Cinque Terre – The Cutest Place on Earth

Cinque Terre was taken straight from the set of a movie. It’s a spot on the Italian Riviera where five little seaside towns have become a huge tourist spot recently. The towns jut out of the side of the mountain, and are all multi-colored. It’s honestly just a place that you can’t understand unless you see the pictures.

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On the side of the mountain where our cabin was, we ate some panini. I’ve never quite had a lunch like that before. The wind was howling, and the sun was lovely. The waves crashed violently against the mountainside.

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This was the off season for Cinque Terre, as most of the prominent tourism happens in the spring and summer months. It was kinda of haunting, the way this town was so beautiful, yet so many residents were missing.

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This was the port of Vernazza the town we stayed in. This was the town center. We journeyed out onto the rocks and got a better view.

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This moment was a bit hard. Across the Mediterranean, then across the Atlantic—I realized—were all of the things I had left behind. New York was just a body of water away. At night, I would look out off the mountain, over the starlit sky and black waters. It would be so dark that you wouldn’t be able to see in front of your face without a flashlight. In those moments, I felt so isolated from the world I have come to be so comfortable in over the years. That world didn’t feel real anymore. People back home, at the same time, were perhaps sitting down for dinner, or getting back from work. Me—I was getting ready to go to bed. For me, shelter was a cold cabin on the side of a mountain, overlooking the sea from a completely different direction. As the days get closer to the day I leave Milan, I’m realizing that I want to be able to look out from that other side of the Atlantic again soon. There is a light on that side and it never goes out.

I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris. The Weekend of February 7th, 2014.

It hadn’t even been a week. Jetlag—the very real and antagonistic foe—was still creeping its way into my bones, into the normal processes of my body. I had been sleeping for three hours a night. I had absolutely no appetite, and had to force my unwilling body to keep food down. My eyelids perpetually sagged, probably giving off the aura of a homeless foreign wanderer to the Italians I passed on the street. I hadn’t made it to the store to purchase a bath towel yet, and had resorted to using a t-shirt to dry myself off after showers (which I still hadn’t figured out how to work—thanks to the fickle faucet, the hot water lasted five minutes). Adjusting was not a word I consulted in my lexicon. Culture shock was a ringed fist punching me in the face. As I picked my bruised head off the pavement, the stars of the city dancing in my head amazed me with overloaded perception. Milan was beautiful. With less than a week to explore, I was to take an early morning flight to Paris for four days of jaw-dropping cultural immersion.

My flight left at a reasonable 6:20 in the morning, meaning—since I had to take an hour-long bus ride to the airport—sleep was a luxury I could not afford. Due to the persistence of jetlag, it probably wouldn’t have came anyway. My experience at the airport was quick and simple. Loading myself like a confused sardine onto the highway tunnel of a plane, I hoped that no one noticed the scared American white boy in between his fits of fighting to keep his eyes open and baffled incomprehension at the fact that he was about to visit Paris.

Of course, things never go so smoothly when traveling; it’s a simple fact of life. Our plane descended among tempestuous skies, only to rise again a couple hundred feet from the runway. Apparently, the angry wind was proving too risky to land the plane, and we began circling the airport for an hour and a half. Eventually, the captain felt confident enough to attempt a landing. Through his voice over the intercom, one could sense the scared reluctance. I have never been a person afraid of flying, but such behavior would make a coward out of any one. The plane swiftly landed as everyone breathed that proverbial sigh of thank god.

On the bus ride into the city center, I stared out the window to view the green sea of fields in France’s countryside. They reminded me so much of the rolling fields of the Hudson Valley, sans the mountains. Home was far away but inconsequential at the moment. These were the green fields of France.

My girlfriend, Lucia, who was studying abroad in Paris, picked me up at the bus stop. For us, a month had passed by not seeing one another. We reunited in Paris of all places, a weekend ahead of us that would make honeymooners writhe in jealousy. The Parisian monuments, I knew, were about to reconfigure my DNA into another believer in the magic of the French city. The apartment we were staying in that weekend was nothing short of a movie set. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve read so many novels and poems about Paris, and now I was going to experience that city like so many brilliant people before me.

