Thursday, December 24, 2009

Adventures in Germany: How I got home from Italy

Oh hey everyone,

So you might be wondering, “why didn’t Christine post on Friday like she said she would?” “Did she have a great dinner and fun last night with friends but just forget to post before bed?” Well I’m here to set the story straight, and boy is it a greaaaaat story (naht).

Friday evening, after a gorgeous hike/picture sesh/champagne popping party atop Piazzale Michaelangelo, and an overly delicious final dinner at Trattoria Casalinga, my friends and I set off for our apartments (and, of course Grom for one more gelato treat). To our wonder and surprise, it was snowing very heavily in Florence. In fact, the city hasn’t seen a snowstorm like we had in the past decade, so we’re told. This being said, flight concerns were more than prevalent in our minds. Still, we had our yankee swap, said our goodbyes, and set about packing the rest of our things. Then we checked our flights. Cancellations, delays, and the city of Florence in a state of emergency, resulting in no taxis or busses running to and from the airport. Obvious issue. I consider myself lucky because my flight was still listed as “on time” and, after a few hectic hours, I was arriving at the airport with my two huge bags, my carry on backpack, and my purse. Little did I know this was only the beginning of my interesting trip home.

I planted myself in the unmoving line of people for the Lufthansa check-in counter and waited. Meanwhile, I watched the departure screen as every flight changed from on time to cancelled…except mine. When my flight to Munich finally flashed a “check-in” symbol, everyone in line with me was astonished. Why weren’t we cancelled when everyone else was? We checked in, checked our bags (and didn’t pay any fees for overweight, so that’s a win) and got through security and to the boarding gate. It had stopped snowing at this point but the airport was a mess outside, as the Florentines really have no idea what to do in the snow. Pretty soon our flight was delayed an hour, only a small problem for someone like me, with a 5 hour layover in Munich. However, as time went on our 8:15 flight was pushed back to 9, 10, 12, and finally, when we were told that the airport was closing until it was cleaned up at 1, until 2. Now we had a problem, because with the 1 ½ hour flight to Munich, and my transfer flight home leaving at 3:15, I was left to simply pray for earlier departure or a delay.

A few hours and some free pizza later, I was boarding my plane to Munich, set to leave at 4:20. I had resigned all hope of making my transfer and simply hoped to catch the earliest available flight to Newark…or JFK, Boston, Philly, DC, anywhere really. As I arrived in Munich and called my dad, he informed me that my plane was fully boarded but still at the airport. I ran outside and spoke frantically to an employee who called inside, but it was too late. My plane had closed and pulled away, and on the bus ride to the terminals I actually watched it drive away. So not ok. I heaved a sigh, and a lot of tears, and joined my fellow travel friends in what proved to be a nearly 3 hour line for the service center. Throughout the line, the prognosis wasn’t good. With the snowstorm back home, the snow at Europe, and tons of travelers for the holidays, accommodating the hundreds of newly stranded students and getting us home asap was nearly impossible. At one point, they were telling us Thursday was our earliest chance to get home. This was not a fun treat.

My turn came at the desks and after about 45 minutes of my helper searching, my dad calling, and me half crying half hoping, I landed myself a flight to Frankfurt in the morning and then to JFK a few hours later. The airline put me in a free taxi to a hotel, with my new bff Kevin who provided lovely company. We were given a free stay at the hotel, had 3 course dinner that was so delicious, I got to take a shower and get some free internet to check back in (I’ve been running up quite a roaming phone bill with all of this mess), and slept for a good 7 hours (my first sleep since 10 am on Friday, so that was nice). And since then everything went pretty well. I woke up in the morning, met Erica for a few hours in the airport, and left on my plane to Frankfurt, arriving on time and waiting around until I could board my flight. Here’s where it gets great.

After waiting on my plane for 5 hours do to delays including 5843996 technical issues that were then fixed, followed by a long period of de-icing during which the de-icing truck clipped the wing of our plane, we were informed that the crew and captains has reached their maximum legal limit of working and could no longer fly us out that day. After waiting for a stand by crew they didn’t have, we were taken off the plane and busses back to the airport, where nobody working there knew what we were supposed to do. I ended up waiting in like for another few hours to get to the front and get a hotel voucher for one of the 15 nearby hotels they were putting us into randomly. I stood for 30 minutes outside in the freezing cold (I only had leggings throughout this whole ordeal) wrapped in a Lufthansa blanket waiting for the shuttle. Arriving at the hotel I was given a key, booked a shuttle back to the airport in the morning, got a wake-up call, and received a lunchbox for dinner. Only plus about this place: free wireless internet so I could touch back with the family and skype them.

The next morning (Monday, by the way, in case you’ve lost track) I went back to the airport, waited for my flights, and boarded the plane. Then they told us there would be a delay because since our flight was delayed to the next day, the airport had removed it from the records and our baggage records no longer existed. Since the USA requires that every piece of luggage belong to a passenger on the flight, the luggage had to all be removed off the plane, out of the containers, checked, and put back. They actually ended up doing this 3 times throughout Monday’s delay, for various reasons, and I knew it would be one miracle if my luggage arrived in JFK when I did, and another if nothing was broken in it. After doing this we pulled away from the gate…and moved 3 gates down back into park position. Honestly, this had to be impossible. They then told us that 12 passengers on the flight did not have correct passport numbers recorded or something like that, and it took however much extra time to get someone on board to find them, check their passports, and update the information so the USA would let us fly in. After all of this passport and luggage nonsense was done, to nobody’s surprise, the captain came on and told us that the crew had again reached their limit, and after the obviously non-existent standby crew failed to arrive, we were once again bussed back to the airport.

This time, however, we were not sent out to wait in line for hotel vouchers. We were told our flight was going to fly a few hours later in the night (it was about 5 and the flight was scheduled around 11). So, we were sent back into the airport, got food, and resigned ourselves to sitting outside our gate with everyone else on the flight. Soon we were the only passengers in the airport, and we just kept watching our delay get bigger and bigger, for reasons we were obviously not told of aside from the snow piling up outside. Eventually our flight just said “delayed” with no estimated departure time (though on the website there was) and soon after the monitor turned off altogether.

So there we were, sitting. They had boarded about half the passengers onto the plane, thinking we were going to leave, and so they were stuck there and I was thanking God that I was smart enough to not want to get on the plane any sooner than I had to. So we waited, and talked, and read, ate, and napped. We were given tomato, cheese, and butter sandwiches, hot dogs with no buns, and a huge tin barrel of soup that made us look and feel like refugees. After hours of delays, we boarded for real, and our flight took off after 3 days of delays, at about 4 am. Landing in JFK, waiting for my luggage, about 50 or so people, myself included, soon realized it wasn’t coming off the plane. Typical.

So here I sit, Christmas eve, in my newly painted, carpeted room with new bedding, sans luggage. No clothes, shoes, or Christmas presents. We were told it should be arriving on a plane to Newark today because, get this, it never left Florence. So let’s keep our fingers crossed, shall we? But the good news remains: after approximately 3 days and 6 hours of traveling (12 hours of which I sat on a stationary plane) I am home safe and sound with my family.

So don’t worry, I’ll try to get pictures and video of my last nights in Florence, along with those from the airport, to you soon. They will hopefully come accompanied with my “reflections” post, and I will hopefully be able to report that I have my luggage back in my possession as well. Hope you enjoyed the story of my misery and adventures in the Frankfurt airport and beyond.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas in Europe

Hi all,

So as promised I'm here to talk a little bit about the Christmas season over here in Europe. I always feel that when I'm at school it's hard to get into the Christmas spirit fully because of the stress of finals and packing and such. Even with the gorgeous Vermont snowfall, the 25 days of Christmas on ABC family, and my obsession with candy canes, Christmas doesn't always feel complete to me until I'm home.

