Thursday, May 13, 2010

Verona take 2!





















































Going to Verona for the second time was a completely different experience. It was warm and sunny! I have been in Milan sitting through two weeks of non stop rain and seeing the sun again definitely lifted my spirits. I realize now that I cannot function well where it is gloomy all of the time, it does not lead me to be very happy. I joined my friend's Elle and Rina on their trip to Verona and this time I said, "WE must get a map!" After Holly and I wandered the streets of Verona I knew that the only way to successful get where I wanted to go was by a map. Okay, I'll admit I am the person on the trip who has to hold the map and constantly wants to tell people the way to go... I have accepted this as part of my Type A personality. :) Verona was fun because I got to enjoy some time away from school and Milan with friends. We walked around the whole city, visiting Giuletta's balcony and Elle got the chance to attach a love lock to the area. She later threw the keys away in the river. A tradition in Italy is love locks. People will sharpie or engrave their names onto locks and lock them on bridges and romantic areas and throw the keys away, symbolizing their love never breaking. It was fun for Elle and something she'll always remember. I was on watch guard from the security guard, we weren't actually sure that love locks are really legal.
On the way back through town we stopped at a German festival that was in town for the day. We drink beers and listened to the German's sing folk songs and dance around. It was all in all so fun and relaxing. It was nice to do something, not Italian. I wanted to stay all day at the German Festival but was overruled with the others vote. We headed back to the train station, jumped on the train to Milan and we're off! While searching for seats throughout the train we kept running into people singing very loudly and wearing Robin Hood like hats... with feathers and everything. Needless to say we were confused. Finally we stopped in a car with open seats and were motioned forward by a group of men singing. Finally, I learned they were alpine military units on the way to Bergamo for a reunion. Every year they pick a place in Italy to celebrate and gather. For two hours we were serenaded and given homemade wine to drink. It was a lot of fun and completely out of the pattern of my Italian life, I loved it!

Arriving back to rainy Milan, I'll admit was not as great as being on the train and drinking wine, but it is home. Finals have been happening this week and today is my last class of Italy. How strange is that! I cannot believe that these months have flown by and even though I look forward to Louisville I know that a part of me will always remain Italian. :)



video

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sometimes relaxing is good...


I will admit that when I am not traveling my life is more dull and ordinary... I have been stationed in Milan for the past two weekends and through the next one. The first weekend home after Morocco I was not really sure what to do with myself, it has been a crazy semester full of crazy adventures and I am not used to relaxing. Relaxing though has been good. I have finally gotten rid of my semi-permanent cough that I had since Ireland which would flair up whenever I got tired and have slept a little bit more through the weekend since I do not have to make beds on airport floors or in the Sahara desert. This is my last full week of classes... I cannot believe that this semester has literally flown by, but really everyone said that it would, so what can I expect? My first final...this morning, Italian. One down, three to go. Thinking of leaving is bittersweet and usually depends on the day of the week. I want to go home more whenever I read emails from friends telling me they miss me, skype phone calls from home with count downs until the day I arrive in the Louisville airport, and thinking of all the fun I will have during the summer (it is my favorite season :)). I also know that leaving Milan will be hard, it has been a fun chapter of my life and when I turn the page, real world and having responsibilities will start to commence. It has been a strange experience for me, not having to work or go to family parties or be involved on campus... and soon I get to go back to that world, but I have missed it.

Everyday I tell my roommate how lucky we are to be here...haha I am pretty sure she now thinks that I am slightly crazy because of how often I express appreciation, but it is true... I am very, very lucky and realize and appreciate that...

I have a few more trips planned for my last few days in Italy and cannot wait... it's less than a month until home and I know that it'll be time before I know it. :)


Friday, April 23, 2010

Pay It Forward...

My Morocco Adventure:

This past weekend my friend, Sarah, and I headed to Morocco. Africa was a completely different world than the one I have been exposed to for the majority of my life. It was both unlike the US and unlike Europe. I spent the night at the Milano airport in order to catch my early flight the next morning. A warning for anyone ever traveling and planning on sleeping on floors and uncomfortable seats, bring a blanket :) The next morning I flew in to Casablanca and waited for Sarah and catch up with me from Madrid.

Sarah and I had already booked a tour throughout Morocco that left from Marrakesh. We headed towards the main train station in Casablanca and booked our trip to leave around 7 pm. We relaxed in the chairs at the station since we had arrived about a half hour before our train was to depart. Around 7:30 we were a little worried, which only increased when the time reached 8...then 8:30....then 9....apparently our train was not coming, so we, along with 50 or so other people, waited to catch the next train at 10. When Sarah and I boarded our train there was a mad rush to get on. We got into the train and realized why, seats are not guaranteed. Looks as if Sarah and I were going to be standing. People were making their way up and down the crowded corridors of the train that were lined with people. I think that through my limited travel experience on trains and public transportation my disbelief showed through because the man next to me explained that this is quite normal on the weekends, people standing up because there are not enough seats on the train.

I also learned that many, many people in Morocco are kind. It seems like the whole weekend Sarah and I had people helping us out with directions and just kindness. While on the train, a man gave up his seat for me to sit down...the train ride was three hours and we'd only been traveling for about 45 minutes. While I slept (I had gotten quite a nasty cold through my attempt at sleeping at the airport and then waiting for Sarah to arrive after me in Morocco) Sarah made friends with the standing crowd. They were all very surprised that we did not know any French, shocked almost. It seems as if every time Sarah and I turned around and were talking to any locals we were reminded that French, not English, was the main language there.

