Category Archives: Rome

The Day We ALMOST Outsmarted Google Maps

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Ciao!

It’s Friday morning here in Roma, and I just finished packing for my trip to the Island of Ventotene this weekend!!! But that’s another blog post entirely so I’ll fill you in on what’s been going on here this week. Everyone has been grinding away at their work now that the semester has progressed so far. I’m pretty sure most of us had an Italian test yesterday. Can you believe we’ve been here a month!?!?! It doesn’t feel like it at all. I’m starting to feel myself merging into Italian culture more and more everyday. This Tuesday, I had my first craving for their weird fizzy water that I talked about in my first post. It’s essentially soda water but it’s just really light and effervescent and really unique. If you ever get the chance give it a try because it’s slowly becoming a staple in my diet.

It’s always a little strange when Italian and American culture collide. I can’t tell you how many T-shirts I’ve seen that are written in English and are just slightly incorrect, but the Italian wearing it has no clue. On the subway I saw this woman wearing a shirt with shopping bags on it and it said “I am a fashion.” … Whatever floats your boat I guess.

We went to the Church of St. Peter in Chains on Tuesday which is right around the coliseum. There just so happens to be a famous Michelangelo sculpture of Moses in there so the place was crawling with tourists. In order to escape the mob I walked to the local Cafe and got a cappuccino. While basking in my new-found Italian glory of not needing any English to order my coffee I looked up on the TV screen above the bar, and what else was playing but… “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepson. WHAT! IT FOLLOWED ME HERE! I can’t say I totally mind, that song is catchy as all get out, but it’s always funny to get little glimmers of home thousands of miles away.

As far as adventures for this week go, James and I decided to venture out to see an exhibit of the work of Matvey Levenstein (http://www.lorcanoneill.com/site/index.php) at a gallery in Trastevere called Lorcan O’neill. Our painting professor, Dan has been telling me to go see it for weeks.  The artist is the husband of a former graduate of Temple’s Tyler School of Art, and his work is very similar to mine… or at least what I’m trying to do.  Dan gave me very specific directions which, of course, went right over my head. So James and I went to the most reliable source we knew, Google maps, to get us there. When looking at the written directions they involved a million and a half right turns, left turns, blah blah blah. I knew I would screw that up. But looking at the map it seemed easy enough. “Oh just follow the Tiber,” I thought, “It will take us right there!” In some ways I was completely correct (I’m sure James would say otherwise). I literally got us within a hundred yards of the gallery. But, of course, I second guessed myself and took a wrong turn at the last minute which then lead us the ENTIRE way around Trastevere. In total this journey was supposed to take us 34 minutes. Well, 94 minutes in, after asking 3 police men and giving in to call my painting professor, WE FOUND IT!!!

Talk about a site for sore eyes.

The paintings were completely amazing!!! And totally worth all the trouble.

Mission accomplished, James and I set off for home. He made it very clear to me:

James: “If we walk all the way there and then have to walk all the way back I’m going to get mad crank.”

(Translation: cranky little baby.)

So we figured out the bus route and waited. Got on the bus, totally normal rode that for a little while. And then… The bus stopped and the driver gout out to go smoke a cigarette… WHAT. This was the most sketchy part of Rome I have seen so far and it was just me, James, and some lady left on this bus. This is pretty much what my and James silent argument consisted of:

James: “Well, we’re staying on this bus. No way in hell am I walking. Besides that lady is still on too.”

Me: “… yea but what if she LIVES on this bus?”

James: “She does not live on this bus!”

Me: “How do you know?”

Anyway, we got off the bus and luckily managed to find a subway stop. By the time we got home we were beat-down-tired but my room mates were waiting to go to dinner.

I totally burned all the carbs in this with all the walking I did. WIN.

And here’s a lovely view from the window of my studio just to brighten your day!

Buon Weekend everyone!

Arrivederci!

Jen

Under the Umbrian Sun

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I have just returned from the most incredible weekend of my life.  And it was with my two friends from Duke, Katie and Marie, and five fifty-year-old women.  We spent three days in a villa in Paciano (a small town in Umbria) immersing ourselves in the Italian values of food, wine, relaxation, and family.

Now, how did three twenty-year old girls come about spending their weekend with five fifty-year-old women? Well, coincidentally, Marie’s mother was renting a villa in Umbira the same time that Professor Aldo Patania had planned Temple’s trip to Umbria.  So after Katie, Marie, and I participated in the olive oil and wine tours, we met up with Marie’s mother who then drove us to the villa.

View of the Umbrian valley from the villa.

The first night, we all enjoyed an apertivo of wine, cheese, crackers, prosciutto, and figs while watching the sunset from our fresco dining area.  Then, we walked to a local restaurant in which we ordered about ten different dishes and enjoyed them tapas style—all while sipping on Umbrian red wine, of course.  My stomach was so full I doubted if I could walk back up the hill to the villa!