We wasted no time. First on the agenda was a trip to the Sacre Coeur, the first of the infinite number of churches I would visit in Europe. I’m not a religious person in any way—I teeter between the useless definitions of atheist and agnostic and reject organized religion like most other students my age—but visiting such beautiful churches really gives you an appreciation for the beauty humankind can be capable of. After climbing the steep steps and traversing the neighborhood of Montmartre, I got my first look at the cityscape of Paris off the top of the hill. Unfortunately, photographs couldn’t do the view justice. I tried in this picture anyway.

View from Sacre Coeur

View from Sacre Coeur

I suggest you just go there yourself. The Sacre Coeur’s interior was entrancing as well.

Climbing down the hill, we found a cute restaurant to get dinner. Of course, I went for the three course meal with a glass of wine. I wanted the French experience. The first course was a thick Pumpkin soup. I was already finished after that delicious plate, but was then handed a whole steak with potatoes. It tasted so good, but my stomach was already bursting. I had to force down every bite in masochistic pleasure. For dessert, I had some strange amalgamation of flan and caramel. It was… not the type of dessert for me. I left the restaurant happily awaiting a food coma, but not before visiting the Moulin Rouge.

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At a Parisian restaurant, in total culinary bliss.

The next day was a blur of monuments. The outside of the Louvre was first. The sheer massive structure was enough to spend a lifetime gazing upon in awe. My apartment back home is three bedrooms. From there, we went to get lunch at Ladurée, the famous macaron shop. I had a veggie sandwich and some potatoes, which I could eat for the rest of my life. Dessert was a caffè and a macaron. Surprisingly, the meal wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be, and I wasn’t thrown out for wearing a denim jacket. No, the punk doesn’t ever leave my spirit, not even when fine dining. Sorry Parisians, for trampling on your customs. I hope we can still be friends.

Caffè at Ladurée

Caffè at Ladurée

It was back to the Louvre, where I was able to see the Mona Lisa. Unfortunately, the Louvre is just so massive. You could spend a week there and not see it all. I plan to return again at some point in my life. I felt like I was missing out a bit, by not spending a whole day there, but art isn’t really my area of expertise anyway.

At the Louvre

At the Louvre

Of course, dinner was the best ham and cheese crepe I’ve ever had in my life, paired with some nice cider. Parisians know their food, a trait which I will forever appreciate and admire.

Day three was Notre Dame, and I happily shouted “Sanctuary!” when I saw the towering cathedral. I’ve always been a big fan of the Disney movie. Now I’ve been there.

Sanctuary!!!!

Sanctuary!!!!

I have so much more to say, but my rambling can only be tolerated for so long. Every hour was a story.

All in all, Paris was everything I dreamed it would be. In reading and watching movies, I had formed this grandiose romantic ideal of how the city was. Somehow, Paris managed to smash my expectations while simultaneously humanizing its people. No place I’ve been to since has quite been the same. The moveable feast now follows me.

Eiffel Tower

Thank you, Milan. You’re just another city.

The question people ask me the most is, “How is Milan?” or the slight variation, “What is Milan like?”

The truth is that Milan is just another city. There are hundreds of cities in the world; they’re the areas of most concentrated population. So if Milan is just another city, what’s the point of coming here? If you’ve been to one city, what’s the point in seeing the rest?

The beauty in traveling to another city is the simultaneous realization of how similar, and yet how different the city you’re familiar with is to how this particular city is in reality. Many things are exactly the same, for the most part: the subway systems (or metros) and taxis operate much in the same way. Same with the busses. Then you begin to notice some slight culturally significant things in these areas. A group of Italians standing around a coffee vending machine during the morning commute. A 24-hour tabacco shop. The fact that most shops are closed on sunday. The absence of people wearing sneakers. One time, at a coffee shop, my friend and I witnessed a short, middle-aged woman barge in at 9AM, order a globe sized glass of red wine, chug it in one sip, and walk out. Nobody batted an eye. This was common.

You yourself get offered a beer or a glass of wine every day at lunchtime. Aren’t people who drink before nighttime drunks? Around the block from my house, the priests and nuns smoke cigarettes and drink wine after mass. This would not fly in America, and this is why it’s necessary to leave one’s home country at least once in their life—to witness a way of life that does not coincide with your own constructed reality and preconceived notions of the world. It shatters what you think you knew. This is Italy, and it existed in this same way before you came here.