We arrived in Marrakesh around 1:30 in the morning, more than worn out. A little problem with hostels occurred and we ended up staying in this small local place that scared us half to death because it was off these side streets and down dark alleys. But we did manage to sleep for a few hours and wake up early in the morning to meet up with our tour.

We met up with the tour group and were in the van for the most part of the day. It was great to get to see the land. We passed by mountains, valleys, cities, beautiful green areas and finally onto the Sahara.

There were 15 people total on our tour, mostly students like Sarah and me, but a middle-aged nurse from France (who also lived in the U.S. for 14 years and therefore was our translator and adopted "mom" for the weekend) as well as a family from France. We drove all day, stopping to take pictures and eat lunch. One of our stops was at a Women's Cooperative where they harvest almonds and extract the oils to make cosmetic and cooking oils. The women work for about 5 euros (~$7) a day. And I complain about making $7 an hour. Reality check.

Around dusk we arrived at our last stop where we bought water, used the restroom, and bought scarves which were wrapped around our heads and faces to protect us from the desert sands. And then we met our camels! We rode for about 2 hours, away from the "city," into the Sahara.

We reached our camp and were ushered into the common tent for dinner. It was cooked by members of the Bedouin tribe, and it was delicious. Soup, vegetable stew, mint tea, and oranges for desert. The tent was made of oriental tapestries, in deep turquoise and magenta colors. It was lit by candles and oil lamps, hopefully you can picture the ambiance! After dinner the instruments came out and we were entertained with traditional music. Then they let us try the drums. I was pretty good at the drums and the camp dwellers called me Fattima, a common name in that region. I was even invited to spend the night with the camels with one of them and watch for shooting stars...I declined of course...

After breakfast the next morning, we all headed back to the van on our camels. I'll admit I was slightly sore for the next few days and I think it was a combination of van riding, camel trekking, and sleeping on the ground :)

We finally made it back to casablanca that evening and were able to take showers (our first in several days) and what a relief that was, being clean has so many merits that people overlook.

This is where the fun of my trip really began. While staying at our hotel Sarah and I had the chance to check our email where I discovered that my plane to Milan the next morning had been cancelled...oh no! In the morning, I said to sarah, well let's just go the airport and see what we can find out. Sarah's flight to Madrid was all good to go that afternoon, but there was nothing getting into Europe from Casablanca until Wednesday... I was slightly freaking out. Sarah and I decided to book me a flight to Tangier, a city just across from Spain in Morocco. That way I could take the ferry into Spain and then hopefully make my way up the coast. Yes, I know this sounds like a rather vague plan, but that is the only idea we had going and I was not sure where I would be sleeping that night.

The hardest part of the trip came next I had to say goodbye to Sarah and then call my parents. Both things were emotional because I had no idea what I was doing. As Sarah left she quoted an old family friend of hers, "I am blessed, challenged, and overcoming." How perfect for the moment and still the quote is with me. My mom's first words were, "Are you okay?" Of course not! Ha But I will pretend like I am. It was difficult, but I think that was part of my experience. My Morocco adventure, though, is just beginning, and as I write this I find myself still saying, really did this happen to me.

As I sat waiting for my plane to take me to tangier I noticed a woman sitting two seats next to me was reading a British newspaper. After a few hours of sitting I asked if I could read her paper, since by this time she had finished. She answered of course go ahead. With about 45 minutes left until my flight I returned the newspaper and got ready to walk to my gate, she asked where I was headed the conversation went back and forth until we discovered we were both heading into Spain, with the exception that she lived there. When she asked where my final destination was and I replied Milan, Italy her personality took on that of a mother hen, very protective and slightly incredulous that I would attempt to travel up through Spain alone. She immediately got on the phone with her husband, a Spanish police officer, and arranged to have him pick us both up and buy me a ferry ticket. She became my guardian angel on this trip throughout Spain.

My flight was to leave at 19:04...around 19:37 I started to become a little concerned. It turns out our flight was cancelled due to a lack of planes and over abundance of flights. Our flight was bumped probably because of the small amount of people going on the flight and the fact that our destination was within the country. Instead we were bundled up on a small bus and taken to Tangier.

Before boarding the bus, I met an American family who was vacationing in Morocco and Spain...They were from Columbus, IN. I felt close to home just hearing that city. The woman, Betty, adopted me as a second child. (I had many adoptive parents during my stay in Morocco) She was worried that I wouldn't have money for dinner and food along the way up through Spain so she immediately pulled money out and gave it to me, my protests went on death ears and the only reply she would give me is: "Someday Mary, when you're our age, you'll have to pay it forward."

The trip to Tangier ended up taking around 4 hours while if we had been on a plane we would have arrived in 45 minutes, needless to say everyone was ready to be off of the bus... Tina Fateh and her Spanish husband booked me a room in the hotel they were staying out and told me to get a good night of rest, they were taking me to Spain the next morning.

