Monday, February 28, 2011 as the Romans do and go to Venice for Carnevale!


CARNEVALE!!! Our day trip to Venice was way too short. Luckily the city is tiny and so we probably saw everything throughout the course of the day, but I really wish we could have enjoyed the festivities more.

As soon as we arrived in Venice we all bought our masks. Everyone's looked so pretty!

(Blair, Melissa, and Me)

Except for Ben's...which actually was really creepy and scary but that's what he was going for. Boys are weird. Dom's mask was pretty cool though...

...however he found it hard to drink/eat while wearing it.

After our purchases we got onto the boat to take us somewhere near Piazza San Marco where the main events were going on throughout the day. We all were starving so we stopped off and picked up lunch as soon as we got off the boat. We were with a group of about ten people so ordering lunch took forever. It was getting really difficult to walk around with that many people, so Blair, Dom and I decided to just head out and venture on our own. We walked down side streets and took pictures of the canals. It was a lot less crowded once we were off the main road so that was a lot nicer. Everything about Venice is so charming! The gondolas are so romantic, the windows and balconies are so pretty, and there were lights and decorations all throughout the city for the festival.

After walking a little bit we decided it was time to buy some bottles of wine and start celebrating. Wine in Italy is so cheap and delicious it amazes me. After buying our wine we headed straight for San Marco Square to meet up with Blair's roommate Diane. Once we got there, the square was packed and tons of people were in costume. My favorite was this most adorable little Italian boy ever wearing an alligator costume. He saw me looking at him and had the cutest shy little smile every time he looked at me. I saw his mom give him a big bag of confetti to throw on the crowd. So I smile at the boy, and told him to throw a bunch at Dom while he was sitting down next to me. Dom's back was facing the boy so he had no idea what was coming. The little boy looked at me, looked at Dom, looked at his confetti, looked back at me and smiled, and then threw a huge handful of confetti right above Dom! It was the cutest thing ever. The little boy thought it was so funny and all of my friends and I laughed and clapped and even Dom really enjoyed it. I hope one day my kid is as cute as that little Italian boy.

The rest of the night we went into some shops, drank more wine, stayed in Piazza San Marco and listened to music and celebrated with the rest of the crowd. It was a really fun day trip, but hopefully I can get the chance to go back to Venice and spend more than 7 hours there!

...admire what the Romans did.

Last Wednesday I got lunch with Killian, one of my friends from Gonzaga, who is also studying abroad in Rome. We went to a sandwich place and I ordered my panino thinking that I was getting salami and mozzarella on it. Yeah...ended up getting salmon. I don't really eat salmon...especially when it's barely cooked. It was pretty terrible. So luckily Killian was nice enough to give me a bunch of his salami so I could make my own sandwich. Note to self: make sure to translate the menu correctly before ordering.

After lunch we headed to the Pantheon. I hadn't been inside yet so I figured this was a must see for the day. Also, it's one of Killian's favorite places in Rome. The Pantheon on the outside looks really old and worn and almost out of place. Inside it is amazing. The paintings around the inside are still so full of color. The ceiling is famous of course for it's unique oculus. This opening in the ceiling is the only other source of light in the building besides the entrance door.

After spending some time admiring the Pantheon, I told Killian that I had not been inside any churches in Rome yet (except for in the Vatican). So he took to me to a few that he really liked. One in particular was the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He was the founder of the Jesuit order, so naturally, Gonzaga High School has a close tie to him. (Hold Child does as well because Ignatius was Cornelia Connelly's spiritual mentor.) Inside this church there was also a chapel dedicated to St. Gonzaga, who Gonzaga College High School is named after. It was a really pretty church and it was even nicer having Killian there to teach me everything he learned about the building from one of his on-site classes. I felt like I had my own little personal tour guide for the afternoon. He even had to point out that one of the domes on the ceiling wasn't a real done. It was only a painting of what the dome would've been if they had ever been able to finish it. However, it tricked me and it looks just like a real dome, especially in person.