Now, 3 days from my departure, I'm trying to assess how Christmasy I'm feeling. It's still not the same as being home with my family, decorating my tree and drinking hot chocolate. However, the "not quite fully Christmas feeling" is a bit different over here in Europe. I'm resisting the urge to say they're more religious, because I think that's probably just Italy. Still, I feel like the vibe of Christmas in Europe is less material and more just a magical feeling in the air. When I walk down the streets (or run, because I'm freezing) it makes me smile to see the lights everywhere and the decorations on every shop and corner. The city is brightly lit with different Christmas lights on every street, and even though it's not obvious it's Christmastime (no snow here in Florence) I can still feel the magic of the season. Even though crowds cover the areas of the city where the markets are, I still don't get the sense of crazed commercialism I feel when I have to make a trip to the mall at home.

In the other countries I've visited, Christmas has been similar. Germany and Austria are both known for their huge Christmas markets. I must say I've never spent so much money and had so little to show for it, but all of my money was spent on food and drinks. I've had everything from a marshmallow pastry and hot chocolate to a huge baked potato covered with everything possible and warm apple punch in a collectible mug. Still, despite this food consumerism, I still felt the warm feelings of Christmas. Booths are littered with decorations, ornaments, and everything in between. People are gathered together sharing, talking, and having fun.

I'm not trying to put down Christmas in America. I think it's an amazing time to be spent with family and friends. I'm just trying to give everyone a feel for what Christmas is like over here in Europe, because it's a bit different. So I hope all are well, finals are finishing up nicely for those who are taking them, Christmas plans are running smoothly, and everything else is good. I can't believe I'll be home in three days. It doesn't seem real. But more (hopefully not too much) about that later in the week. I've got to get some sleep, as one class and one final stand between me and my frolicking in Florence for my last few days.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Munich and Salzburg

Hi all,

So amidst all of the craziness of our last days in Italy and finals on the way (or started for some) Erica and I still found time in our last weekend for a final trip to Germany and Austria. We headed off on our least-favorite type of transportation, the overnight train, on Thursday night, and were in rainy, cold Munich early Friday morning. Since nothing was open, we took a seat in Starbucks (oh, how we miss it) and spent about two hours talking to each other and to a really nice guy from Croatia on his way up to the environmental conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Josh is studying there and has written a few posts about the events.

Anyway, after that we spent the day in and out of warm locations, because we had to carry our bags and it was raining and snowing and all kinds of things. We stopped in a vintage store for a long time and tried on some of the most ridiculous dresses they had. We went into the toy museum and looked at Barbie, teddy bears, robots, cars, trains, and everything in between. In addition, we explored the local Christmas markets and a few churches, consuming too many potatoe pancakes and bratwursts. Then it was off to Salzburg on the train.

We slept in Salzburg and woke up the next morning to go on the SOUND OF MUSIC TOUR! It was so much fun! They bussed us to and from different locations where the movie was filmed, we got out, took pictures, and moved on. On the ride we also got to listen to the movie soundtrack and sing along, and we made a friend from the hostel too. We saw the Do-Re-Mi steps, and the garden where more scenes from that song were filmed. We saw the Von-Trap Villa, the lake where the boat tipped over, the chapel where the wedding took place, and the gazeebo from "sixteen going on seventeen." In between, the bus drove through the countryside and we saw amazing lakes and mountains covered in a fresh dusting of snow. It really was so beautiful and Salzburg joins Dublin and Venice as my top visits of the semester. OH AND we had warm apple strudel with a hot vanilla sauce in the town of Mondsee, where the church was. There are no words for how good it was, or for how much food I ate on this trip.

Once back in Salzburg, we explored some more, visiting the fortress that looks over the city and has amazing views. We saw some of the larger plazas, more Christmas markets, another church, and the famous Glockenspeil (though we weren't there for it to chime). We then headed back to Munich for dinner and beers at the famous Hoffbrauhaus beer hall.

We continued our friend-making at the beer hall, and met 3 or 4 German guys and 4 older Irish ladies who most definitely knew how to party. I had a HUGE plate of "noodles" and it was amazingly delicious. And, of course, washed it down with a giant 1 liter mug of their origional beer. It was all fun and games from there on out, and we talked, laughed, and even danced with our new friends (even the ones that didn't know English). The night was a success.

Sunday morning we got up and took the subway out to Daschau, the concentration camp. We knew it was going to be a sad experience to visit it, but it was also super interesting and I learned so much. I learned that it was the first concentration camp there was, that it wasn't an execution camp like Auschwitz, and that it was mostly men. One of the origional buildings was turned into a museum, and Erica and I used our maps, audioguides, museum readings, and the short film they showed to spend the morning and early afternoon learning all about the concentration camp. Even though it was a sad and sobering experience, it was more than worth it and I'm glad I went.

After that we needed a little pick-me-up so we headed to Weisses Brauhaus, a smaller beer hall with a cozy feel. I ordered a Schnitzel, thus completing my goal of having all of the traditional foods, and a wheat beer (one of Munich's best). A man came up and asked if he could sit with us, but I don't think he realized we didn't speak and German. He knew about 10 words of English but somehow Erica and I were still able to have a nice lunch talking to him. It was truly amazing. We finished up lunch, walked around and bought some treats, had some kind of delicious dough covered in vanilla sauce and cinnamon sugar for dessert, and went back to the hostel where we spent another few hours talking to a guy from Galway, Ireland. I mention all of the people we met because later this week I plan to bring them back up in another post.

We headed home last night and arrived early this morning, and I've been doing work for finals ever since. It's my goal between studying and packing this week to get two more posts in: one about Christmas is Europe and one as a reflection of my time here, which I can't believe (or accept, really) is almost over. But I've got to get back to work. Here's some of the videos I took this weekend. Enjoy!


Riding the oldest Funicular Railway in Austria

Sound of Music Tour

Bells in the Munich Clocktower

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Dirty South

Ciao ciao everyone!

So as my time in Italy nears closing (whaaaaat?) I'm doing my best to get everything done while still traveling around to some last-minute places. This weekend I returned to Rome to see the Sistene Chapel, since it was closed when we were there with the program. The Vatican Museum was very impressive and I spent a huge chunk of the day there, along with a short trip through the tombs of the popes under St. Peter's. Eliza offered her lovely hospitality to me for the night and we ate out at one of the 2 places in Rome claiming to be the creators of Alfredo Sauce. We broke the bank eating there but it was sooooo good. After a chill night with Eliza, I set out for the northern tip of Italy's dirty south: Naples.

Upon arrival in Naples I hopped right on the circumvesuviana metro line around Vesuvius en route to Pompei. I spent about 3 hours there exploring, following the map, getting lost, and seeing a TON of cool history. It was a little sad to see the preserved people, because they're there just as they died, and they were in pain, but the fact that they're so well preserved was amazing. AND I got to pet all the dogs all around the city, because they're everywhere.

On my way out of Pompei, before hopping on the metro back to Naples, I bought a HUGE lemon (see the picture in the slide show) about the size of a cantelope. I'm not sure what I'll do with it, but I had to buy it.

