Tales from Italy ch.9: Your Elephants are Polar Bears.

Did you know it’s possible to visit a whole country in a day and still get back in time for dinner? Well it is! Small city-states qualify as their own countries and are easy to get to. When it comes to Italy, the most well-known city-state would be Vatican City, home of the Pope, Roman Catholicism, and all that jazz. But how many of you know about La Reppublica di San Marino? It’s a small city-state that’s only about an hour’s drive from Urbino, yet it’s its own country- it even has its own euro coins! It was pretty cool to add a new country to the “Where I’ve Been” application on Facebook when I got home later 😉
San Marino is stunning. It’s located on top of this mountain with spectacular views. I’m sure that on a sunny day you could see for miles, but as luck would have it, when we went it was cloudy. Inside the city, we saw a lot of beautiful places like the Basilica di San Marino and this cute little park at the top of the mountain.

On the way up, we passed hundreds of vendors, and you wouldn’t believe it, but some of the main items they sell are swords and guns. Granted the swords were beautiful, but still! I was surprised and yet so intrigued.

Despite our cloudy conditions in San Marino, the next several days were surprisingly sunny and warm. My friends and I spent a lot of time outdoors and sunbathing, and have the sunburns to prove it. One day, Laura and I went up to the Fortezza after running some errands in town. We played Frisbee and had lunch before laying down for a nap. Unfortunately our nap lasted a bit too long and we woke up burned.

On another particular day, I found Monika at my window, dressed in purple with a bouquet of lilacs in her hand. It was the cutest thing you’d ever seen. Between the warm weather, fresh flowers, and clear skies, finding the motivation to study for finals has been hard. Yet the semester must go on! I was further reminded of this when it came time to register for fall classes at New Paltz. It was a little strange registering while abroad because I’m currently associating school with Italy, not New York. Not to mention that the Italian way of things wouldn’t even dream of registering for the fall until at least October, after there has been a one-month class trial-period.

Anyway, between the studying that’s now making up for lack of classes and the sunbathing I’ve been up to, I’ve also gotten started on a radio show and program for the Erasmus students/ International students. Our show is called Independent Carrots; the name is taken from a band name idea we had on our trip to Sicily when Judith ate carrots everyday. Working with one of the US liaisons here in Urbino and a fellow classmate and friend of mine, Ryan, we have set up a radio program that is for foreign students. We had our first show on April 20th, and it is being set up to stay and work for future semesters, maybe even turning into an credit-earning program for communication and media majors who choose to study in Urbino! It’s a lot of fun and reminds me of my radio show back in New Paltz on WFNP. The one I have here is a bit different, but you can see all of this here.

Other random events have happened since San Marino. On one particular day, while having gelato, the strangest conversation came up about the possibilities and experiences of what it would be like to be defecated on by a pigeon. And, as misfortune and uncanny coincidences happen, Laura was then pooped on by a bird. And if this day wasn’t unlucky for her enough, that night, while showing us her favorite pair of elephant pajamas, we pointed out to Laura that the elephants were actually polar bears, and, after some minutes of nonstop laughter and shock of years of believing them to be elephants, her whole world changed…. just like her pajamas.

Meanwhile, while all this random joy has been happening, there has been an active volcano in Iceland causing havoc to planes all over Europe.  This sucked for a lot of my friends who were making brief trips home and either had their flights canceled, rescheduled, or had to book train tickets. For me, Monika, and Laura, we had a trip to Paris planned in the upcoming days, and damn Eyjafjallajökull wouldn’t stop threatening our plans. If the spelling of it’s name wasn’t enough (which by the way I learned to pronounce thanks to the clip on Wikipedia), why’d it have to go and threaten our Paris plans, huh?

Oh well, I can’t complain to much because in the end our flight didn’t change at all. We were going to Paris, and no Icelandic volcano was going to stop us!

Tales from Italy ch.8: SPRING BREAK! Part 4- Cardiff, Wales and London, England

The day we were to leave Ireland, Janelle and I had an early flight to Bristol, England. We caught a taxi at 4:30AM and were in the air by 6:30. Since I had been sick with congestion the last few days, our flight was easily the most uncomfortable flight I had ever been on and the descent was enough to make my eyes tear. Once again, the flight was only about 40 minutes long so I didn’t have to endure it for too long.

Once we were in Bristol, it was a quick train ride to Cardiff, Wales. Just like in Ireland with seeing the Irish language everywhere, we were all of a sudden confronted with Welsh once we crossed the border. Like Irish, I wasn’t well aware of Welsh until actually experiencing it in the country. For me, both Irish and Welsh were interesting things to really take in; when I considered the UK and Ireland, I generally associated the language spoken as English. While I was correct to some extent in thinking this, I was incorrect in neglecting how there are still other official languages spoken in these countries. Don’t get me wrong, I had heard of Irish and Welsh and knew they were still spoken, but like many things, it doesn’t really sink in until you hear and see it for yourself.

We got to Cardiff Central around 8 in the morning. We were to meet my friend, Eleanor around then, but there was a slight mix-up in the AM/PM part of 8:00. I guess that would be one of the times you can really appreciate the popularity of military time in most of Europe. It’s not like Janelle or I minded though; we were still a bit sleepy from our travels, and the extra time gave us enough time to grab a bite to eat and sort out our bus tickets to London for the next day.

Later that day, Eleanor took us to see St. Fagan’s Outdoor Museum. It was such a fun experience, and it reminded me a lot of the historical-remake little colonial cities we can find on the east coast in the US. We saw actual homes that date back from the 1500s, like this one from 1544:

This home belonged to a wealthy farmer; its two chimneys are a wealthy status symbol, as it was not always so simple to afford ventilation.

Other sights that we saw at St. Fagan’s included a pasture loaded with sheep, miner’s homes that were each decorated to a different time period ranging from 1805-1980, some pottery being made, and an old cathedral.

Just before leaving the museum, we stopped at a small candy shop where I got to taste some delicious gingerbread and some hard, green glow-stick candy that tasted oddly like Mountain Dew.

After the Museum, we walked over to the Castle and strolled around the castle grounds. The gardens were stunning, especially with the beautiful day we were having!

After the castle, we were off to Cardiff Bay. One of the first things we saw was the Cardiff Opera house. The building is spectacularly modern and in-your-face so-to-speak, and is decorated with Welsh:

For lunch, we went to Wagaman’s Japanese. Apparently it’s a pretty popular chain in the UK… lucky them- It was so good! During lunch, Eleanor’s mom called to ask about dinner. Our choices were salad or curry. Janelle and I, having only ever associated curry solely as a spice, said salad because we didn’t know what ‘curry’ meant. This lead into a cultural discussion on what the Welsh (And English?) refer to as curry, and what we, as Americans, refer to as curry. Basically, in the end, we discovered that her mom was making curry chicken for dinner, of which we eagerly accepted. Turns out, ‘curry’ can mean any meal cooked with curry spices, while for us, we take the unnecessary time to say ‘curry chicken’ or ‘chicken with curry sauce.’

After lunch we grabbed some ice cream on the pier just before a daunting line (or as they say in the UK, “queue”) formed behind us. Ice creams in hand, we then hopped on the last boat tour of the day that took us around the bay. Being in the water, we were able to get some nice views of the shore: (The big armadillo looking building in the back is the Opera house, and the red one in the front is the old port):

Our tour guide on the boat also told us some funny tales about what we were seeing from the boat. For example:

From the boat we were able to see these two images above. The first is of a Norwegian church; the second, a statue of the Welsh man who attempted to be the first to reach the South Pole. Unfortunately for the latter, the Norwegians beat him there. So where did they put his statue?:

That evening after dinner, Janelle, Eleanor, and I watched a DVD of the Welsh comedian, Rhod Gilbert, after being inspired when we passed by the actual Rhod Gilbert on the way home. Even though sometimes his heavy Welsh accent made it a little difficult to understand, he was actually pretty good, and we got in some laughs (mine between blowing my nose because of my  still-existent cold!) before bed.

The next day, the three of us went on a tour of the Cardiff Palace before catching our bus to Reading where we would meet up with my friend, Toni. Once inside the grounds, it was like stepping into a life-size version of a child’s castle play-set. Old castle walls that guarded the lovely scenery before us surrounded us. To our left was the actual Palace home and in the center was the “Shell” –complete with moat- (this is what reminded me so much of a castle-toy) where the family, in times of danger, would come to stay:

We toured the Palace house, the shell, and the inside of the surrounding walls (referred to as the ‘war tunnels’).  (There are pictures from the inside of all of these in the link at the bottom of this journal).

After the Palace, Janelle and I said our goodbyes and were off to Reading. The bus ride wasn’t too long, and we arrived in time for dinner. That night, Toni was having family over for a BBQ. It was great- I hadn’t had a BBQ in such a long time, and after all our traveling, taking the time to just enjoy such a family-oriented event was relaxing, even if there were a handful of little children running all over the place. Dinner was delicious and we ate outside on a picnic blanket. After dinner, the relatives began to disperse, and we spent the evening watching Zombieland. Before bed, I took a bath since the shower wasn’t working due to construction. Not like I’m complaining- I LOVE baths!! It was so nice to just lie there and soak in hot water; just the thing I needed to relax.

The next day, we took a trip into London. The first thing we saw was the changing of the guard.

