Tales from Italy ch.14- Last Exams and the Beginning of the End

It’s been almost a month since my last update and I’ve fallen behind on my entries. These last few weeks have been the busiest in the semester so far, and it has left me little time to write. Fortunately, my poor memory has been saved thanks to the little “Italia” notebook Adrie bought me at the end of fall semester; I’ve been recording my days with bullet points each day (or most, really) and that will really come in handy right about now.

So anyway- the point of my journal entry:

The beginning of June left me with 3 exams to take and plenty of trips to look forward to before heading home. My ceramics exam went well (a 27/30) and I was so happy to not study for it anymore once it was finished. In the weeks leading up to it, I had spent most of my free time studying for the exam. It got to the point where I would respond to my friends with “Sorry, but I have to study for ceramics” so often that the response became its own expression as a response for not wanting to do something (used by everyone, not just me). For example:

“Do you want to go out with us later?”

“Oh sorry, I can’t. I have to study for ceramics.”

My cinema exam was not nearly as pleasant. Janelle, Laura, and I arrived at 9 with the hope to be the first 3 for our exam at 9:30. This was not the case since our professor not only arrived late AND took an hour lunch break, but decided to go alphabetically starting at ‘P’. Of the three of us, Laura went first which was good since she had another exam that day. Janelle and I were stuck waiting for hours before we got in. Our professor wasn’t that nice either. Normally the professors take it easy on foreign students because they know there is a language barrier that can hinder how well we learn, but she expected the same of us as she did the students who could speak Italian fluently. This was topped off with sighs and rolling of the eyes, not to mention she didn’t look at us while we spoke- she went through papers and other things on her desk, only making eye contact once every two minutes or so. At the end of my exam she pointed out that she could see there was most definitely a language barrier and gave me a look that told me she thought I deserved a lower grade than what she was giving me. While all her gestures were rude and uncalled for, rather than return the favor in this entry, I will be the better person and end my discussion of her here.

My last exam was the best of them all not only because it was for my favorite class, but because it was with my favorite professor: Musica per Lo Spettacolo (Music for the Show) with Professor Festa (“It’s a festa with Festa!”). Laura and I were two of his three students and by far the most frequent. When we arrived for our exam, he let us take it in the same room together. I went first. The exam was like our classes: awesomely philosophical, but this time we did most of the talking. This guy is like our Socrates; we could sit and have him explain to us his thoughts on how music relates to life and space all day. The class –and our exam- were the greatest, not to mention we both came out with 30/30 🙂

With our exams finally over, we had to find other ways to occupy our time. While most of my time is occupied by the work I’m doing for my online summer classes at New Paltz, I did manage to join the others much more often once studying for my finals was finished. One evening, we all played a game of Never Have I Ever, and it lasted so long that we stopped keeping points. It was a very educational game into the lives and experiences of one another. While we didn’t get the chance to play the card game, Bullshit (or “Bull Sheißa” as we called it in German) in this last week, I think this would be a good place to point out that this game holds many memories from the semester for me. So many times we would just sit around and pass the time playing near the bar in Tridente or upstairs in the Sala Studio. I will miss these evenings very much.

Also during this last week, Ryan and I had our last radio show of Independent Carrots. We left the theme as a surprise for most our friends because Ryan and I had something special planned. We decided a great way to end the semester would be to make a playlist that encompassed all our favorite songs from the semester and songs that highlighted our experiences. In the end, we came up with these songs:

  • Fly Away”- Lenny Kravitz (to signify ‘flying away’ to study abroad)
  • Stereo Love”- Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina (THE song in Urbino, and a favorite of Judith’s)
  • Me and Julio”- Paul Simon (Laura and I put together a great harmony to this and some sweet guitar playing with ‘Pattie,’ my guitar)
  • King of Spain”- Moxy Fruvous (Introduced to us by Laura in the beginning of the semester)
  • Rocket Man”- Elton John (this song has 2 meanings: 1- “Rocket Man” was easily replaced with “Moroccan Man” in reference to the attractive Moroccan boy Laura is friends with; 2- I had never seen the “Rocket Man” rendition by William Shatner (I had only seen Family Guy’s parody of it), so Stefan sent me the video)
  • My Life Would Suck Without You”- Glee Cast (Glee was really popular to watch together this semester. Every Wednesday or Thursday, Laura, Monika, Sonja, Ryan, Janelle, and I would sit in my room and watched streamed episodes online. The title is also pretty self-explanatory for the strong friendships we formed ^_^).
  • Friends”- Flight of the Concords (The title needs no explanation with how it relates to us. We also find Flight of the Concords to be absolutely BRILLIANT).
  • With a Little Help From My Friends”- Across the Universe Cast (self- explanatory)
  • Mr. Sandman”- The Puppini Sisters (Countless hours spent on the terraces above Tridente playing chess, having tea and cookies, and soaking in the sun while listening to the Puppini Sisters).
  • Mama Ist Stolz”- Sido (A German song about pimps and mom’s being proud; introduced to Ryan by Stefan on their trip to Cinque Terre. Sonja also raps this pretty well lol)
  • Countries of the World”- Yakko Warner (We had the goal to learn this song by heart. While that didn’t actually happen, it was fun to try).
  • We Like to Party”- Vengaboys (While explaining 6 Flags Theme Park, and the dancing old man from the commercials (who Laura hates btw), Monika pointed out that this was the song in the background).
  • Just Around the River bend”- Pocahontas (We had the pleasure of watching Disney’s Pocahontas this semester)
  • Can’t Tell that to the Administration”- Rob Hanlon & Nick Petrasino (An Urbino original, written and performed by two Villnova students)
  • Freedom”- David Hasselhoff (The previous radio show (an 80s theme), we meant to play this for ze Germans but ran out of time. Because David Hasselhoff sang this in a lit-up leather jacket at the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, our German friends have taken to calling him their hero).
  • Good Riddance”- Green Day (This song is one of the first songs Laura taught Monika and I on guitar. It is also a beautiful goodbye song reminiscent of our experiences).

We hope that we left the radio program well prepared for future students. We always had a blast.