Upon returning to Naples, I walked around a little but didn't explore too far because it was getting dark (wish I had another day). I walked to one of their busiest quarters and was vastly unprepared for the number of people there. The Christmas markets were up, which I didn't anticipate, and I actually ended up getting funneled through the narrow streets like I was on a crazy conga line. Still, I hopped off my conga to join a huge mob for one of the best pizza in Napoli, which I got for 1 Euro. I later got a delicious Neopolitan pastry for another Euro. Gotta love the south.

On my way back to the train station I solidified my status as a safe traveler, even when alone, because a guy tried to pickpocket me. I noticed him touch my backpack and immediately turned around to stop him. Lucky for me, even if I hadn't noticed him, I had everything important packed away in my coat in various places, so the best he could have made out with was my makeup kit or a pair of sweatpants. So yay me for being smart. Still, it jumped my senses and made me remember how much less safe it is down south.

Anyway, this is my last week of classes, which I'm not sure I accept. We've got a long list of things to do before we leave, and we WILL get it done. Lots of studying and last minute homework is also in the card. As for today, I'm slowly accomplishing my to-do list and heading to the Santa Croce Christmas Markets later today for some Christmas shopping for everyone at home.

I'll keep you updated on my activities these last 12 days (ahhhhhhhhh), especially after I head on my last trip this weekend: Munich and Salzburg! OK byeeee


Monday, November 30, 2009

I DID IT! oh, and Rome

Helloooo everyone!

I'm so sorry for not updating about my adventures in Rome as soon as I returned. As is my usual excuse, things are crazy here and lots of work needs to be done. This, of course, is still the case, but since I've resigned myself to my bed today I figure a blog post won't hurt.

Since my last post about Vienna some awesome things have happened: a trip to Rome with API for our last excursion, my family visiting Florence, and my completing a marathon! So we'll go in order with Rome first. Here's the photo slideshow (and tons more can be found on my facebook).

Funny thing about all the photos, they are all thanks to Liz lending me her camera because of course I forgot mine on one of the most photo-heavy trips of life. Anyway, with such a short time in the capital city it was definitely helpful that API hooked us up with tour guides for the weekend. In all we saw the Spanish Steps, a bunch of political buildings, the Trevi Fountain, many small and large squares and markets, New Moon (guilty pleasure), the President's house, the Forum and Palatine Hill, Porta Portese markets, the Colosseum, Vatican City and St. Peters, and lots of ruins and old stuff.

Rome is really different from anything else because it's so old and full of history. We even learned that every time they try to build more metro lines they come across more ruins and have to stop and excavate instead. It's a bit big and crowded for my taste, but we had a great time. The Pizza was amazing, Eliza took me out with her parents one night (LOVE them) and overall we had a fun time.

When I returned it was hard to buckle down and do anything (probably why I still have a lot of work) because I was anticipating the arrival of my family on Wednesday. While they were here I showed them all of the major sights, we took a day trip to Sienna to get out of the city, and we ate LOTS of delicious food (and Gelato, of course). It was so nice to have them here and now it's only 19 days until we return home. Hard to believe we've been over here for so long. Oh, and we had an AMAZING Tuscan Thanksgiving dinner with J.P., even if it wasn't Turkey and stuffing.

One of the highlights of the Amoresano Family's time here was that they got to watch me run the 26th Florence Marathon yesterday. I still can't really believe I did it, and my legs hurt too much to think about anything else, but I'm in high spirits. I trained really hard and am very proud of myself and thankful to everyone who came out and cheered and supported me, and to everyone who offered their congratulations. I think it really makes my abroad experience something special. I finished in 4 hours, 46 minutes, and 58 seconds, perfect securing my goal of under 5 hours. I had dinner last night with my family and friends and it was the perfect ending to a great weekend with the fam. They headed back home earlier today and I'm pumped to see them again in a few short weeks.

Meanwhile, I've got to push through to Wednesday, after which only one presentation stands between me and finals. I'm working on going back to Rome this weekend to see the Sistine Chapel (it was closed when we were there) and going down to Naples and Pompeii (we have a long weekend too, so that's nice). Then our last full weekend Erica and I are heading to Munich (we finally got tickets home) and Salzburg for some last minute fun before finals, dinners, parties, and goodbyes. It's so crazy how fast the time here went. I'm ready to go home but still sad to leave. Good thing there's still 3 weeks for me to sort out my life. I'll keep you updated.


Monday, November 23, 2009


Hey everyone.

I'm just dropping in quickly at the start of another busy week to post the Vienna videos I finally got to work. Had a great weekend in Rome and got back yesterday, so of course a post about that will be coming soon too! For now, here's the two videos, one from the Christmas Markets (sorry if it's a bit hard to hear, I WAS screaming) and one from Swan Lake!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Vienna waits for you

Hello hello,

In my efforts to try and catch my blog life back up to my real life, I'm writing this late night post about last weekends adventure to Vienna, Austria, before I set off on this weekend's trip to ROMA. As of now the videos can't be posted, but I'll get them up next week when I come home (there's only a few). Meanwhile, here's the usual photostream (this is my 3rd flikr account because I've gone over my limit on two others...I hope that's allowed).

So Vienna. Let me just say first that overnight trains when you're not in a sleeping car are mildly uncomfortable and awkward, though our way there was exponentially better than the trip home with an awkward Italian woman with zero concept of personal space, but that's neither here nor there.

We arrived in Vienna in early morning, waited to check into our hostel, got settles, and set out to explore the gorgeous new place we were in. The city is soooo different from Florence, epsecially because it's Baroque and much newer of a city. The architecture was amazing and we admired it on every street. Our first stop was the main market in Vienna, a long street full of vendors selling everything from fruits and veggies to hot punch and fallafels with hummus (SO GOOD).

Afterwards, we trekked into the main part of the city and saw the sights from the outside. We saw the opera house, the buildings and gardins of the Hoffburg, Parliament, the University, and even spent way too long staring at dogs in a field where they were all playing. Our next stop was perhaps the best discovery of the day: the Christmas markets in the square of town hall, set to open the next day! The town hall was decorated to be a giant Advent Callender and there were lights and treats and Christmasy things everywhere. I have a video from there when we went back the next night, so look for that in my next post.

After grabbing a delicious dinner off one of the smaller plazas near the main one, Steohansplatz (home to St. Stephen's Cathedral), we headed back to the hostel to change clothing for the evening's excursion. Before leaving Florence, we booked 8 euro tickets to SWAN LAKE at the Statsoper, the main Viennese Opera house. You can only imagine how excited we were to see the ballet in the country where it's so famous. Little did we know that our "restricted view" seating was going to mean no view at all. But, we accepted that we payed only 8 euro, and stood on our chairs craning to see the whole night. I didn't mind, it was a beautiful performance and there will also be a video of that in the future. We then headed home and turned in for the night, excited for another day in this very different city.

Saturday morning we got up early and headed away from the center of town towards Schonbrunn palace, home to the Hapsburg dynasty, where Marie Antoinette came from. We got free audio guides with our tickets and I can honestly say I had a blast touring the palace and learning everything about the rooms I was in and the history of the empirial family. We even stood in a room where the 4 year old Mozart held his first concert for the royal family. I mean, cool. We also took time to tour the gardens behind the palace and get some great fresh, cool air. OH, side note: Austria tap water comes straight from the Alps and is so delicious!

After the palace, on the way back to the center, we stopped at the main cemetary and hunted down the graves of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, and the Strauss family. It was a really interesting side trip and I really enjoyed switching the scene from art to music for a while. For the rest of the early evening we mulled around the city, visiting some of the same buildings we had seen, but at night, and also stopping at Mozart's house and the Hollocaust Memorial. Then it was time for the good stuff: Christmas Markets!