We visited a few more churches and walked around for a while. Of course, what is a trip around Rome without gelato? So we stopped at this place this is famous in Rome for it's gelato. It was really packed. You go inside and pay 5 euro for three huge scoops of ice cream. I got banana, crema, and tiramisù flavors. Of course Killian knew some more interesting facts, and so I learned that day that you can tell a good gelato place based on the color and flavor of their banana gelato. it's no wonder this place is famous because the banana flavor was by far my favorite of the three and it was so delicious. Also, finally, I got to teach Killian something I had learned in Italian class that morning! The dessert name tiramisù can be split up into tira-mi-su which literally translates into "lift me up" kind of like "pick me up." Tiramisù contains espresso in it so it quite literally is supposed to be a sweet dessert with a kick of caffeine to give you a little "pick me up!" I thought that was a cute little trivia fact.

Walking around Rome on a beautiful sunny day is such a wonderful past time. Even after being here for over a month I find it hard to believe that I'm actually here. This semester is already going by so quickly and I know that I'm going to have a really hard time leaving. I still get chills walking past the Colosseum. I still can't get over how amazing food is here sometimes. I still say "wow that is really good" after every time I try a different wine. I still can't believe that I'm living in Rome.

After our nice little trip through part of the city, we walked back towards Trastevere, crossing over the Tiber River. When the sky is clear and the sun is shining, the Tiber River is a beautiful site. In this picture we are standing next to the bridge over to the Tiber and in the back, behind the tree, you should be able to see the Vatican (vaguely).

Wednesday afternoon was very "charming" as Killian would say. I swear it has to be his favorite word. He says it about everything in Rome, it's kind of funny.

On Friday Melissa and I decided to go exploring! We wanted to go see the Mouth of Truth and also find this door where you can look through the keyhole and see a row of hedges that open up and outline a perfect view of the Vatican. So we hopped on a bus from school and headed toward La Bocca della Verità. We got there and at first didn't even realize that the bus had dropped us off literally right in front of the thing. We looked at a map for a little while and then finally realized that this whole tour group was waiting to go into this basilica where the Mouth of Truth is. Such Americans...

Legend has it that if you stick your hand inside the Mouth, and some one asks you a question, you have to answer honestly or else your hand will be eaten. This mouth is a famous scene from Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. If you're interested in seeing the clip from movie, try YouTube-ing it. It's a really cute scene. And speaking of cute... is me!

Afterward we went to find the keyhole. This took quite a while because we had no idea where we were going and did not really know what we were exactly looking for. So after asking a few people where Aventine Hill was, which is where the door is supposed to be, we headed in the right general direction. We made it to Aventine Hill and the view of the city from there is gorgeous.

After a good amount of time searching for the door, we finally found the keyhole! Here is the keyhole...

And here is what you can see inside of it...

Pretty cool, no?

That week was a pretty successful adventure week! I'm having a wonderful time admiring what the Romans created.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

...don't forget about España!

Guell Park. Mark, Colleen, Me, Elizabeth, and Dom

Barcelona was AMAZING! I had a wonderful time in Spain. We (Me, Blair, and Dom) left on a Thursday night and got into Spain a little after 11pm. I was going to be meeting up with my friend Mark from CUA who is studying in Barcelona for the semester and my friend Colleen from Holy Child who is studying in Belfast, Ireland. She was going to be staying with our other friend from Holy Child--Elizabeth. Blair, Dom, Colleen and I were all planning on staying in Spain with different people, but it turned out that all of friends ended up living in the same apartment complex! That was perfect.

So on Thursday night we got to Mark's place by around midnight and Dom and I decided to go out with him for a bit. We met up with some of Mark's friends including our friend Corey who I've known for years. The bar we went to had a huge room with a ton of wooden tables and chairs, and on the back wall there was a huge painting. It was a picture of Barcelona being hit by a tidal wave. In the scene there were dolphins and fish that popped out and so the picture was 3D. It was so cool.

Friday morning we woke up and Me, Dom, and Colleen ended up heading into the city. We started heading towards some buildings that Gaudi had designed. First of all, Gaudi is awesome! His art work is so cool. It's so different, too! We really liked the first few that we saw, so we decided to go to a Gaudi museum called La Pedrera.