The night of the 10th, Judith and Mike had a dinner with all of us in town because they were leaving the next day. Sonja, Janelle, Ryan, Matthias and I were also leaving, but only for a short while. The next few days we would spend in Rome before heading back to Urbino for one last week 🙁

Tales from Italy ch.13: Endless Studies and… Kittens??

Last week and this week in my life I have been utterly consumed by studying. It seems endless and a burden- not to mention all my exams (and their study materials/ books) are in Italian which takes me twice as long -if not longer- to read. It’s a slow and difficult process, but I’m chugging through nonetheless.

Last Thursday I had my dreaded Storia della Ceramica (History of Ceramics) exam. Studying for that was difficult in terms of both reading in Italian and retaining a decent attention span. Luckily Sonja and Janelle were also in this class with me so we divided up the reading material to study. Sonja covered the small book on the chemistry and basic methods of making ceramics; Janelle and I split the larger book on history (though Sonja read most of that one on her own too). I was assigned the second half of the book which mostly covered tiles. I spent the good portion of a week turning down events and social get-togethers to read through this monster only to discover later, after days of work and more than half a notebook of fine-print notes written by hand, that as a foreign student, I was only expected to know the basics of ceramics and their families- none of which was in the portion I had read. This was nice in that all the information I had gathered didn’t need to be memorized, but disappointing in that I had just wasted AN ENTIRE WEEK READING SOMETHING THAT DIDN’T MATTER. Ugh. So I was to rely on Sonja and Janelle, and lets just say the last few days up to the exam were really stressful for me. In the end though, I got a 27 out of 30 on the exam, and am so happy to be done with it.

In the time since then, I’ve been doing a lot of work for my classes back home that I’m taking online: ‘Media and Society’ and ‘Intro to Advertising.’ It’s a lot of work to handle on top of the additional studying I have to do for my last two exams that are coming up this Wednesday and Thursday. But, like everything else this past week or so, I’m chugging through it step by step and am spending a lot of time in the Sala Studio (Study Room) upstairs with Monika (who’s been studying for her law exam) and Laura (who’s studying for my exams and a Religious Anthropology one as well). Occasionally we are also joined by Sonja and Ryan and the group of us is very encouraging. Most of our time is silent as we study, but occasionally we’ll distract ourselves in skype chat rooms (these even include Stefan sometimes, who’s not studying with us because he’s already done!!!! argh!) and attempt to keep our laughter to quiet levels (I regularly fail at this). Our chat topics vary from discussing the ridiculous emoticons of Skype, to making Glee references (specifically Sue Slyvester quotes like “I may buy a small diaper for your chin because it looks like a baby’s ass!”), to complaining about our studying, to making fun of our studying and most importantly learning German!
Just yesterday I had this conversation with Laura:
Laura: “regretfully i am afraid of the muppets. miss piggy, specifically” ….
Me: “what do you hate more? Ms. Piggy or the 6 Flags guy? I think i’ll chose between those for my halloween costume”
Laura: “dont make me choose”
Me: “OR WHAT ABOUT THE 6-FLAGS GUY AND MISS PIGGY’S MUTANT BABY?”
Laura: “yous a hoe. i will kill you.”

Occasionally between all my studies I also get distracted by the occasional passers-by of Judith, Mike, and Stefan who walk past my window in search of Lola, the cat. Sometimes I bring her a can of tuna to her new home: a cardboard box adorned with a chair cushion (purchased from the Super Conad!) as a bed under the windows and overhang of Braccio 1, fashioned for her by Kevin. Since the discovery and suspicion of her being pregnant, we have taken the upmost care of her, especially because she’s a stray. Of course all of this was before I received the news on June 1, 2010 that LOLA HAD BABIES! Yes! Lola became a happy mother to 5 adorable kittens and together they now live inside Braccio 1, under the stairs of Kevin’s blocco. :)!!

Today marks June 5, 2010 and I guess you could say I’m still procrastinating on my studying… at least for a little while. I slept in this morning for the first time in a long while and after lunch came here, back to the Sala Studio, to study. Our favorite table may be taken (meaning I am subject to poorer lighting and a less awesome table that lacks the elevation and sunlight of our precious spot) but I still managed to get through about 10 pages of my Media and Culture textbook. …Argh who am I kidding? Normally, I would be proud of this, but this book is in ENGLISH not Italian- 10 pages isn’t enough. Ugh. My goal is to at least finish the chapter asap today. I don’t mind though- I’m really enjoying the book even if it is a textbook. Changing my major to Communication and Media was a wonderful choice. At lunch today I was talking with Ryan about his Media Production classes that he’s taking here, and I’m considering to maybe get a Masters in that or directing- it sounds cool and fun. Oh jeez. “Cool” and “fun”? Since my apparent loss for more creative adjectives has begun, I think it’s time I ended this study break of mine, and returned to the wonderful world of my Media textbook. As always, I should turn to the studious Monika for guidance and learn to imitate her ways so that I may better my own study habits:

HAPPY STUDIES!

Tales from Italy ch.12: Couchsurfing, Police, and Patty (Padua & Ferrara)

This past Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I spent my time with Laura and Sonja in Padova (“Padua”) and Ferrara. When I left, I didn’t really know what to expect from the cities, but Sonja said like Urbino, they are famous Renaissance cities. While we were there, we also had our very first couchsurfing experience, meaning that instead of staying in a hostel, we stayed at someone’s house. I realize that may sound unsafe, so I’ll just explain later.

Our trip started really early in the morning when we took the 6:55 bus to Pesaro and then the train to Bologna, where we slept. Once in Bologna, we had some time to kill before our next train to Padova, so we sat in McDonalds and… studied. Yes, studied. How awful does that sound? Very much so, I hope is your reply. It’s currently finals period at Urbino, but unlike the states where you have 1 or 2 weeks of just finals, Italy works differently. Each exam has more or less 3 different dates from which you can choose to take your exam. Even though I generally chose the second option for all my exams, they’re still scattered over three different weeks, and the studying is intense. Not only do I have to read a bunch of material, but I have to read it all in Italian and that’s really been slowing it down. So, we gave ourselves head starts and started early, and that is how we came to be studying in McDonalds on our vacation.