We trekked to another part of the city to the Spittleburg markets, the oldest and best ones in Vienna. There we browsed, enjoyed ourselves, and ate amazing potato pancakes and soft pretzels. By the way, 75% of the money I spent on this trip went to various foods and treats because it's all so good. Anyway, when we were done there, we went back to the City Hall markets and had a blast there as well. I got Apple Strudel (which I had for breakfast the next morning) and we got some more hot punch in gift mugs! It was really great to be able to get into the Christmas spirit already!

We awoke Sunday with most of the day left to spend before our trip home, and only two objectives: Prater and Churches. The Prater is an old amusement park on the outskirts of the city center. It's home to what we were told is the world's oldest Ferris Wheel, which gives views of the entire city around it. Of course, we took the gorgeous ferris wheel to the top and enjoyed the view. Afterwards, we headed to St. Stephen's Cathedral to enjoy a non-renaisance church, and also saw another smaller, but extremely extravagant, church. Then it was time to head back to the hostel, prep for departure, and head back home to Florence.

I had an amazing time in Vienna, and can't wait to return to Autria in a few weeks when I take a trip to Munich and Salzburg (Sound of Music Tour!!!) Anyway, like I said, we're finally going to Rome tomorrow and I couldn't be more excited, especially since I get to see Eliza, my friend from SMC. So I've got to get to bed and prep for an early departure (yuck!) but check back after the weekend for some new stories and photos and such.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Ciao Tutti,

I apologize for not getting this post out before leaving on this past weekend's adventure, but I hope to have us all caught up together by the end of this week. Continuing on with my fall break, we come to our last stop on the trip, Paris.

I was excited to go to Paris because, well, it's Paris, but we were also so exhausted by the time we got there that we got to the hostel, checked in, settled in, and pretty much went right to bed. I was a bit apprehensive about my time there, as I speak no French and the Parisians aren't too keen on English speakers, but I did have Erica and Liz to help me along the way, and I even learned a thing or two!

Our first full day in Paris we actually set out away from the city to the pallace of Versailles. It was the home of Louis and Marie Antoinette, and full of history. We took a self guided tour of the interior, guided along by the free Rick Steves audio tour on our I-pods, stopping at the major landmarks like the bedrooms and the Hall of Mirrors. Then we moved outside and spend the rest of our visit exploring the huge, gorgeous gardens behind the palace. I could literally have spent the whole day there and not seen it all, but what we did see was gorgeous. Here's a video overlooking the gardens (they're getting sillier by the day.

After returning from Versailles, we headed over to the Eiffel Tower and took lots of pictures/admired it from all angles. We even got to see it sparkle on the hour:

The next day was all about museums and, of course, our first stop was the Louvre. We headed out early to avoid crowds, and booked it straight for the Mona Lisa. It was exciting to see the painting, even if it's only on a small canvas. Directly behind it was "The Wedding at Cana" and it made up for the Mona Lisa in size. We also saw "Winged Victory" a striking statue of a headless angel, as well as many other paintings and statues by all the greats. Leaving the Louvre, we stopped in the Orangerie to admire Monet's largest Water Lilly paintings. They really are astonishing and we spent a good amount of time just sitting and staring.

After the first two museums we took a little break, got some lunch, and made our way up Champs Elysees towards the Arc de Triomph, where we climed the steps and admired the scenery. Of course, I took a video from the top:

We spent some time after this recovering from out climb and checking out treats along Champs Elysees before heading to our next location, the D'Orsay Museum. I wasn't really sure what kinds of art we were going to find here, I just knew that it housed some greats. So, imagine my excitment (I could have peed my pants) when we wandered into a room FULL of Vincent VanGogh, my favorite artist! I freaked out for about 5 minutes, took a lot of pictures, and set out to see what other surprises the museum has in store. We found some of Monet's smaller works and then stumbled upon another jaw dropping discovery, Degas' ballerina statue. Around the corner from this was Whistler's Mother, which we had no idea was going to spring up. All in all it was a successfull trip to museums that day.

Sunday morning we woke up early and headed over to mass at Notre Dame Cathedral. It was so beautiful and I feel so lucky to be able to have heard mass there, even if most of it was in French. We spent time exploring the cathedral and then a little more time in the Shakespeare Book Store, the oldest English book store in Paris and a refuge for aspiring writers. At this point it was raining, so we decided to head to another area of the city for the best crepes around. We actually ended up getting misdirected and found ourselves down the street from Moulin Rouge, which we took photos of before running inside to escape the rain. After some warm drinks, we found our crepes and headed back to the hostel to dry off and prepare for our return to Florence.

I was nervous before my fall break that my study abroad experience hadn't been the life-changing one that so many people talk about after their time abroad. I'm no longer worried about that. The places I went and the things I saw were definitely once in a life time, and I think it's safe to say I've been bit by the travel bug since then (I want to go everywhere!!) This past weekend I went to Vienna, Austria, and had an amazing time. I'll update you on that later in the week, when I'm not drowning in my work.

Bye until then!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 mean Espana?

Buona sera tutti,

I continue my account of FB09 with the second leg of our journey: Spain. Before I start, things are good here. My friend Josh from SMC and his awesome girlfriend Ali were here Sunday to visit and today my friend and teammate Catie is coming! So nice to have SMC friends come visit. And in case I haven't mentioned it yet, we're going to Austria this weekend too. SO excited. Anyway...

I'm going to talk about Barcelona first, but my photo stream has pictures from Madrid first, so you all know. Barcelona was one of the places I really wanted to visit while here in Europe, but I wasn't quite sure why. I knew they had good food and great parties, but I severely underestimated the rich culture and amazing art and architecture. When we arrived, we headed to our hostel, stopping at the first Starbuck's we'd seen in months (Italians are snobby about their coffee, rightfully so). The Kabul Backpacker's Hostel was the most amazing hostel, to put it simply. It had a huge common area, cheap bar, and free breakfast and lunch. We had some interesting roommates, but we got over it. We spent our first half day lazily exploring the area, especially the gorgeous waterfront area. We returned for free dinner and spent the night relaxing in the hostel, prepping for a fun filled day.

We rose early on our only full day in the city and headed to the market building. This was perhaps the most amazing, though visually exhausting, place I've ever been. It was so bright and full of everything from meat, bread, cheese, and fish, to candies, chocolate, amazing fresh fruit smoothies, and an organic section. We spent some time there, bought treats for later, and set off up the metro to the Sagrada Familia (spelled without the normal Spanish G because in Barcelona they speak Catalan...that wasn't helpful). I've linked you to the wikipedia page for the cathedral, but here's some basic information. This massive, and jaw dropping, Catholic church was started in 1882 under the design of Antoni Gaudi, but so large scale that it's completion is not predicted until 2026. It has 3 major facades and is absolutely stunning, words and pictures don't do it justice. Neither does my video, but it might help capture the moment.

After the church, and a very long walk, we arrived at Parc Guell, a park designed by Gaudi as well. His art and architecture is unique and fun, and it was a great day in the park. We returned back to Kabul to shower, nap, and get some dinner before a fun night out. The Hostel has a party every day of the week, each at a different club in Barcelona. We went to an amazing beachfront club called Opium FOR FREE and danced the night away. And by night I mean early morning, because nothing starts in Barcelona until 1 and it goes until 6 or 7. Don't worry, we were home by 4 and in bed, resting up for another half day in the city before heading to Madrid. We filled this day will little local sightseeing like the Columbus Square and another church, plus a stroll or two down Las Ramblas, the winding street full of shopping and street performers. Then it was off to the nation's capital, Madrid!