We got to Spain the next morning where they proceeded to take me their Spanish house, which reminded me of a villa that people buy to vacation in. The house overlooked the ocean with a swimming pool in the front, very beautiful. I know what everyone is probably thinking, especially if you are a parent or watch too much of the news...what was I thinking? At least I know thats what my parents were probably thinking...but at the time I was slightly desperate and Tina was one of the kindest people I have met who would have willingly kept me with her as long as it would take to get me to Milan. When I got to her house, her and her husband helped me arrange flights to Barcelona and then onto Milan. Without them I would have never even made it the airport... I was very lucky to find such amazing people on my trek and before I left Tina's I told her that if she would like to adopt and keep me, I would be okay with that... She told me that if I were to ever journey back into Spain and need a place to stay I was always welcome....

I came to the conclusion while sleeping in the Barcelona airport that it is sad that people cannot trust kindness in others. That oftentimes we mistake true kindness in people. I found so many nice people on my trek through Morocco. So was I upset that i spent an extra two days journeying through unknown territory...yes... Would I do it again...heck yes....

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Paris!

Paris. There is so much to say about this city. Sarah and I arrived and spent the night in a hostel on the outskirts of town... needless to say our Paris trip was spontaneous. We were looking for the cheapest way to get to Paris when we returned to Milan from Rome and discovered buses... Sarah and I hooped on a bus one night and drove to Paris to arrive for the sunrise. Luckily, we had fairly decent weather and the trees were just starting to bloom showing off a hint of spring and beautiful city.

We took a bike tour to help us orientate ourselves with the city a little better. The tour group was great, they're an American based company, so all the tours are in English and they know their way around the city very well. There were so many cites to see: the Tower, the Louvre, Tuileries Gardens, L'Arc de Triomphe, Cathedral of Notre Dame, Napoleon's extravagant tomb, Champs Elysées, Wall of Peace, Ecole Militaire...so much beautiful architecture, and history!

Sarah and I explored the eiffel tower one morning and afterwards the Notre Dame. I'll admit I had to conquer my fear of heights as we climbed the first two legs of the tower. Walking up the steps and saying to myself, millions of people have done this before me seems the only way this is possible. Strangely enough I felt a little foolish when the small child ran up the steps next to me, but oh well... The eiffel tower was a lot of fun and Sarah and I continually took pictures next to the signs that showed where Milan, Italy is pointed to or New York. The top had a great view of the city and the day could not have been more perfect. The Notre Dame was a beautiful Cathedral set in the original area of the city that drew thousands of people the day we were there. Luckily, there is an English tour on certain days of the week that we got to join in on. I learned so much more about the Church's history than I would have, had I just been reading a guide book...

We spent the majority of our days just walking around Paris the city we decided was one giant park with buildings places in the middle of it. There are many trees and grassy areas lining the streets and for me, it was nice to see greenery again... I am way to used to acres at home and not concrete building which are in Milan still.

Paris was perfect and I will admit Sarah and I were both completely spent by the time we finished our holiday, but it was a wonderful break that I would repeat in a minute. Whenever I returned to Milan I felt as if I was returning home, which is a feeling that brings a smile to my face. It is nice to feel a bit of comfort in where you are living. I am glad to be back to the city, to my mind, that never sleeps...


Rome!


In front of the Trevi Fountain


The Vatican City... There was a nun and priest behind me talking to each other and it just seemed like a classic scene from a movie




Outside the Vatican Museum


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Roma y Firenze

An update: I have been on two week holiday for school. Luckily, I got in much needed traveling, but am now ready to sleep for a week. I think it was the constant hours of walking. :)

My first adventure was to Rome. Rome is absolutely amazing. I think it was the combination of architecture and wonderful weather that made my trip seem so great. Rome is beautiful and there is so much to the city to love. There is history and art around every corner. I got to visit the Vatican City, with the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, the Colosseum and the Pantheon.

The fact that the architecture from the Roman time period is still standing is a testament to their greatness. The Colosseum is still standing along with many other ruins scattered across the city. I went on holiday with several friends and discovered many treasures along the trip. Sarah and I walked through a Roman forum, which is a huge area near the Colosseum of Roman ruins. The forum gives a view of what the city may have been like during the Roman rule. The forum and the Colosseum were quite overwhelming. To think of the lives of people from thousands of years ago is a bit daunting and while in Rome you cannot help but imagine what it would be like to live and work during this time period. The Colosseum was great because people were able to walk around inside on the different levels. Every time I visited any ruins I tried to imagine what they were like new and wished I could know more.

It is very hard to explain how awe-inspiring Rome was and really I don't think I can do it justice with a few words here and there. Honestly, Rome is somewhere I could visit multiple times and learn more about each day. It was incredible.

I had a really great opportunity while in Rome. I got to be in the audience for Pope Benedict XVI's public blessing. Every Wednesday, the Pope addresses the square in front of the Vatican and prays with the people and offers a blessing to the people and there loved ones and to any objects. Sarah and I left the hotel early hoping to attend mass but arrived to find a queue and a crowd already jostling for seats. We arrived at 8 am and the pope was arriving at 10:30, obviously a big deal. We managed to grab seats in the 8th row to wait out the Pope's visit. It was a pretty awesome site. The pope arrived with thousands of people surrounding him. He rode up in his Popemobile and circle the crowded a few times waving. (Sarah cried, she was very excited) But really it was a bit breathtaking to see the people there waiting for the Pope.