One particularly jarring difference is in the treatment of women in public, as well as in private. In America, these are hot button issues that many fight over every day. In Italy,  it’s a bit different. Public displays of affection, or PDA, are the common way. It’s fairly normal for a guy to approach a girl on a train and try to talk to her; sometimes not taking no for answer. With large age gaps, it can be rude to ignore someone completely or not hear what they have to say. In America, we respect personal space. If you want to be left alone to your book on the metro, you’d better bring a pair of headphones.

Not to pass moral judgement on another culture. You can’t expect to go somewhere thousands of miles away and have every social cue be the same. You need to adapt to something you don’t always necessarily believe in, and this is probably the most frustrating part of being abroad. It’s also where you learn the most, funny enough. One area where it’s necessary to adjust is in schooling. The class structure is very lax—teachers don’t hunt you down or take anything personally, or check up to make sure you’ve done a single one of your assignments or readings. Then grading is incredibly harsh and unforgiving. Sometimes it feels like teachers don’t care how you do. I walked with my teacher the other day and talked about our different memories of 9/11. Another teacher, a professional actor, gushed to me about how upset he is with the state of current theatre productions in Italy. It’s not that they don’t care—this is just how things are for them. You can either leave class in frustration or go up to their desk after class and ask them a question. It’s all your choice. They can’t raise your hand for you.

Now we come to the language barrier. What other way can I put it? It’s horrifying, yet once again, it forces you to put every word, every skill you’ve learned in the language you’re learning to the test. It’s worth it. I spoke solely in Italian today when I ran errands. In the beginning of my time in Milan, it was just a “si” or “grazie.” Now it’s asking for help, describing what I’m looking to buy, commenting on the state of things. It’s a work in progress, but once again, it’s the kind of progress you can make by resolving to try. The one thing most people don’t learn how to do is to apologize to someone when you didn’t understand them, or when you just can’t progress further in the conversation. “Scusi, sono americano. Non ho capito.” (Excuse me, I am an American. I didn’t understand.). People appreciate your humbleness, your try at assimilating to their way of life first.

If you walk into a shop, a store, or a government facility and try to speak English only, don’t be surprised when you get some sideways glances and a bit of a standoffish aura. Remember the times in America in which you were frustrated someone was speaking solely in Spanish to you. Remember what it was like when they at least tried to speak in English. Now, I have the utmost respect for the countless immigrants who come to America and really do assimilate themselves as best they can. What’s it say about Americans, when they expect to go to a whole other country in the world and expect signs, menus, and people to communicate in English? These are the same people annoyed with multiple language options in America.

Overall, Milan is just another city. It’s taught me so much, though. I could write a book on how much it’s taught me. I probably will someday. Thanks, Milan.

 

 

 

Appreciation.

This will be a short one, as I will be traveling very much in the next few days, but it is something which needs to be said.

Going abroad is interesting in that it opens you up to so many new feelings and experiences which just aren’t possible in your home country. I learn something new every day, and inquire as I go along. You can talk for hours with your Italian friends about social nuances and cues.

Another enriching thing about going abroad is a bit paradoxical. By leaving the people you care about the most, you realize how truly important those people are to you. They’re the ones who make your life so amazing, and when you’re not near them, you have to work hard to stay connected. The peculiar thing I’ve learned is that sometimes you need to leave to know how much people mean to you.

I couldn’t ask for better friends, and they are some of the main reasons for my happiness. I miss you guys, and I wish you were here. You would all love it.

And to all my family, I can’t wait to see you again. Thanks for supporting me in this experience.

And to all the amazing friends I’ve made here, and will soon be leaving: we’ll keep in touch, much like the way I’m keeping up with the amazing people across the ocean.

Thanks.

Next week will be an overview of my experience in Milan so far.

Pantheon & Trevi

These pictures were taken January 10th. It was our second day of exploration, and first day of exploration during the actual day. The plan was to go see the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain.

 View of the Tiber River during the day. It’s usually a meeting ground for a variety of Rome’s birds.
 There are a number of bridges crossing the river about every quarter mile or so. This is a shot of one island in the middle of the river. On it is a hospital.
 This is one of many trams that runs through Rome. It’s almost like an above ground subway. They come about every 15 minutes and provide transportation from one block to the next for the busy working class of Rome and us exhausted students after a long day of sight seeing. These cannot be found in NYC and so I was impressed…underground subways can be sketchy. I’d much rather take one above ground and be able to look out while I travel.