After about an hour, we caught our train to Padova. The first thing we saw when we arrived was this church that had a lot of information on the bombings Padova suffered during WWII. The number really surprised me- this one poster alone documented 14. It was really sad to see, and it’s still hard to fathom these sort of things actually having had happened outside of history books and posters like this one. It’s just too awful to comprehend how humans have the capability to make that sort of choice and ruin the lives of so many people in one blink…

From the church, we took a stroll and ended up in this big park. In the center of this park is the Scrovegni Chapel where Giotto’s famous interior paintings are, and which we were going to see the next day. At this point in the day, Italy was taking it’s afternoon break, and since nothing was open we took it easy in the park. We napped, studied (again) and then rewarded our studies with some time at the playground before embarking on our day again.

Our excursions afterward included sightseeing whatever we came across (meaning that we took the time to get lost) and some shopping. This took us till dinnertime, when we found a pizza buffet 🙂 It was here that we were to meet our couchsurfing hosts after dinner, so now I’ll explain what this is.

Couchsurfing is a website for travelers to meet locals in the cities they visit. Rather than stay in a hotel or hostel, travelers get to stay with hosts in their homes. This allows for saving money when you don’t have to pay for a room, and an insider’s view of their hometown- the best kind. While this sounds dangerous and risky to some extent, the comfort comes in each person’s profile. Each host has references from past surfers (meaning the travelers that stayed with him or her); they can be positive or negative and each comes with a summary of their experience. The profile also has information about their “couch,” which may either be a couch, a floor, or a spare room, where the surfers can stay. Also not everyone is a host; when you search for people in that city, you’ll also get people who maybe just want to meet up for a coffee, but can’t offer you a place to stay. This is still cool because you could get a free tour, meet some new people, and really get a deeper connection to your city. Of course safety is always your responsibility- I would recommend traveling in a group, not by yourself, and really getting as much info about your host as possible: How many surfers has he or she had? How long have they been active on couch surfing? Do they have a facebook profile you can check out? It’s really up to you, but if you get the chance I highly recommend giving it a try. I had a great experience.

Anyway, after dinner we me our host, Francesco. He and his friend, Dario picked us up from the buffet and took us out for drinks where we got to sit outside in a piazza. From there, they gave us a quick tour by car of the city to help us pick out what we wanted to come back and see the next day. Afterward we arrived at his apartment which was really awesome. Francesco works for a lighting company and so his apartment was lit up in the coolest ways. We sat out on the terrace for a while before heading to bed- I slept on the couch and Laura and Sonja on a mattress he put on the floor, and he gave us all blankets and pillows. Considering I was sleeping on a couch and not in a bed, I actually slept really well- for the first time in a long time, I didn’t wake up cold because unlike our dorm in Urbino, his apartment wasn’t made of stone, he didn’t shut the heat off at night, and it was a home.

The next day we woke up and showered, which was an experience in itself. The shower was actually a bathtub without a curtain, so we basically kneeled and showered trying not to get the floor wet. This wasn’t the greatest success however, and we ended up having to hang his rug outside to dry. However, we did wake up to a very nice text from Francesco, who had left to go to work earlier that morning (his roommate was home though- I doubt he would’ve left 3 strangers alone in his house). It was nice, and he just wanted to know if we had slept ok. Over the course of our trip we got a couple from him like this where he was just checking up to see that we were having a good time. He was a really good guy.

At this point, you’re probably wondering when I’m gonna talk about the “Police” reference I have in the title of this entry. Well, here it is:
From his apartment, we packed up and went to the tram to get into town. None of us had ever taken the tram before, and assumed that we just had to pay on board like the buses do. However, once on board, we discovered that this was not the case. Unfortunately for us, there was a police officer at the next stop. He took us off, took our identification from us, and then proceeded to tell us that for each there would be a penalty of 150euro. None of us had that of course, and he said he would be nice and bump it down to 150euro total. Even still, we weren’t happy with this- there are no signs anywhere that say you have to buy your tickets in advance, so how could we have known? This goes without saying that Padua is a tourist town- how could they not think to put up a sign?? So, we told him that we couldn’t pay and tried to explain our situation, convince him that we didn’t know much Italian, and that we were gonna get off and buy tickets at the next stop (this was a bit of a lie though since we were hoping to get away with riding it the whole way after realizing we couldn’t buy tickets on board). He ended up taking us to this police office thing and was adamant that we pay the penalty and that there was no way around this. We didn’t believe him though because if there wasn’t anyway around it as he kept saying, he wouldn’t have been able to bump our 150 each down to 150 total. Because we were still playing the “I don’t speak Italian” card, he got some other officers to come over and translate. They did an okay job of it, but we still didn’t want to pay- there was no way we could have known, not to mention that unbeknown to them, we could understand what they were saying to each other, and most of the officers he had called over didn’t even know themselves that you had to buy tickets in advance! In the end, after much much persistence, he frustratingly gave in with us just paying the one fee of a ticket each.

Unfortunately the time we spent in this debacle took a toll on our schedule- we had a tour appointment to be at the Scrovegni Chapel at 10:15 (you must buy tickets in advance because the chapel can only have a limited number of people in it at a time otherwise it upsets the oxygen levels or something and destroys the work), and it was then 10:05. We might have made it, but then we had the hardest time finding the entrance. By the time we got there we were late and worried we wouldn’t be allowed in. It was particularly upsetting for Sonja who, as an Art History major, wanted to see the chapel for her studies and experience. Much to our surprise, all the people who worked there that we encountered were impressed with our police adventure that morning and let us through with the next group. It was pretty funny -and lucky- that they should all think it was cool that the 3 foreigners had a run in with the police haha.
The chapel was gorgeous though. Out of fear for his father’s soul going to the underworld, Enrico degli Scrovegni built the chapel in 1305. The entire inside was painted by one man, Giotto. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but here’s some I found online, and I highly recommend looking at the parts up close on the website -or in person if you ever go 🙂

After the chapel, we went out for coffee and croissants and did a little shopping before heading over to the statue of Gattamelata and Saint Anthony’s Basilica. The Basilica was giant and had these really pretty domes on the top that looked more Arabic than Italian. We also spent some time just relaxing in the cloister of the Basilica.