We arrived in Madrid when it was already dark, settled into our hostel, and hit the sheets (we were exhausted). After breakfast in the morning, and some planning, we set out to explore. Our first stop was the Reina Sofia Museum, a modern art museum. It was a bit overwhelming for us, but we looked at a lot of cool stuff, including Picasso. Later that day we also saw the Palacio Real, a gorgeous palace, and the neighboring cathedral. We also visited Plaza Mayor and Plaza Sol, where the exact center of Spain lies, and is marked. By the way, we spent NO MONEY on any of these things, thanks to my trusty Europe Travel Book (thanks mom and dad).

Since we were making out like bandits, we figured we could splurge on a normal lunch instead of fruit and bread, so we consulted the book. However, the place we picked (named 100 sandwiches for obvious reasons) was having a special where everything was 1 euro. So 2 euro later we were lounging in Plaza mayor with a drink, chips, and a sandwich. Our second biggest expense of the day was also small change, 4 euro for delicious churros y chocolate at the city's most well know chocolatier (thanks again to the book). The day's, and the trip's, largest spent sum went to dinner that night at Casa Botin, THE WORLD'S OLDEST RESTAURANT. No big deal. I had roast suckling pig, their specialty, and it was amazing. The people were so nice and after closing they let us look at the wine cellar and the kitchen, which has the original oven from 1725 when the restaurant first opened. Needless to say, we went to bed happy campers. The next day we woke up, toured the important pieces at the Prado Museum, and were ready to head to our final stop, PARIS.

That's all for now. Paris post before the weekend. Ciao ciao!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Emerald Isle

Hello hello everyone!

As promised I'm finally set up and ready to start my posts discussing my life changing fall break. First stop: Ireland.

We left Thursday night for Dublin, arriving late and walking around for a bit in search of out hostel. We then settled in for the night, prepping for a fun day in the morning. Our plan of action was to purchase student tickets for the Dublin Bus hop on-hop off tour. Many European cities have them, and in most cities they're a great way to see everything you want to see (for us it was perfect). We stopped at Trinity College, a gorgeous college that made me feel unintelligent haha, and walked down Grafton Street, where all the shopping is. We stopped at St. Stephen's Green, a nice park area that was a good break from the big city feel.

We also visited the National Gallery, a big museum full of tons of different art from many countries. We focussed mostly on the Irish art, but it was all very cool to see. We didn't spend too much time there, though, because we knew Spain and Paris were going to be more art than anyone needs to see.

After the museum we stopped in the Temple Bar area of lunch. It a section of the city full of pubs and restaurants, and we got sone great traditional food for cheap (Irish Stew and Shephard's Pie, for example). After that we hopped over to Dublin Castle, admired it from the outside, and proceeded to Christ Church Cathedral, where we spent a whole hour looking around! We didn't realize how much time had passed, but it was one of the most beautiful churches I've ever seen. Cool point: in the basement there was an exhibit showing a mummified cat and rat who had been stuck in an organ pipe and dicovered years and years later. After Christ Church, we walked down the street to see St. Patrick's Cathedral from the outside, and boarded the bus to the most exciting of all stops: The Guinness Storehouse.

We arrived at Guinness super excited to be able to tour the factory and get our free pint of Guinness at the end. We started out with an explanation of the 9,000 year lease signed by Arthur Guinness himself. It was crazy to a. see such an old document and b. to see 9,000 year lease! We then followed a self guided tour including an explanation of the ingredients in a Guinness, information on transport, and an awesome floor full of the great Guinness advertising. We were also really exicted to be there during the celebration of Guiness' 250th anniversary. In the tasting room, we were not only able to taste the Guinness Draught beer but also the 250th anniversary brew. It was very different, but really really good. Our tour finished at the top of the Brewery, in the Gravity Bar, with a 360 degree view of Dublin. We got to hang out and look around as we enjoyed our free pints of delicious Guinness, and we even managed to sneak out with our empty glasses as souvenirs. Here's a video from the Gravity Bar:

After some dinner and a little rest, we headed back out to the Temple Bar area to celebrate Erica's birthday with some drinks and live music, what Dublin does best. We saw a great singer, Clare Peelo, and had a really fun time. Here's a vid of her and her partner jamming with us:

The next morning we got up way too early and hopped on a bus ride across Ireland headed for Galway. The ride itself was spectacular, as we wound through the Irish countryside, a perfect opportunity to see lots of green grass, sheep, cows, and rainbows everywhere! Another video perhaps?

Galway was an amazing beautiful city, and a perfect example of the real Ireland. It has a cute downtown, a gorgeous waterfront, and lots of shopping for fun Irish things. I got a Claddaugh ring from the origional makers, as well as a traditional Irish woold sweater, complete with sheep smell. Oh, and it was VERY windy, especially by the water. Here's a video of me explaning the Claddaugh Swans:

We got to stay in a cozy little bed and breakfast with the most amazing owners, who got up at 4am to set up breakfast for us before we headed out early to Spain. Because we only got a sampling of a full breakfast at the B and B, the day before a friend of a friend took us to a place that served real Irish breakfast all day long. It was AMAZING and we were full for most of the day. So after our early meal and the B&B, we headed to the airport for our next adventure: Barcelona and Madrid. Check back for that soon, hope this wasn't too long. Byeee!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I'm baaaack

Hey all,
I'm sorry I didn't update right when I returned from my AMAZING fall break, but things have been hectic with getting back into the flow of classes. Just as an example, I woke up 5 minutes before Italian on Tuesday and completely slept through it yesterday all because my phone thought it was December. Let's not get ahead of ourselves hmm? Though to the tell truth I was pretty ready to come home right after my break. I mean what else is there for me to do after I've toured Europe right? WRONG. Before we continue, here's a little list of the treats yet to come.

1. Austria - we're tripping over there next weekend
2. ROMA - finally getting down to Rome with API
3. My Family! - yup, the fam is coming for Thanksgiving break to watch me in the...
4. Marathon - this is peak week of training and I'm running 20 miles tomorrow
5. Germany - for the Munich Christmas markets
6. Lots of treats and class trips in between...who knows

Anyway, about fall break. There's obviously A LOT to cover. So, my idea is to cover one country (or city) every other day so it's not too much to read but it doesn't take 2 weeks to talk about (though I could go on and on about it if I wanted to). In each post there will of course be photo slides shows and everyone's favorite, videos! Actually I don't know if everyone else likes them, I just know my friends Liz and Erica from over here LOVE watching me film them, and making fun of me. Speaking of Liz, she's a lot more on the ball than I am, and already has posts and such up from fall break. Check her out too: A Broad Abroad. Additionally, for a look back onto campus, you can always check back with the SMC bloggers, like my dearly missed friend and teammate Mairead (officially going to Ireland for the Spring semester).

As soon as I get my photos up and running on facebook and flikr, and my videos on youtube, the posts will being (hopefully tomorrow, but I AM running 20 miles, so we'll see). So keep checking back and as always, questions about Italy, study abroad, other countries I've seen, swimming, running, SMC, etc etc etc are loved and appreciated.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Greetings from SMC!