I went to Florence on Sunday. Florence was gorgeous, it is located in the Tuscany region of Italy. We visited the Basilica there, which is made from beautiful green and white stone. The churches in Italy all have something unique and special. They all intricately designed in detail and the architects have managed to still create a sense of awe. We were lucky enough to see Michelangelo's David... it was great! The detail about the whole statue was critical. The block of marble used in the statue was not a great value at the time it was a whole block. Many sculptors gave up the project because it was too daunting, the stone lay untouched for almost 25 years. Finally Michelangelo was commissioned to take on the project and the statue is majestic.

Florence and Rome were amazing, I know I cannot say it enough, though to anyone reading this they probably are tired of hearing it. I would visit both places again without a second thought. Rome helped me to remember how lucky I am to be traveling across Europe for 4 months and what a great experience this is for me... I am thankful and blessed...

Ireland photos!






Saturday, March 27, 2010

Roundabouts everywhere...

Pictures soon!!! :=) but if you want to look at them on my facebook page here you go: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2161885&id=58215937&l=2fc8faaba8



Firstly, I have become very horrible about updating my blog. I believe this is because I used my blog in the first few weeks to share my thoughts about experiencing something new and very different. Now, as I adjust to the world I'm living in I have started to not need the blog as much as a communication tool to write down scary, new, or exciting feelings. So I am trying to get back in to writing more again. This past weekend I got to go and visit IRELAND! It was absolutely amazing. The weather, surprisingly, was wonderful. It rained a little on the first day, more just clouds and wind and then the next two days were sunny and bright. Lee Crush, my sudo cousin, was my host. I am very lucky that I had someone living in Ireland because he definitely made the trip wonderful. I will admit when it came time for me to board the plane, I really did not want to go back home, back to Milano. Ireland had become, in only a few short days, a safe haven for me. The country spoke English, something I was not used to at all. And it had the familiarity of a family, even though I see Lee only once or twice a year. We got the chance to play wii nightly with Chris, Lee's brother, and it reminded me of home. Just being surrounded with things that remind me of my home in Kentucky made me want to be there again. It is difficult too get back into the swing of trying to stumble through the Italian language and being in a big city again.


Back to Ireland though, Ireland was not what I expected. Ill admit when I think of Ireland I think bright green rolling hills. The Ireland i experienced was a little bit more brown then green, but luckily still very sunny for me. Lee told me that he was just worried the two days of sun were his summer which did not bode well for future sunshine. I arrived on Friday and when I walked through the arrivals gate Lee was there to pick me up. Having someone at the airport is completely different then figuring out a bus into town and usually in a different language :) it was nice. We made our way into Dublin and I got a personal tour of the city. I got to see where Lee lived during his time at Trinity college and explore the college. It is a lot like Cattolica in the sense of older buildings and big courtyards. It was fun. Trinity college is one of the oldest colleges in the Country and the top. There are many acres to the college and I got to see where Lee took exams and classes. I know that I would not want to take tests there because I was informed on tests days the exam room was Freezing. haha not what I call good! I would not want to walk out with my hands freezing. Lee and I walked around Dublin and it was a very strange feeling for me hearing everyone speak English. We walked around a park and even though it was pretty I hear that it is quite boring because no one plays frisbee they just walk around and sit.

Next, is the exciting part, Lee and I took the viking tour.We got onto an old army vehicle of some kind that took us and 22 other people throughout the city. Everytime we passes unsuspecting people we were to yell at them, in a viking call. It was fun to watch people jump. :) The viking tour included going into the water and I felt as I was on the pontoon boat during the summer, except for the over large orange life jacket. It was all in all a lot of fun and I learned about glass taxes in Ireland, more of Trinity College, and much more.
I got to spend time exploring the Blanery castle. Blarney Castle was built nearly six hundred years ago by one of Ireland’s greatest chieftains, Cormac MacCarthy. It was a lot of fun to walk around the castle and while going up it was decided that everyone must have been very short because the castle's steps were narrow with low ceilings. I nuzzled up to the famous stone so hopefully I will never be at a loss for words...though that has not been a problem so far in my life :)

Lee and I drove...when I say Lee and I, I mean just Lee ( though several times I did try to jump into the car on the drivers side...it is not my fault that everything is backwards for me), drove to the Cliffs of Moher. It was truly beautiful. The weather was absolutely perfect, sunny with some wind and the water was a pretty blue. When looking out towards the oceans different islands can be seen and the water and rocks below look so small. It is beautiful and has a welcome center with paths, of course Lee and I went beyond the sign stating Please do not go beyond this point! It was a little scary for me with my fear of heights to be walking so close to the cliffs edge but also exhilerating with the wind...pretty awe inspiring.

I had my first fish n' chips while in Ireland. They were delicious. Lee and I visiting a coastal town on my last day in Ireland and again more sun and pretty weather. We walked along the sidewalk and looked at all the pretty boats. It was fun to be able to see Ireland from more of a local than a tourist view. The town was very cute and Emily, Lee's gps, navigated us there safely.

Ireland was definietly one of the best trips because of being able to relax in a home, not a hostel, and feel comfortable that I was going in the right direction and not constantly getting loss. I already miss Ireland, even though my Milano home is wonderful....


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My first guest...






