official—I’ve been in Rome for 3 weeks now. During these first few weeks, there have been a variety of things that I’ve had to adjust to as a result of living in Rome/at the JFRC.

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.


Random other updates:

- I now have an Italian cell phone. It’s pink, and I’m not a fan of that. However, I have text messaging (for free!) for the first time in my life, and I do like that.

- I bought Harry Potter 7 yesterday in Italian. Now my collection is up to the American, British, Chinese, and Italian editions of the book!

- I’m done with my second week of classes now, and Art in Rome is officially my favorite class, even when means getting up early.

- No Friday class tomorrow, so I’m taking off really early to catch a 6:00am train to Cinque Terre with a few other girls! We’re spending the weekend there, then leaving early Sunday morning to stop in Pisa on the way back to Rome. I'm really excited for this.

To classes ending on Thursdays!


Monday, September 14, 2009

You live, you learn: A weekend in Sorrento, Pompeii, & Capri

I’ve returned to Rome yet again, and I must say that it was quite a trip. I think we all underestimated how complicated planning the logistics for traveling was going to be, which this past weekend definitely taught us. Don’t get me wrong—I still got to see lots of amazing things and had a good time, but it was certainly a learning experience.

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

Life as of lately.

Last night we had the Mass of the Holy Spirit. Every Catholic university starts each academic year off with a Mass of the Holy Spirit, and the Rome Center is no exception to this tradition. The mass was at this absolutely beautiful church (I can’t remember the name right now, so just trust me on it), and then everyone went out to dinner afterwards. We all paid 15 Euro for the meal, but it actually cost a lot more (Campus Ministry was nice enough to subsidize it for all of us). Anyway, the food was fantastic—probably my favorite meal yet since arriving in Italy.

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

The "study" part of studying abroad.

So it begins... Classes have officially begun at the JFRC (or the J-Force, as we affectionately call it). No more wandering around Rome everyday and spending all our time researching trips and getting to know people. I've moved past simply the "abroad" portion to also embrace the "study" part of studying abroad.

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've already had all of them except Art In Rome (which is only on Thursdays). So far, they seem like they will all at least be interesting. Italian intimidates me a little bit, I must admit, but I'm hoping that if I just stay focused I'll make it through alright. Roman Catholicism seems pretty straightforward; I don't think it will be too difficult. And of course, Food and Wine should be fun!

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!

The end of the beginning.

Well, vacation’s almost over. Orientation at the Rome Center is officially finished now, and classes start tomorrow (a couple weeks after everyone back at SLU).

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

Experiencing the Roman life.

I arrived in Rome almost exactly a week ago. It feels both much longer and much shorter. Orientation at the JFRC is already winding to a close, and this past week has been such a mixture of emotions for me.

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

Getting orientated.

So, I've only been in Rome for a day and a half, but it already feels like it's been so much longer; I guess in part just because there's been a LOT going on.

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

"Just look at that beautiful boot!"

Just a quick note to say that I have safely arrived in Rome! I'm working on getting settled in, and we have all of this orientation stuff going on, but I'm excited to be here... even if I'm dealing with jetlag at the moment.

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

Last moments at home.

The time has passed when studying abroad was years, semesters, months, weeks, or even days away. I fly to Rome tomorrow.

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

A few words.

"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,
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."
--Virgil, The Aeneid

"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!"

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Counting down the days.

Rome is soon--really soon. I finally have the correct size suitcases, and I'll be packing before I know it. Already I've started to set clothes aside. I've been reading tons of travel books, from ones that are Rome-specific to Italy to Europe and so forth. I've been watching movies (Roman Holiday) and re-reading other books (Eat Pray Love) that take place in Italy. I've been talking to everyone I know about their favorite places in Europe and compiling to-do lists. What I haven't been doing enough of is studying Italian, but I've at least begun to make an effort at that, so that's something.

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.