Hello Everyone!
This is Christine's former roommate Sarah updating from campus! I know it's probably not as exciting as hearing about Christine's adventures around Europe, but she didn't want her readers to be without a new blog post this week. (By the way, last time I heard from her, Christine was in Ireland and absolutely loving it!) So things have been quite busy back at SMC lately with midterms last week and Halloween this week. I had a midterm in American Protestantism, a take home essay for Personality Theories, and a presentation for Cultural Anthropology, but it's all done now so I can finally breath. As for this week, the St. Mike's community is getting ready for Halloween! On Friday all of our different mentoring programs are hosting a Halloween party here for their mentees. The kids are coming here in the early evening, with their costumes on, and they get to go around to the townhouses for some trick or treating. After that, mentors take the kids to the Harvest Carnival in the Tarrant Gymnasium. This event is hosted by the M.L.K. Jr. Society and it's a chance for kids to get dressed up, play tons of games, and eat lots of candy in a safe and secure environment. Another Halloween event, sponsored by the M.O.V.E. Office, is happening on Saturday evening. A group of students are going out into the surrounding towns to trick or treat for canned goods. All of the food collected will be weighed and an equal amount of food will be donated by Sodexo (our dining service). Then the food will be given to the Vermont Food Shelf to help feed many people throughout the community. In addition to these opportunities to give back around Halloween, St. Mike's also hosts a dance every year. It only costs $5 to go and everyone wears their costume and dances in the gym all night! So, as you can see, Halloween is a big deal at SMC and it's making me miss Christine even more than usual because it's her favorite holiday!

Aside from school work and Halloween preparations, I've also been busy with cross country. I run on the varsity team here and we just hosted the North East 10 championship meet this past weekend. All 16 teams from our league came for the race on Sunday, which was followed by an awards banquet. We had a tough race because 10 of our 22 runners were either injured or sick (yes, the swine has hit us hard), but we fought to an 11th place finish. Our season is winding down now with just one race left, the NCAA Regional Qualifier in Boston on November 8th. Only our top 7 runners get to race so I won't be there, but I encourage anyone who lives in the Boston area to think about attending. If you do, you'll see hundreds of the fastest runners in all of the Northeast compete for a spot at the NCAA Championship race (held in Indiana this year).

One last piece of my life that I'd like to share with you guys is about a new program at St. Mike's called Fix It With Five. This is a student-led initiative that will take $5 of each student's activity fee, pool the money together and donate the total sum (roughly $10,000!) to an organization in our community. The goal of this program is to bring about systemic change by getting to the root of a problem rather than by simply providing temporary relief. I've been really busy with this new program because I was chosen to be on the committee (made up of 8 students, 2 staff members, and 1 faculty member) that writes the grant application and reviews the entries. Our committee has been meeting every week this semester and we have written a mission statement, designed a grant application, developed a website, and educated the student body on our program. If you're interested in Fix It With Five and want to learn more, check out our website (which is still in the process of being edited) at!

I hope you enjoyed this update from campus, and check back next week for a fun and exciting post from Christine! If you have any questions or comments about anything I talked about, don't hesitate to email me at

Sarah :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Octoberfest of Chocolate

Hi all!

No, you didn't read that title wrong. This past Friday I went on a class field trip to the Eurochocolate festival in Perugia, Italy. It's been held since 1993 and draws nearly one million Italians and tourists alike every year. It's a 9 day event and many well known chocolate brands (Perugina, owned by Nestle, Lindt, Caffarel, just to name a few) are represented with booths, free samples, and products to buy. For 5 euro, visitors get a chococard, which gets you free samples of chocolate and oher products from specific vendors (I got chocolate vitamins and a hammer made of chocolate, for example). And of course travelers are welcome to buy their own treats as well. I came home with a chunk of crispy chocolate and a chocolate covered apple, and also enjoyed chocolate cake and a chocolate dipped banana while at the festival (who needs lunch).

The festival also had some fun activities at the Milka and Chiobar tents, among others. We raced each other in potato sacks and had "pancake" flipping contests for free chocolate and fun hats. At Chiobar, an Italian hot chocolate brand, we even filmed for a fun add campaign/commercial where we got to dance and sing and wear funny costumes. By the way, like many many manyyyy things here, hot chocolate is a bit different. I've been describing it as more like hot chocolate pudding. It's thick and should be eaten with a spoon because it's better that way. I'm not complaining, by any means, because it's delicious, it's just different.

By the end of the day our little bellies were so full of chocolate that it was time to go home. Since then it's been a pretty chill weekend. We're looking into the details of our fall break trip (It's 5 days away!!!!) and simultaneously studying for midterms. Meanwhile, the temperature has started to warm back up (it was freezing here last week) and the entire weekend has been absolutely gorgeous. We're hoping it stays this way for this week because Florence, as a city, doesn't turn it's heat on until November 1st. It's one way they conserve energy, in addition to having some showers on a "push button" system so water doesn't constantly run (like when you're soaping up your hair) or having "off" buttons on toilet flushes, or options for a little flush when you need it. These things were weird at first, but now we're used to them and I'm starting to think they're a good idea.

In other news my training's been going pretty much as planned. Every so often I feel sick and don't run, or it's raining and I don't run so I don't get sick, but other than that I still run 4 days a week, following my normal training plan. I've gotten up to 16 miles already. I have only 4 or 5 weeks left until the marathon, which I can't believe, but that's exciting because my family is coming to visit me then too. My cousin is actually coming to visit tomorrow and I'm SO EXCITED! My time here is already half over, which is crazy and shocking. I'm not sure where all the time went but I know I'm loving it, and learning so much! (even though nobody thinks you learn anything while abroad).

So I'm not sure if I'll be able to update again before I leave for my adventures in Ireland, Spain, and France, but I hope I am. I've got an idea planned to keep everyone company while I'm gone too, so hopefully that works out. Remember, you can always check up on me on facebook (I'll have limited access to internet while traveling) and as always, check out my albums there too. I'll leave you with some pictures from Eurochocolate and talk to you soon!

Buona Notte,

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pics and Vids

Photos and video from Venice and Verona. Enjoy! Next up: Eurochocolate Festival!

as always, for more photos check my facebook albums

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Venice and Verona

Ciao ciao!

Once again I'm a little behind on how often I'd like to be posting, but I'll chock it up to next week's impending midterms and move on. Meanwhile, what have I been up to, you ask?

Last weekend we took another API sponsered weekend trip to Venice and Verona. It was a long, dark, dreary ride to Verona and, of course, as soon as we arrived in the city the rain started to pour. Cinque Terre all over again, but at least we didn't have to sit outside on a boat for extended periods of time. We took a 2 hour walking tour of the city, obviously making time to visit Juliet's balcony, from Romeo and Juliet, my FAVORITE work of Shakespeare (I know, how cliche). Fun Fact: Shakespeare never actually visited Italy in his life, though so many of his plays are set there. After that we stopped for a tasty lunch and moved on from the city to a wine tasting nearby.

The villa we went to for the wine tasting was huge, and super old. It had 4 giant fireplaces that progressed from an evil monster to a good beast (a unicorn, apparently). According to our tour guide, the point of visiting the villa was to go through the process of "cleansing" yourself from sins and being reborn again. The backyard had a dark cave that was supposed to symbolize hell, with little caves inside (7, for the 7 deadly sins). After spending time in the "hell" cave, we moved on through the progression of the 4 fireplaces, like a typical visitor would, then finished in the villa's own personal church. In addition to the tour we had a real, professional wine tasting where they taught us exactly what to do and why we did it that way. I hate to say I wasn't really crazy about any of the wines, but it was still a great experience.

After a night in the hotel (complete with delicious dinner and breakfast) we set out the next morning for Venice. We arrived in Venice by boat, because that's the only way to get there from the mainland. The ride was gorgeous and the city was absolutely astonishing. It's like nothing else in the world and it's definitely my favorite place we've been so far. We got a tour of "the real Venice" by a guide who took us through all the backstreets, and then we were left away from where we started to fend for ourselves for 5 hours of free time. I LOVED having this much time to wander and get lost (this is the only real way to discover venice). We grabbed lunch and shopped around/explored for the rest of the day. I got some awesome glass treats (what Venice is known for) and we met up with API to return home later that night.