The next morning, I slept until 11:30 AM.  Had my morning cappuccino at 1 PM—the Paciano bartender gave me a weird look, but hey, I had just woken up!  Coming back to the villa, the “older girls” prepared a picnic lunch while Marie, Katie, and I tried to help.  I ate to my heart’s content under the warm Umbrian sun.

Picnic at the villa on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Finishing the lunch around 4 PM, the three of us Duke girls lounged around the pool chatting as we waited for our driver to pick us up at 7:15 PM for dinner.  Yes, we were eating again.  And yes, I had a snack with wine in those three hours by the pool.

Escorted to Chiusi by our friendly taxi driver Leonardo, who gave us a bottle of wine because a couple of the women with us had tipped him too much on the drive from the train station to the villa, he gave us a quick tour of the ancient Etruscan walled town.  Leonardo leading eight American women around a small Italian town was certainly an entertaining sight.

The best part of the informal tour was when he took us to Ristorante Zaira.  We did not eat at this establishment, but Leonardo instead revealed to us Zaira’s underground wine cellar.  The restaurant rests on an Etruscan cave filled with over 20,000 bottles of wine aged 50+ years.  It was incredible.  The rest of the stay was just as relaxing and delicious as the first half, but the Etruscan cave turned underground wine cellar was an unforgettable experience.  It definitely pays to make local friends!

Wine on wine on wine.

This weekend, I felt like I became a true Italian.  I embraced small-town life, ate the freshest ingredients, bought groceries in Italian from boutique stores, ordered food in Italian, and asked for directions in Italian.  Seems my three weeks of Italian 1 class has gotten me very far!  The greatest compliment I have received is being answered in Italian when I ask a question.  However, Italians speak so fast so I have a hard time understanding what they are saying.  In the end, we try to find a common ground with broken Italian and English, but it is still fun to pretend for a little while that I am fluent.  Language acquisition is coming rather quickly for me since I practice it so much; thus, I definitely plan on hunting down the Italians at Duke so that I can keep up this beautiful language when I return to the States!

I love experiencing Italy the slow, relaxed way.  Katie, Marie, and I are already planning our return.  In fact, being with these five women, who are so vivacious and strong, has forced me to think a lot about the future.  I can only hope that, thirty years later, I will be as fabulous as they are!

Olives and Grapes

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On Friday, Temple Rome’s Professor Aldo Patania led a mix of Temple and American University students around Umbria for a glance at the workmanship behind olive oil, wine, and ceramics.  Even though we had to meet at 7:20 AM, the early wake-up was definitely worth the visit.

At the first stop, we visited the Monini olive oil factory.  In Umbria 1920, Zefferino Monini used his instinct and business abilities to start a company specializing in foodstuffs.  Eventually, Monini began producing only extra virgin olive oil.  So successful, his oil expanded to the nearby regions of Lazio, Marche and Romagna.  Ninety years later and Monini, still 100% family-owned, is considered Italy’s number one large-scale distributer of olive oil.  One aspect of the visit I found fascinating is that none of the olive oil that Monini distributes is made in Umbria.  In fact, the Umbrian factory is solely a bottling facility.  The company imports olive oil from mills in southern Italy, Greece, Spain, and other countries by the Mediterranean Sea.  Now, don’t get me wrong, seeing how the bottles are cleaned, filled, and packaged was cool, but I was disheartened to learn that Monini, labeled and known as an Italian olive oil, is not actually from Italy.  When the company receives the oils, they blend the different types together according to their secret Monini recipes.  Thus, instead of growing olives, crushing them, and manufacturing the oil, Monini is simply a vehicle for quality control.  They even distribute olive oil for the Italian supermarket, Carrefour!  In the end, while the visit was eye opening, I left a little dissatisfied in the olive oil industry.  Recently though, I learned that many people are interested in enforcing rules on the olive oil industry so that olive oil from a certain area can only be labeled as from that area—similar to the way a wine can only be labeled by the region of origin.  For example, similar to the fact that Burgundy wine is from the region of Burgundy (Bourgogne) in France and Chianti is from the region of Chianti in Tuscany, Italy, Italian olive oil might soon be made from olives grown in Italy.  Personally, I think this is a great idea and will clear any misconceptions and also add value to small, family-run olive groves that actually do grow, crush, and mix their own oil.