My friend from high school, Holly, came in to town this past weekend. I went to pick her up from the airport on Saturday morning. Luckily, I left in plenty of time because I tried to take a shortcut and got completely lost. All in all not what I'd call a very fun, cold morning. I made it to the airport by 10 am, Holly's plane was due in at 9:40, thankfully she was still in baggage claim. After dropping off the baggage at the apartamento, Holly and I spent the day at the Duomo and eating her first Italian pizza. The Duomo, the large Cathedral in Milan's center, has a roof that people can go up to and walk around. It was beautiful and very serene. The Cathedral itself is very tall and one of my professors informed me that the city will never quit working on it. This is because every year pieces of the Duomo are changed out and removed to help keep it clean from pollution and aging. Holly and I walked around for a few hours and by the time we got back to the apartment we were definitely ready for a nap...
Sunday we headed out to Bergamo with Jordain and Michele. Michele invited us over to lunch with his family and a chance for a personal tour throughout the city. Bergamo was absolutely beautiful, but cold (Holly brought the cold weather with her from the states). Bergamo, I believe, was once a Celtic settlement. Bergamo has two parts to the city, the old city is placed higher on the hills with the newer city below. The upper city served well in military defense. We walked around for several hours in the old part of the city and then headed back to Michi's house to wait for the train. Going over to lunch was really wonderful. I think it is the first time I have a real sense of what an Italian family does. I got to experience them serving food together, we had two courses along with salad and chip before the meal. We ate risotto with mushrooms and roast beef. It was very good. I am really glad I got to experience more than restaurant food and my attempts at pasta dishes. On the train ride home both Holly and I were nodding off, it takes a lot out of someone to walk around all day...and I'm just talking about me, Holly is surviving well with the time change and jet lag :) more Adventures to come this week!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Barcelona...through some pictures...













Monday, March 1, 2010

Barcelona

Barcelona!

What a an amazing city. I do not know if it was the combination of warm weather, a beautiful ocean, and great friends that made me fall in Barcelona or if it was just the wonderful city itself. Barcelona this past weekend was warm, in the 60s, which compared to the Milano and Louisville it is an extreme change. I left Milano with Jordain and Gabrielle quite early Friday morning...I'll admit I like to be on time to foreign airports it makes me nervous and I would be so angry at myself if I missed my flight. The bus ride to the airport was around an hour and we got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Jordain, Gabrielle, and I checked out the local McDonald's before heading over to our gate. Luckily, or not, our flight was delayed an hour...so it besides getting there earlier than we expected we had a while extra hour to sit around. Boarding the plane, I realized to was my first solo adventure...I had been with the International group but this was my first trip! Ryanair, the airline we used, was very interesting. There are not any seating assignments so it is first come first serve. People all group around the entrance to the gate and will start lining up 35 minutes before you actually will walk through said gate. The flight flew off and before I knew it we were landing in Barcelona...I wouldn't call it the best flight ever because there was turbulence, or our pilot was drunk and was trying to fly through every cloud they could, and because of the small children that surrounded our aisle... Whenever the plane landed everyone clapped and cheered...it was such a strange flight because of the easy going nature of everyone people stood during the whole flight, walking up and down the aisles to talk to their friends... it was noisy and loud the whole time, I was glad to have made it to Barcelona :)
Stepping off of the plane was amazing, the sky was blue and it was wonderfully warm outside of the plane.
Arriving in Barcelona was great...I was a little nervous because I was meeting Sarah Hess, who I go to school with at Bellarmine, and I couldn't get a hold of her. I know that anytime I told anyone I was going to Europe everyone says watch your purse....Barcelona's subway was has been the only time that someone has tried to pickpocket me. Luckily, whenever I felt someone near me I pulled in my purse to my body and the woman sitting down across for me was trying to tell me that someone was trying to steal from me...I am glad that I am aware of whats going on and I am thinking that my red jacket, blond hair, and duffel bag marks me.
The hostel we stayed at was pretty nice. We had sheets included along with a breakfast (corn flakes, toast, bagged pastries) ...not too bad for 14 Euro a night. Jordain, Gabrielle, and I met up with Sarah and we then proceeded to wander the streets looking for a restaurant a friend suggested. We ate a Hispanic restaurant that tasted like Qdoba :) and after went for Sangria(A Spain favorite). Even though the group did not do a lot that Friday night just walking around Barcelona and eating took several hours so it was late before we went too bed.
Saturday morning came very early! We set out in the morning to take a bike tour of the city. It was awesome. Our tour guide, JJ from South Africa, joked with us all morning and told funny stories about the city and buildings. I got to see the Barcelona Cathedral, a church Gaudi designed(which is still being built and will continue for about 50 more years at least), fountains, the ocean(beautiful!!) and much more. The biking, even though not too taxing, definitely wore everyone out so lunch at the beach with sangria was a must. The rest of the day was spent walking and browsing through different shops. Barcelona really is a beautiful city. It is clean and has beautiful architecture. I cannot say enough good things about it and I know that my description falls short of how great the city was. I truly believe I have fallen a little in love with Barcelona and cannot wait too go back. I am hoping that I do not say that about every city I visit...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cars in Milano..