From there, we headed over to the biggest piazza I’ve ever seen, the Prato della Valle. It’s this giant piazza that has a small island in the middle surrounded by a stream that is adorned with statues. It’s a beautiful place, and we spent part of our afternoon there just studying and napping.

At this point we started to get hungry and decided to go get some groceries for dinner. On the way there, we passed by this music shop that had a sign in the window that said “Classical guitars- 35euro and up.” Of course Laura and I were excited- Laura plays guitar, and I play a little and have tried in the past to get one, but the chances never worked in my favor. The idea of a guitar for 35 euro was too enticing to pass up, and we went inside. There were a bunch of guitars, but there was only one that caught my attention: this gorgeous dark turquoise/ aqua blue electric acoustic guitar. I had a feeling that this one would be much more than 35 euro and way out of my price range. I asked how much this one was expecting him to tell me 200 or more euro, but he said it was only 120. While not 35, this was a bargain for a guitar- especially one like that. I sat down and played it and it is so comfortable to play. In the end, I ended up leaving that store with the guitar, case, cable, and pics for only 140 euro. Maybe 140 euro is a bit much to spend spontaneously like that, but since then I have played this guitar every day and I love it. It’s so nice to have finally bought one that was comfortable to play, and now my skills are improving. Not to mention it’s a beautiful souvenir from Italy that I hope to keep forever with fond memories of where I was when I bought it (I have also since named it Patty, short for Padua). Anyway, we really did eventually get to the grocery store, and from there we returned to the Prato della Valle where we picnicked, listened to the group of hippie drummers that was picnicking near us, and played guitar on the island.
Laura with the lovely, Patty:

When we were done, we went out for coffee before meeting up with Francesco and Dario again for dinner. Originally we hadn’t planned to stay another night, but had since wondered if Francesco would let us so we could go to Ferrara the next day. We had enjoyed our stay with him and the company he offered. He was nice enough to respond on late notice and allow us to stay another night. The five of us went to this restaurant where we had pizza and beer (except for me with cola lol). It was a nice meal, but apparently I managed to embarrass myself without knowing. At one point in the meal, Francesco had asked us how the Italian boys compared to American ones. I decided to say they were different, especially in their dress- American guys don’t put as much effort into their daily outfits as Italian guys do. If an American guy were to dress like the average Italian -or European for that matter- of my age, he would probably be labeled metro-sexual -if not gay- or a “tool.” Please don’t take offense to this statement though; by no means do I intend to imply that I have anything against people who dress that way, or against who they are or how they wish to identify. The issue is however, that many people who aren’t me do. By this I mean I like the way Italian men dress, and I think its a shame many American men resort to an old t-shirt and jeans out of fear of these labels.
I guess I got off topic a bit here. The embarrassment of the story comes with the fact that this wasn’t what Francesco meant when he asked me to compare my opinion of Italian men vs. American men. As Sonja told me later, his question was more in a sexual tense. Oh well 0:-)

After dinner the 5 of us went for a stroll in a nearby town who’s population majority consists of the elderly. It was a nice walk though and once again we got to see a lot of pretty sights before heading back to the apartment for some sleep.

The following morning, after some better success with the shower and tram, Laura, Sonja and I took the next train to Ferrara. We didn’t spend much time there because we were a bit tired from our travels, but we did get to see the Cathedral, as well as a lot of other beautiful sights during our wanderings.

After some pizza and coffee for lunch, the three of us headed home and were able to meet up with our friends at the mensa for dinner. That evening before bed, we played some guitar ^____^ and a round of Dixit, a fun French game that Monika brought with the coolest and most beautiful pictures.

Overall, we weren’t murdered in our sleep at a strangers house, we got out of being arrested, I bought a guitar, and of course we saw lovely places. A good trip I’d say 🙂

Alla prossima!!!! (Until next time!)
CIAO!

More pictures from Padua & Ferrara

Tales from Italy ch.11: Work, Study, Feasts, and Deep-Sleepers

Since coming back from Paris, I’ve become overwhelmed in studying and work. Exams are coming up soon, and all my books are in Italian so they take forever to read. Sometimes, I read at work when I don’t have students come in. (By the way, I work at Urbino as a TA for English. Sometimes I have office hours, sometimes I work in a class). Up until the last two weeks, I’ve only had one student- EVER. Since exams are close, that number has quadrupled. I don’t mind, especially because the last 3 days I worked I had 3-hour long shifts to make up for time lost while traveling, and having a student makes the time pass much quicker.

Also during my office hours, I’ve been working with Peter Cullen, the liaison for Villanova (a university in the states) students at Urbino. He, Ryan and I are working on our Independent Carrots radio program and trying to set up an internship plan for future students studying abroad here. I think it’s a fantastic idea and am having a blast doing it.

Between all this and the seemingly non-stop studying, it’s always good to reward oneself for hard work. Lately, we’ve all been taking turns at cooking breakfast on the weekend. Twice I’ve made pancakes, ze Germans (+ our lovely Austrian, Monika) have made Fruchtsalat (fruit salad), and Laura has learned how to make bagels- and they’re SO good. Bagels are just one of those things you never think about learning how to make because they’re so mass-produced in the states. You can buy them on a whim for almost nothing. Unfortunately, here in Italy, there are no bagels and the several-month depravity of them has really taken a toll on us Americans. It’s pretty awesome that we can have them again -this time home-made – and be able to share them with our European friends 🙂

Another feasty-type reward has come in the form of brownies. In the package my mom sent me for Easter, she included some brownie mix. Like bagels, brownies are just another American “delicacy” we miss so much here. They turned out pretty good considering I made them in a toaster oven and had to convert all the measurements. Delicious as always, they were a belated b-day gift for Monika, and a lovely accompaniment to our study-reward-party of watching Ice Age 1,2, and 3.

Random side moment: There are a bunch of stray cats that live around my dorm. One day, some of my friends were outside playing with “Lola” and I gave her some tuna on my windowsill.