Once the guard had changed, we followed them to Buckingham Palace where there were more demonstrations. While there, we noticed that the flag was at half-mast, which means that the Queen is not home.

After Buckingham Palace, we saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the “London Eye” (though it’s expensive price kept us off it), Tower Bridge, London Bridge, and –get this- Platform 9 ¾!!!! From Harry Potter!!

We finished off our day at the London Dungeons; I guess you could call it a museum, but it reminded me a lot of the haunted houses people visit on Halloween. The only exception was this had 2 rides: a water ride and a drop ride. The actors inside were really funny, and despite the amusement-parkness of it all, we learned a lot about London’s darker history with law and punishment over the centuries.

At the end of the day, we went out to dinner where I once again ordered a Steak and Ale pie- it was officially my first and last meal in the UK. I didn’t mind though- I had already completed my check-list of foods to have in the UK and Ireland, which included:

  • Steak and Ale pie
  • Deep-fried Mars bar
  • Fish and chips
  • Haggis
  • Scones
  • Hot-cross buns

Of the above, I miss Steak and Ale Pie and Fish and Chips the most.

My trip to the UK and Ireland was amazing. In such a short time, I got to see 4 different countries, meet up with lots of my old friends, and try a ton of new things. Yet even though it was one of my greatest experiences, I was very happy to get back to Urbino in the end. Two weeks of constant travel is a lot of work and really tires you out. It was nice to get back to a familiar bed and schedule; stuff I was used to. Nonetheless, the memories I made there I’ll never forget. I’m so glad I went.

(More pictures from Cardiff and London)

Tales from Italy ch.8: SPRING BREAK! Part 3- Dublin, Ireland

40 minutes is such a short amount of time to sit on a plane. Normally, the only reason I’d ever consider flying anywhere is because it is too far to drive. Ah but you see, the good old Irish Sea makes it okay to not care about short flights.

Janelle and I arrived in Dublin in the evening. Our first dosage of culture shock came with all the Irish we saw on signs. Prior to this semester I wasn’t aware of the popularity of the Irish language that still exists. Our Irish friends told us that children in Ireland grow up learning Irish in schools, but I never really thought much of it until I started seeing Gaelic all around me. My favorite by far was at the bus stop where I saw the route map with all the stops written. At the very top of the chart was Dun Laoghaire. Normally, I’d assume to pronounce this “Dun- la-owg-hair” but in Irish-speaking reality, it’s pronounced like “dun-leery.” I learned this handy-dandy lesson thanks to the movie, P.S. I Love You.

The actual journey to our hostel involved a 30 minute bus ride from the airport and then some hiking on foot. Once we found our street, we had the hardest time looking for address #82. This was due to the fact that the numbers on the street went down from 53-1 and then up from 54+. In the time we spent walking in circles, a drunken Irish teen waddled up to us and attempted to speak. Honestly, I was just surrounded by stereotypes on this trip.

By the time we got to our hostel, it was past 11 and all our roommates were already asleep. We attempted to quietly set up in the dark as best we could and slept in our day clothes to avoid causing any extra noise involved with opening our suitcases. It had been a rough start that night, and I thought it’d be done once we were in bed and asleep, but I was wrong. That night I had a horrible sore throat that woke me up whenever I swallowed. I had gotten sick somehow and it wasn’t very pleasant.

The next day we slept in, but I was still tired because of waking up so often from my throat; it was killing me. Throughout the rest of the day, a stuffy and runny nose would be added to this luxury illness of mine, and I wanted to kick my antibodies for failing while I was on vacation.

During the day, Janelle and I took a free 3-hour tour that showed us many of the main areas of Dublin. Of these sites included the castle,
a converted Catholic church that was still unrecognized by the Vatican, old Viking home outlines:

…the O’Connell Bridge and ha’ penny bridge, the famous Temple Bar:

Trinity College, Parliament (the building actually served as the model for the US White House):

…the “Spire of Dublin,” and St. Stephen Park.

On the way, we were passed by 2 oil-tanker-sized trucks filled with Guinness beer. Only in Ireland.

While at the castle, we were also presented with the following statue of Lady Justice:

The funny thing is that this Lady Justice has several flaws. For one, she is not blindfolded. Second, her sword is tipped upwards. Finally, her scale actually works, meaning that when it rains, it is unbalanced.

That night, we were both tired and Janelle decided to call it an early night. But despite my sickness and lack of sleep, I wasn’t ready to call it a night while in Dublin. So, I went out for a walk by myself and encountered a lot of things I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. In addition to learning my way around (a general skill I usually have difficulty acquiring) I heard this really cool live band, saw the the sites around the Liffey River lit up for night, and eventually came across a Penny’s (The Irish equivalent of Primark in the UK or Target in the US). The latter worked out well since I was now running low on socks and managed to grab 5 pairs for 2 euros.
(Above in order from left to right: Band, Ha’Penny Bridge, and O’Connell Bridge)

When I got back to our hostel that night, Janelle was still awake and she had befriended one of our roommates, Chloe. Chloe is from France, but currently living in the UK studying English and Art History. The next day, she accompanied us as we took a stroll through St. Stephen’s park and a quick drink at a local pub (I had hot chocolate of course 0:-)). It was a lovely ending to our day. Earlier, we saw Clash of the Titans in 3D in a theater that closer resembled a Broadway theater than a cinema theater, complete with plush velvet red seats, curtains, and ushers in ties.

Janelle got her tragus pierced and we also did a bit of shopping after she learned that there was a Penny’s nearby. On the way to Penny’s, we were stopped by a guy close to our age who was collecting donations for PAWS- a puppy organization. After I apologized for not being able to make a donation, the guy confessed his love for me and said “Don’t leave me, everyone I love leaves me!” He was obviously kidding, and it made us laugh. In the end he offered to buy me a drink that night, but like the puppy donation, I politely declined. As I turned away, I could hear him saying “I knew it! Everyone I love leaves me!” Oh well lol

At the end of the day the three of wrapped up at the pub (me with my hot chocolate). I ended up leaving early longing for a hot shower to help my runny nose and to get a head start on packing for the next day. On the way home I bought a 6-pack of pocket tissue packs and some breakfast for the next morning. When I got back to the hostel, my shower was as delightful as I had hoped, I packed, and was in bed early. Unfortunately my stuffy nose wouldn’t cease to exist, and it was gonna be another long night.

(More pictures from Dublin)

Tales from Italy ch.8: SPRING BREAK! Part 2- Chester, Liverpool, and Manchester, England

The day we were to leave Durham, England, where we were staying with my friend, Kirsty, we made a stop at Sainbury’s to do a bit of grocery shopping for lunch and had breakfast. Janelle and I had a 6 hour 20 minute bus ride ahead of us, and I couldn’t possibly imagine going for that long without food; I can barely make 30 minutes before my impatient stomach starts growling like a spoiled child.

On our way to the bus stop, we passed by New Castle’s proud Angel of the North. Basically it’s this giant statue that stands on its own in the middle of a field.

Our god-awful-long bus ride wasn’t as bad as one would think. We were a little worried at the beginning though when our bus driver got into a heated argument with one of the passengers who he was now refusing and had to be held back as we were boarding. It was very unprofessional and uncomfortable for all us other passengers to witness. Aside from our crazy driver though, I had my ipod going most of the time, slept, ate, and stared at the hundreds of sheep we must have passed on the way. Kirsty said the numbers of sheep herds I saw would grow as we went further south, but I disagree; at least from what I saw, the north is coated with far more numbers. I’ll never forget this one herd though- the farmer, for whatever reason, spray-painted all of his sheep hot pink. Keep in mind there were at least 100 sheep; that’s a lot of work. Nonetheless, I’ll carry with me that memory of my favorite hot pink herd of sheep bounding over the mountain for the rest of my days.

Around 8 that night, the bus pulled into the Chester bus station where we met up with my friend, Lauren. She and her mom cooked us a lovely meal, our second home-cooked meal since leaving the states in February. That night, I enjoyed a warm shower and internet access- with Skype- before heading to bed. Such a wonderful night after a long day of travel.

The next day, Janelle, Lauren, and I were off to Liverpool where we’d meet up with my friend, Emma, but not before seeing some of Chester. Prior to my trip, I hadn’t heard much of Chester, but it is quite a lovely town. Surrounding it is this wall that is hundreds of years old, and you can walk on it and see some stunning sights. We saw the Chester Cathedral and much of Chester’s inner streets. One thing I noticed was all the fine detail the town’s builders took into consideration when they built the town. For example, one of the Cathedral’s doors had gorgeous iron trees (I would LOVE to have iron trees on the doors of my own house someday), and one of the buildings had all these miniature designs carved into its grid-like pattern.

After we were done in Chester, the three of us drove to Liverpool. Aside from the birthplace of the Beatles, my favorite band, I didn’t know much about Liverpool and what it had to offer. Don’t get me wrong though, the town definitely throws the Beatles in your face all day, and it’s easy to see how natives like my friend, Emma, were tired of them. But me, the touristy-girl and Beatles-fan that I am, took advantage of this. I visited Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, the homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and the famous Cavern Club where it all began.

But Liverpool had a lot more to it. Did you know the Titanic was built here? The building still stands, cute as a candy cane, and I can hardly believe how such a place managed to build a ship as colossal as the Titanic.