In case you didn't know in Italy, especially Milano, almost everyone who drives a car drives a compact one... I don't think that people really want an especially nice car because of the chance that it'll get so beat up. The other day when someone was pulling out of their parking spot I saw them continually tap the bumpers in front and behind them attempting to pull cleaning out the spot...Everyone here parallel parks, something I cannot do, and they also park on the sidewalks in the grass everywhere! I have also noticed that Mercedes, BMW, Fiat, Audio are all common car brands here. Also, in the time that I have been here I have only seen 2 mini vans...and for all I know they could be the same one. It is just interesting to observe the immense traffic in Italy. Also, I saw the fire trucks go by yesterday and they were all Mercedes brand ha! I think that is funny because Mercedes at home is such an expensive car and here public firefighters drive them!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rai TV

This week has been classes, cold weather, and rain... I wish I would have known before I left how much it rains in Milano. I hear this raining thing is a common occurence here (not cool). This week was fun because I got a chance to participate as a studio audience member at RAI TV. RAI tv is the Italian state owned Public service broadcaster controlled by the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance. RAI is the biggest television company in Italy. I got a phone call from one of the members of ESEG asking me if I'd like to go down and watch this TV broadcast. I joined a group of people for a tram ride and then we were at RAI studios. It was neat because one of the men in charge of the show let us sit in the front row immediately behind the 7 speakers. The shows topic was on immigration and Italy's stance on racism. I really didn't understand much of the show since the people were speaking in rapid Italian but Maria, who was sitting next me, continually translated and the show sounded very very interesting. I am really glad that I got the chance to go...I don't really know a lot about Italian policies on Immigration but it all sounds like a really interesting situation in Italy. Many of speakers had different views ranging from there is no racism in Italy too Italians are blind and cannot see the racism in front of me... The group of people I went to show with were from America, France, and Australia and after the show they all had various comments to make on the subject.
I am very glad that I got to experience something completely unique in Milano that I'll be able to share with other people!

Ciao for now!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Nutella...


I have had several interesting experiences with Nutella. I am surprised that I lived 21 years without knowing the wonders of Nutella. For everyone who doesn't know what nutella is then I shall tell you. Nutella is a thick chocolate. Nutella spread, in its earliest form, was created in the 1940s by Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker and founder of the Perrero company. At the time, there was very little chocolate because cocoa was in short supply due to World War II rationing. So Mr. Gerrero Used hazelnuts, which are plentiful in the Northwest region of Italy, to extend the chocolate supply. Tonight we, Jordain, Alyssa, and I, decided to see how nutella would taste on different food items in the kitchen.

Grapes: If you like grapes a lot and you like chocolate a lot this option is for you

Bananas and apples: This combo is friendly alternative to peanut butter...it is quite tasty and like pringles you cannot eat just one

Gelato: This is absolutely delicious and completely satisfies the most difficult sweet tooth...luckily in my apartment we have several different types of Gelato so we were able to experiment with a plethora of different flavors

Popcorn: The flavor reminds me of the chocolate covered popcorn around Christmas time that people give as gifts because they don't know what else to give...but like the Christmas popcorn this combination was delicious. Jordain's hands were covered with chocolate so that she looked like she had been playing in the mud, quite entertaining.

Crackers: This is my favorite. I think the cracker combo is the best tasting because it is not too sweet and with a cracker it takes you longer to eat, so you can enjoy the taste longer.

I hope you've enjoyed this information and expect more experimental Nutella projects to coming in the near future...

Trams...

The tram situation is here is complete madness. Today Alyssa and I were running to get to the tram because we were already a few minutes late and we definitely wanted to catch this tram instead of waiting for another 15 minutes...I made it to the tram and Alyssa was crossing the street behind me...I started to bang on the tram door and the door did open up. I was waiting for Alyssa to finish crossing the street and she was stepping on to the curb so we could both jump on when the signal changed for the tram to go ahead the doors snapped in our face and the tram driver drove off....

I was so upset ha that is not the way I wish to start my morning. I was very upset that the tram driver could not be a little nicer for me. I am convinced that the tram drivers are crazy. First, Alyssa's bag gets stuck in the tram doors and the Italians were yelling at the driver for us because those doors were not budging. I could not get the door open and was just laughing. And our friend Nick's backpack got stuck in the tram doors and when the tram started moving he had to run with the tram, those doors could take off your fingers.

Luckily, we're all alive and well and made it to class on time. We even had time to go to Cafe Via Carducci and have a cappuccino. The first time I have ever had coffee has been in Italy. I don't think I would enjoy a regular cafe (coffee), but with the cappuccino I can put two packets of sugar into each cup and enjoy a very sweet drink :). The pastries here are delicious, usually I get a chocolate one because they are the most delicious. This morning whenever Alyssa and I were having our coffee we were trying to communicate to the server that the cappuccinos were good so I kept saying molto bene (very good) and the waiter said who me or the drink? When we left the cafe he kept saying how he loved us...Alyssa and I think we'll go back sometime soon.

At lunch I went with a group of people to a little restaurant that was very crowded and a lot of fun. I really need to practice reading Italian more because I thought I was ordering a typical Italian pizza and when it arrived it looked like a spaceship on my plate made from bread. It was a round dome of bread with the inside having cheese, meat, lettuce, and tomatoes...I am sure the look on my face was priceless just because the food dish was so unexpected. It was very good, just not the typical Italian dish that I was expecting...