On May 10th, Laura and I were supposed to leave for Germany and visit our lovely Caroline. As you can gather from the past-tense of “were,” it didn’t happen, and we were really bummed. It got to be the night before we were leaving when we learned that the airport, Frankfurt Hahn, is actually 2 hours away by bus from the city of Frankfurt. Since our plane was arriving around 10:40 at night, the earliest we could get to Frankfurt city was 1am, and from there we’d have to take a train to Wurzburg, where our friend lived. The difficult thing was that trains didn’t run at that hour, our carpool plan didn’t work out, and Laura had been sick for the past two days- sleeping in a train station wouldn’t have done her any good. So after making the hard decision to not go, Monika went with me to Laura’s room to tell her. She had gone to bed early, not feeling well. We felt terrible waking her up, but we felt this was important. When we got there, we knocked on her door, called her several times, and called her name, yet there was no response. We could hear the phone going off inside her room meaning she was home, but her complete unresponsiveness made us really worried. So, after a few more tries, Monika left to get the front desk to open her door and make sure she was ok. When they arrived -and with our friend, Chiara as well- the 4 of us opened Laura’s door to find that she was sound asleep in her bed; even the presence of 4 people in her room, with the lights on, didn’t wake her up.
Satisfied that she was alright, and that she was sick enough to sleep so deeply, Monika and I wrote to Caroline ourselves to tell her the bad news. With the promise of visiting Germany one day, I would see her again, just not in the near future 🙁

At this point in the semester, my budget was running a bit tight, and money was a regular part of my thoughts. This all changed when I was paid for my TA job at long last. Apparently the check had been available since March, which I don’t understand since I never even signed a contract saying how much I should earn/ how many hours to work, and at that point I had just started. Nonetheless, pay day actually made my eyes tear. I received 6x the amount I expected- a whopping 1500 euro. I went to the bank immediately and put it into my Italian account here. Afterwards, I picked up some vegetables and chicken with the plan to make a celebration soup for dinner with my friends. When I got home, I wrote my parents about the good news, and told them that they could finally deposit a $360 check I had written them in February for my hostel and other stuff in Athens. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this financially comfortable. It’s going to be a great help when I have to send stuff home, and for the traveling I’ll be doing (Rome, Bari, Austria, and Greece) before heading home on July 2nd.

That evening, the chicken noodle soup was delicious. I had never even made soup before! Recipe for keeping:

-dice potatoes and chicken, add to boiling broth
-add small noodles
-once all this seems somewhat cooked, add diced celery, carrots, onions, and olives
-add spices as desired

In all, it was a wonderful ending to a great/ work-filled week, and that Monday I was off to Padova and Ferrara with Sonja and Laura.

A presto!
CIAO 🙂

Tales from Italy ch.10.2: Paris- Proud to be a Yankee

Day 2 of Paris began more optimistically- it’s pretty hard to top Day 1. However, first things first, we still had to deal with the left overs of the previous day’s experiences. So, Laura and I both woke up on top of the blankets. During the night, I had managed to grab my coat and sleep under that, and she under her sweatshirt. Unfortunately no magical towel elves had visited us while we slept, and thus we were still towel-less. Now in great need of a shower, I turned one of my washcloths into a substitute towel, and Laura used a big shirt.

As soon as we were done showering, we had to check-out. Even though we’d be in Paris for another 2 nights, Monika was going to be joining us that day and since her added company brought our party to 3, we had to find bigger accommodations. Were we fortunate enough to leave this hostel that can’t even offer it’s guests towels? Nah. Cheap budgets call for the cheapest hostel.

After storing our luggage in the luggage room, Laura and I took the metro to the musée du Louvre. Today was Monday, meaning the museum was free admission. Therefore, when we got there, the line was ridiculous. Honestly, this was the longest line I had ever seen.
<< This is only a SMALL SMALL fraction of the line. It continued behind us for ages. Fortunately, the line moved fast since the museum was big enough to accommodate everyone and we were in within 20 minutes.

The museum, being so big, had so much to see! Of course we saw the ancient Egypt exhibit (always my favorite!) and above all, the famous Mona Lisa. She’s actually a bit smaller than you’d think, but still. Unfortunately, my camera ran out of batteries just as I was about to snap a photo of her. Maybe our luck hadn’t changed yet after all. It sure seemed that way until we asked two girls next to us if we could borrow their batteries. They turned out to be American and since their cameras were rechargable, they offered to put my camera card in their camera and take the picture for me. It was very nice of them and Laura and I decided to nickname them Lisa and Erica.

At this point, we had seen as much of the museum as we wanted (if you spend 30 seconds in front of every piece at the museum it can take you over a week of 24/7 to see it all) and went to go sit down for a break. Recounting the previous day’s events, we laughed ourselves to tears before going to meet Monika at the metro station.

After picking up Monika, sharing some exciting hugs and trying to figure out how we could have ever lived without her for the past week or so, the three of us were off to the musée d’Orsay. Like at the Louvre, the line was still pretty long, but this time we didn’t bother waiting since Monika had her suitcase, and we could go back a different day. Instead, we went out for lunch. I had a delicious tuna baguette 🙂 On the way, we saw Notre Dame from afar- how cool?!!

Next on the list was to re-check in at our beloved “Friends’ Hostel.” Our new room was bigger and nicer than the last despite the fact that we still had no towels and not enough sheets to be sanitary. Nonetheless, we didn’t stay long and went back out to do more sightseeing.

That evening, we saw the Sacré-Cœur (Sacred Heart) and some dancers that were putting on a show in front of it. In the distance we could see the Eiffel Tower.

From there, we walked to a pub since it had started to rain (More luck of mine, I forgot my umbrella in the hostel). It was a nice escape. Fortunately the rain didn’t last too long, so before heading home, we walked through the red light district and saw the infamous Moulin Rouge.

On the way back to our hostel, we picked up some crepes right before I had my first direct experience of racism. While talking over our crepes, a man, who I’m assuming to be homeless, yelled at us, “Aw shut the f*** up, you f***ing yankees! No one f***ing likes yankees here!” More rude gestures and words were thrown at us from him as we passed. Even though what he said hurt, I kept telling myself that his opinion doesn’t matter to me. In fact, when it really comes down to it, in comparison, he was a homeless man living on the streets of the red light district. So he can keep his racist attitude, I’m proud to be a yankee, and no grumpy red-light district man can make me feel bad about that.

