29 January, 2008

Carnevale or not Carnevale?

So the trip to Venice was not exactly what I had expected, but at the same time it was everything I had expected. Having been to Venice in high school, I didn't just want to see Venice - I wanted to see it during Carnevale. I also wanted to go inside the Basilica di San Marco, which was being renovated last time.

Unfortunately only half of this really happened. We spent a majority of time window shopping and eating, which was definitely nice and relaxing, but the festivities were postponed due to the death of two workers, and the Basilica was closing when we finally arrived at the Piazza on Saturday evening at 5:30 pm. So we made it inside, but not to the top overlooking the Piazza. However, we had two wonderful, Italian-style meals which lasted 3 hours each: a dinner on Friday evening in a cozy Osteria, including various seafood for antipasti, primi and secondi piati (first and second plates), wine, and coffee. On Saturday afternoon we had a three-hour lunch for 6 with various pastas, a salmon dish, and EEL which were shared by all.

We attempted to take a gondola ride around 7:00 on Friday evening while waiting for the opening parties. Mistake. It lasted no more than 20 minutes ("25/30" was what they had told us) and didn't take us to where we had begun, plus the whole thing was very rushed. We complained but were then told that according to Italian law, the gondolas must be $80 flat for 40 minutes and $20 for every additional 20 minutes. So we were getting a deal, in other words, because we were only paying $60. We negotiated down to $50 after he recommended that we take it up with the cops, and our friend Dianna didn't seem to mind the prospect. I think he got a little scared but I was too. Dealing with Italian cops is not on my list of things to do here. Moral of the story: pay the $80 for a gondola ride, it's worth it and will take you back to where you started, not to where the gondolier needs to park his gondola at the end of the night :-P

We also discovered that the term "Parade" doesn't translate well. By "Parade" in the Piazza di San Marco, they mean a parade of PEOPLE and costumes, not like a marching parade with music and dancing. So we were sort of wondering the parade route and how that is possible in Venice and whether we would get to see any of it before leaving on Sunday evening. But really we saw it all... photos To Be Developed. The costumes were really cool and of course, I had to buy a mask!

Carnevale Mask

Handmade in Italy :-)

Purchased directly from the artists as they were making more masks. Pretty much the best souvenir ever. It will be hanging on my wall back in Philly as it is now it Italy.

24 January, 2008

Weird Walking Things

Last Sunday morning the 20 of January, (at 8:30 am!) I began a mission with my peers to complete the infamous Temple Wall Walk: a tour of the Aurelian Walls (270-275 AD) surrounding Rome. I didn't get to post about it earlier because of my culture shock syndrome...

Anyway, the tour was run by a professor here named Jan Gadeyne who had apparently developed it himself and has also appeared on the History Channel and PBS and teaches at various universities in Rome and other fun things. In other words, we were very lucky to have the opportunity to take this tour with him FOR FREE :-) which always makes me happy. Even at 8:30 am when most Romans are asleep. The weather was beautiful and the tour was so interesting in a non-architectural-history sort of way, albeit a bit too lonnnnnng.

I mean, 8 hours of walking. 14 miles.

After the first half an hour or so, when we were viewing an old fashioned port-a-potty (sp?) built into the brick above us, the batteries on my digital camera ran out. So I will try to steal - I mean borrow - some pictures from other students and post them later.

After 5 hours, I was starting to feel like a contestant on the Amazing Race and considered giving up. We had only been allowed two short breaks, including lunch! Which was settling in my stomach and making me very sleepy, despite the espresso I had consumed on our first break.

BUT after 8 HOURS, I had finished the Wall Walk! All the way around the center of Rome, and into under-appreciated parts of the city I had ventured. Here is what we saw (reprinted without permission for the purpose of demonstrating how very long this walk was, and perhaps to refresh my own memory sometime in the future, when my blisters have healed):

  1. Porta s. Giovani
  2. s. John in Lateran
  3. sta. Croce in Gerusalemme
  4. Porta Maggiore and tomb of Eurysaces
  5. Porta Tiburtina or s. Lorenzo
  6. Castra Praetoria
  7. Porta Pia
  8. (Coffee Break)
  9. Porta Pinciana
  10. Villa Borghese
  11. Pincio hill
  12. p.zza del Popolo
  13. Porta Flaminia
  14. Altar of Peace
  15. Mausoleum of Augustus
  16. Mausoleum of Hadrian or Castel s. Angelo
  17. s. Peter
  18. s. Onofrio
  19. Oak tree of Torquatus Tassus
  20. Monuments of Anita and Giuseppe Garibaldi
  21. Porta Aurelia or s. Pancrazio
  22. (Lunch Break)
  23. villa Sciarra and wall of Urban VIII
  24. Porta Portese
  25. ponte Sublicio
  26. Monte Testaccio
  27. Protestant cemetery
  28. Porta Ostiensis or s. Paolo
  29. pyramid of Cestius
  30. Bastione Ardeatino
  31. via Cristoforo Colombo
  32. Porta Appia or s. Sebastiano
  33. Porta Latina
  34. Porta Metronia

In other news....

