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.