Once we were back at the hostel, we made sandwiches for dinner. On the way upstairs, we ended up passing “Lisa” and “Erica.” It was such a cool coincidence that they should be staying in the same hostel. We invited them up to our room for some chess and stuff later and they were happy to join. When they showed up, we learned that they were living in Germany for the year as au pairs to help the kids learn English. Come to think of it, that actually sounds like a job I’d be interested in… anyway, they weren’t able to stay long- they were about to head out for their last night in Paris before going back to Germany the next day. It was nice to see them again, yet in the end, we never learned their real names. As a result, they will forever be “Lisa” and “Erica” 🙂

That night we took it easy. Between showers, we played chess, snacked, and laughed almost non-stop. Our new roommates eventually showed up too- they were two British guys from Cornwall, England who were taking a trip around Europe. They were nice company. The only thing I didn’t like was the news they gave us about their previous roommate. Apparently the night before, a smelly drunken man had come in really late and had been sick. He left a mess around the room and partly in the bed he had slept in. The cleaning staff had managed to clean the room and change the sheets, but not the comforter. At that moment, Monika, Laura, and I froze as we waited to hear the answer of which bed it was, all hoping it wasn’t our own. Lucky for Monika and Laura, it wasn’t either of theirs. So, for the second night in a row, I slept without a blanket.

The next morning, upon leaving our hostel, we realized that a small shop that sold linens and TOWELS had opened right next door! Laura and I bought 2 small hand towels that were small enough to pack, yet big enough to dry ourselves with.

Afterwards, we headed into town to take the 3-hour free walking tour (the same one I had taken in Edinburgh and Dublin). The tour showed us a lot of the city sights and gave us ideas of things we wanted to go back and visit later. Unfortunately, Paris was really cold despite the fact that it was now May, and I ended up having to buy a scarf. During the break, we also treated ourselves to some warm tea and soup, and almost considered not going for the rest of the tour because we were so cold. In the end though, we did anyway. On the tour we saw Notre Dame, the Consierge, Pont Neuf, Academie Française, the Louvre (again), the Conseil d’Etat (Counsel of State), Jardin des Tuiliers, the Obelisk (this link is to its twin in Luxor), Congress, the Gran Palais and the Petit Palais.

Fun Facts:
Pont Neuf– the bridge began it’s construction under Henry III, but was completed by Henry IV in the early 1600s. Along the sides are sculptures of heads with ridiculous expressions. These heads are modeled after real people- Henry IV’s friends in fact. Turns out one night he got all his friends and noblemen drunk, hired some artists to paint their facial expressions, and then proceeded to have these drunken expressions put onto his bridge.

Academie Française– Works on perfecting and maintaining the French language. New words are added every week and attempts at replacing adopted English words (“computer” became “ordinateur”) are created.

The Louvre- There’s a statue of Voltaire outside. His nose fell off a few years ago, and they still don’t know what to do with it. So, he’s been coated in netting ever since.

The Obelisk- the only obelisk Egypt ever gave as a gift. Every year they ask for it back in a nice letter, and France never does.

The Gran Palais- In WWII, a Nazi general was sent to Paris with the task to destroy the city. He was torn because he did not want to, yet he had to send proof back to Germany otherwise he’d be killed. So, he and some French government people came up with the solution to bomb the roof of the Gran Palais (it’s completely made of glass) and the picture would look like Paris was being bombed. It worked.

After the tour, we went to a local market, where I was finally able to find a chess set of my own! It’s handmade by the guy we bought it from; he had just finished making the board I bought when we got there 🙂 Chess set in hand, we were off for some tea and the Arc de Triumph where we also saw the eternal flame (made to commemorate those lost in WWI and WWII). Nearby, we grabbed some baguettes to go before heading back to the hostel.

Back at the hostel, we played some chess (this time with my board :)) and ate our baguettes. My comforter hadn’t been changed as I had asked, and so I then went to go get that taken care of. I was a little worried though because when I spoke to the front counter about the issue I was having with the blanket, they thought I was referring to our current roommates (I don’t think they knew the word for blanket- English wasn’t their primary language). We liked how nice our roommates were, and I didn’t want them to get in trouble for nothing. Fortunately, in the end, the front desk understood, gave me a new blanket, and left our roommates alone. That night was much better, I slept with a blanket for the first night in 2 days, and we laughed ourselves to sleep- again 🙂

The next morning, we stopped at the post office first to mail out some post cards. Afterward, we went to the Musée d’Orsay, which is actually located in an old train station. Here we saw works by Van Gogh and Degas, but my favorite part was the exhibit on 3D art pieces of an opera house and the stage sets. Following the museum, we were off to the Eiffel Tower. It’s just as beautiful as anyone could imagine, and just as big. The only surprising addition we saw was a man in a gorilla suit who was strolling about the grounds. On the tour we had the previous day, our tour guide told us that the Eiffel Tower was one of three ideas submitted for the entryway to the 1889 world fair. One of the other submissions was a giant skull that you would walk through the mouth of to enter. I think they made the right choice in the end.

After the Eiffel Tower, we went back to the Jardin des Tuilliers to lounge around. It was stunning aside from the one and only Paris skyscraper that was standing in the background. The only good part to this skyscraper is that from the top it offers wonderful views of all of Paris without ever getting the tower itself into the image. Nonetheless at the garden, it was still really cold, so we all wrapped our scarfs around our heads to keep warm, and ended up looking like a bunch of babushkas sunbathing.

That night, we grabbed some hot chocolate and returned to the Eiffel Tower where we saw its light show. I recorded it on video, and managed to capture the conversation Laura and Monika were having next to me about seizures (Monika didn’t know the English word for ‘seizure’ -her first language is German- and Laura attempts to explain it). It was funny enough that I took the time to turn it into a movie:
Eiffel Tower Conversation video

The next day, we were to head home, but first we took a quick stop at Notre Dame. We had a lot of extra time, so when we were done, we walked to Napoleon’s Tomb instead of taking the subway. It was quite a long walk, only to find in the end that admission to get it was a bit over our budget as far as wanting to see a giant coffin was concerned. We were ok with that though, and just took in some sun on the outer steps instead. For lunch, we had baguettes again; I had one with eggs on it and a side of ice-cold coca cola. Oh it was just right. It seemed to hit every satisfaction spot I had- I didn’t even know I had a spot for hard-boiled eggs!