Wine tasting at Cantina Novelli in the heart of Umbria

The next stop on the trip was the Cantina Novelli winery.  Immediately after exiting the bus, I walked to the entrance of the Novelli building, which faces a breath-taking view of the vineyard in the foreground and the Umbrian valley in the background.  The wine specialist on the grounds led the group through the crushing, mixing, and fermentation facilities.  Did you know that the color of the wine (red, white, or blush) is determined not by the type of grape, but actually by the amount of time the skin and flesh stay in contact during the winemaking process?  Thus, if a grape is quickly pressed and the juices not permitted to contact the skin for very long, a white wine is produced.  I had no idea!

At the actual wine tasting, we had the opportunity to sample Novelli’s Rosè de Noir (a sparkling rosè), Trebbiano Spoletino (a white), and Montefalco Sagrantino (a red).  My favorite was the white.  I am not going to try to describe the wine since every person’s experience is different, but just know I have never tasted a white wine so perfect…and I have had a lot of wine.  Here are a few tips I cultivated from the wine tasting:

  1. When first poured the wine, inspect the color of the wine by tilting the glass at a 45-degree angle and examining the liquid against a white background.
  2. Smell the wine.  Swirl.  Then smell again.  I was amazed at how differently the wine smells after the swirl.
  3. Take a sip, making sure the liquid coats every centimeter of one’s tongue to receive the full experience of the wine.  Voila!  You are now a wine-tasting expert!

Corks of the Cantina Novelli Winery

Officially, the tour had one last stop at a ceramics factory in Deruta, but my friend from Duke, Marie, had joined Katie and I on the trip and invited us to stay at her mom’s villa in Umbria.  I was not about to say no to a relaxing weekend in the beautiful Italian countryside, so the three of us skipped the ceramics tour to leave for the villa.  On the way, we stopped at Casa del Cioccolato Perugina (the chocolate factory in Perugina).  Not a bad trade-off.

My friend Katie, also a student at Temple Rome, in front of the replica of the Baci that broke the Guiness World Record for largest piece of chocolate. Baci’s are only made at the Casa del Cioccolato.

Miss Manners … Italian Style

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When in Rome,

DON’T use the phrase “scusa” or expect to hear anyone else use utter the Italian equivalent of “excuse me.”  Before leaving for Rome at the end of August, I taught myself how to say my most frequently used phrases in Italian (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, I’m sorry, I don’t understand, excuse me…).  I’ve said “scusa” a couple of times since arriving last week until I realized not only that nobody cared, but that I hadn’t heard a single person use it themselves.

DO greet strangers (but only in stores, restaurants, elevators, and cafés).  Smiling and saying “ciao” to a nice person walking down the street on a beautiful morning is an invitation to be looked at like a crazy person.  In Rome, you keep your good mood to yourself until you come in contact with someone in an enclosed space.  People in service positions appreciate a big smile and a friendly “buongiorno” and won’t spend the next five minutes wondering where they know that smiling stranger from.  It’s wise to save greetings for these people.

DON’T drink out of plastic bottles.  I bought a bottle of water the first time I visited a café in Rome and was surprised when the man behind the counter gave me a glass.  The Italian attitude towards food and eating is entirely different from that of Americans.  These people do the majority of their socializing over food and when they eat, that’s all they do.  They don’t walk or text or check their e-mail while sipping water or munching on a sandwich.  Italians take time to enjoy their food and life in general.  This is very different from the American “eat to survive” sentiment that is so familiar to me.

DON’T tip.  Waiters, cab drivers, and maids are all paid larger salaries than their American counterparts.  This is one of the Italian quirks that I have the hardest time wrapping my head around.  After twenty years of calculating twenty percent tips every time I eat out, it is always tempting for me to leave something for someone who provides a service.  In Italy, just a couple of cents is an appreciated tip for a service well-rendered, but by no means is expected.

DO try to speak in Italian.  The effort is sincerely appreciated by locals and people are more than willing to help you out or switch to English if you’re really struggling.  In some cases, I have started a conversation using the very little Italian that I currently know just to have an Italian start speaking in English, presumably to practice their own foreign language skills.  Those people with unenthusiastic views of tourists and foreigners tend to warm up a bit when a pathetic American at least attempts to speak in the native tongue.

DON’T get upset when you’re waiting to order gelato and someone cuts in front of you and orders before you.  Waiting in line is a foreign concept in Italy.  If there are even a few inches of floor in front of you,
don’t be insulted if someone utilizes that space to order their food first.  Many Americans might view this behavior as rude and while that was my initial reaction, I’ve come to appreciate the national aggression and even enjoy partaking in it.  You know what they say… When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

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4 Weddings and the Coliseum

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Buonagiornata!