 

 These two photos are just some buildings that can be seen as you walk towards central Rome from the outskirts.
 This is a photo of absinthe, something that can definitely not be found in the States cause as everyone knows it’s illegal. It’s approximately 45-74% alcohol and from what I heard tastes like drinking nail polish remover. Yuck, I think I’ll stick to wine.
Funny story, I took this photo before realizing that this was the back of the Pantheon. I just thought it was another cool looking building. Little did I know.
 Coming upon the Pantheon from the left side.
 The Pantheon! Pantheon means temple consecrated to all gods. It was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus and was rebuilt in 126 AD but the emperor Hadrian.  It is one of the best-preserved buildings in Rome today. It’s been used continuously since its erection but has been a Roman Catholic church dedicated to Santa Maria Rotonda since the 7th century.
 I’m pretty sure its physically impossible to get a photo of yourself and the Pantheon without also getting at least 25 other people in it. It’s always poppin’ around the Pantheon.
 This is a fountain that can be found facing the Pantheon. It was designed by Giacomo Della Porta in 1575 and sculpted out of marble by Leonardo Sormani. In 1886 the original marble figures were removed, and replaced with copies by Luigi Amici. To see the originals you must travel to the Museum of Rome.
 Horse carriages are a common sight around the heart of Rome.
 The pillars are seriously huge.
 And tall.
 Everything is so meticulously and mathematically detailed.
 Entrance…
 Looking out…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 All these pictures pretty much speak for themselves. The inside of the Pantheon is elaborate decorated with all kinds of artwork from ceiling to floor.
 These are gladiator guys that hang out outside the Pantheon. They may look fun but you definitely don’t want to take your photo with them. They’ll grab your camera and wont return it until you pay them what they ask. Sometimes Rome seems pretty hostile to me.
 There was some live music in the Piazza where the Pantheon is located. This definitely reminded me of home…plus they were playing Coldplay. (Most of the restaurants and stores that I’ve been in actually play American music which I find really strange.)

 

 Big beautiful churches can always be found tucked away in between busy streets. We happened to stumble upon this one on our way from the Pantheon to the Trevi fountain. Couldn’t tell ya much about it.
This one can be found on Via Del Corso, which is a main shopping street that runs though the heart of Rome. It reminds me a lot of Broadway in NYC. This the street that we take to get to the Trevi fountain….and sometimes more importantly H&M and other stores.
This is the entrance to an indoor shopping mall off of Via Del Corso.
More Via Del Corso…
Don’t be surprised if you see this around every turn…
We made it to the Trevi Fountain! It was the only monument that was larger than I had expected and was absolutely as gorgeous and magnificent as I imagined and as the pictures portrayed it. It too was surrounded by modern looking, sometimes-grimey buildings on every side. Not to mention was was buzzing with people from all over the world taking pictures and making wishes (even in the off season for tourism). There are also men walking around with roses here…you don’t wanna accept one. They’ll trick you into thinking its free and then make you pay for it. If you can tune out the world and focus on the fountain though…its breathtaking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photostory: First Exploration!

This is going to be more of a photo story of our first trip into the center of Rome to explore. By this time my roommate Mariana had also arrived so the three of us met up with our friend Tylar and hit the streets!

 Via della Penitenza is the name of the street in Trastevere where our apartment complex is located. As you can see the street name is engraved right into the stone. This is the way pretty much all streets are identified in the city. I think it’s a pretty cool idea because the street corners aren’t littered with big metal signs.
 One of the first things I noticed about Rome were the cars. I’d estimate that about 75% of the cars I’ve seen have been smart cars varying from small to really small. Everyone else either drives a fancy sports car or a Vespa. This car is always parked at the end of our street and makes me smile every time I see it.
 This is the road I commonly walk down to get to campus, it’s also the way to get the central Rome.
 This is the entrance to the Guarini Campus. It’s the more Roman-like of the two campuses. I prefer it above the Tiber Campus because it’s characterized by lots of winding stairs, almost every hallway and doorway is an arch, it has lots of outdoor places to sit, big beautiful plants everywhere and when you get to the top theres a pretty decent view of Trastevere.
 More mopeds…
 I’m not sure if this has some meaningful name, but we like to refer to it as “the arch.” I’ve been told that it’s one of the oldest in all of Rome. We have to pass under it to get pretty much anywhere. It’s also just really pretty and makes me remember that the arch is a keystone (literally meaning central summit of an arch that locks the whole together) feature of Roman architecture and life.