To top off our day, we finally got to see some Paris sun and it was lovely compared to the clouds we had been getting. We really thought this was a wonderful ending to our trip, especially when compared to the first day we had had and the numerous misfortunes we had experienced one after the other. Yet, like many good things we had on this trip, they were accompanied by some bad luck as well. When we got to the bus station to take the bus to the airport, we found out that the bus for our flight had left much earlier than we expected. We ended up having to take a taxi to the airport, costing us 56 euros each 🙁

The airport we flew out of was the smallest airport I had ever flown from. It only had 4 gates; apparently it had been used as a military airport in WWII. Once back in Italy, we also ended up having to pay for the more expensive train so that we could get back to Pesaro in time to catch the last bus back to Urbino. As if the 56 euro taxi wasn’t enough you know? Not like it mattered- by the time we got to Pesaro, the 8:55 bus decided to be non-existent. We ended up waiting for the 9:55. Looks like Misfortune was a frequent visitor on traveling to and from Paris. Oh well.

At this point, Alex showed up, having just gotten off a train from Venice. He had gone with his archiving class to Venice for a few days to see some of the famous archives there. He took us down to a gelato shop that was surprisingly still open near the shore. I got banana and cream flavored gelato- and the cream tasted like the filling from a Boston Cream donut! OH it was SO good 🙂 It was a lovely touch to what had been our difficult return.

In the end, we made it home safely. I even had the pleasure of discovering that one of my textbooks for my summer classes had arrived several weeks early! How lucky 🙂

Till next time!
Au revoir!

More pictures from Paris, France!

Tales from Italy: ch. 10.1- Day 1 Paris Misfortunes

Study? Nah, let’s go to Paris!

PARIS, The most visited city in the world. Of course it was a fantastic trip, but saying it went smoothly gives it too much credit. By the time Day 1 of our trip had ended, Laura and I had succumbed to uncontrollable laughter from the myriad of misfortune and sheer bad luck we had had the pleasure to experience.

It all began with the original plan which looked like this:

1. Take the 9:30 bus to Pesaro and catch the next train to Bologna

2. Grab a Kebab from Ali in Bologna, and then take the bus to the airport

3. Fly to Paris

4. Arrive at the hostel, borrow some towels, and get some groceries to save $$ on food

Our plan seemed full proof seeing as it was the same general plan we’ve been following in all the other cities we visit. So of course when things started to fall apart, we fell apart too.

Here’s where things started to go wrong:

1. Take the 9:30 bus to Pesaro and catch the next train to Bologna.

Laura and I were almost at the Borgo Mercatale (Urbino bus stop) when I realized I’d forgotten my coat. The bus was leaving in 15 minutes. In order to get it in time and still make the bus, I’d have to run almost non-stop there and back, and keep in mind, Urbino is one big giant hill, and our dorms are a good 15 minute walk from the bus stop as is. So I ran. By the time I got back to the bus stop, I was panting and sweating, but I had made it. I slid my suitcase into the luggage compartment and stood on line to board. Thank goodness I made it, right?

Wrong. Here’s why: Europeans celebrate a certain holiday called “Workers’ Day.” Basically on this day, just about everything is closed because workers get the day off. To our luck, we just so happened to be flying to Paris on this year’s Workers’ Day- what were the chances of that?? Oh right, 1/365!!!!  Anyway, of course they couldn’t shut down public transportation, but they could significantly deplete the number of buses going to Pesaro, thusly severely crowding a large number of people into an extremely limited number of seats. Between the hours of 6:00 and 22:00, on a normal day, there are 27 buses; on Sundays and ‘holidays,’ there are 9; on Workers’ Day, there are 2, one at 9:30 and one at 11:30. Laura and I made it in time for the 9:30 bus, even with my whole coat fiasco, only to be told by the bus driver that there was no more room and we’d have to wait for the next bus in 2 hours. Laura and I were in such shock that I almost forgot to take my suitcase out of the bottom of the bus before it drove away without us. What were we to do?

Some of the other people who had been turned away were contemplating taking a taxi to Pesaro, but a taxi could cost up to 60 euros in total, and even if we split that money, we couldn’t find the right number of people to go in the car with us and therefore couldn’t afford it. So in the end, Laura and I sat at the bus stop for two hours. The time difference started to jeopardize getting to our flight on time, but it was all we could do. I called Alex to look up new train times for us. The earliest we could catch was at 1:20, which would get us to Bologna (the train station, not the airport) around 3:30 when we have a flight at 4:30. We’d have to rush, but for the mean time, we had to sit and wait out 2 hours. So much for putting in all that effort to run and get my coat…

When the 1130 bus arrived, Laura and I were well-rested despite our rushed dilemma. Yet before we had the time to start worrying again, we found out that the bus to Pesaro was a rapido, meaning it was 45 minutes instead of an hour and 10 minutes as we had accounted for. Even though we were still behind in schedule, this helped a great deal. By the time we got to Pesaro, we were able to catch the 12:20 bus instead of the 1:20 and this eased our schedule out a bit. We now even had time to go get kebabs from Ali, our favorite kebab maker (see journal from Sicily trip)! Or so we thought.

2. Grab a Kebab from Ali, and then take the bus to the airport

Directions to Ali’s kebab: leave the train station, turn left, then right. Or was it right then left? Long story short, we never found it. We ended up going to some other random kebab place. Of course we’re both biased and this place was no where near as good as Ali’s, not to mention this place had the strangest, most irritating and repetitive music playing at full blast. As soon as we could get out of there, we took our kebabs to go and jumped on the next aerobus (bus to the airport) where we ate them.

3. Fly to Paris.

We got to the airport on time and were able to make it through security and everything before boarding… almost. For some reason, Laura kept setting off the security alarm and the guards had to pat her down. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds though- the guard we had was a man, and he had to call over a female guard for Laura. So we stood there waiting, only to have the patting be as awkward as it could be regardless of the guard’s gender.