This weekend the gang was all together in Roma, rather than this coming weekend during which we’re all separating and going all over the country! So we took the opportunity to take in some of the Roman staples. Our first stop of the weekend, however, was not something I had expected to see in Rome; a giant performance piece on the Tiber river! The event was titled “Waterfire” and was directed by Barnaby Evans. Essentially, this piece is a continuation of an event by the same name that occurs in Providence, Rhode Island annually. During the two day event, 30 floating fires buoy in the Tiber river between Ponte Sisto and Ponte Mazzini in the neighborhood of Trestevere. The Artist/Designer was Robert Hammond. Also, accompanying the flames there were a couple of dance pieces choreographed by Linda Foster. So, as an art major and a dancer, I WAS ALL OVER THIS!

Photos Courtesy of our lovely resident photo major (and my future roomie) Tessa Smucker!

Check out her site she is very talented :)

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tessa-Marie-Photography/103198486437938?ref=ts

It was an AMAZING way to kick off the weekend. It seemed like almost every Temple Rome student was out that night. Afterwards we stopped for a drink, and I had the BEST mojito of my life! Gma would have loved it! But we couldn’t stay out too late because we all had a big day of sight seeing ahead. Saturday morning a few of us made a trip to the Trionfale open air market right down the street from the residence on the Via Milizie, I’ve been meaning to get there for weeks!

YUM.

When we first came to Temple Rome, our student affairs coordinator told us that Italians thrive on chaos… That was no joke. Trionfale bustles for a few hours a day with colors, smells, and tons of Italians. A few of us went on a Saturday morning, which was probably a mistake. Before you go to Trionfale, make sure you’ve had your coffee and hugged a few kittens because this place will really test your patience for mankind. Italians really aren’t big on the idea of personal space so they will cram themselves in anywhere they fit, so elbowing your way through the crowd can be relatively stifling. But once you make it through the mob the massive expanse of fresh Italian produce, meat, fish, and spices is unreal.

Maybe someday I’ll actually go in there with enough confidence in my Italian to buy something!

After taking an hour to go home and regain our composure from our head on collision with the Italian mob, James, Kenny, Cecily, Andriana, Shannon, and myself headed to see the one place (other than the Vatican) that I NEEDED to see in Rome.

IL COLOSEO!!!

Here is my advice to you for WHEN you come see the Coliseum, Get the ticket and go through the Roman Forum then walk over to the Coliseum. My lovely room-mate Alex’s sister (who studied in Rome in 2007) informed us that going through the Roman Forum in not only totally worth it, but you also skip the line of ignorant tourists who ran straight to the ticket booth at the Coliseum, not knowing there was another ticket booth a block away. But don’t tell anyone I told you because then everyone will know about it and this trick won’t work anymore!

I wasn’t totally paying attention so don’t take my word for this, But Kencyclopedia said that the Roman Forum is essentially where the rich citizens and the politicians lived.

Then we made it to the main event of the day, the Coliseum! But there was something really strange going on other than an inordinate amount of fannypacks; everywhere we turned there were brides. No joke, we must have seen seven weddings. All over the place there were brides and grooms riding in convertibles and getting pictures taken.

As James so eloquently put it:

“How Romantic, you’re getting married where they used to slaughter people for sport.”

… He had a point. It was a little odd. But I wish my BFF from home, Tori,  could have been there to see this because she’s studying to be a wedding planner (plus we just love weddings like every other girl on Earth) and she would have died!

Anyway, inside the Coliseum (after skipping the enormous line because we’re smart)

I’ve seen this in so many art history books so it was UNREAL to see it in real life!

Just a couple of gladiators hanging out in the Coliseum.

It’s strange that all that’s left of this massive structure are the bare bones because all the marble was stolen the make churches. But seeing the Coliseum is now something I can check off of my bucket list!

On to another week full of painting and cappuccinos!

Ciao!

Jen

How Do You Say “Pie Crust” In Italian?

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This week in Rome, things are beginning to look more Autumnal. It’s cool enough to wear jeans and sometimes even a sweater, so with this changing of the season I think all of us are beginning to feel just a little homesick. I’ll admit, this is my favorite time of year in Pennsylvania; changing leaves, scarves, pumpkin carving, everything. So at my apartment we’re all banding together to keep the blues away and enjoy our new Autumn experience in Rome! On Thursday night Winnie made a big family dinner of chicken and potatoes, and Kenny and James brought over wine.

Earlier that day I made some big changes in my little studio. I’m trying to bring some life into it with pictures of home and some new members of the family, everyone meet Petunia and Vernon!

For those of you Harry Potter fans out there, you should get the reference. I originally just had the pink one and named her Petunia (I don’t know if she actually is a Petunia, but that doesn’t matter) then James came up with Vernon for the sunflower.

This is the view from my Studio (yes! That’s the Tiber!!!) Currently I’m working on a large landscape painting of this scene.