 

 

 La Boccacia! Our favorite pizza place!
 The famous Tiber River that runs through Rome.
 This is a typical sight around most turns, not complaining…

 

For all my jewish friends out there, we stumbled upon a synagogue! Trastevere is actually right next to the Jewish ghetto of Rome. Since it’s no longer a place of hostility, you can stroll through and witness the still-strong Jewish presence.

 

 This was a huge menorah outside of the synagogue.

 

 More kitties at the cat sanctuary!
 This is a better picture of the actual ruins that the cat sanctuary is located on.

 

The one thing about Rome is that it’s basically a huge interactive museum. You can walk from historic place to historic place but unlike the buildings in Washington DC or Philly, there are no signs saying what anything is! We can only guess or google what everything is. That being said, I’m not exactly sure what these are the ruins of but they’re located right off the sidewalk and are surrounded by modern (if you can even say that here) buildings. It’s pretty weird walking along seeing more modern-looking buildings and then all the sudden seeing ancient ruins.

 

 

 

 

 This building is called Alter of the Fatherland, made by the Italian Parliament in 1878. It is a monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, who was the first king of unified Italy. He is depicted on a horse in front of the building. The two woman on either side of him are depictions of the goddess Victoria.

 

 

These are the ruins of the Roman Forum. It is made up of several ancient government buildings. It was the site of triumphant processions and elections; it was the place where public speeches and criminal trials were held, and was the nucleus of commercial affairs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Seeing the Colosseum at night definitely made it more magical for me. Being lit up made it stand out more against the backdrop of the city. The other photos are of the arch of Constantine. It was made by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constatine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312 AD.

Roomies!

Dinner by the Colosseum!

Tylar!

Orientation & the First Supper

In the middle of the night my roommate Emily arrived! It was an interesting, half-awake first conversation. Now we were just waiting for one more roommate.

It felt like in the first couple days that I was in Rome I learned more about the United States than I did about Italy. Most of the schools people said they were from I had never even heard of before, but I guess its not like anyone knew of SUNY New Paltz either…of course they’d heard of New York. For the first couple of days I was here I didn’t meet a single person from NY but I met people from Oregon, Illinois, Texas, Minnesota and…well some other states that are located in central America that I cant remember. All I know is that I thought to myself, “Wow, people live there?” (I’m terrible, I know). Point is, I was really exposed to my east coast mentality for the first time. It’s cool to think about other places even within the United States, but who knew I’d be experiencing it in Rome.

The first couple of days in Rome were governed by a long list of orientation activities including obtaining a permit to stay, a campus tour and a very quick walk around central Rome to get a gist of how to use public transportation. All the activities were surprisingly… uninformative. We all really had to learn these things by just getting out there and doing it ourselves.

This are a few photos I took on our way too fast walk through the center of Rome. Later I went back with my roommates and actually took it all in.

 

 

On the ruins of the building where Julius Caesar was murdered (“Et tu Brutus?” yeah that guy)….well now, there’s a cat sanctuary there. Being a crazy cat lover, I couldn’t have been happier. I heard someone say that there are Italians that think it’s disrespectful and are trying close the cat sanctuary. I vote that it stays…think of the kitties. (Unless of course when it closes I can take them all home).

 

 

 

 

I’m not going to go into depth about what these building are right now because at the time I took these pictures I had no idea what they were either. I’ll talk more about them when I post better photos later.

Rome is full of the types of things you would see in NYC. Some common sights around both cities are street performers, vendors selling knock off bags and iPhone cases, homeless people, graffiti and the likes. Although it wasn’t a total culture shock for me, I was still taken back. I guess I’d never really thought about what Rome was like outside of its most famous monuments (how naive of me). As we approached the Colosseum I felt a big wave of disappointment flood over me. Somethings just aren’t how you imagine them to be from the medias portrayal of them…see below:

First, understand that Gladiator is one of my most favorite movies of all time. I know that this movie is completely fictional but its the best visual representation of ancient Rome that I can recall. Not only was the Colosseum surrounded on all sides by city but it was under construction. Poo =[ I know this is the way it always was, even in ancient times. To me it almost felt disrespectful, like a flower in a garbage can (thats a dramatic metaphor but the first one that comes to mind). Don’t get me wrong, the Colosseum alone is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my entire life but taking into account the surrounding landscape…it initially didn’t live up to my expectations…thanks popular media.