Liverpool is also one of the origins of the African slave trade in the UK and Europe. It was here in this port, that ships carrying slaves entered for centuries.

Liverpool has a legend that if the Liverpool Bird falls (the one seen in the picture below), Liverpool will fall too. Notice all the extra suspension it’s given as a caution?

Like many cities in Europe, Liverpool has its fair share of cathedrals and churches. Yet the ones I saw stood out. The first picture below is of a modern-day church; it is unlike any of the other churches I have seen since coming to Europe, probably because it is the youngest.

Unlike the modern church above, other cathedrals that closer resemble the churches I’ve seen still make themselves known. The giant one you see below was never finished thanks to WWII.

This church below is the saddest of the three. Bombed in WWII, the remains are left standing as a memorial and reminder of what happened.

At the end of the day, Emma’s parents drove Janelle and I to Wilmslow, England where we were to stay with my friend, Nicola. It was about a 45-minute drive, during which I experienced the famous ‘scouse’ accent thanks to Emma’s parents. ‘Scouse’ is the unique Liverpool accent, and boy is it heavy. There were sometimes I barely understood what they were saying at all and Emma had to translate. I think accents are so cool.

When we got to Wilmslow, Nicola and her boyfriend, Darren, took us out to dinner at a popular English bar called Weatherspoons. After dinner, we took it easy since Janelle and I were pretty pooped from our touring that day throughout Chester and Liverpool. I had a shower and we watched the TV show, ‘Balls of Steel.’ I was really excited about this because I am a big fan of ‘Neg’s Urban Sports,’ a segment of this show, which my friends and I discovered on YouTube about a year ago. To my luck, Neg ended up winning that night, and it just made the show even better. One of my favorite Neg clips.

The next morning, Nicola made us “real English bacon.” She wanted to show me how good bacon could be after eating the dry, hard bacon we were served at the camp where we met. I’ll give her credit; “real English bacon” is delicious.

After breakfast, we went into town. The first thing we did was go to the post office to ship Janelle’s computer- she had been trying to do that since we arrived in Scotland almost a week earlier. Why didn’t she just send it from Italy where we live you ask? Because when she tried, they handed her a paper manila envelope to mail her laptop in and offered no insurance. And people think I’m full of it when I say not to trust the Italian postal service…

Once her computer was dropped off, we started touring Manchester. One of our first stops was Skytop- this oddly shaped building that we had actually passed on our way to Chester. It was funny because from the bus, Janelle and I took pictures of how strange this building was, and now we had the chance to go in it!

We also took some time to do a little shopping. Nicola took us to Primark, a store on par with Walmart or Target in the US minus the groceries. It was lots and lots of clothes at cheap prices. Nicola said it was great for this, but at the same time you end up seeing a lot of people wearing the same clothes as you. This didn’t stop me or Janelle though- since there are no Primarks at home or in Italy, we had no risk of seeing our purchases on other people, so we played out the stereotypical shopping girls and took full advantage of where we were. This of course was speaking too soon, for as we exited the store, bags in hand, I took a moment to think about how much I liked this shirt I saw a woman wearing; it was only about 2 seconds before I realized I had that same shirt in my bag of purchases.

For lunch I had pasties– another British meal I could cross off my list of things to try while in the UK. While good, I think I still enjoy my mother’s homemade Cornish pasties more, but this could just be my own Cornwall-ancestry pride coming out. Nah, hers are better, complete with potatoes and vegetables 🙂

The rest of the afternoon we spent at the Museum of Science and Industry. It was really cool- we saw lots of old planes and trains, and a bit of Manchester history which included its history of sewage systems:

On our way back to her apartment, we passed by Castlefield, a small group of the bases of ancient Roman houses. While barely there, they were there, after 1,000 years of who knows what. It’s interesting to think of all the things these ruins could have seen in that time.

That evening, we met up with Emma and her dad again and drove to the Liverpool airport where we were to fly to Dublin that evening. The flight was only 40 minutes; by the time we had finished ascending, we were already descending. It was the shortest flight I had ever been on, but thankfully it only cost me 8 euros. God, I love Ryanair.

Within an hour of taking off, we had our bags and were out the door of the airport and our Dublin adventure began. 

(More photos from Chester, Liverpool, and Manchester, England)

Tales from Italy ch. 8: SPRING BREAK! Part 1: Scotland + New Castle, England

As I’ve said before, I really love how easy it is to travel while in Europe. Ridiculous fees and ticket prices that are all too common back in the states are unheard of here. And thank God too. So, with my friend, Janelle and tickets in hand, I boarded airplane #1 on it’s way to Edinburgh, Scotland 2 weeks ago and my spring break began.

The day before my trip, I had plans to do laundry, pack, and tie up any loose ends before leaving early the next morning for a bus that would take me to Pesaro. From there I would catch a train to Bologna and then fly across Europe to Scotland. It was an overwhelming start to my journey so I wanted to take it easy. Didn’t happen. Turns out that the flight was at 10:55am, not 10am like I had been planning on. I know what you’re thinking- big deal, right? It’s only 55 minutes. Well, those 55 minutes were enough to make 10:55am too early to get a bus to Pesaro in order to catch a train that would get me to Bologna on time. Janelle and I were going to have to leave that night and find some sort of accommodation in Pesaro so we could catch a really early train in the morning. Since this was almost impossible because it was last minute, we had planned on just sleeping in the train station that night- a very uncomfortable, yet desperate prospect.
Fortunately for us, Janelle had become friends with a girl in our Ceramics class named Sylvia who lived in Pesaro. She was able to get in touch with her in time for us to leave, and we were able to stay the night. She and her boyfriend live in this old manor that is absolutely stunning. But because it’s a manor, its also difficult to heat, so the two of them had set up a bed in the kitchen and were living out of this one room. It was the most adorable thing I’d ever seen. In this small space, they were happy and content; and it was contagious- just the thing we needed to bring our trip to a good start after all. So, after a delicious meal cooked by the two of them themselves and some music sung to us by her boyfriend with his guitar, we were off to bed.
The next morning we got a taxi back to the train station at 430am and took the first train, at 520am, to Bologna. I slept through most of it, as was expected. After our flight, we arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland, got our passports stamped (YAY!), exchanged our Euros to Pounds, and set off for our hostel. It was then that I noticed that it was a bit chillier than I had expected and I had underpacked; for some stupid reason or another I had assumed Europe to be roughly the same temperature all around. Scotland is way too far north to be the same temperature as Italy. It was gonna be a chilly two weeks. Or at least until I got further south.
Our hostel, the Edinburgh Backpackers, was by far the coolest place I’d stayed in yet. Despite its 97-stair hike just to get to the reception desk, this is the most social, homey, and welcoming place we could have stayed for a low price (LOVE low prices :P). One of the things that really made it cool was the murals that coated every inch of every wall of the hostel. Because I liked it so much, I videotaped it from the entrance of the hostel, up the 97 stairs, and the hallway to our room. (At one point in the video, you can even hear Jai, our Aussie friend who worked at reception comment on my jacket- a simple means of recognition for me :P).
Views on the way to my room

Our room, Room “U” (each room was a letter of the alphabet), had 3 bunk-beds. Each bed was labeled with a word that began with the letter U: Ugly, Upside Down, Unsafe, Unbearable, Unsure, Unsatisfied. I slept in Ugly and Janelle in Upside Down. It was really amusing.

Outside the hostel was just as lovely. Our hostel was located on a road just behind Princes Street, one of the main streets in Edinburgh. There were tons of sights that we could see from here. The castle was across the river and the famous Balmoral Hostel was across the street.

Prior to visiting Scotland, I would have said that a stereotype of Scotland would be bagpipers around every corner dressed in kilts. However while in Scotland, it was hard to ignore how true this really is. Bagpipes can be heard around all of Edinburgh because there are indeed bagpipers, dressed in kilts, standing on various street corners for the majority of the day.

On our first day, Janelle and I took a tour around the city. In addition to the regular history that is to be expected, we learned a lot of funny stories too:
-this is King Alexander. He ran off a cliff on his horse and so his statue is him and his wild horse:

-King Charles the second, in hopes of gaining popularity, poured wine out of here for 24 hours. The people, ecstatic with wine, loved the King. Unfortunately this only lasted a day since 24 hour binge-drinking brings pretty severe hangovers the next day. Poor King Charles II’s plan backfired lol:

-Statue of King Charles II. This poor king. If his unpopularity wasn’t enough, he had the pleasure of this statue:
1- He’s dressed like Julius Caesar. This pretty much became a joke to the people who couldn’t comprehend why their king was dressed as if going to a costume party.
2- He was a short guy so he made his statue taller. Unfortunately it was out of proportion to his horse, which now looked small like a donkey. So now the people had a statue of their king dressed up going to a costume party on a donkey.
3- Every year on King Charles II’s birthday, Parliament sent 2 small boys to climb the statue and place a crown on the king’s head. This eventually wore away holes in the head of the statue that began to gather water and tilt the horse to the side. So now the people had a statue of their king, dressed as if going to a costume party, riding a drunken donkey.
4- In an attempt to relieve the statue of the water it was now gathering and fix the “drunken donkey” appearance due to the tilt, a hole was drilled in the bottom of the horse. So now the people had a statue of their king, dressed as if going to a costume party, riding a drunken donkey that was pissing all over the street. HAHAHAHAHA. Poor King Charles II:

-The heart was the symbol on the door of the tax collector and on the cell of people who were on death row. Weird, right? Well since people liked neither of these things, they would always spit on the doors and so the hearts were removed. Unfortunately now there was no target to spit on, so people were spitting all over the square. To solve this problem, the city put this heart in the coblestone. It is now the only patch of ground in Edinburgh that is legal to spit on and people still do:

-This is a picture of a trip step. While this one is old and therefore plastered into the wall, trip steps were actually part of staircases that were meant to act as a sort of security system. The trip step was a step that was double the height of the others; in the dark, you wouldn’t know that it was there unless you frequented the house often. So, burgalars and whatnot generally tripped on these trip-steps (go figure) and either made enough noise to alert the house inhabitants, or were knocked to the ground where they’d be found the next day:

-This is Maggie Dickenson’s Pub. This is her story:
Maggie Dickenson was happily married to her husband until he ran off with some random chick. Devastated, she was outcasted because she could not do anything since she was still legally married to her stupid husband. So, Maggie fled and started working at an inn. In time, she fell in love with the inn keeper’s son and ended up pregnant (some stories say she was raped, but I don’t know which is true). Because she was still married to her husband, she had to hide the pregnancy. Due to stress, Maggie miscarried. She took the body to the river where she buried it on the shore. Somehow however, the body was found and traced back to Maggie. Maggie was taken to trial for concealment of pregnancy, found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging. The day of her hanging, Maggie was taken to the “Last Drop Pub” which is actually just a few doors down from her pub in the picture. All people sentenced to hanging were taken here on their death day (hence it’s name) since the gallows were actually right in front of this line of pubs in the picture. Anyway, Maggie was hanged, put in a coffin and taken away by carriage.
At one point in the journey, the carriage driver stopped for a drink. When he returned, he heard a knocking from the back of the carriage. The driver went to Maggies coffin and crowbarred it open. Maggie sat upright. Confused as what to do with her, the driver took Maggie back to the court where they decided to hang her again and finish the job. So, Maggie was taken back to “Last Drop Pub” where she again had her last whiskey, and went back to the gallows. With the noose around her neck, a priest in the crowd shouted to stop- he believed it to be a sign from God that Maggie had returned from the dead. There was a breif debate and they decided to hang her anyway. At this point a lawyer in the crowd shouted to stop- her sentence had already been carried out with the first hanging so she was legally free to go.
So, Maggie was freed. In addition to this good fortune, she also was freed of her legal marriage to her husband due to the vows “till death do us part,” and she had already once been legally pronounced dead. A happy ending indeed. Maggie went on to marry the inn keeper’s son, opened her own pub (in the picture below) and lived a long life. There are rumors though that on hanging days, she’d call out from her window above her pub to the poor victim and say tell them not to worry- maybe they’d come back:

-HARRY POTTER FANS: This is the window of J.K Rowling’s old apartment. She wrote the first few Harry Potter books from here where she was able to look out over Edinburgh. Ideas for her book came from things she saw like Edinburgh Castle- what she based the design of Hogwarts off of:

-Grave Safe/ Cage. Since grave-robbing brought in much $$, graves were frequently dug up and the bodies were sold. For Christians, this was an awful thing since they didn’t believe that the body could go to heaven if it was destroyed after death. So, families of the death had 2 options: 1- sit at the grave for 3 weeks until the body was known to have decomposed enough that it was no longer valuable to grave robbers (origin of the term “graveyard shift”)
2- rent one of these:

-George “Bloody” McKensie’s tomb. This little room is known to contain the most paranormal activity in the world.
In 2005, the tomb became permanently locked after a homeless man took shelter here for the night. Poor guy- the floor caved in and he woke up face to face with McKensie’s corpse. Screaming, he ran out of the tomb in the middle of the night all bloodied from his fall. The guard of the graveyard, as any normal person would, started screaming at the sight of this crazy, screaming, bloody man coming out of “Bloody” McKensie’s tomb in the middle of the night. The homeless guy, seeing the guard screaming in fear of him, thought the guard was screaming at something behind him and so he started screaming even more.
Thus, it is now locked:

-Greyfriar’s Bobby was the graveyard keeper’s, Greyfriar’s, loyal dog. Greyfriar died when Bobby was 2 but while he was alive the two were inseparable. When Greyfriar died Bobby spent every day of the next 14 years of his life at his owner’s grave.
Unfortunately, Bobby is not buried here because the cemetery is just for Christians. He has an unmarked grave outside of the cemetery. However, there is a statue of him just outside as well:

-North Lake (“Nor Loch”). It’s no longer a lake today; instead it is a beautiful garden. When it was a lake however, it was referred to as the “Lake of Poo” by our tour guide because it basically was the town’s sewage system. Notice the extra-special greenery?:

That night, Janelle and I met up with other friends of ours who were visiting Scotland and we took a ghost tour. Our guide was self-employed and wrote his own book. He was hilarious.
The next day, we took a trip to the Moorfoot Hills and did some hiking. The views were gorgeous but there was a ton of mud. Both Janelle and our friend, Ryan, slipped several times and ended up coated with mud. Lucky enough for me I didn’t meet the same fate.

The last day, Janelle and I decided we had seen enough of Edinburgh and headed to Glasgow. We had heard a lot about it, and of course the famous Gerard Butler is from there. So, we set the whole day to be for Glasgow. Unfortunately, we were let down. Glasgow was entertaining for about two hours and then we were out of things to do and still had the whole day. We had seen the old cathedral and medieval area of Glasgow, the oldest house, and had gone to the life/religious art museum before sitting down and trying some haggis, neeps, and tatties- after learning what it was. We were proud of that. After the haggis, to kill time, we went to the cinema to see Alice in Wonderland and then headed home.

Durham and New Castle, England were on the schedule for the next day and we took a bus down. On the way we passed loads and loads and sheep and sights of the North Sea. It was a beautiful trip. In Durham, I met up with my friend, “Cheese” who I’d met at camp. Just like the other girls I met up with around England, it was really nice to see her after camp had ended. She showed us around Durham. We saw the Durham Cathedral, Wear River, and Durham Castle. It was in the castle that some scenes from the first Harry Potter movie were filmed. The weather was lovely, especially for England, and it made for some really lovely pictures:

That night we went out dancing and it was nice to just get out and not be traveling and touring. It made for a splendid evening before our 6 hour 20 minute bus ride the next day to Chester.

Pictures from Scotland and New Castle

Tales from Italy ch. 7: Rimini, Florence and Siena!

Since coming back from Sicily, I have spent my non-class days traveling to cities that are a bit closer (I’m still following my goal of traveling every weekend, be it nearby cities or far away places).

Last weekend some friends and I made a day trip to Rimini. Rimini is a beach town on the same coast as Urbino. It’s very pretty and I’m sure fantastic once it’s warm enough to go to the beach. While there, we visited the church of the Malatestas (a family who ruled Rimini from the 1200s-1500s).

Sunday we stayed in Urbino but took advantage of the sights in our hometown. Since we had already been in Urbino over a month, we figured it was about time we went on a tour of the Palazzo Ducale. After all, Urbino is one of the places listed in my favorite travel book: Schultz’s 1,000 Places To See Before You Die. The palace is Urbino’s pride and glory as it stands tall above the rest of the city:

The palace is divided up into many different sections and wings based on who lived there or who stayed where inside, but today it is mostly a museum of art from the 1200s-1500s. The majority of what was on display was art that depicted the Christian religion (the majority of which were of Mary and the baby Jesus) and beautiful ceramics- I even recognized a few from my Storia della Ceramica class (History of Ceramics)! One room also housed the bed chamber of Federico di Montefeltro (the orginial owner of the castle), and another had coins of that time period on display in a room that once housed the King of England on his visit to Urbino. On the main floor of the palace was this gigantic room that once held feasts (and theater shows before they built a room for theater in the basement). Today, it’s empty, but it became a perfect ballroom for our dancers because Monika and Ryan waltzed all through the room 🙂

Down in the palace basement we saw the wine cellar (it was HUGE), weaponry room (also huge), an old laundry room and bath, and a well that collected water from a hole in the roof.

(More pictures from Rimini and the Palazzo Ducale)

That night, I continued work on the wiki my friends and I are putting together. We’re hoping that in the end, the wiki will function as a collective memorabilia of our stay in Urbino. In it are links to blogs written by those of us writing them, and pages dedicated to the cities we’ve visited during our stay. The wiki isn’t complete yet and still lacks pictures, but it is a lovely work in progress.
Our Wiki, Erasmus Urbino 2010

During the week, I began work on my schedule for the fall semester at New Paltz. It’s so strange to think about planning next fall while I’m still here. Not only does it seem even further off than normal because I’m in a different country entirely, but also because I’m slowly adjusting to the Italian mentality where planning for next fall probably wouldn’t even begin happening until September, and here we are in March!