This place was awesome! Inside was so cool. We saw this one floor of the apartment building that was so pretty. Please go check out the pictures on my Facebook because I think they're totally worth seeing. We got to up to the very top of the building as well and the view of the city was pretty awesome. The roof was my favorite part because the architecture is just so different! Gaudi's work reminds me of Dr. Suess. He uses the most unique shapes and lots of colors.

Here's a picture on the roof with Dom and Colleen:

After this we met up with one of Mark's friends named Joe and he took us to the beach! We got dinner and sat down in the sand for a couple hours. Afterward we met up with Mark and went to see a fountain light show. Here's me and Mark!

The fountain show was pretty crazy. I put up like 20 pictures of it on Facebook.

So after the show we went out for dinner and got a bunch of tapas! Yumm! Patatas Bravas were my favorite! It was potatoes with this creamy sauce on top that is delicious. I loved all the food we ate in Spain! Everything is fried. It's amazing. After dinner we all went out and had a really fun night. Friday night was my favorite. The club we went to was right on the beach and so much fun! People in Spain are crazy.

Saturday morning we woke up and headed out to Sagrada Familia. It's a really famous church, probably the most popular site visited in Barcelona. It has the craziest architecture. Another Gaudi creation.

The inside was beautiful, too!

I loved the church. We were there for hours and took a tour upstairs also.

Afterwards, we met up with Mark and Elizabeth at Guell Park. Gaudi designed this park for some rich man way back when, but now it's open to the public and has some of the coolest stuff ever. The park is huge and is up on this enormous hill (more like a mountain). The walk up killed my legs, but it was so worth it. The designs, like I said before, are gorgeous. I loved the mosaics and colors and different styles! Here are some pictures to get a good idea. Me and Mark are so cute together :)

The view from the top of the park was awesome. It felt like we were on top of the world.

Gaudi was so cool. Saturday night we went out to dinner again (dinner is never earlier than 10pm in Spain) and had some delicious fried calamari. We met up with one of Mark's Spanish friends. Alejandro was so awesome! He was so nice and a lot of fun. Afterward, Dom, Mark, and I headed to the beach and hung out by the sea. We said goodbye to the waves at around 4am and headed back to the hotel so that we could get to the airport by around 5am. We didn't go to bed Saturday night. It was absurd. We had so much fun in Barcelona!

Thank you Mark for the wonderful hospitality! See you in Rome in a few weeks!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 take the time to travel! First trip: PRAGUE

Again another very eventful week! I did manage to pull of an A for the presentation so mom and dad, no worries, I am still keeping up with work regardless of what other shenanigans I partake in.

Last Wednesday was my roommate Melissa's 21st birthday. I won't go into much detail about the night, but it was fairly eventful. You will agree once I tell you about how Thursday morning (early afternoon) started off.

So I woke up on Thursday to head to school for this class by noon(it's not really a class but more of a weekly "connecting across cultures" session that all UMD students have to do). I leave my apartment at around 11:40am thinking I'll be okay if I can catch a bus soon. I had all of my stuff with me in a huge lacrosse back pack that I was taking to Prague. I get to the bus stop, wait around for a minute, get on my blackberry to check ATAC mobile (Rome transit system site that tells you when the next bus is coming), and I find out that the buses are not running. Italians decided to go on strike...again. Shocker. The day I REALLY need a bus, there isn't one. So I end up walking the uphill 30min walk to school. Finally, after quiet the work out carrying that huge back pack, I can see the school ahead of me. Almost there! Then I hear someone calling my name. I turn around and see my friend coming up from the school. He was walking fast and kind of in a panic and had a bandage over his head. The last time I had seen him was the night before, but he left the group early so I had no idea where he had gone. He tells me that he somehow cut open his head the night before and when he woke up this morning he had a huge gash in his forehead. When he went to the doctor at school they told him he needed to go to the hospital to go get stitches. So of course I couldn't just let him go to an Italian hospital by himself...

I don't know how many of you think universal health care is a great idea...but Italy is full proof that it is the worst thing ever. At least in their country. (I could only imagine how bad this would be in the US.) Anyway, it weird. We walk into the hospital with our huge bags that we both have, no one stops us, we try asking where to go, they point us in the right direction, and finally after searching for probably 20min, we find the right place we need to go. Using as much body language and signing as possible, we tell them that he needs stitches. They sit us down and we wait for a while. In the hospital there are sick people all over the place it seems like. There aren't really that many regulators. I had no idea what was going on. But then a nurse came to get us and took my friend into a closed room with more patients and wouldn't let me go with him. He gave me a look like "'s to knowing ya..." and I just kind of looked at him like "I really don't want to let them take you, but I guess I have to, please don't die!"