 

One thing that did not disappoint was my first Italian meal. Wow! I did stick to my comfort zone a little bit by ordering penne alla vodka but it was better than anything I’d ever tasted in America. This was also my first time legally purchasing and drinking alcohol.
I’m going to talk about drinking a little bit because its definitely something that I spent a lot of time thinking about before coming here. Everyone is going to tell you something different about legally drinking so its better to just feel it out when you’re living it. I feel like everyone assumes that us underaged students will go crazy once we reach a country where we can legally drink (I’ve witnessed this more than once and its not all fun and games). It doesn’t have to be this way.
One of the first horror stories we had to absorb upon arrival was about a kid who died last semester after he fell off a bridge onto concrete while he was drunk. Another story, from this semester, that even reached the states is about a student that was last seen at a bar (in Campo di Fiori, where we usually go to drink) and was found dead a few days later. There have been stories about muggings and girls who were raped and it’s not just a scare tactic, here it’s real. If you study in Italy, it’s really important to remember that you’re in a country thats going through a financial crisis, there are a lot of unemployed young people here and they don’t see you as a nice American student, they see you as a target. If you study somewhere else, just be aware of the way people view Americans and take steps to not put yourself in a vulnerable situation. I always walk places with other people and I don’t get blackout drunk. Be careful. Thats my rant about that. No more serious stuff now.

The First Night is the Loneliest

The first day I arrived in Rome my other two roommates were not here yet. At an orientation meeting for our building I made friends with a girl and we made plans to meet up later and go explore a little bit.

The part of Rome that we live in is called Trastevere, or Old Rome. It’s located in southwest Rome below the Vatican and left of the Tiber River. It’s characterized by cobble stone roads and narrow streets.

When we met up we had no working phones, no idea where we were or where we were going. All we had was a hard to read map provided to us by the school. As it turns out…I discovered that I actually love walking around with no destination. At home I’m always glued to google maps on my iPhone. All that was about to change.

Heres are a few pictures I took on my first night of exploration around Trastevere…

These are all photographs of restaurants. Almost every restaurant in Trastevere (or Rome for that matter) has an outdoor seating area, sometimes fully equipped with awnings due to the common occurrence of rain. They’re all lovely and adorable and for the most part their menu items are pretty similar. They’re all absolutely delicious and if you search around, most are relatively affordable. (Not to say that I’ve tried every single restaurant, pshh I wish, but from what I’ve experienced so far these are my observations).

At the time, we thought this is just a random fountain and church that we stumbled upon after getting some gelato (of course the first thing I bought in Italy was gelato). Earlier in the semester, I couldn’t really tell you anything about it other than that its somewhere in Trastevere. Now after living here longer I know that the Basilica is called Santa Maria and it is located in Piazza Santa Maria. It was made in the 4th century AD. It’s one of the oldest churches in the city and possibly the first to openly celebrate mass. You can still attend mass here, in fact my roommate went this morning for Palm Sunday.
This is one of many bridges crossing the Tiber River. The water is definitely cleaner than the Hudson River but I’m still not sure I would swim in it. Apparently, the news showed a bunch of Italians who were jumping off a bridge into the river one summer.
More restaurants. I can tell you that this one is located close to the river because its named after the bridge Ponte Sisto, one that we frequently cross to get to Campo di Fiori…which is basically an entire plaza of just bars.

Since my roommates weren’t here yet and I was still in shock that I left my entire world behind me and was in a completely new place….I put on Friends (my favorite bedtime show) and fell asleep.

What an exhausting first day, and I was only just getting started…

 

From New York to Roma

Soooo, where to even begin? 

I think I’m going to start off by writing a little bit about where I come from, since none of this matters unless you understand a little bit about me. I grew up in New Paltz. Although its made up of scenic mountain ranges, it’s only about a 30 minute drive from NYC, so I’ve been there quite a few times and know what city life is like.

I attend SUNY New Paltz (yeah, I know I went really far). I spent all of freshman year and half of my sophomore year living in the basement of my childhood home, with my parents of course. For the most part I hung out with my other high school friends who had also stayed home. The common consensus is that anyone who stays in New Paltz never gets out of New Paltz. You get stuck there and can never escape. Those who do get out are lucky. Unfortunately, I was one of those people that had a harder time branching out. At last I decided it was time to get the heck out of there and just go for it. Of course it was a little nerve recking and a lot scary but I was up for the adventure. I knew that no matter what all my family and friends back home would be waiting for me and I actually got a lot closer with everyone back home upon leaving. (A good way to find out who your real friends are is to study abroad.) Now I’ve been living in Rome for almost four months. Tada!