I’m not quite sure why I decided to treat my plants like pets, but I think they’re going to like it in their new home! My Gma would be so proud of my green thumb, I’ve had them for 4 whole days and they’re still alive. I bought them from this woman by the subway stop who sells her plants out of some kind of golf cart looking contraption. After paying for my flowers (totally in Italian) I began talking to myself quietly as I organized myself to head home (typical). But the woman remarked kindly “Wow, you speak very good English.”… I’m not sure whether to call this a fail or a win. But I got flowers out of it so WIN!

On the way home from the studio that night I made a spur of the moment decision to stop in the specialty food store by the Piazza del Popolo on the Via Flaminia. There were shelves piled high with loose leaf teas, Mexican spices, and Tobasco. It never occurred to me that in Italy this is considered foreign food. Suddenly it felt as if time had stopped. I spotted the one thing that I missed most about Pennsylvanian Autumn… Pumpkin. Canned pumpkin specifically. It also happened to be 4.90 Euro a can. Irrelevant, I bought two.

So Today is Friday, and all of my room mates are off on class excursions all over Italy. So Kenny and I decided to go an adventure and try to make pumpkin pie. Something I’ve never done before and would have been hard enough in the States, where everything is written in English and I’d have my Gma there to help me.

Here are some of the things we could absolutely NOT find in the grocery store that may have been helpful for making pumpkin pie:

  • measuring cups
  • pie crust
  • brown sugar

… just to name a few. Also the things we could find were all written in Italian…. sigh. This would clearly be interesting.

Well we couldn’t find pie crust or graham crackers. So I decided to get a tin of butter cookies, crush them up and try and make a crust with those, butter, and cinnamon.

Resourceful. That’s me.

Not bad! Gma would be proud.

I’m pretty much the Irish Paula Deen living the life of Giada De Laurentis (for all you fellow food network nerds.)

So we also could not for the life of us find sweetened condensed milk (although Kenny did find baby formula) so we substituted it with what we think is probably heavy cream… or some kind of dairy product. Also there are NO measuring cups to be found… Italians aren’t that big on accuracy. So I winged it.

I AM SO PROUD OF MYSELF.

Kenny told me he thinks it is very very good, :) and when my roomies get home I’ll see what they think. I think I pretty much nailed it, it’s not as sweet as I’m used to but I do have another can of pumpkin I might try it again with a little more sugar. But I think I actually have the potential for a much more lucrative career as a pie making trophy wife than an artist… I’ll keep that in mind.

As far as traveling around Rome, this week my Figure Modeling class took a trip to the Italian Olympic Stadium.

My sister (track star) would be so jealous!

This is the Roma soccer stadium!

You can probably understand why we came here for figure modeling.

So these statues were all carved out of white marble to represent all of the summer Olympic sports. I’m not sure what sport this man plays but while staring at him I could only imagine a dialogue something like this:

OLYMPIAN: “Oh, you walked 13 miles around the Aurelian wall? That’s cute. I ran that everyday on the way to the gym to train for the OLYMPICS.”

… hard core.

Tonight we’re all going out on the town and hopefully we’ll actually make it to the Coliseum since I have almost been here a month and still haven’t seen it, I hear it’s pretty ciao.

Ciao!

Jen

Dutch Wonderland

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Three weeks into the program and instead of going to Venice, my friend Katie (also doing Temple Rome) and I set off for the “Venice of the North,” also known as Amsterdam.  There, we met with one of our best friends from Duke and had an unbelievable weekend.

Me, Rachel, and Katie (from the top left corner going clockwise) sitting on the “I amsterdam” sign in front of the Rijksmuseum.

When I arrived in Amsterdam, I was pleasantly surprised by how efficiently everything works!  Unlike Italy, the Netherlands is definitely not ten years behind the States.  The subway, trams, and buses are easy to use; the metro cards have chips in them; there is a prominent international presence; the canals are picturesque; and the architecture is reminiscent of the Dutch Renaissance.  Unfortunately, all of this wonder is buried underneath the tourist temptation of legal marijuana and De Wallen (the red-light district of Amsterdam).  While I have no problem with either one of those things, it is regrettable that drugs and sex overshadow, instead of complement, the aforementioned charming qualities of this city on water.

We went to the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, the Albert Cuypmarkt, Jordaan, and the historic center.  However, since I was in Amsterdam for the first time, there was no way I was going to miss an experience of a lifetime:  walking around De Wallen at night.

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Taken from Wikipedia (taking photos in De Wallen is strictly prohibited)

I was more shocked than anything else.

A red glow hangs over the streets.  Glass doors showcase women dressed in barely-there bikinis.  The flow of men in the streets ebbs as they walk in and out of the glass doors.  If I walked by a glass door whose curtains were drawn or one in which only a stool stood, I knew the prostitute had acquired commission.  Despite this eerie atmosphere, De Wallen, filled with tourists just there for the show, still feels relatively safe.