One thing I’m glad I don’t have to adjust to however, is the issue I have with sizes. Every time I attempt to do some shopping, I am reminded of the fact that I am several sizes bigger than the average Italian. If my 5’11” weren’t enough to make me seem like an Amazonian above a sea of average-sized Italians who generally come up to my shoulder, searching for sizes to fit my larger size is even harder to deal with. Recently I’ve been looking for a new pair of jeans since the one’s I’m currently wearing are wearing away and have holes. Unfortunately I’ve found that most stores here don’t carry my size in jeans, and if they do, the price is much higher than what I’d prefer to pay for a pair of pants. The same goes for shoes, although I’ve had slightly better luck since I have managed to buy one pair since coming here, which is one pair more than I’ve managed with pants. In Europe, I wear a size 41 shoe (about women’s size 9 1/2-10 in the US). Much to my dislike, most shoes aren’t available above a 38 (about a US size 7/8). In Rimini, some friends and I stopped at a shoe store that resembled DSW, meaning there were hundreds of shoes. Despite this, I couldn’t find any in my size (that were affordable). I was able to look in the men’s section (men and women’s shoes have the same sizes- why don’t we do that?), but I didn’t try very hard because I knew the men’s section wouldn’t have what I wanted (I was looking for dress flats). In the end, I found a size 41 pair of black mockasins in a small shop in Urbino. There was a rainbow selection to choose from, but unfortunately and not surprisingly, the only colors available in my size were tan, black, and gray. At least black manages to go with everything, right?

Also this week I had my first student come in during my office hours! She and I are gonna work together on helping her with reoccurring issues she has with English in her thesis which she needs to graduate. While I will miss the hour I spend reading during my office hours, it’s nice to finally get to do what I planned on doing when I signed up for the job 🙂

That same evening, I had my Cinema e Fotografia (Cinema and Photography) class. As far as I or any of the other foreigners in that class had gathered, classes had been canceled for almost 2 weeks because of snow and then for unknown reasons, and this was the first we had been to in a while. That day we had arrived early (we got the class time wrong by an hour) and I took the time to talk to one of the other students. Thank goodness I did this because it was then that I learned that we also had class Monday. This had apparently been the case for the whole semester so far and none of the other foreign students or I had realized that. We had missed two more movies and were going to spend the class that day going over the latest, Nosferatu. Since we had no idea what would be going on, the other foreign students and I left and spent the class time watching the movies. We’re hoping Wikipedia will help us with the rest. Fortunately, the girl I spoke to in class that day also said she’d help us study the material for our final. Since most of us have no idea what’s going on in that class anyway (on top of the Mondays we’ve missed, the class is quite boring with a professor who teaches by reading from a book for 2 hours), it is really nice of her to help us out. We’ve decided we’re going to cook her dinners and give her presents and every other means possible as thanks 😛

My stress from the Cinema class ordeal only breifly lasted however because that night, Laura and I decided we want to go to Paris. Within 3 hours we had our flight booked for the first weekend of May. HOW SWEET IS THAT?? Thank you, Ryanair, for your really really cheap flights that make my travels budget-worthy!

When I’m not planning travels or in class, I spend my afternoons outside on the terrace with Laura and Monika. Thursday afternoon was no different- as usual, Monika laid out her blanket, provided tea, cookies, and music, Laura brought her chess set, and I brought some music as well. Combined with the warm sun and spectacular views over the rolling Italian hills of the Urbino countryside, these are some of my favorite times here. Nothing like sunny games of chess with the background sounds of soft music, the Puppini sisters, and Frank Sinatra. 🙂

Thursday night, Laura and I had our favorite class, Musica per lo Spettacolo (Music for the Show), with our favorite professor, Professor Festa (It’s a festa with Festa!!). As usual, Laura and I were the only 2 students, class was incredibly interesting, and time flew. Because there’s usually just the three of us, class is like a intelligent 2-hour conversation about the effects and meaning behind the music and symbology in films (specifically, The Matrix and Metropolis). Seriously, this guy is like our Socrates- we just want him to teach us as we go through our every day life; we’d rather replace all our other classes with just his if we could. Anyway, as usual, Laura and I were excited about class, were surprised when 2 hours had passed, and enjoyed the lesson. It was at this point however, that Professor Festa broke the news to us that this was our last class before the final- 20 hours were done. Much like this paragraph, our sense of self-control about how much we loved this class vanished. We were distraught and didn’t even try to hide it- the news had come as such a surprise! How could our favorite time of week be over? It didn’t even matter to us that the end of this class gives us both 3-day weekends (it would have been 4 had we not discovered that our Cinema class also meets on Mondays); this class was the best. We mourned the whole way home.

After our sorrow Thursday night, Friday turned out to be much better- we were on our way to Florence and Siena for the weekend! Our trip began early in the morning with a bus to Pesaro and then a train to Faenza. The train to Faenza was my first train with compartments- it was like we were on our way to Hogwarts, and I half expected a woman with a trolley full of candy to come down the aisle and say “Anything from the trolley, dears?” As if Laura read my mind, she responded aloud, “We’ll take the lot.” (< Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/ Philospher’s Stone reference for those who don’t know). After Faenza was another train to Florence. That day, I had 2 gelatos (they’re so good! How could I not?) and a kebab for dinner. Kebab places are as popular here as a fast-food burger chain in the US (and probably just as bad for you). I wish we had them back home though- they’re delicious. Unfortunately my kebab turned out too spicy (I asked for no spicy sauce, but he took it as ‘extra spicy sauce’) and I had to give the rest to Judith.
That afternoon, we went up to the famous Piazza Michelangelo that looks over all of Florence. We were sitting on the steps taking in the view when a band came and set up near us. Our wonderful views were suddenly given a lovely jazz accompaniment into the evening as the band, MC2, comprised of a bassist, guitarist/ vocalist, and flautist played for us.

That night, before heading to back to our hostel for bed, we stopped at a kareoke bar. The atmosphere was fun, but there was this very annoying group of American girls. Proud to flaunt their foreigness, these girls were loud and obnoxious above everyone else in the bar. After seeing them, it’s easy to see why Americans get that reputation of being loud and gaudy (as our several European friends we were traveling with confirmed). And these American girls weren’t the only ones- this happened several times over the course of our stay when we’d pass groups of young Americans: they talk louder than everyone else and act crazy in ways to get attention. Here’s a heads up if any of them were to ever read this: you’re not foreign in Florence; everyone there speaks English. You look just as ridiculous -if not more- as you do in the US, and you make the rest of us look bad. Stop that.

Our second day in Florence, I met up with MY SISTER 😀

My sister is currently studying for 2 weeks in Italy on the same program I did when I was her age in high school, and I got the chance to meet up with her in Florence. I bought her a bracelet handmade in Urbino, and the reunion was a bittersweet reminder of home (sweet because I miss home, bitter because I would have to say goodbye all too soon). I saw her, my old teachers, and some friends. We spent the day shopping and I got a free ticket up to the top of the tower at the Duomo!

The view was amazing!:

Before I knew it, it was time for her to go and I was a sad. I distracted myself with cous-cous for dinner at a restaurant Monika recommended (it was near here that Laura was offered a job at a carpet dealer when she asked for places to get dinner LOL) and followed it up with views of the Florence skyline at night from the Piazza Michelangelo- once again, it was beautiful:

The following morning we woke up at 6:55 to go to Siena. When we got there, we lounged in the sun in the Piazza del Campo where they hold the Palio di Siena every year (a famous medieval horse race). Here, we played chess in the sun and were surrounded by hundreds of soccer fans since there was a game that afternoon. Apparently on game days, the opposing team comes to visit the local team’s city for the day (that’s who we saw) and then both sides of fans come out later for the game.
After about an hour of lounging, Ryan and I went up to the Torre di Mangia and the others headed over to the bridge. Much like the tower in Florence, we had spectacular views. However, this one was about 400 steps higher and I was a bit terrified of how high up we were. At one point, we got a phone call from the others who had gone to the bridge -we could see them! We both waved.

After the tower, we headed over to the Siena Cathedral. Like many cathedrals in Italy, it was very ornate. On the inside the walls and pillars are horizontally striped to give the illusion of appearing taller. It was all so beautiful.

(More pictures from Florence and Siena)

On our way home, we had to take a train back to Florence and then follow the same way home that we came. On our train from Florence to Faenza (a 2-hour trip), the train had run out of seats -by A LOT. We didn’t expect this because we had arrived early, but about 4 minutes before our train left, we realized we were waiting at the wrong platform. By the time we got there, all the seats were taken. There were maybe 10 people standing in the aisle in our car alone (most of which were me and my friends). I eventually gave up on standing and just sat on the floor, put my feet between two chairs, and read my book with Janelle reading over my shoulder (what else could we do?). Occasionally the door would open to our car, and a group of people who were stuck sitting and standing in the connector  between the two cars (yes there were that many people without seats that they couldn’t even fit in the CAR) would make us laugh. What could have been a very uncomfortable train ride became a fun experience.
From Faenza we took the train to Pesaro where we were going to catch the last bus back to Urbino. This is when we learned that you can’t really rely on Italian bus schedules (didn’t I learn this in Sicily and my last Pesaro trip?) because the last bus listed on the schedule didn’t actually exist. So here we were, 8 foreigners trapped at a bus station at 10 at night on a Sunday. We ended up having to pay 15 euro a person for taxis for the 1 hour ride back to Urbino. If this extra 12 euro wasn’t enough (the bus, had it existed, would’ve been 3 euro), the taxi ride was so uncomfortable. I was nauseous within 5 minutes of being in the cab. By the time we arrived to Urbino I was sick, yet relieved to be out of vehicles and transportation of all sorts.