Since then it's been pretty much all work and no play (though I did a good job working on the bus so this week is much lighter than last). As is said before, midterms are coming up, so we're preparing for these and finalizing our itinerary for fall break (Ireland, Spain, and France, in case you forgot!) The weather has finally cooled down (some people are even saying it's too cold) but I'm loving it. I miss fall at SMC and the colors and such, so it's nice to have that start happening here. The leaves in the parks I run through are even changing colors and falling!

As for now, I'm feeling a little under the weather and am going to get back in bed for a bit. Check back soon for photos and video from this weekend (are people liking how i separate them from the posts to save space or no?) Talk to you soon!


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

some more photos and video

Hello all,

Here are some videos and a photo stream from my most recent adventures in Bologna and Chianti country. Remember you can see all of my photos an facebook too (each trip has it's own album). I'm super busy with work this week (5 more days of classes until midterms!) but I'll try to get back with an update ASAP. Until then, enjoy!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

vinegar, vinyards, and 499 steps

Ciao tutti!

I apologize that it's been a whole week since my past update. The "study" part of study abroad has picked up quite a bit and I've been swamped in work (this is probably going to continue for the next two weeks until midterms). But here we are, full swing in October, and despite my alarming workload I'm obviously still having some great adventures.

Yesterday, Saturday, we spent the day with API in Bologna. We left in the morning on the bus and first took a tour of the city. We saw churches and old buildings, as well as the 2 leaning towers Bologna has. Our tour guide bragged a few times about how Bologna has 2 leaning towers and Pisa only has one, even though Pisa's is more well know. I, however, didn't really think it was good advertisement to brag about twice the amount of architectural failure, but who am I to judge. Regardless, after the tour we stopped for lunch, obviously a traditional pasta with bolognese sauce. It was delicious AND inexpensive, so that was a win-win.

After eating (and in hindsight maybe this wasn't great planning) we headed back to the two towers and climbed to the VERY TOP of the higher one. We climbed and climbed and thought we'd never make it up, but we did and the view from the top was breathtaking. On the way down we decided to count the steps (Liz fell at step 26) and we counted 499 all the way to the bottom. Our first thoughts? Why not 500, honestly? Our second thoughts: that's fewer steps than the Duomo, AWESOME!

After exploring a little more, stopping in at a children's bookstore and buying The Little Prince in Italian, il Piccolo Principe (literally the best day of my life) we returned to the group and headed off to our next adventure: A Balsamic Vinegar tour and tasting. What we learned was that most of the cheaper Balsamic Vinegars that we buy in the store, here and in the US, are produced in large scale factories where the process involves fermentation and results in vinegar being able to eat after just one day. However, the family owned places, like where we went, involves at least 7 to 12 years of prep before the vinegar can be consumed. It's done the real, old fashioned way that it's been done for centuries before. We got the process explained to us and a tour of the house where they make it, as well as to look at all the barrels of vinegar. Then, of course, we got to taste. We tasted 7, 17, 25, 30, and 50 year old balsamic! And let me say, each one was more delicious than the one before. We even saw barrels full of 100 year old balsamic. It was crazy. Aftef tasting just the vinegar we were given a full spread of foods to taste with it, as well as desserts made with the homemade jam the family had. It was a delicious day and I made it out with some balsamic for myself too.

Saturday was a long day but we didn't let that keep us down today. We woke up early and set off on our horseback riding adventure in the Chianti Countryside. I know, no big deal. First we met our horses and got comfortable riding them, then we took them out for a 2 hour ride through vineyards and olive groves. Everything was so beautiful, especially since the leaves are finally starting to turn here. After riding, we got to feed the horses and play with them (it was so nice to play with animals, I miss my dog). We then headed off to a restaurant on a lake where we ate at least 3 courses of food and of course some delicious wine (in fact, everything I've described so far was accompanied by's great to get to try so many kinds!) And if that wine wasn't enough, we got to go to a nearby vineyard for a huge wine tasting! We tried 5 whites, 3 dessert wines, and at least 10 reds before I left with 3 different delicious types to bring home and share with my family.

Upon getting dropped off back in Florence, our guide (the nicest and most helpful guy on earth) apologized for having such a large group today and us having to wait around a while between activities (we hadn't minded at all). He offered to take us back to the farm tomorrow so we can run with the horses and stuff (no fancy lunches this time, of course) for free! So we're going back tomorrow. My life is crazy amazing.

Anyway I'm still pretty swamped with work and should really get back to it before bed. Hope you enjoyed this week's account of my life here in Firenze. Check back soon for pictures and video!

Buona Notte,

Sunday, September 27, 2009

some bonding time with florence

Buona sera tutti!

After a conversation with Liz tonight about how we need to continue to spend time with Florence and not just in it, I felt compelled to share my weekend of half-Italian and half-American glory.

The adventures actually start on Wednesday when the program paid for us to go to a Fiorentina soccer game! We were so so soooo excited to get to go, even though we don't know anything about the soccer team at all. It was a lot of fun and we won! Here's a few pictures (you know you love the jerseys we bought)

The fun continued on Friday when we got up and walked over to the Pitti Palace to check out some of the museums inside. We looked at the costume museum and the silver museum, but no pictures because they weren't allowed. Let me just say that the palace is enormous and I can't believe any one family could live there. We'll most definitely be going back.

Also on Friday we decided it was about time to give in to our cravings for American food. We had recently heard talk of an American diner (being from NJ I was skeptical but excited nonetheless) and hunted it down for dinner. It was a delicious change from pasta and chicken. I had a huge chocolate shake, clearly made with gelatto, and a bacon cheeseburger and fries. I know it seems like a sin but I enjoyed every second of our meal.

Saturday we got up early and decided to take a stab at the train station, making our way without trouble to Viareggio where the beach is. We spent a short time at the beach (we didn't really account for travel time in our and returned home to Florence feeling relaxed but tired. We came home early because we wanted to go to mass in English inside the Duomo. It was really cool to get to go inside and so nice to finally get to mass (and we got ourselves on the email list for the youth group so that' awesome). I must say, though, the mass was a bit scary. The homily was super serious and there was a little notation in our readers that said only those without "grave sin" were permitted to recieve Eucharist. We went up, hoping for the best haha. We spent Saturday night hanging out and went out to a local bar for some good times and great tunes (aka the "Friends" theme song).

This morning we woke up and walked in the Corre la Vita, basically the equivalent of Relay for Life back in the states. There were a ton of people and we didn't really know what was going on, but we walked a 10k, passing some of the major tourist spots on the way and actually getting to walk through the gorgeous Boboli Gardens at Pitti Palace. We felt really great after we finished the walk, especially since our donations went to a great cause. After delicious sandwiches at our favorite sandwich shop, we headed back to our respective apartments for a nap. Earlier tonight Liz and I ventured back out to one of the Irish bars in the city to watch the Yankees/Red Sox game. Long story short we only got to see a few innings before the game was turned off to be replaced by soccer (typical) and the Eagles game (ew, why?) but we still had a good time and met some nice people.

This ends my play by play of my weekend. Sorry it's a bit dry and uncolorful, but I figured I'd continue to update everyone on my life over here in Italy. This is going to be a pretty busy week for me in the classwork department, but I'll try to remember anything interesting that happens and report back. I'm also working on an article to send home to the Defender/Echo that's a comparison of Italian and American men. It's interesting, to say the least, but moving along slowly. As soon as I finish, however, I'll get it up here. So that's all for now.