I got a great nap today and looked up different places to travel while I'm here! I am thinking right now Greece, Amsterdam, and a few others...if you have any suggestions comment and please let me know.


Ciao,
Mary

Monday, February 15, 2010

Venezia!

I have so many pictures: please look at them :)
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2156121&id=58215937&l=308e87f963




My adventure in Venice was great! Luckily I was with a great group of people who truly believed that having fun was just making fun of what was happening to us. I did not exactly know how I was going to get to the meeting place by 7 am...when taking public transportation would take me an hour and a half. Thankfully one of my new ESEG (The international student association that organizes a lot of the activities for students) friends, Maria, helped book a taxi that would pick us 30 minutes before we needed to be there instead of two hours, phew! I did not go to bed until late anyways...somehow whenever I have good intentions of sleeping early I end up on facebook or on this blog :) Not that I mind too much I am learning to live with sleep deprivation... Whenever I got the bus I was too excited to sleep for the few hours that it took to arrive in Venice. Jordain and I (Jordain is my cooking companion and now partner in crime) took pictures of sleeping people and entertained ourselves by singing along to the classics, The lion king, Aladdin, Mamma Mia, etc.. Quite enjoyable time.

Arriving closer to Venice the group took a ferry into the city. The buses weren't allowed into the main city area. The view was beautiful and the water pretty. Of course my mind went to the summer and water skiing, but it was a little too cold for that here. When I got off of the ferry it was to be surrounded by hundreds, literally hundreds of people, and clicking cameras. The group I was with mostly spent the day trying to get lost in the narrow streets of Venice, which was difficult because of the thousands of tourists... I do not consider myself a tourist since I am a student at Cattolica.. ;)

I ate a pizza place and learned that in the afternoon it is practically a crime to drink a cappucino. This drink is only for the morning, because of the milk in it, and it sometimes excused because of tourist's ignorance. The people at my table were from Austria, Hungary, France and they all stared at the Americans ordering cappuccino's like we were crazy literally. I am glad I have been updated on the coffee life here.




I took a lot of pictures and saw a lot of beautiful things. The costumes in Venice were intense!! They have a costume parade that decides who has the best costume in Venezia! We got to watch the parade, which was on an elevated stage, from only a short distance away. By the time the costume people were paraded by I could not see the end of the crowd behind me. It was intense. I think what I liked the most about Venice was the architecture. Venice is a completely different world than Milano. And It was great being able to experience another wonderful side of Italy. The streets were tiny and the walls of each building a different color. Every few blocks you would have to cross over a bridge to avoid the water ways...I'll admit the first thing I thought of was the movie The Italian Job...

The group of people that I tagged along with decided that the reason everyone has masks on is spying on other people...there were several times that I wondered whether the person in the costume dress in front of me was male or female...our theory gives a lot to consider...

I left Venice at 6...everyone fell asleep on the bus because it had been such a long day...long but fun. I hope to go back to Venice in a few weeks to maybe see the city in a less touristic light and not get overrun with the crowds...

I am including a tutorial below on what I learned while in Venice:
(The fluent Italian speakers find it hilarious to teach things to the non fluent speakers that really shouldn't be repeated)

1. Venice is very glamorous: The word glamorous was repeated throughout the day so much so that when I went to be I dreamed of the word...

2. Let's go there...Where?...There! : I don't know how this statement came about, whether it was making fun of someone, Americans haha, or whether it was just the simple fact that all day long we said we were going there and on the return boat ride from Venice we said, We went there!

3. Pirla: This is a nasty Italian word that means bad things :) It was used in our group all day...do please remember that if you use it...stress the rrrrr sound

4. Limonare: the Italian word meaning to make out...The guys in our group reported 2 instances where they used this word and 1.) A man turned around and said oh yeah 2.) A man turned around and said do you want to?. This word should be used cautiously and with friends so as to not attract unwanted attention...Lesson learned!

5. I am not always to best story teller: The early morning and long bus drive gave way to stories...somehow in my story telling one of my avid listeners came away with the impression my father was death and that when a goat is run over it makes no difference what noise it makes...I am still confused and blame this situation on the fact that this listener is Hungarian...no fault of my own you see....but because of this mishap all day deaf goat?? was asked as a question between our group...the response was oooh so glamorous...

6. I learned from several reliable sources that it is a common belief that Austrian lovers are quite passionate and very glamorous. This was not learned from experience...I know you were wondering, but my an Austrian...so it has to be true.

7. And finally when one does embark on a trip to Venice make sure to get sleep :) Cause there is too much to see in such a short time...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bittersweet family dinners...



I am so lucky that my Uncle Mike was in town this past week...skiing up in the alps...and I got to meet him for dinner in Malpensa. Malpensa is the airport that I flew into and by train is approximately 40 minutes to get to (the same commute that I take to my school) so the time flies. Uncle Mike picked me up at the airport which is where my train arrived at and we headed to Villa Malpensa. Villa Malpensa is a beautiful hotel that was once, I think, a manor house to a very wealthy family. The Villa was located about 1.5 minutes away from the airport, almost within walking distance. Whenever we walked into the entrance I immediately noticed the architecture which is great, the whole entrance and sitting area was decorated in light pastels that spoke of a different era then my own. I think that eating at the Villa has been once of the best meals even though I didn't really know how to order anything. Being a student in Italy has taught me that for lunch you get a sandwich, for dinner you either cook or go to an apertivo, which is light snack food done between 7 and 9 (usually) and then dinner between9 and 1030 (I am not really used to the different scheduling but it has been fun). But eating at the Villa I had a real dinner not just apertivo or home cooked pasta, which means there are many different courses to order and that the menu is HUGE! I got the chance to order with Uncle Mike a real Italian meal, not an apertivo at a bar, so it was a lot of fun.