I waited about 30min. I filed my nails nervously wondering how long it could take to do two stitches like they originally told us. Then the doors open and out he came with a lot more stitches than we expected. And they were pretty bad, too. What was even more weird, or sketchy, was that we didn't pay a dime to the hospital. Craziness...

After going to our 2pm class, we headed to the train station to catch our bus to Prague! Going on the trip was me, Melissa, Blair, and Frankenstein Magee (aka Dom, in case you didn't figure that out earlier on in the story).

It was the LONGEST, most awful, terrible, painful bus ride ever. I was so uncomfortable. We spent 16 hours over night on this darn bus. The sleeping pill did not work. My back and butt were killing me. I thought I was going to die. wasn't THAT bad...the bus was really nice. Couldn't have a nicer bus. But it was still so uncomfortable sitting for that long. But it all ended up being worth it. Prague was amazing.

We arrived on Friday morning at around 9:30am. Our hostel was really nice. They had the most comfortable beds. So much nicer than mine here in Rome. Blair was seriously contemplating stealing one of the feather down comforters and/or pillows. We all took a power nap before our first tour that afternoon. We met up in the downtown area of Prague and started the tour at Old Town Square where the famous astronomical clock is. Here is a picture of part of the square:

And here is the famous clock:

The clock shows three different parts: (copied from wikipedia) the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; "The Walk of the Apostles", a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles and other moving sculptures; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months.

Every hour the clock chimes and it's a big celebration in the street. If you want to see the video of what happens, go to youtube and just type in Prague astronomical clock. It's a really cool little two minute show.

After that we headed throughout the city and saw a lot of cool buildings and headed into the Jewish district which is an area of Prague that used to the only places Jews were allowed to live. This part of the tour was pretty sad because they went over a lot about the holocaust and different events that happened during the war. However, our tour leader was so great and always found a way to turn his stories into positives ones. He was such an actor and did a great job telling us all about different fairy tales and stories about certain buildings. I wish I could remember how all of them went. One was about a church where a thief broke into in the middle of the night. He went through trying to find money and gold to steal, and he saw a beautiful necklace that a statue of the Virgin Mary was wearing. He decided to go and take the necklace. But, just as he was about to take the necklace, the Virgin Mary came to life and grabbed his wrist! The thief was stuck. He could not get his hand free. So the next day the church opened and people saw that the man was stuck being held by the statue. The priest decide that the only way to get the man lose was to cut the hand off. The thief replies, "oh yes, please, just cut her hand off!" And the priest responds, "no! Cut off your hand!" And so the thief's hand was cut of. And to this day, inside the church, hanging from the ceiling is the mummified hand that was cut of. It is kept there to remind people of the story and to not steal from the church.

Our tour guide had a ton of great stories just like that one and he acted each one out and did voices and was so into it; it was so entertaining.

Later that night we went on a pub crawl. It was one of the coolest things ever. The bars there are so different and everything is underground. Everything leads down into separate rooms, and the walls are like stones or brick and everything just seems like it's been there forever. It felt so cool.

On Saturday we got up and did another tour. This time we went straight to the Lennon Wall. Here are a few of pictures of that:

The Lennon Wall was so much fun to take pictures of. We ended at the Charles Bridge:

After that a group of us headed to go on a castle tour! Our tour guide, James, was from Ireland had the best accent ever and led another amazing tour. We saw all of the grounds throughout the castle and went into one of the churches. Most of the buildings now are being used by the government so you can't go inside them, but they were all so pretty. Here is the really big church in the middle of the castle grounds: (sorry it's a little dark)

We learned some really cool stuff, including the fact that Mick Jagger donated all of the lights from his tour to be used at the castle because for the longest time they did not have any to light the castle up at night. He's so awesome. So here is the castle at night:

So pretty! Prague was a fairytale city. :) Saturday night we went out to Lucerna (really popular club there) and it was 80s and 90s night. SO AWESOME! We had a great night.