Monday, we were supposed to go to Arezzo after Siena, but because of recently learning that our Cinema class actually met on Mondays, we cut it short (hence leaving on Sunday and going through those train rides). Despite this, I was the only one of my friends who even attempted to go to this class. When I got there however, I learned that the class was canceled to allow students the ability to exercise their right to vote. Apparently it was election day. Oh well.

This week I have much to look forward to since I’M LEAVING FOR THE UNITED KINGDOM ON THURSDAY! So yes, it looks like it will be about 2 weeks before my next update since I’ll be gone from April 1-13th. My trip will involve:
-flying into Edinburgh, Scotland
-busing it down to New Castle, England where I will stay with my ‘sister,’ “Cheese”
-busing it over to Manchester/ Liverpool/ Chester and seeing my friends Nicola, “Bumblebee” and “Mersey”
-flying to Dublin for 3 days
-flying into Bristol, England to go to Cardiff, Wales where I’ll see my friend Elinor, “the Hoff”
-and ending my trip with the Reading/London area and my friend Toni.

NON VEDO L’ORA!! (I can’t wait!!)

A PIU` TARDI! (Until later!)


Tales from Italy ch. 6: SICILIA!

Being sick away from home is such an uncomfortable and hopeless feeling. That’s how I felt earlier this week when I woke up with a fever of 100.4 on Sunday. Being bed-ridden is enough to ruin anyone’s day, but despite my illness, I had a reason to be thankful. After all, I would much rather be ill in my dorm room in Urbino than on my vacation in Sicily which had just ended the day before.

And what a spectacular vacation that was! We visited Palermo (the Capital), Monreale (a stunning mountain town famous for its golden Santa Maria Nuova cathedral), and Cefalù (the most beautiful beach town ever to exist). The best part is that all this happened spontaneously too- the whole trip was thought up and organized less than week before our departure (yes, these sort of things are apparently possible while in Europe). To make our travels even easier and less expensive we chose to fly Ryanair, an Irish flight company that flies solely around Europe. Our tickets were so cheap I almost cried, and all our flights ended up being on time or arriving early- best ever.

Our trip began last Sunday with a bus to Pesaro and then a train to Bologna. In Bologna, Laura, Judith, Janelle, and I met up with our friend, Monika, who had been visiting her boyfriend and friend and who would be traveling with us to Sicily. The five of us spent the day in Bologna before getting a hotel room since our flight was at 6:30am the next day. Bologna was great- we ate kebab, got at least 20 little boxes of free cereal that were being handed out to promote Nestle (yay to saving money on breakfast groceries for the whole week!), saw the beautiful city-center, heard an organ concert at the San Petronio church, and had appertivi (buffet appetizers) for dinner.

I would just like to add to this list that the kebabs were delicious. Oh my goodness they were so good. And Laura really wanted to pay for her kebab with the hundreds of coins she had accumulated in her wallet. As she began counting them out, the chef behind the counter (we nicknamed him Ali) kept trying to convince her to not worry about it and that she could have it for free at this point, but Laura insisted- she really wanted to get rid of all her coins. So, the chef cupped Laura’s hands and led her away from the counter  and to a seat to eat before she could finish her penny-counting. While we all ate, we were given 2 free plates of french fries and a tall bottle of iced tea. With all the food the only sounds that we made to communicate were “mmm’s,” “oh’s,” and “ah’s.” We were quite the symphony and left a great tip.
On our way out, the chef called Laura back to the counter. We all thought she was going to have to pay after all, but the chef just asked her to hold out her hands. Into them, he dropped a small napkin-pouch filled with all her coins, and all Laura could say was, “No! But I wanted to get rid of them!” as he led her out the door with a smile.

The next morning, we got up at 3:30am to get a taxi by 4. Our flight was at 6:30, and I wanted to make sure we had enough time to do everything at the airport, including visiting an additional desk since Janelle, Laura, and I are Americans and not part of the E.U. Despite this extra stop, we made it through security and were at our gate by 4:45. I should believe Monika and Judith next time when they say it really doesn’t take such a long time at the airports in Europe. Why does it seem to take so much more time in America?
While killing time at our gate, I had an interesting thought. Sitting there looking around at all the people, I found it funny how by tonight all these people will be on different ends of the Earth, but for these brief hours, we’re all clustered together in the same building. Philosophical maybe? I don’t know. It wasn’t even 5am after all.

Once our plane arrived in Trapani, we then had to take a bus to Palermo where we had rented an apartment. The bus ride was crazy though- I mean, Italian drivers are crazier than American drivers by a lot, but this guy was driving a full-sized coach bus! We were passing cars and stopping within inches of the bumpers of cars in front of us- it really kept us on the edge at first, but by the end we learned to trust our driver and took in the beautiful views around us. Sicily, might I add, is gorgeous. I took so many photos from the bus ride alone because it was all just so beautiful!
<<Notice our inability to see the bottom half of the car in front of us. There was probably less than an inch between our full-sized bus and this car.

When we got to Palermo, we went in search of our apartment. Asking for directions in Italy (no matter where) I have found to be a challenge. Everyone you ask will tell you something different until you end up finding what you were looking for by chance and sheer luck. That said, our apartment was located down some seemingly-sketchy back roads in Palermo. We were a little uneasy at first, but after meeting our landlord, a sweet old man with a beagle and free tour guides and maps, we felt more comfortable. Our apartment was very cosy and comfortable (complete with second bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, living room, and entry); just right for the little time we’d be spending in it. After unpacking, we headed back outside and concluded that despite our apartment’s rough street, it had its own character and touch; something we would have missed if we weren’t living right in the heart of downtown Palermo.

Because of our early start that day, we figured we’d take the day easy and just explore wherever we ended up. We walked through beautiful parks with palm trees, down to a marina, visited some cathedrals where I learned about the Italian tradition of keeping the bones of saints and putting them on display, saw a puppet maker, and found the most delicious dessert shop of all. Along the way, we encountered several people who, I assume because they heard us speaking English to each other, decided it seemed perfectly normal to scream English phrases at us. For example, one man yelled “Sorry!” at us from across the street. When we looked up at him to see what he was sorry for, all he did was smile at us. We’re pretty sure he was just yelling the only English word he knew to catch our attention. A second man, this one who we passed in the park, turned back to face us and said, “Yes, of course!” Not only had we not been speaking with him, but none of us had asked him a question either. And just like the man before, when we looked at him to see what he meant, he only smiled at us, happy to have caught our attention.

The next day we were less fortunate with the weather as it decided to rain all day. It wasn’t so bad however because we spent most of the day in Palermo indoors visiting churches (there are so many all over Italy- and they’re all so beautifully ornate!) and going to the famous Capuchin Catacombs. I had never seen a catacomb before, and this one was huge. There were dead bodies all around- some standing (suspsended by cables), others were lying down, and others were in coffins with glass covers. There were people of all ages- babies, children, adults, and elders- all from over the course of centuries before the practice of displaying your dead ended in the 19th century. As disturbing and eerie as it was (Janelle couldn’t even look up and kept her head facing the floor the whole time), it was interesting too. I couldn’t help but wonder who each person had been when he or she was alive, what they did, where they lived, when they lived, or how they died. After all, every one of them had been wealthy (the poor didn’t put their dead on display like this) so I’m sure they had accomplished interesting things. If we were lucky, the most information we could find on them were their lifetime dates or names- that is, if we found a name, for only a handful of bodies had any information. One particular identifiable corpse however, was the world-famous Rosalia Lombardo mummy. I was surprised when I found her because I had actually read about her years earlier. Anyway, despite all the morbidity, my favorite part of the catacombs was the clothing. Since the bodies ranged from every age and from centuries old to only a century old, I saw hundreds of years of style for children and adults- the only thing was these styles were still being sported by their original owners too. o_o
To end the day and restore some sanity after all the corpses earlier, we played a children’s game of MASH. It was great because Monika and Judith had never played before and we got to teach them. Categories included the usual like who you’d marry, what car you’d drive, how much money you’d make (‘fish’ apparently sufficed for this at one point), where you’d live, etc, but we also threw in a random category for each person as well (ex: a superpower category; “I don’t know about you, but I’d like to be really stretchy.” -Laura). The “Future Job” section was pretty funny too, as some jobs included a yak farmer (“The yaks need milking!”) and Ron Jeremy’s prostate examiner (“You’d get paid in fish for sticking your finger up Ron Jeremy’s butt!”).

The next day we took a trip to the beautiful city of Monreale. Monreale was a great choice to celebrate the news of Urbino getting 45cm of snow and having canceled classes for the week. So, while Urbino suffered from cabin fever, we were outside in the sun in 65 degree weather! At one point in the day, a short walk down the road brought us to a cliff where we looked over the town and could see the ocean!

Before visiting the cathedral, we went to the courtyard and it was like walking into the middle ages. I had the greatest urge to don a medieval dress and walk about in the courtyard. Anyway, it was very pretty and all the posts were so ornate (the ancients really knew how to decorate!).

Outside the courtyard, we met the tiniest little old lady who was asking for money to buy a panini (we nicknamed her Sylvia). She said some lady gave her an American coin and it would do her no good- it was a state quarter for the Virgin Islands (ok maybe not a STATE quarter, but I still want it for my collection) so I gave her a euro for it and she hobbled away. She was the best.
Next we visited the famous Santa Maria Nuova Cathedral, where the inside is decorated in gold with tons of scenes from the bible. It was huge and gorgeous.