Leaving to go back to my flat was a little bittersweet. Even though I do not see my much loved Southern family often I experienced a bang of homesickness along with the thought of being in the States. (this feeling did not last long, thankfully ;)) I think the fact that I saw someone I knew and care about was emotional but it was a great dinner and I am so thankful that I got the opportunity to spend time with someone I care about....

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why Everyone is Named Francesco...

Lately I have found that 50-75% of the males I meet in Italy are names Francesco...why you may ask? Well luckily one of my Francesco friends informed me that the Patron Saint of Italy is Saint Francis of Assisi...aka... Francesco di Pietro di Bernardone. He was a Catholic Deacon and the founder of the Orders of Friars Minor, more commonly known as the Franciscans. He is known as the patron saint of animals, the environment and it is customary for Catholic Churches to hold ceremonies blessing animals on his feast day of 4 October. Francis called for simplicity of life, poverty, and humility before God. He worked to care for the poor, and one of his first actions after his conversion was to care for lepers. Thousands were drawn to his sincerity, piety, and joy. In all his actions, Francis sought to follow fully and literally the way of life demonstrated by Christ in the Gospels. His respect and appreciation for creation was so profound because it always led him to the Creator. For Francis, the Eucharist became the deepest source of support for his desire for cosmic peace and reconciliation. Just two years before he died, St. Francis said: "I beseech all of you, by whatever charity I can, that you show reverence and all honor to the most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, because (in Him) all things, whether on earth or in heaven have been pacified and reconciled with Almighty God". (Information taken from online) :)


So Now I know why every male here has the Francis...Francesco...I'm surprised more women do not have the name Catherine after Italy's other patron saint, but maybe I just need to meet more people :)

Ciao!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I had an Italian explain American football scoring to me...

This past weekend has been a whirlwind of adventures. I tried to get in some Italian shopping this week but now realize the best plan is too stay away from the stores and focus more on the travel. When I did go out this week, Alyssa and I, hit up the shopping around Buonos Aires, a few blocks of stores which were a bit less expensive then around the Duomo Cathedral. Shopping can take a lot out of a girl so we had to stop by some chocolate covered waffles which thankfully put us back into fighting gear...




I am definitely on the hunt for the perfect deals it's just hard to resist everything that seems to be in the way, amazing fashion, expensive clothing, and chocolate covered waffles...

I did get to watch the superbowl, even though it was played super late here, 12:23 am Italian time, this 6 hour difference still confuses me :) The Superbowl was fun to watch because I sat next to two French students, a Hungarian, and a German we all had fun watching and explaining the game to each other. At one point Claire, from France, said where are the cheerleaders? We watched for them and when we saw them she said, Oh those Cheerleaders are wearing too much clothing they aren't like in the movies...I want to be a cheerleader like in the movies....HAHA I was laughing at her statements just because she did not know anything at all about football and knew that the cheerleaders in the movies wore a lot less clothing.
It was fun hanging out at Bar Magenta to watch the game the whole bar had the game playing on each of it's TV's. My Italian friend, Carlo, helped explain some of the fundamentals of football to me since he watches more of the game then I do, I find it fairly ironic that an Italian is helping me to learn about American Football...

This week has been fun because of the start of classes, but I wish that I didn't have to go to school. I am still trying to figure out some of my courses because a few of the classes that I have signed up for aren't what I expected so you can be expecting an updated course Schedule soon :) Each of the classes are two hours since we only have them twice a week and it is a shorter schedule so there is a lot of time spent at school. I may have to adopt the habit of drinking coffee, even though I really don't like it, because I have been quite worn out...I am blaming this on the commute I make each early morning not the late nights I have been spending out.

Monday was the apartments first official girls night. Alyssa and I hosted girls night this week with Natalie, Jordain, and Gabrielle. It was a lot of fun cooking. I feel as if when I get home I will be able to cook pasta, pasta, and more pasta...so all in all I definitely feel like I am becoming a more well rounded cook.
Jordain and I were the chefs for Monday night:




The photographer wasn't nearly as good as the cooks ;)

I helped cook the sausage that went into the pasta sauce along with the noodles and Gnocchi. After Alyssa and I's first very bland pasta attempt I knew that the sauce could not be just served but we needed to add flavor. Luckily, Jordain brought along some sausage and we added that and onions, chili pepper, salt and pepper, and oregano to our sauce. All in all the sauce had a good kick and there was even some leftovers for tonight, though not many... We had cake for dessert that I had picked up earlier this week, though since the woman only spoke Italian I did not know what type of cake I was getting...after getting home and realizing the cake wouldn't cut because of the ice cream/gelato center I realized my cake was frozen...after thawing it out though it was quite tasty!!

haha Before and After pictures...Yum Yum!



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