Buona Notte!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

photos, videos, and fun, oh my!

Hey all.

I'm not sure about the fun, but after a long day of uploading pictures and video, I've got some more treats from last week/weekend's adventures to share. Hope you enjoy. Check back soon!


Monday, September 21, 2009

Nextech, Pisa, and the Cinque Terre

Hello all,
I'm back from my weekend adventures and had an absolutely amazing time. Before I start on that, though, let's backtrack to last Thursday and the Nextech Electronic Music Festival.

None of us were sure what to expect on Thursday as we rode the bus to the Nextech venue, which looked to be an old train station turned large, empty, space. We knew Electronic music was somewhat similar to techno so, being from New Jersey, I had a minor idea of what was in store. However, we were not prepared for the strange lights, interestingly clad djs and participants, and trippy modern art that accompanied the festival. Regardless, it was a good time and an interesting cultural experience. We took artsy pics amidst the modern art, met one of the weird DJs, and did a lot of funky dancing in a huge room with blasting Electronica. It was strange and new for us, but I'm definitely glad we went.

After that, Friday was spent relaxing and resting, aside from the 13 mile run I had to do for my marathon training. It felt great though and I'm proud to say it's 1/2 the distance of the actual marathon. I feel really good about training for it and on a similar note, I joined an AMAZING gym today. I figured since my SMC teammates started training today, I should start getting back to the pool and weight room. After a little trouble with the transit system, Liz and I found the gym and went inside. We got a tour from Lorenzo, a young guy who spoke decent English and was very helpful. I decided to join even though it is a bit pricey, because it's all inclusive: pool, weight room, cardio equiptment, classes, and DAY SPA (aka massage, mani/pedi, etc). So I'd say that was a success.

But backtracking from today and moving forward from Nextech, we come across my phenomenal weekend in Pisa and the Cinque Terre. We boarded busses Saturday morning and made the 1 1/2 hour trip up to Pisa. Once there we were given a tour of the small, walled city (there's not too too much to see, but of course the Leaning Tower, Cathedral, and Baptistry) and had a delicious lunch at a local place. After that it was back on the bus as we headed for the beach. The weather was supposed to be miserable all weekend, but Saturday we got lucky and it was warm and sunny. We pulled up to the beach area, changed in a bathroom at a local bar, and made our way to the tiny strip of beach that is free to hang out on (most areas are owned by businesses and charge for chairs). It didn't matter that the area was small though, because we spent the entire time in the water. It was so warm and nice and the Alps were just chillin in the background, no big deal. GORGEOUS.

Sunday we got on the bus and began our excursion in the Cinque Terre. Our first stop wasn't actually part of the 5 lands, but a por city right before them on the coast. We spent a little over an hour there, sampled some amazing pesto, saw a church, a castle, AND the grotto/cave where Lord Byron gained inspiration for some of his works. Again, no big deal. We then proceeded on a very wet (it was raining) boat tour of the rest of Cinque Terre, stopping in one of the towns for a delicious warm lunch of bruchetta pizza and the area's famous pesto. After that we hopped on a train to another of the towns and walked on the Lover's Lane to the final town (number 5) before hopping a train back to where we started. Lover's Lane is a trail connecting towns 4 and 5 of the Cinque Terre, and it's covered in graffiti and writing of people's love for each other, in addition to lots of locks, like on the Ponte Vecchio. The idea is to write the name of your lover and you on the lock, then lock it to something (fence, bridge, etc), and throw the key into the ocean (or Arno River, in the case of the Ponte Vecchio). That was a beautiful walk along the cliffs overlooking the sea too. I then promptly passed out on the bus home and arrived to a rainy Florence around 7 on Sunday.

All in all, however, it was a great weekend. We're so lucky to be able to have the opportunity to travel Italy with the program and have so much included (like the 5 course dinner we had on Saturday night with salad, soup, pasta, chicken, potatos, spinach, and dessert). We're also lucky for all the cultural experiences like Nextech that we're offered in Florence. The next one is coming up on Wednesday, a Fiorentina soccer game! I'm so so sooo excited about that. So stay tuned for updates about that trip but also for pictures and video from this weekend (they'll have their own post to save space and because they're not full updated yet)..


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Classes, if you can call them that

Hello everyone,

Before I start my discussion of my classes for this semester here in Florence, I'd like to report that today, whilst returning to my apartment, I passed two women is Sodexho uniforms! They're here too. It was a funny little encounter and it made me smile and think of SMC.

Anyway, the real reason I'm here is to give a brief overview of the fun classes I'm taking here in Florence at the Scuola Lorenzo de'Medici. I came over to Europe with 4 classes in my schedule and ended up adding another because I felt worthless hahaha. I now have 15 credits and feel much better about completing my credit requirement with ease.

Every student at LDM is required to take a class in Italian language, regardless of skill level. I'm taking Italian 202, which is the equivalent to 4th semester at SMC. That's super cool/nice since I've only taken 2 semesters before this and was able to skip ahead. In fact, we're still covering things I've already learned, so props to the SMC Italian department and Marisa for being a stellar professor. The only downside to this class is I have it Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (the only days I have class, hard life) at 8 AM! It's really tough to get up by Thursday morning, but I'm sure I'll get used to it. Maybe.

On Tuesdays after Italian I have Foundation Oil Painting. For 5 hours. I was really surprised about how long all the classes are here (3 of mine are 2 1/2 hours long). Anyway, we do get a half hour in the middle for lunch, during which I'm making it a habit of going to a specific sandwich place for the most delicious sandwiches around. Anyway, the class is really relaxing and nice and fun. I actually just came from working in open studio and finished my first painting! I'm sure it's not very good but it is an intro class. It's all shades of green and I feel like I'm green all over, including my clothes which I obviously can't keep clean.

Wednesday afternoons I have Food and Culture in contemporary Italy. THIS IS THE BEST CLASS EVER. For the next few weeks we're learning about regional foods in specific areas of Italy and tasting them. Yesterday I had 8 different cheeses (one was aged 5 years and was amazing), 3 different meats, 2 types of wine, 2 types of bread, and a risotto we made ourselves. We're going to be cooking at least 2 new dishes every week and eating them with wine for a delicious free lunch. There's also some sweet trips for this class that I know you'll here all about.

After that class I have Sociology and History of the Italian Mafia which is so interesting! There's a lot of information about the mafia I've learned already that I had no idea about. I know it'll be a busy course with lots of reading but it definitely promises to keep my interest and give me some insight into a cool part of Italian culture.

And finally, the class I added when I got here: Psychology of Crime. It's a pretty straightforward psych class, like we have at SMC. Lecture, notes, discussion, research paper, presentation. The subject matter is interesting, provides a nice comparison with the mafia class, is something I've never learned before, AND the class counts towards my major so that's a major plus.

And that's it for classes and such fun things as academics. Tonight we're going to the Nextech Electronic Music Festival, which promises to be a fun and interesting evening out. I'll let you know how it goes. If you don't here from me for a few days, it's because we're also spending the weekend in Pisa and the Cinque Terre, one of the most beautiful parts of Italy. Don't worry, pictures and video of both events are sure to follow!


Sunday, September 13, 2009

I'm not technologically savvy

Buona sera tutti!

I'm sorry for bombarding you all with these videos and pictures as once, but I figured out how to post my videos AND how to post photo slideshows too. So enjoy these and look for more to come!