A few things that have interested me while traversing the streets of Rome "a piedi" (by foot):

  • There are not two, but three colors on the pedestrian "WALK" signs, and they light up like a traffic light... Ironically, the corresponding actions to be taken in Italy are remarkably similar to the traffic patterns of cars in the US. Red means "Stop," yellow-ish white means "Slow Down or Hurry Up," and green means "Go or Act Oblivious." In fact, now that I think of it... OUR "WALK" signs in the US don't make that much sense.
  • These rules DO NOT apply to Vespas.
  • There are mechanisms in Italy which are designed specifically to reduce the Vespa driver's recklessness.
  • One of these mechanisms makes (unknowing) American pedestrians look awfully funny while crossing the Ponte Giacomo Matteotti. And all other pedestrians as well:

Ring Around the Chain Links

22 January, 2008

Culture Shock

Yesterday was the two-week mark of my stay in Rome. And I still have so much to learn about this place. Including adapting to the culture. When you're just vacationing, you don't really need to "adapt." Most of the tourist-y needs are met through hotels, tour groups, airports and train stations. But to actually live here, you have to figure out things like hours of operation, public transportation, and ways to save money.

On Sunday night, in planning a trip to Venice for this weekend's Carnevale (sort of like Halloween in the States) I attempted to book my train tickets through a website called Trenitalia. However, the internet connection at my apartment has been very sluggish for the past few days, and the connection kept getting reset. Each time I would get so far and have to start all over - between setting up a login to use the site, getting kicked off after 15 minutes of finding my trains, entering the incorrect "secure" password for my bank, and finally my credit card being declined. I gave up at some point and decided to do it on campus the next morning with a faster internet connection.

I got to campus around 10 am Monday and tried to book again. At least it took less time to figure out that my credit card still wouldn't go through. My friend Rachel offered to use hers and I would just pay her cash for the tickets, but the whole thing refreshed itself several more times. When she was ready to enter her credit card information again, the site said that I'd had too many reservations that were not paid for. BUT I'M TRYING TO PAY FOR IT! Anyway, I had at least managed to reserve my spot somehow???

I checked my e-mail. One was from Trenitalia written all in Italian, and one was from my mom saying the bank had called and needed to talk to me to verify something. I printed both and figured I'd ask my Italian professor at 1 pm for some help with the train situation to see if my card had been charged multiple times or whatever.

Now onto the next task: buying paper for my printmaking project before siesta when everything closes. Off to Piazza del Popolo to find the art store. On the way, stopped at an ATM (Bancomat) to get some cash. DENIED. Okay, back to campus to figure out how to make international 800 calls to the bank. The dean recommended I get a phone card called the EuropaCard for use in the public phone booths. Off to find a Tabacchi for that. Which I bought with my last 5 Euros. Guess I won't be getting a sandwich before class...

Tried the phone card a few times. No success. Did everything from inserting the card into the slot, dialing the English access number, trying to call the customer service line, and even using the Italian numbers. All I ended up with was some Italian expressions saying, You Have No Credit. Story of the day.

Went back to campus and got a few more suggestions about certain prefixes and when to enter my PIN #, etc, which didn't work either, then came back to campus in hysterics for my Italian class. After class, I tried to explain my situation and my Italian professor told me in broken English that this EuropaCard I was showing her was a good card, and everyone should buy this one. Yeah, but I'm a stupid American and I don't know how to use public phone booths with EuropaCards. She did offer to help me after her class at 3 pm, though.

So I went to my locker for my laptop, to try to get my wireless connection to work on campus in order to Skype my parents and maybe even Skype the bank, if it came down to it. It couldn't have been any later than 8:30 am in the US when I had messed around with the firewall settings on my computer enough to get Skype to work. Through a shaky internet call or two, my parents eventually verified that my card was not blocked as far as the bank knew, and I went to the bank's website to verify that the train tickets had not been processed. Mom and dad advised me to try another ATM because in some travel book it says that the machines here are very old and fickle. After meeting my Italian professor around 2 pm RE: The Very Sketchy e-mail from Trenitalia, we figured out that it was necessary for me to pay for the train tickets by THAT NIGHT in one of about four ways listed, in order to secure my reservation for the weekend.