Five years ago, the city council of Amsterdam, concerned about trafficking and pimping in the area, force closed 51 prostitution windows with the aim of developing the area with fashion designers and other upscale businesses.  This reduction cut the total number of windows in De Wallen by one third.  Mariska Majoor of the Prostitution Information Center and many representatives of De Rode Draad (a sex worker rights group) have criticized the decision, claiming it would not reduce crime, but instead lead to higher rent and more competition for the remaining windows.  I am no supporter of gang violence, sex trafficking, or pimps, but I feel the city council should have built a stronger relationship with sex worker representatives in order to facilitate the best transition from an area marked by crime to one of legitimate, consenting sexual activities.  I have no problem with the legalization of prostitution.  In my opinion, what happens between consenting adults should not be the government’s business.  In many cases, prostitution is the only form of viable income for a woman to support herself and her family.  Furthermore, women should have the freedom to be in control of their own bodies.  In the United States, 49 out of 50 states have classified prostitution as a misdemeanor.  Legal in many counties in Nevada, the women are not forced to be prostitutes, but do it of their own free will.  Condom use is mandatory.  Consequently, statistics shows that there has not been a single case of HIV contracted because of a legal prostitute.  As far as sexually transmitted diseases are concerned, research in Nevada indicates that one has a higher probability of contracting STD’s from a girlfriend or wife than from a legal prostitute.  Amsterdam could use such an example to control their red light district, keeping the prostitution trade alive, but making it a safer place for their women.

Yo, That Was Pretty Ciao.

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I’m not really sure where to begin to describe how unforgettable this weekend was. Cinque Terre is a set of 5 towns along the northern coast of Italy. These towns are all located on cliffs that border the Mediterranean. The only way I could explain my experience here would be to say that this Cinque Terre is one of those places you’d see in a book and think, “That’s probably photoshopped. There is no way a place like that exists, so clearly I’ll never actually go there.” This time, I was wrong.

See what I mean?

This trip, however, was not at all easy. If you have bad knees, don’t like fish, or have little patience you might want to work on that before you go to Cinque Terre considering the entire place is made of the steepest staircases imaginable, is on the coast so fish is always on the menu, and round trip we wound up on 12 different trains. But I promise you it is entirely worth it.

Getting to Cinque Terre actually turned out to be pretty hilarious looking back on it (it definitely was NOT during the process). Because of James’ previous mishaps (which I mentioned in the last blog) he and I left 4 hours behind our friends. We took a bus from Rome to La Spezia and then it was just 10 minute train ride to get to our hostel! Sounds simple right? Wrong. By the time we found a single person who could tell us where to go we had yet another HOUR to wait until the actual train left.

James: “Well, it could be worse.”

Jen: Inaudible growl.

We finally made it there to the pleasant surprise of our hostel, I had been expecting military barracks. But in reality we all had big beds, a dining room, cute kitchen, and a balcony that overlooked the sea… also every single thing is this room was ORANGE.

EVEN THE WALLS WERE ORANGE.

When we walked into the hostel room, (which sounds easy, but there were probably 98273982794872 stairs between the train and my bed) we found an absurdly large jug of wine along with a bottle of tequila on our table with a note from our hostel mates that read:

“Help yourselfs new friends.”

… mmm no. Aint gonna happen. Clearly they know we’re American because they got us alcohol, and clearly they’re not American because they can’t spell. I turned out to be completely wrong (yet again), our hostel mates were American college students from Texas Tech University. And they were all really cool! We spent our last night in Cinque Terre sitting around our table talking. Which is where the new meaning of the word “ciao” came from. Our Texan friends explained to us that whenever one uses the word “ciao” they immediately sound European. So when they want to blend in and not stand our as tourists, they begin to use “ciao” as pretty much a noun, adjective, and verb.

Example: “Yo, that chow was pretty ciao.” … it kindof works if you try it.

If you ever make it to Cinque Terre, you MUST walk all the way from Riomaggiore (first town, where we stayed), to Manarola, to Corniglia (you might have to take the train there like we did because there was a devastating flood there in 2011 that blocked off the trail), to Vernazza, and the last and worst hike, Monterossa del Mare. The walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola is super easy. There is a paved path on the side of the cliff called the “Via Del Amore” (Walk/ Street of Love). The Entire walk is COVERED in the names of couples from all over the world written in sharpie, carved into plants, or penned on locks from which the keys have all been subsequently tossed into the Mediterranean, symbolizing an unbreakable bond…. awwwww how cute! Of course, as Winnie put it, how many of these couples are actually still together? But that is ENTIRELY beside the point. It’s totally adorable!

This statue is in a cave near the end of the walk, I loved it!