Once on the plane, it seemed like it was going to be an easy ride. It would have been had it not been for this awful baby that wouldn’t shut up. And I’m not saying the usual crying all babies do on airplanes. Oh no, that would have been a joy. This child, I kid you not, was flat-out yelling and wailing. A simple “AAAAHHH!!” would suffice as a good interpretation I think. And not an “AAAAHHHH!!” because it was scared; it sounded to be an “AAAAAHHH!!” because it had nothing better to do. At one point, Laura yelled under her breath at the baby to shut up, only to repeat under her breath again later as “Shut up, baby! Didn’t I tell you to shut up?” lol

4. Arrive at the hostel, borrow some towels, and get some groceries to save $$ on food

Upon arriving in France, Laura and I had to try our best to get by seeing as neither of us knew French. We spend most of the bus ride into the city trying to come up with a list of all the words we knew in French, only to realize that we were the only 2 people speaking on the entire bus. Not wanting to succumb to the loud/ obnoxious American stereotype that seems to be well-known around Europe, we switched to whispers and Italian. It’s nice to have at least one secret language when almost the entire world knows English.

When we got into the city, we took the metro (subway) to our hostel and, after some getting lost, finally arrived. We got up to our room, which we shared with a Polish girl and her mother. It wasn’t as nice as we had hoped- the room was very small and humid because someone had just showered. We were cautious towards the beds too, seeing as there was only one thin sheet between where we would be and the mattress; there was no mattress cover or fitted sheet- what if there were bugs?? This is a public bed!!

We couldn’t worry about the beds too long though- it was almost 9pm, we both wanted to shower, and we still had to get our groceries. First thing first, we went to the front desk and asked for towels. Here I encountered my first hostel ever that didn’t offer it’s guests towels- not even to rent for a small fee! It had none. Despite our small budgets as is, we now had to add towels to our grocery list. Not like it mattered because as our luck had showed us all day, almost everything was closed for Workers’ Day. That’s when I learned Workers’ Day was an all-European thing, not just Italian. So, Laura and I went out on a search, in a city we had never been to, with people who spoke a language we knew none of, and after dark, for any grocery or drug store that could be open. We eventually found one the size of a closet, that sold just enough stuff for us to get by. We bought some shampoo, soap, sliced meat, a loaf of bread, croissants and some apples, but unfortunately no towels. It looked like I’d have to resort to substituting one of my washcloths (a small 9”x9” cloth) as a towel, and Laura to one of her shirts.

When we got back to the hostel, we made ourselves sandwiches, ate standing up in the kitchen, and then headed back to our room. At this point it was only 9:30pm, but our roommates were already asleep with the lights out. So much for showering. If this wasn’t enough, we still hadn’t figured out what to do with our questionable beds, and now we had to do it in the dark. So, quite obviously, Laura and I broke out into hysterical laughing. Try as we might to contain ourselves for the sake of our already-sleeping roommates, we lost all control. From the bus that morning and Ali’s missing kebab, to the baby on the plane, to our lack of any French at all, to our lack of towels, and above all to Workers’ Day, we could not handle all the obstacles luck had thrown at us that day.

Maybe we actually went insane. Maybe we were sleep-deprived. Maybe there was something in the meat we put on our sandwiches. Who knows? All we could do was attempt to sleep. When we got to our beds, the pillows were small and stored under the one sheet we had- the one and only sheet on the mattress. I took mine out and wrapped it in one of my shirts as a pillow cover, then laid out the comforter on top of the sheet. For the sake of hygiene, I slept on top of the comforter so as to have more between me and the who-knows-how-contaminated mattress. In other words, I slept on a blanket, without a blanket. Good thing that shower humidity and our laughing had warmed the room up so much.

Czech Paradise and Hungary

Well this past weekend I was at Cesky Raj, also known as the Czech Paradise. It was quite a nice change from my usual trips and encounters that I have had so far. We stayed at a small hotel in the middle of the woods and trekked about 30 km throughout the weekend. I enjoyed it quite a bit, because I had not done much out doors type stuff since my arrival in Prague. I would have posted sooner, but this week had been a little busy as I’m finishing up classes, taking finals and handing in papers.

All of that is just about done, I only have one more test next week and it should be the hardest. Good thing I have all weekend and a couple days to study 🙂 . I must be off to finish packing for my trip to Budapest, which leaves at 3:30 today!

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!

Oops…again

I don’t know what it is about this blog, but I keep forgetting about it 🙂 So there is a little catching up to do. This weekend I spend some time with friends, as I will most likely be traveling the next three weekends that are approaching. We spent both nights starting off with eating out for dinner then, we enjoyed the clubs or pubs for a bit.

Last weekend though, I went to Berlin. It was a bit odd because, I technically went solo on this, but I met people there. It was interesting to find my way to hostel without anyone to come pick me up. I never realized how large the city was until I took a look at its extensive U-Bahn system (subway). I arrived later in the evening on Friday night, so I didn’t have much time to look around on first arrival. Saturday we took the free walking tour around Berlin and saw all the usual sights, Brandenburg Gate, embassies, Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, administration buildings for various Nazi organizations, i.e. the Luftwaffe . The rest of the day was spent strolling around town checking out parks and other things to see such as the TV tower. Sunday was a good day as well, we rolled out of bed a little late, but the sun was shining all day so it didn’t seem as if we burnt any daylight. First we crossed the Oberbaumbrücke bridge, which was quite near our hostel. Just on the other side, was the East Side Gallery, which was all the paintings done on the Berlin wall. On the end of that was a lovely little rasta themed place on the river that had everything from a half-pipe to an artificial beach overlooking the water. We sun bathed there for a couple of hours then went off to see the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche church. It was a church that was bombed during the war and parts were rebuilt in a modern fashion. After that we wandered into the Teirgarten, which is a very large park next to the zoo in downtown Berlin. At the end of that stroll we came back near the city center where there was a small carnival going on, with classic blow up castles, cotton candy, and Ferris wheels. The Reichstagg was the next stop on the list. After that long day, we came back to hostel and rested up for a little bit, then had a final dinner out on the town. My bus back on moday morning was at 9, so I had to do the rare, early morning wake up call at 7:30, but I survived !

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)