Hopefully I can go back to Prague in the future. But for now I look forward to head to Barcelona this coming weekend! It'll be so nice to speak Spanish instead of struggling with Italian.

Vamos a España!


Monday, February 7, 2011 not eat lunch at a place that doesn't give you a menu. we have a lot of catching up to do. So for all of those interested, classes have been going well. Teachers seem nice. Classes don't seem too difficult. I'm taking all businesses classes, so that is a lot different than what I'm used to. Today I gave my first presentation and I think I did pretty well. I'm pretty sure it's because of what my teacher said to me. He said "In bocca al lupo!" That's what Italians say to each other to wish one another good luck. You're supposed to respond with "Crepi il lupo!" So I did all of that, and I'm hoping I did pretty well. But all in is school, no one wants to hear about that. If you do, message me on Facebook.

So last week was a big week in Rome! On Friday we all were able to get up early(ish) and head to Vatican City. On the way there, we all got pretty hungry so we decided to stop a cute little restaurant pretty close to the Vatican. The weather was great (about mid 60s) and so we decided to eat outside. We sat down and a very nice Peruvian man (found that out because he had a Spanish accent) came to take our orders. "Vino russo e vino blanco, per favore. oh..e acqua." It's weird having to pay for water when you sit down at a restaurant. It's also a complete rip off. I'm starting to bring a water bottle around with me and just fill it up in any fountain I see. In Rome you can drink water from any of the fountains because it's all purified from the aqueducts that the Romans built way back when. However, wine you have to order. Unfortunately they don't just have wine flowing out of every fountain. If only. So along with the wine we did get food. I ordered the most delicious lasagna! (It's my go to order.)

We were all stuffed, but decided the gelato looked way too good to pass up... so we got that too.

When we were finally finished we asked for the bill (in Spanish, not Italian, which was a nice change). We knew that it was going to be expensive. Somehow we could just sense it. Any one want to take a guess??

Answer: 142€ for four of us.

So...what have we learned?? When in Rome, DO NOT order food from a place that doesn't give you a menu with the prices!! I know...I'm so dumb.

Moving on. We made it to the Vatican with fairly empty pockets. Luckily we got student discounts that made it pretty cheap to get in. However, I totally would've paid full price to see this place. It was beautiful. Completely amazing. So much detail! And history! It's amazing. And it all leads up to the Sistine Chapel. I could have stood in that room for hours. I don't know why but I always thought it would be bigger and be its own building. For those who haven't been yet, it's about the size of any other chapel (which makes sense) but it blows any other chapel out of the water. You stand in the middle of the room and look up and immediately see the famous painting of God creating Adam. Then from there the pictures go on to tell the entire story of the Bible. I wanted to look around more so that I could figure out each story. It was so cool. I'm definitely going back.

On Sunday I had another exciting day. My cousin Heather and her husband, James, came up from Naples to spend the day with me! They also brought me peanut butter! (One thing you can't usually find at the market.) Oh, and they pretty much paid for me all day. They're the best! Shut out to Heather and James!!

When they got there I decided I wanted to put my navigation skills to the test, and so I first took them around Trastevere. It's such a pretty area and I spend a lot of time there, especially when I go out at night. From there we saw the Tiber River and headed towards Piazza Navona. It was another beautiful day so it was perfect to see the three fountains. Then we went to the Pantheon where we stopped at a near by pizzeria to get, the obvious, pizza. We continued on towards the Colosseum.

I'm sure I sound fairly redundant saying everything is so cool, but everything here really is amazing. I've waited years to see the Colosseum, and actually being in it is such an experience. Our tour guide was a funny little man with a thick accent. (I think he was from somewhere in Northern Europe? Not sure.) He made the experience very educational and interesting.

After the Colosseum we headed to the Ancient Roman City. You really were able to put yourself back into what it might have been like in Ancient Rome. There were some amazing views here. Please go to my Facebook to look at the rest of the pictures. They are all amazing.

It was a very busy weekend and it was so awesome to have my cousin come visit me! next weekend I'm heading to Prague, so stay posted to hear all about the Czech Republic!

For now...ciao!