Anyway, I decided to try the phone card one more time *UNSUCCESSFULLY*, stop in a travel agency with a Trenitalia sign on the door (they also seemed very confused by the e-mail) *UNSUCCESSFULLY*, go to another ATM for cash **SUCCESSFULLY**, and THEN buy lunch ***YAY*** before class. After class, I ventured to Termini, the main Metro stop / train station in Rome, and spent another hour or so finding the "Self-Service" machines from Trenitalia to pay for my tickets, in cash, because again my card was not accepted. (Please note that the first malfunctioning machine would not take cash, and in order to even find these machines I had walked up and down the entire length of the platform two times, because apparently there are various Self-Service Trenitalia machines in Termini). But finally, my train tickets were printed, so I AM GOING TO VENICE FOR CARNEVALE ON FRIDAY MORNING!!! To celebrate my abundance of cash that I had been lacking earlier in the day, I bought myself an overpriced drink at the Bar. ICED TEA. Because a "Bar" in Italy is not an alcohol vendor.

Moral of the story: Italy is very fickle about accepting your money. A problem, I'm sure, that would never happen in America.

21 January, 2008

La Scuola

(The School)

We are now entering our second week of classes, so I figured it would be a good time to post some pictures of our quasi-campus, which I had a hard time finding last week because it looks like THIS:

Continue on, continue on... nothing to see here.

Our scuola.

How I get to Scuola.

First impressions... Super-easy to take the bus to school, once you figure out where you're going. Not a bad walk, either. Metro is also easy enough, with only 2 lines. I explained to my Philadelphia-native-friend, "Metro line A is like the Broad Street - North line, Metro line B is like the Market - Frankford line, and Termini is like City Hall." Why don't they explain it to us like that at Orientation???

Classes are going to be a lot harder than expected, especially seeing as only half of them (two) are counting towards my graduation requirements, and the other two are electives.

A bit of culture shock also setting in today, but I will write about these adventures later.

17 January, 2008

La Mia Camera da Letto

(My Bedroom)

Last night I was online with my parents and realized I hadn't really posted anything about where I'm living! A few days ago, I made a video for you all to see of my humble Italian accommodations. The apartment in general is actually much bigger than I had expected, and thankfully I get my own bedroom whereas in the Residence I would have to share one bedroom with 2 other girls. I share the family bathroom, and there is also a kitchen, a small computer room, and a living room. My bedroom used to be the Au Pair's room when the boys were younger. And of course there is a balcony out back which connects to both my room and the kitchen. Here is the video I made with my digital camera:

I should probably put this on YouTube... but anyway, click here to see the video.

Some other pictures of my room and apartment:

Don't Look Down...

Kitchen Connection

The Boys

By the way, if anyone wants to send me mail...
You should send it to the school with my name and:

Temple University Rome
Lungotevere Arnaldo da Brescia, 15
00196 Rome, Italy

If you want to send a package, there are specific instructions to ensure that it will get through Customs, so ask me for these before sending any presents over ;-)

15 January, 2008

Che Buon(o) Odore

Last night, Arianna and I had a long talk after dinner about many different things, including Italian cooking. Dinner was soup made with carrot and tomato broth and pastina. She also made a delicious apple pie which tasted different than I had expected. It was less sweet and lighter in flavor than the American counterpart. She used very little zucchero (sugar) and olio d'oliva (olive oil) instead of butter. One of her sons was too full from dinner to have any, so he said he would eat it for breakfast this morning! I did the same :-)

Tonight Arianna is making fish with peppers. And by the way, we always eat fruit after dinner, like a banana or clemintines. For breakfast Arianna makes me a thermos of espresso, and I have it with biscotti. It's very nice to know that I am eating authentic Roman food, instead of just whatever I can put together from the supermarket.

Speaking of food... we visited the region Umbria on Sunday with the school, and had an authenic multi-course meal in a 16th-century castle (manor) in the town of Titignano, which lasted several hours.

The castle "manor"
where we ate.

First, we had antipasti, which included bruschetta, prosciuto, and pizza slices with onion. Enough to fill me up right there! But I resisted having seconds because we had much more coming. Our next plate was risotto with asparagus, and then noodles stewed in wild boar. I have never had wild boar before but it did taste a lot like ham. For our second plate, we had lamb or chicken. I chose the lamb because I have never tried it before, and it was very tender and tasty. I wanted to try the chicken, too, but before I knew it, it was time for dessert. We had tiramisu, with a very strong rum flavor. In fact, if I hadn't already drank a few glasses of wine I think I wouldn't have enjoyed it so much! We also had biscotti with almonds and some sweet dessert wine for dipping and digestion. Finally, after tiramisu, we were served little espresso shots. Molto forte! (Very strong) Thankfully, we were also given sugar packets to mix it with. I think the espresso was very good to make the 2-hour bus ride back to Rome a little more bearable. Otherwise I would have done like most of the other students, and zzz.

The only not-so-enjoyable part of the excursion was the rain. It was cloudy and drizzling all day, until the very end. I still got some good pictures but I imagine that in good weather, Todi and Titignano are even more beautiful!

Here comes the sun...

You can see my pictures from Todi and Titignano HERE!