This blog is definitely going to have a small town girl to city girl theme, bear with me…Now on to the fun stuff! I am starting this blog a lot late so I’ll try my best to remember everything thats happened.

My flight from Newark, New Jersey left at 9:20pm on January 6th. Leaving my parents at the security point was surprisingly easy for me. There were no tears just excitement and happiness. Plus I knew I was going to text them in about 20 minutes. As I stood on the security line by myself, no longer able to see my parents I got my first wave of reality. I was really going to Rome! My hands were shaking and my heart was racing. I finally got to my seat on the plane and tried to calm some of my nerves with some music. The hospitality of British Airlines honestly surprised me although I had to pass up on dinner (to nervous to eat). I did manage to sleep however (I’ve never had a hard time with that). After catching myself drooling on the seat a couple times we finally started to land. I had a layover in a very lousy, rainy London that hardly lasted 30 minutes (of running through Heathrow) and then I was off to Rome! On the flight from London to Rome I was lucky enough to have a window seat…but of course I fell asleep. BUT, not before taking this picture of….well I’m not really sure what it’s of…it was a long day okay.

 

Bam! We landed in Rome! When I left NY is was bundled in a big sweater, two pairs of leggings, socks, leg warmers, a scarf and a hat. Rome on Tuesday January 7th was experiencing a beautiful sunny day. The temperature was somewhere in the 50’s although to this girl it felt at least 75. Needless to say I was a sweaty mess by the time I finally reached my apartment in Rome. Plus side, my apartment is beautiful!

I have two roommates and we all share one big bedroom. This is my space. We were provided with a desk, lamp, closet, sheets and a confortmer, a pillow, towels and a cork board. I’ve always been the kind of person who surrounds myself with posters, nic-nacs, tapestries and billions of pillows so this was definitely a change. I’ve come to like the simple life I think.

This is what its like looking up at the apartments from the courtyard. Super fancy.

We were also generously given some pasta and snacks for our first couple of days before we were able to hit the grocery store.

I was a lot of things when I got to Rome: nervous, hot, exhausted, not at all hungry (I don’t think I really ate for the first 3 days I was here), excited, a tad lonely, but mostly I was FREE. I’ve never felt so independent and liberated in my entire life. No parents, no rules (well there were some), and the beautiful city of Rome at my fingertips to be explored whenever I pleased. I was stoked.

First Impressions Are Often Entirely Wrong—First Days in Milan

I’m going to be perfectly honest here; my first two days in Milan were a certifiable disaster.

When I say disaster, I mean an eight on the Richter Scale. That’s enough to level a city. Why was it so insufferable? Let’s just say that nothing ever goes the way you plan it. Don’t worry, Milan has been amazing, and I love it here. However, sometimes, you just have a day that’s way too chaotic and where way too many things go wrong. Here’s the story of that day, co-starring jetlag and unreliable flight times.

On the flight to Milan, I was in total bliss. My choice of flight couldn’t have been better. I took Emirates airlines, which was a cheap, cheap flight. I highly recommend you fly Emirates if you can—they were great. I flew out on Super Bowl Sunday, something I relished, considering I don’t care much for sports. Due to this, the plane was almost empty. I read, I slept a bit, I ate two whole meals. When I got off the plane to arrive in Italy, I was still in that state of bliss. I walked through security casually, quickly realized every single person was speaking Italian—a language I only knew a bit of—and smiled, because, after all, that was what I came to Italy for. It was 10AM, and I had a whole day in Italy ahead of me.

I walked out into the airport lobby with my two large suitcases and realized my plane arrived two hours early, something which is usually a welcome surprise, but, when you’re getting picked up by a car service at a specific time, is a nightmare. I couldn’t think of what to do. I had no phone, barely any euro, and nothing to go on. I tried using my debit card to payphone the school, but the operator thought I was committing identity theft. I wandered the airport for a while, failing to get wifi, and, as luck would have it, found some kids who had suitcases even larger than mine.