After getting back to Palermo that night, I took notice to some things that came as a giant contrast to the stunning sights we had seen earlier in the day. To start, southern Italy has a big problem with its garbage. The garbage system in the south is run by the Mafia as a means to pressure the government, and in some areas it was poorly taken care of. Piles spilled into the streets and some were as big as cars! Monika told me that in recent years, Naples’s garbage problem got so out of hand that they had to make a deal with a German trash company. The company sent down trains to collect the trash and took it back to Germany to dispose of it. Can you imagine having to get another country to dispose of your trash? Another issue I noticed was the stray dog population. There are strays everywhere you go (and by strays I don’t mean sad little dogs, I mean sad BIG dogs- as big as wolves!), and they sleep under the statues and awnings, on sidewalks, in gardens… everywhere you can think of; they’re just part of the scenery. This of course leads me to observation number 3: dog poop. It’s everywhere and you need to watch where you step.

Thursday, we took a trip to the most beautiful beach town I’ve ever seen- Cefalù. While Urbino was still accumulating snow and now had over a foot, we were taking in the sun, posing for pictures WITHOUT COATS, and taking about 200 photos each of the gazillion beautiful views- I mean, for crying out loud, the water was 4 different shades of blue!

We topped off the day with individual pizzas that were the size of a normal-small sized pizza for only 4 euros! (cue more “mmm’s” and “ah’s”). That night, we celebrated Janelle’s birthday at Paskals, a restraunt near our apartment.

On Friday we shopped around Palermo to finish up our trip. We left for Trapani that afternoon, and flew to Bologna at night. When we got to Bologna, we had an issue at the hotel with our reservation. When we had booked online, we had to set our check-in time for midnight (since our plane came in at 11:40), but the website we used listed midnight as Saturday, since 12am is technically Saturday. This proved to be a problem at the front desk who had then booked us two rooms for Saturday night instead of Friday. They tried to convince us to pay extra since we now had to pay for 3 2-person rooms instead of 2 3-person rooms, but I wouldn’t stand for it. This wasn’t our fault, we weren’t allowed to book midnight on Friday online, and therefore was no reason for us to pay extra; we had done everything we could and did nothing wrong. Persistence ended up paying off (thanks for teaching me how to do that, Mom and Dad!), we got our 3 rooms without paying a dime more than we expected, and I got a pat on the back for standing up to the front desk.
That night, despite our exhaustion from traveling (and it was about 1am by this point), I learned chess with the chess set Laura bought in Sicily! I am now an addict and really hope to get my own set soon 🙂

More pictures:
Palermo and Monreale

Anyway, now that I’m better and have finally gotten the chance to update, I feel quite accomplished seeing as I also managed to clean, unpack, and do some laundry!

A prossima volta! (Until next time!)

Tales from Italy ch. 5: Avventure future (Future Adventures)!!!

Oh, Blog! There’s so many exciting things going on right now!!!

To start, I’ve discovered two new fun facts:
1- Monika and Ryan can dance! And I don’t just mean dance randomly, but I mean they can professionally dance! A few days ago when they discovered that the other knew how to dance, they got up and just… started dancing! And what’s even better- swing dancing! And WALTZING! And it was all done spontaneously without any rehearsal! The rest of us just sat back and watched in awe- I wish I had had my camera (Lack of camera Fail #1). It was so stunning to watch! My favorite part is they promised me they’d teach me how to dance before the semester’s over :)!

2- I need to find a means of snacking before my Italian for Foreigners class. On Tuesday, I went to Italian for Foreigners class after my Ceramics class, and despite the fact that I had had breakfast that morning, my stomach decided to be an obnoxious pain in the butt. And as my luck would have it, we had silent work. While my stomach was busy making beastly growls, I attempted to hide its ruckus by shuffling my feet and making light coughs between efforts to do my work. Monika just laughed beside me lol.

This week I also had my first Teaching Assistant jobs! Monday was simple as all it involved was establishing my schedule. Wednesday I held office hours- no one came, but it was soooo cool to see my name officially on the schedule of classes!! It looks like I’m an Italian professor here! I wanted to get a picture of it, but this was Fail #2 of not having my camera on me this week.

Fail #3 happened when Laura and I were walking down Via Mazzini on our way back to the dorms when we passed a shop that sells jeans. To our great pleasure however, the mannequins in the front window were left undressed while the shop was closed for the afternoon. There in the bright sunlit glass window stood 3 pairs of nude mannequin legs; the 2 sets of female mannequin legs stood on both sides of the 1 pair of male legs which, to make things even funnier, was turned in a manner so that he was mooning all of Urbino from the front window of this little jean shop. WHY DID I NOT HAVE MY CAMERA AGAIN?!

Lesson learned: ALWAYS have my camera on me. I never know what the day will show me.

Classes this week were also fantastic, and I have already picked my favorite- Music for the Show. I am one of 2 students -the other now being Laura- and our professor is the coolest man ever. Each class is like a private conversation between the 3 of us (I’m pretty sure we could convince him to hold our class in a coffee shop). He shows much enthusiasm and manages to keep us interested the whole time! Our 2 hour class flies by. One of the best parts (there are many) is he is very helpful and understanding of our attempts at Italian and helps us with the English that he knows. I asked if he taught more classes in hopes that I could take them, but alas, this is his first semester and this is his only class. We have truly found a hidden gem.

While all this is wonderful to me, the highlight of my week comes in the booking of flights! This week I managed to book a flight for Sicily next week, and tickets to the UK for my spring break! I’m so excited!!!
Tomorrow, I leave for Bologna where I will catch a plane for Sicily where Laura, Janelle, Monika, Judith, and I will have our own apartment in Palermo for 5 days! Be sure to read my next entry after I get back (and I promise to not fail with pictures that time).
For spring break, I’ll be travelling with Janelle to the UK! We’re flying into Edinburgh, Scotland and we will gradually work our way down through England visiting New Castle, the Manchester/ Chester/ Liverpool area, a small side trip to Dublin, Ireland, flying back into Cardiff, Wales, and finishing off with the Reading/ London area before flying home. I’m extra excited to see so much of so many places- and so many of my friends! That is probably the best part- I have friends in each of the places we’re visiting which means I can save money on hostels AND have the extra bonus of seeing fantastic people the whole time!

In my attempts to book my UK flights however, I made the mistake of booking the same flight home (from London to Ancona) twice- I had two tickets in my name for the same flight home!! I had had both flights open in two tabs on my internet browser, and I guess when I booked the first one, it had refreshed both tabs, causing me to accidentally book the same flight twice. I know I should have been more careful and double-checked, but to be honest, I did. Seeing a confirmation for London > Ancona made sense to me since I did have to make that flight; it just didn’t register to me that I had already booked that particular one already. All this resulted in me having to call my parents hoping that they wouldn’t mind covering the 30 euro fee to fix my flight since I hadn’t accounted on paying that additional cost. My parents told me not to worry; everyone makes mistakes. They covered my extra charge. I am truly fortunate to have such understanding -and the best- parents in the world.

Anyway, I’m off to pack for my Sicily trip tomorrow!
A settimana prossima quando ritornero`! (Until next week when I return!)

Tales from Italy ch.4: Sorry, I’m American.

What up, Blog, how’s it going?

So it’s been almost a week since my last update, but in that time I’ve started to get a better handle on things; routines are forming and I’m becoming more comfortable as I begin to get so accustomed to everything. Of course this doesn’t mean that I’m now a pro at everything I do; I’m still a complete noob- but I’m a noob who knows what to do! …Is that an oxymoron? Probs.

Since my last update, I’ve chosen a more solidified class schedule- my class hunting may actually have ended (YAY!). To start, I scored into the Italian for Foreigners class B1, which is similar to the New Paltz Intermediate 1. Even though back at NP I had already completed Intermediate 1, 2, and Comp and Convo, I’m comfortable with being where I tested. This level seems to hit my points of struggle adequately, especially since it’s been over two years since my last official Italian class.

The other classes are just as great- since my epitome when I realized I could take any class I wanted since they’ll all count toward my Italian major anyway, I’ve chosen the following schedule:

1: Italian for Foreigners

2: Storia della Ceramica (History of Ceramics)

3: Cinema e Fotografia (Cinema and Photography)

4: Musica  del Teatro e dello Spettacolo (Music of the Theater and Show) –I’m one of two students at the moment, but it’s a good way to force me to pay attention. One thing I’ve found is that when you don’t speak the common language very well, its easy to tune it out in a lecture.

This week I came to the realization that I’ve been mispronouncing Federica’s name. It’s not Frederica like I thought, but Federica. There’s nothing like mispronouncing someone’s name over and over again- I should know. Do you know how many people call me “Lee”-ah instead of “Lay”-ah? You’d think I’d make a point to get names right and not assume that the female Italian name, Federica, would start with the American male name, Fred. Oopsie.