On Saturday we all got up, laced up our sneaks, packed up our back packs, charged our cameras, got some caffe and got going. The hiking got progressively more difficult with each town we wandered through. The hike from Cornigilia to Vernazza, and then from Vernazza to Monterossa del Mare were RIDICULOUS. And that’s coming from a bunch of able bodied college kids in their twenties. There were older folks champing this trail in long pants… more power to them. We were all down to shorts and bathing suit tops by town #3. Speaking of clothes! I saw 3 more men with no pants… it must be a new trend. I’m not exaggerating! Towards the end we might as well have been full on rock climbing. It felt like the trail was constantly at a 90 degree angle whether we were going up or down. Not to mention we wound up doing this in the heat of the days. In total (I googled it) we walked 11 miles, and when we looked back along the coast we could tell we did work.

NO JOKE.

With that much walking and that many trains, the 7 of us all REALLY got to know each other. It got pretty strange at times we went from quoting the Wild Thornberries, to coming up with our hashtags to describe this trips (#railsonrailsonrails), we even digressed to the point of puns (ORANGE you glad we came here guys!?). We spent most of the time laughing about eachothers stories of childhood, travel, and life. One of my favorite stories happened between James and me on the first train ride of the trip.

James: Wait, is this trip all weekend.

Jen: … yes.

James: I guess I should have brought a toothbrush.

-__-

We spent the afternoon lying on the beach in Monterossa del Mare:

And I didn’t even get sunburnt!

We took a boat all the way home from town #5 to Town #1, and on our walk back you could clearly see we were wiped.

“Oh my Gosh I’m going to pass out when we get back, what time is it?”

“8:30.”

(collective) “WHAT.”

We didn’t have much time to sleep though, we all had an early train ride to Siena in the Morning.

I’m not going to lie, Siena was not my favorite place I’ve been to so far. Can you believe what a travel snob  I turned into!?! “Oh yea Siena was alright.” No, but it’s completely worth seeing, the town in beautiful. The main attraction there is an enormous, ornate church called Il Duomo. Be warned, this is one of the biggest tourist traps I’ve seen. When you’re in Siena, yes, see the Duomo:

Tada.

But make sure you get off the beaten path and see the REAL Siena. We were only there for a few hours so I won’t say I fully did that, but I definitely saw a lot. We ventured to the Sanctuary of St. Catherine which was tranquil and gorgeous. We pretty much just roamed the streets in search of pretty views, and we definitely found them:

Now we’re all back in Rome continuing with our “normal” lives (this is completely not real life at all). But the pictures and memories I made on this trip will forever change the lens through which I view the world (especially stairs).

Ciao!

Jen

A Day in Napoli and Pompeii

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On Saturday, my friends and I left our apartment in Rome and set out for Naples.  We took the metro to Termini where we planned to catch an 8:30 train to Naples.  I was secretly overjoyed at the prospect of not having to purchase my train ticket in Italian, but the ticket machines proved to be a challenge in and of themselves. The first one didn’t accept bills, the second one was for information only, the third and fourth ones shut down for temporary maintenance as soon as I walked up to them, but I was finally able to find one that worked and buy a ticket in time to make the train.  The train ride to Naples took about two and half hours, which went by surprisingly fast between sleeping and looking at the gorgeous scenery outside the window.

None of us had really researched Naples before Saturday, but we were pretty sure that it was a fishing city and we knew for certain that it was famous for its pizza.  We wandered through the downtown area and shopped before deciding to go to a tiny pizzeria for lunch.  It was an authentic Italian pizzeria; the family that owned it didn’t speak any English and our server was a fifteen year old boy.  The pizza was the best I have had in my entire life.  My friends and I joked that the pizza itself was worth the 22 euro round trip ticket to Naples.  Naples honestly didn’t really impress any of us with its plethora of street vendors, apartment buildings, and crowds, but it’s very possible that we weren’t in the right part of the city because we didn’t do our homework before the day trip.

In the Napoli train station, we bought local train tickets to Pompeii.  When I first arrived in Italy, I didn’t realize that the concept of lines didn’t exist here.  I know that all too well now and thought it was amusing that instead of waiting in line to buy a train ticket, we had to pull a number and wait for it to be called like at a lunch meat counter in America.  Anyway, the train ride to Pompeii was only about twenty minutes and when we arrived, I was surprised that people actually currently live in Pompeii.  It’s an adorable small town with Mount Vesuvius looming in the distance as a constant reminder of the town’s past.  We walked through the modern town to the archeological site where we could see the ruins of ancient Pompeii.