While I am horrible at breaking into a conversation, eventually we realized we all were going to the same school. Luckily, the car service was picking up another group of kids, and I was able to tag along, after about an hour or airport wandering. Stepping outside, I quickly found it was pouring rain. Another damper on the day, with many yet to come. We were on our way to Milan though, which was a fifty minute car ride from the airport. I bonded with a few foreigners in the car with me, though, which was the saving grace of the journey. I wasn’t even in Milan yet, and I had met an Italian, an Australian, a German, and a kid from Holland. They were all very nice, and we discussed the differences between our countries and schooling systems.

Arriving in Milan finally, I was taken aback by the scope of the city. It was like New York City, but somehow, more magical. I know that sounds way too saccharine, but it’s the honest truth. I had dreamed of traveling to Italy for basically my whole life. It had finally come true. Through all the twists and turns, I was in Italy. I was in Europe for the first time, the first of many times I hoped I would get to visit Europe in my lifetime. The beginning of a great four months, and the beginning of a beautiful, life changing experience.

Before I could get to that experience though, I needed to get to my apartment. Which seemed so simple, but was excruciatingly complicated. First, I was chauffeured around Milan with the other three kids, as we brought them each to their respective apartments. This took two and a half hours. While it was nice to see some sights of Milan, it was painful to not be able to leave that car. I was then brought to my school’s headquarters, as the car service did not have the keys for my apartment with them, since I had arrived so early. I then had to wait in a dimly lit room at the school for two hours while the car service did their rounds, then came back to pick me up again.

By this point, jetlag had hit me severely. It’s like that crashing feeling you get around the middle of the day when your coffee has run out and you’ve just eaten lunch, except worse. I felt like crumbling into a pile on the unswept floor. My knight in shining armor, Mattia (who would go on to become my first Italian friend—more on that later) helped me carry my bags downstairs and helped load my luggage into the car to finally go to my apartment. After another hour and a half or so of driving around Milan, dropping everyone else off, I finally made it into my apartment, at 6PM, eight hours after I had landed in Italy. I thought this was the end of my suffering. Oh, how wrong I was.

I had chosen an apartment with two single rooms, and one shared room, in hopes that I would get my own room—a treasure for an avid recluse reader/writer like myself. I found I was the last to arrive, and was paired up with a roommate in the double room. I couldn’t deal with my disappointment. I declined going out to dinner, and passed out in my bed from jetlag. I was too annoyed. Little did I know, I’d become amazing friends with my roommate, Sean. Once again, more on that later.

church

The beautiful church right outside my apartment.

I woke up three hours later, confused. I hadn’t eaten all day, and had no food. I left the apartment to find some food, knowing that my search would be futile—in Europe, most places close after or around 9 o’clock. By sheer luck, I found an asian grocery and a vending machine, which provided me with a soda, a bag of chips, and some ramen. The finest Italian cuisine I could find. I tried to shovel the food into my face, but jetlag messes with your metabolism. I passed out again.

Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Waking up at 5AM (once again due to jetlag) I was ready to go to our orientation. Getting to orientation was simple, and it was nice to finally traverse the city. I was in awe at the architecture of my school, and the architecture surrounding it. Once again, I felt like a newbie freshmen, just floating around being nice to people in hopes that we would stay friends. It was exciting, yet nerve-wracking. The orientation was typical, but the true torture came in the form of sitting in an auditorium, waiting for my name to be called for an Italian language assessment. Two hours later, I went up, and embarrassed myself as memory loss brought on by jetlag caused me to forget any and all things I knew about the Italian language. I went home, defeated and sleepy. I napped, right before telling Sean to wake me up for that night’s dinner—I wasn’t going to sleep through the fun again.

That night was when my experience in Milan turned around completely, one hundred and eighty degrees. We went out to an authentic Italian pizza place with a bunch of locals, including the aforementioned Mattia. There were two types of water (natural and frizzante), two giant carafes of white and red wine, and of course, pizza. I actually got a calzone, which was basically just a prosciutto pizza flipped in half, but I got to try a bit of a few different kinds of pizza, and let me tell you—the pizza in Italy makes me never want to have American pizza again. The dough was fresh, the tomato sauce was sweet, the cheese was strong, and the prosciutto was to die for. The night was perfect. We bookended our meal with some espresso, and I went home completely satisfied, knowing that, while sometimes a landing can be chaotic, once you’ve caught your balance, all it takes is a good slice of pizza and a cup of espresso to let you know that you’ve made the right choice.

espresso

I was already hooked on Italian coffee.