While on the topic of my mistakes, I managed to shame all of America this week in a single greeting. Thursday afternoon I was running late to my Musica del Teatro e dello Spettacolo class -the classroom was in an entirely different building on the other side of the city, and then I proceeded to go the wrong way! So, after arriving to class 25 minutes late (which oddly enough is very common for students even when they have the right directions), I walked into a classroom with only one student. Because of this, the professor and I were able to exchange greetings. I apologized to him for my being late and then realized this was the perfect opportunity to introduce myself and my foreign-ness in hopes that he’ll go easy on grading me. Yet despite this thought process of mine, the actual elapsed time was only about half a second and my greeting came out as “Mi dispiace, sono americana” (“I’m sorry, I’m American”). Two thoughts became one sentence, and the teacher basically told me not to apologize for being American. Cheers to myself on that one.

Yesterday, after a delicious cream of wheat breakfast made by Alex and a quick trip to the Saturday market to pick up ingredients and a spatula for the next day’s pancakes, a group of friends and I took the bus to Pesaro. Pesaro is beautiful and if you ever go, be sure to expect a gorgeous beach, millions of babies, and millions of small dogs dressed in sweaters and coats. Oh, and apparently it’s no big deal to grow lemon trees and olive trees in your front yard. ‘What up? Yeah that’s an olive tree. Yeah it’s just chillin’ in my front yard. No biggie.’

That night, Alex cooked for us again and made a meal of some-sort of flounder-like fish, smelts, pasta, and Greek tomato salad. DELICIOUS YET AGAIN, ALEX! I got to help with the fish and onions, and I feel like quite the chef! It was a nice meal to cook since Caroline’s goodbye-party was about to begin.

This morning I made American pancakes like my mother makes at home with blueberries, chocolate chips, bananas, and strawberries. Unfortunately I didn’t have vanilla extract (nothing some crystallized vanilla and vodka couldn’t fix!), cinnamon (until Caroline brought me some cinnamon sticks- and I ground them myself!), or baking soda (so they looked more like crepes). Oh well, still delicious.

After breakfast, I was still really tired yet again and went back to bed. I think I may be getting a little sick since waking up from my nap took every effort I had, and I woke up with sore eyes, feeling heavy-headed, and with a headache. In the hopes of helping myself, I took a long hot shower, a 10-minute walk for fresh air, and then stocked up on veggies, fruit, and a multi-vitamin from Alex at dinner. I hope hope hope hope I don’t get sick. While writing this, I got up to ask for a ginger-ale at the bar, and they don’t have any! No ginger-ale till July??? NO!!!

Chiara also just stopped by an attempted to video chat with me to my dad on Skype. It was so funny. Unfortunately it didn’t work well because of the poor internet connection, but she made us all laugh. She is definitely one of my favorite Italians here and always brings life wherever she goes.

Anyway, tomorrow is my first Teaching-Assistant day- and I have my own office hours! How cool??

Wish me luck!

A piu` tardi!

Tales from Italy: ch.3 Carnevale and …classes?

Oh my goodness what a busy last few days!!
To start, my life has been suddenly consumed by making class-decisions. Honestly, at Urbino it is a difficult process (not to mention classes started today and I just redid my entire class repertoire and must now repeat the following process -_-). Unlike the New Paltz system that I’m used to -where all the classes are online alongside their times, locations, professor, and subject- Urbino is not as simple. While in all, making a schedule at New Paltz can be done within an hour or two at the computer, I have attempted to make a schedule with fewer classes at Urbino and it has taken me 3 days. To begin, classes are listed in a Vedemecum- a master course list that if you’re lucky enough (like me) to have on a CD (thank you, Frederica!) is easily accessible. If you do not have the CD, good luck trying to get through the Urbino website which, on some pages, hasn’t updated the Vademecum since 2007. Once you have the Vademecum, you have to start guessing which facolta` (category) you think your class (or classes you may be interested in) falls under. Rather than have all the classes listed together, you have to search through possible facoltas before finding a suitable class. Once you’ve found your class of choice, you are given all the information except location and class time. Here comes the even-trickier process…
Now that you’ve got your list of possible classes, you must now go on a journey to various buildings around the city hoping to find the one that houses your class’s facolta`. Once you’ve found the building (which may end up being another ordeal in itself), you go inside (which sometimes isn’t possible due to odd office hours) and you must find the class schedule, which is fortunately in the same spot (usually in the front hall on a bulletin board) in every building. Yet rather than order the classes by name followed by their time and dates, these schedules work backwards; you must now search through every day and hour hoping to come across your class. Once you have your class times and dates (which are irregular: a class may meet Tuesday at 3, Wednesday at 5, and Friday at 9am), you must now go and repeat the city-searching process for each of your other classes. If you are fortunate enough, more than one of your classes will be in the same facolta` and you can ‘kill two birds with one stone’ when you only have to visit one building and search one class schedule for more than one class.
Today, Alex and I went on this city-searching process for a class we’re going to take, “Storia dell’Arte Bizantine” (Bizantine Art History), which he needs for his Medieval minor and I for my Art Gen.Ed. credit back in NP. We went in circles from one end of the city to the other for 2 hours based on directions given to us by several people before ultimately returning to where we began only to realize that this was in fact the location, but that it is closed on Mondays and therefore prohibits us from looking at the class schedule and times. Oh my goodness was I cranky.
The other 3 classes I plan on taking were easier for me. The Italian for Foreigners class (which all foreign students must take) would be based on a placement exam I had yet to take and therefore could not know my class or its times -yet. The other two classes I planned on, ‘Filologia Romanza’ and ‘Filologia Italiana’ I chose because they sounded acceptable and relatable to my Italian Studies major; I was fortunate enough to find both on the first day of my searching.
Everything changed just a few hours ago though. Today, it dawned on me that since everything is taught in Italian, I could take any class I wanted since no matter what I took it would count towards my Italian major. So, I dropped the two Filologias and have just spent the last 2 hours starting over the entire class-searching process in the hopes of finding more interesting classes. For the first time ever, I have the liberty to take any class I want, and I almost went with 2 of the most boring ones ever! As of now, I am replacing them with (hopefully) Storia del Costume e della Moda (History of Costume and Fashion), Musica per lo Spettacolo (Music of the Show/ Theater), and/or Storia del Mimo e della Danza (History of Mime and Dance). I am ESPECIALLY fond of that last one. I mean really, a class about the history of mimes?! Does it get more liberal and cooler than that? I don’t even mind the additional searching I now need to do all over again.

On a more fun side of the last few days, I’ve been able to visit and see a lot more of the local area. On Thursday, a group of us hiked up to La Fortezza (the Fortress). The views on the way up and at the top were GORGEOUS.

After La Fortezza, I visted the duomo (Cathedral) in town. It was huge (too big for my camera from outside) and beautiful. Unfortunately it’s prohibited to take pictures on the inside, but there are pictures available here. One of the coolest parts about all of this was the amount of Italian I spoke with some of the students we hiked with (Giacomo, from Sicily and Pablo from Peru!).

Another observation I’ve made is on graduation ceremonies. When I first got here, I thought people were just celebrating Carnevale, but actually when a student finishes their last exam, they march through the city with their friends and family and wearing a crown of green leaves. The whole group sings and chants, there’s generally confetti, and sometimes a prank (a graduate was thrown in the fountain the other day).

Oddly enough, my week has also been filled with Harry Potter. Earlier this week, Alex, Laura and I watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. We then decided to go rent it in Italian so that we could practice. We watched Harry Potter e La Pietra Filosofia (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) later that week with more people, and since then I’ve even bought the book- IN ITALIAN! Did you know that they changed some of the names to assist with their meanings? For example, Dumbledore is Professor Silente, and McGonagall is McGranite. It’s hard to read for me, but it’s great practice and fun too.
Sunday, I went to Fano for Carnevale! There was a giant parade with huge ridiculous floats- they were stunning!! We all painted our faces and dressed up in costumes- we were quite the handsome group 🙂

(See my Avventure in Italia facebook album for all my pictures from Carnevale -and Italia!)
While at the parade, I was reminded of a German commercial I once watched of a family that was dancing to a horribly derogatory rap song (the message was to learn English; see it here) when I saw a float of school children dancing to the song, ‘Sexy B*****’ by David Guetta. To clarify, there is a lyric in the song that goes: “I’m trying to find the words to describe this girl, Without being disrespectful, Damn Girl, Damn Girl You’se a Sexy B****, a sexy b****, a sexy b****.” While this song is very popular and did play alongside many other hit songs, it’s not quite the song I would choose to have children dance to at a family parade…

I’ve also had the chance to meet up with the professors with whom I’ll be a teaching assistant to. At the moment, the exact schedule is pending since I don’t even know my own yet (and now it’s even worse), but it sounds like I’ll be assisting in English classes, subject classes that are taught in English, and private sessions outside the classroom with individual or small groups of students around the town (so cool!). I’m hoping this will help me make some more friends and then I can practice my Italian too! Today, I got to observe my first TA class-ordeal thingy which was a culture/business class that was taught in English. I got to talk about New York, New Paltz, and my experiences in Urbino so far. Some of the students were eager about the sessions with me outside the class, and I’m really excited!

After my TA thing, I went to go take my placement test for my Italian for Foreigners class. I think I did alright; there were some things I somewhat/ couldn’t remember, and others I didn’t even realize that I DID remember (It’s been 2 years since my last official Italian class). I’m finding out my results in the morning!

Well for now I’m off to bed. I’ve got a big day tomorrow: getting my test results, finding my new classes, getting my Permesso di Soggiorno, and maybe even going to class!

A piu` tardi!