12 January, 2008

Sono Stanca

(I am tired)

Yesterday, we had to wait all day on campus for the "Permesso di Sognorno" and to get wireless internet access. I also got a cell phone so I will be able to stay in touch with students at the Residence. I felt so gross and needed to go home before attempting to go out, so I missed dinner with the other homestay students :-( There are only 5 of us this semester!

It turned out to be an interesting night. I went to meet up with Katie at the Residence around 10:30, but we didn't end up leaving until about midnight. Which is when the busses and metro stop running, except for the night busses which we haven't figured out yet. Of course no one knows what they are doing in Rome right now, so there were flocks of American students walking towards some unknown destination. We finally agreed on Art Café, a nice club somewhere in Villa Borghese. We walked all the way to Piazza del Popolo, which is a little past campus, in the rain (and me in stilettos). Finally we asked for directions and it turns out we had passed the turn we were supposed to make. So a group of students broke off and took a cab but we kept walking. All throughout Villa Borghese's cobblestone paths. Until finally...

We came across a beautiful mansion-turned-restaurant playing Rihanna's "Please Don't Stop the Music," which we presumed to be the club. (American pop is ubiquitous. Britney Spears' "Gimme More" was playing in the grocery store on Tuesday when I arrived.) As we approached, we immediately felt out of place. We had expected Art Café to be an upscale destination, but this was ridiculously beyond our expectations. An Italian couple noticed us peering at the menu posted on the gate outside, and asked if we were trying to go inside. He said that he was the director. And the (very beautiful) woman said to ask for Christian. ???

There was no way we were getting in. The second we approached the glass doors, the doorman disappeared, locking the door behind him. Stupid Americans.

Slightly discouraged and feeling pretty damp and frizzy from the rain, we descended the marble staircase once again, and waited for a cab to go home. Even the cab driver at Villa Borghese looked different. Much more clean cut, wearing a turtleneck sweater, and even driving a nicer cab. We asked him what was going on up there. He told us in Italian that it was a very important party, a premier.

We took the cab to Art Café. We didn't get in. It was about 1:30 by then. Finally, we went home. But looking up online which movies premiered last night....

Bianco e Nero?

No way.

11 Gennaio, 2008.

Bianco e Nero Poster

And Ambra Angiolini looks remarkably like the woman that told us to ask for Christian. Who knows. At any rate, half-attending the premier of Bianco e Nero was way better than a night clubbing at Art Café. There will be plenty of time for that in the coming weeks. Tonight, a more relaxed night in preparation for Todi tomorrow!

09 January, 2008

La Vita Bella: Reflecting on my life right now

Sfortuna (unfortunately), I got a sinus infection before leaving for Rome. But to put things into perspective, three of my girlfriends were involved in a car accident about a week before my departure. The past two weeks have been such a rush of emotions: from excited to astonished to angry and upset to ecstatic to anxious and apprehensive, and back to excited again.

I spend all day at the hospital Friday the 28, praying for my best friend's life and grieving the loss of her cousin - a positive, radiant young woman of 18. So many questions filling my head. How did this happen? Why Kylie? Will Heather be okay? Just over 10 days later, and I'm starting my semester in a foreign country. What a life this is! So dolce but so fleeting. I want to remember and cherish every last bit of it. And I want Heather, Melissa, and Kylie to know that I love them and that my prayers are with their entire family, and that this unfortunate situation has enlightened my own.

I miss home already. The language, the comfort, the familiarity. But it will be there 4 months from now when I return. I want my sinus infection to go away, but I still have my life, and what an opportunity this is to live it in ROME!

La Vita Bella... and truly, it is. <3

Article from South Brunswick Post More recent article from Home News Tribune

08 January, 2008

La Seconda Volta in Roma!

(My Second Time in Rome!)

The flight arrived early! We took off at 5:30 pm in the US and arrived in Rome at 7:10 am, or 1:10 am US Eastern Standard time. My sinuses didn't bother too much on the takeoff as I had taken two Tylenol PM, and I slept for most of the flight except when my own cough woke me up. I think it was the airplane pillow. I ate carne (beef) for dinner and before I knew it, I was eating pancetta for breakfast, and it was only 30 minutes before landing! I took some pictures before and after...

Departing Newark,
flying over NYC.

Arriving over Italy at dusk.

Window reflection of the beautiful sunrise!

With lights turned off, a serene morning.

My next 4 months, in paradise.

At baggage claim, I ran into 3 girls that went to Lehigh with me. Sarah and I also graduated from high school together, so it was nice to see them in Rome! Our taxi ride from the airport cost £18 each, for 5 of us.

Not a bad deal... but our luggage barely fit into the van!

After our arrival at the residence, a few hours exploring, and a subsequent trip to my new apartment with the Zenobi family, I am feeling slightly overwhelmed, a little sick, and very tired. Alla prossimo!

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