The archeological site was unreal.  Homes and pottery and colorful frescos and bodies were uncovered.  This little city was completely wiped out by Mount Vesuvius, but artifacts and buildings survived.  Walking through this awe-inspiring archeological dream within a modern town was surreal.  We didn’t feel like we were in Italy anymore: there was so much greenery and the area was so open.  I would advise anyone interested in visiting Pompeii to do so in the afternoon on a September afternoon.  We chose a perfect day to walk through an archeological site: it wasn’t too hot or too crowded.  One of the friends I traveled with had gone in July years before with her family and she said it was a terrible experience because of the ungodly heat and crowds.  She admitted to getting more out of Pompeii this time around.
The weather, which had been lovely all day, suddenly turned as we were walking out of the archeological part of town.  It started to pour rain and we were forced to take cover in the first place we could find: McDonald’s.  Eating in an Italian McDonald’s has been the most American thing I’ve done since coming to Italy, but even going to the fast food chain proved to be an almost Italian experience.  We ordered in Italian, had to pay for ketchup, and the food came out looking like it does on the commercials.

Our train back home left at 8:30 and we were in our apartment again by midnight.  Going to Naples made me realize how comfortable I feel in Rome.  I had no idea where I was going or where anything was in Naples, but Rome feels like home.  Although there wasn’t as much to do or see in Naples as I had expected, I would recommend making the trip there for the pizza and the opportunity to visit Pompeii.
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Roman Company

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A view of the Roman skyline–so vastly different from that of American cities.

No doubt the best way to explore Rome is through the eyes of a Roman.  I had an opportunity to do just that last night.  A good friend of mine from Duke University interned at the United States Mission to NATO this past spring semester with an Italian who is now studying in Rome for the Italian Foreign Service exam.  Excited to practice my newfound language skills, I proceeded to send a text as such:

Me:  Ciao Vittorio*!  Mi chiamo Tracy e sono amica di Alberto Rossi*.  Abito a Roma per quattro mesi.  Vorrei ti incontrare per sperimentare Roma il modo locale!  Mi mandi un SMS se volete prendere un caffe!  Scusi mi Italiano.

(Translation:  Hello Vittorio!  My name is Tracy and I am a friend of Alberto Rossi.  I am living in Rome for four months.  I would like to meet you to experience Rome the local way!  Send me an SMS if you would like to have coffee.  Sorry about my Italian.)

Now, I thought that was pretty good considering I had only had seven Italian language classes; yet, this was the response I received.

 Vittorio:  Hi Tracy!  Firstly, welcome to Rome!  Alberto told me about your staying here.  I’ll be glad to show you a little of my city.  Ok for the coffee, when do you prefer?

He texted me in English!  At first, I was a little taken aback because I spent about ten minutes composing that text and thought I wrote it without mistakes; however, I realized this was probably for the best so as not to get confused about the meeting spot or time.  Did you know that although Italy officially uses 24-hour time, Italians only tell time using that method when making a formal appointment?  As for informal events, they use 12-hour time.  Thus, for agreeing upon when to meet for dinner, one would say, “Vorrei cenare alle 8.”

The next night, Vittorio and I met at the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, a trendy neighborhood in Rome frequented by an equal ratio of Italians to foreigners.  As with meeting anyone for the first time, the conversation started out shaky, but after a few minutes, we talked animatedly (in English, scusi!) and I even developed a little bit of an Italian accent.

We talked about everything from politics to traveling to architecture to stereotypes.  Vittorio was refreshingly knowledgeable about his own city; a nice change after meeting so many Romans who know nothing about the history with which they grew up surrounded by.  As we walked around Trastevere, Vittorio chanced upon many people he knew.  Rome’s vibe is very different from that of cities in the United States.  For instance, two summers ago, I lived in New York City and although I knew many people there, I would never happen to encounter them randomly on the street; there are just too many people and too many places.  Furthermore, Romans love to relax and take leisurely strolls through their winding roads and river bridges.

Meeting Vittorio’s friends was so fun.  Everyone was affable and patient as I practiced my Italian (did this count as “studying” for my Italian quiz the next day?).  While I try to speak to shopkeepers and waiters in their native tongue, it can be very frustrating since they automatically respond in English.  While I appreciate the gesture, I think it is imperative to learn the language of the country in which one is living!  My confidence in speaking grew greatly last night and I plan on spending time with Vittorio at least once every week to practice the language of Lo Stivale (literally, “The Boot,” which is what they call Italy).

Hours passed quickly and soon I had to leave since I had an 8:30 AM class!  Kindly, Vittorio offered to give me a ride back on his moped.  I love experiencing Rome on foot, and still do even after the grueling thirteen-mile walk around the Aurelian Wall, but Rome by moped is indescribable.  When I walk by foot, I occasionally feel as if the ancient buildings continue forever and become engrossed by the small details.  Yet, last night, I could finally see the bigger picture.  A great night with great company…what could be better?

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons