Sunday, June 6, 2010

Volcanic Interruptions

The immortal last, ‘be careful what you wish for’ words echo in my head as I whine, “I don’t want to leave Italy. I’m not ready yet.” Little did I know that I would get my wish. A few hours after what I thought to be my last dinner in Italy with friends Sarah and I checked our flights to be sure that we were leaving. We would not find them on time. They were canceled. A volcano erupted in Iceland blowing plumes of ash into the air grounding more than nineteen countries. I was stuck in Italy for at least another week. Of course this was upsetting news. When you prepare to leave a place and say all of your goodbyes you have made yourself ready to go, ready to change your scenery. Your mind has already started racing with pictures of your tearful airport reunion with your mama at the arrivals gate, what restaurant you want to eat at first, all the fun things you are going to do with your friends, and so on. However when a natural disaster hits and you have to put all of those plans on hold you become somewhat frustrated, agitated, and helpless. Let me tell you Skyping with my parents who haven’t seen you in close to five months and telling them that you will not be coming home for another ten days was not a pleasant task. Your perspective shifts when you have no choice but to stay. In the case of a European volcano you have no control, you are stuck indefinitely. It was too hard to go anywhere in Italy by train because they were all overbooked. Sarah and I had no choice but to stick it out in Crespano, Asolo, and Paderno. Now I know what you’re thinking, “oh poor you, stuck in Italy.” Yes. There are worse things. But unless you have done it, you have no idea how infuriating it was. Towards the end of our stay when it was clear that we had a small window to escape we were elated. I flew out at three am Venice time, twelve hours ahead of America, to Munich. From Munich I had my nine hour flight to Chicago. America bound, Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA blared on my iPod. I was never so happy to be in America. Being back in the land of the free made me realize how true that statement is and how lucky we all are to born and bred Americans. Once through immigration and customs I hopped a train to my terminal. I felt like I was back in Italy, on a train with two Italian men speaking behind me. First thing was first, I needed a Starbucks and I needed it a.s.a.p. I got myself a book, and three magazines. I called my familia to let them know that I was finally in America! It was such an amazing, surreal, and long awaited feeling. While waiting for my next flight to Portland CNN was on the TV at my gate informing me of a new plume from the volcano which undoubtedly grounded more flights. I was beyond grateful to be in America. Four and a half hours later I was in Portland hugging my mom and dad. There is no place like home.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Climb Every Mountain!

On my last Saturday in Paderno del Grappa a group and I decided to climb Mount Grappa. I mean, literally climb a mountain. How we got this idea into our heads is beyond me, but we did. It seemed like a fitting metaphor for my Italian journey to literally climb a mountain. Studying abroad was an adventure just the same as the one I was about to set upon. We headed out at 10 am to conquer the beast. The terrain was rough and rocky. The incline the entire time was straight up. The "trail" was a pathetic excuse for a path. It was narrow and at times you thought one false step could take you over the cliff's edge. The whole time I was looking down at where to put my feet. I couldn't look up, that would have been a treacherous mistake. The weather was perfect, sunny, and hot. We were working up a sweat. It took us about two and a half hours to get to a plateau where we decided that it was time for a lunch break. Talk about a great butt workout. At the top if the mountain there is a restaurant and war memorial. I was looking for these landmarks the whole time. From the plateau we could finally see them. My friends Jason, Sarah, Miranda and I were the only ones out of a group of about twelve that decided to make it all the way to the top. Why in the world would you climb for two and a half hours, putting your body through a burning sensation of agony, only to reach a plateau and not the top? In my mind you wouldn't. I have the kind of personality where once I start something I have to finish it. And finish I would. The four of us continued our journey through much rockier terrain and snow that was up to my knees. It was a trek. The snow soaked my socks and shoes but I made it to the highest point of Mount Grappa. The air was a lot thinner and it was a lot colder than on the hot sun soaked trails we left behind us. We all toured the museum and war memorial at the top. We celebrated with what else? Shots of Grappa. I mean, this is Mount Grappa we're talking about here. It only seemed right. Exhausted and weary we were all in agreement that a taxi ride back down would be the best plan of action. Thankfully we met a very nice American couple who offered us a ride back to the bottom. We got back to campus at around five in the evening. I never pictured myself as someone who could say they climbed a mountain. I also never thought I would reach my elusive dream of living in my family’s homeland of Italy, but both came true. Climbing a mountain became symbolic of the trip that I embarked upon while studying abroad in Italy and consequently traveling the world. When you start climbing and start this momentous trip you do not know what to expect you know there will be times where you’re tired, times when you’re thrilled, times to laugh, times to cry, and times where you won’t believe your eyes. But overall both will be experiences that you could not have prepared for. At the end of my program I was filled with a great sense of pride for what I accomplished, an admiration for the people that I met, and a complete love of travel. Just as at the top of the mountain I could not believe what I had done and the places that my own two legs had taken me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Rome: An Italian and an American Perspective

Beatrice travelled to Rome with her family a few months ago. They drove there from her home of Asolo in the Veneto. I took a night train from Paderno with a group of friends. She went with her brother and parents. It was about a five hour drive. She stayed in a hotel in the city center. My friends and I stayed in a cheap hostel outside the city center. Beatrice stayed for one week. I stayed for a weekend. Beatrice went just for shopping. While I was there the guides focused in on Americans and tried to sell us their tours. It was a different case for Beatrice who did not run into this type of haggling. Also while I was there we took a group tour of the Vatican. She did not, she went into St. Peter's church though which is something that my group and I also did. Her family ran into traffic while they were near the center but it got better the farther they moved away from the center. She mostly took a taxi or walked since she was staying in the center. We had to take a train or call a cab to get to Rome's city center. We both ate out for every meal. She ate at her hotel for breakfast. For lunch she had a panino or salad. We had french toast, hot chocolate, and fruit for our breakfast. For lunch we grabbed a quick sandwhich while we were out wandering Rome. For dinner Beatrice and her family enjoyed long meals together. Where as being Americans we are used to eating quickly and not taking our time. However in Rome we adopted the Italian way and had long dinners. The people in Rome targeted us as toruists. For Beatrice it was quite different. The people were "solari", or lively. They tried to comfort her and were very happy and outgoing. They were funny people. Americans in general want to see the tourist attractions. Her family didn't spend a lot of time in musems, which is also the case for other Italians. People from different countries are more apt to go into museums than native Italians. Beatrice just went to shop for a week. My group and I spent most of our time walking down wrong streets and starring at maps. They were both different trips but we both loved our times in Rome.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sick in Siena

I spent Easter in Siena, Tuscany. It was kind of a bust. The hostel I stayed at, while it was cheap, was twenty minutes outside the city center. It wasn't actually called the YHA Hostel, but instead its real name is the Ostella di Siena. It was clean but that's the best thing I can say about it. Sarah, my friend and travel companion, got in around 8:00 pm and settled by 9:00 pm. We were starved so we settled for a restaurant around our hostel since we the buses weren't running to the city center any longer. I ordered the spaghetti alla carbonara. This I thought would be a safe bet. Never have I been so wrong. Sarah enjoyed her ravioli immensely. We both got chocolate strawberries for dessert. After dinner we were wiped so we headed back to the hostel for some beauty rest. I felt sick to my stomach. That night I didn't get one wink of sleep. I had the chills, sweats, body ache, and massive headache. I got sick in the middle of the night. I got food poisoning in Siena on Easter! Of course, just my luck. The next morning, still not feeling good at all, we headed into town for mass. Just being in Italy for Easter was so amazing. After that we waited in line at the tower, which was supposed to have the best views of Tuscany, for about forty minutes. As soon as we got to the front of the line they told us it was closed. It rained the entire day. We shopped around and saw the Duomo. It was really beautiful. Mass was going on, so we considered ourselves good Catholics for going twice. Sarah and I grabbed lunch to escape from the cold wind and rain and then called it an early day. We both decided that Siena would have been astounding if it had been sunny and warm. The weather just didn't want to cooperate with us. Oh yeah, and the whole food poisoning thing kind of put a damper on the Tuscan experience for me. Still, it was a great memory to be in Siena for Easter.

Do you wanna Pisa me?

On my past weekend excursion I made a quick pit stop in Pisa! My friend Sarah and I stopped there on our way from Cinque Terre to Siena. We hopped off the train and after a short bus ride we were looking at the leaning tower of Pisa. It was nuts. It really leans. I mean, obviously, but you hear it's the leaning tower and then you see it and think, "Wow, it really is leaning". I don't know how much there is to do in Pisa besides see the Leaning Tower and the other sites in that same Piazza. There was a street fair going on while we were there so we took the opportunity to grab a couple great post cards, always the cheapest gift or treasure. After taking a dozen or so amazing pictures posing next to the tower, one holding it up, one kissing, one biting, one hugging, and of course one leaning on it, we walked around enjoying the good weather. Sarah and I got a gelato at a famed gelateria and ate it on the lawn in front of the tower. After a few more minutes of wandering and taking in the sites we hopped on the bus to the train station and were off to Siena. 
Train ticket to Pisa: 5,90 
Gelato: 1,70
Postcard: 0,50 
Pictures holding up the tower: Free
2 hour trip to Pisa: Priceless.
Altogether we spent about 10,00 euro on a trip to Pisa. It was well worth it my friends, well worth it.

The Cinque Terre

I just returned from my Easter holiday. It was an experience. I started off my extended weekend in Cinque Terre. It is a set of five mini-island cities that are connected through different trails. You can hike to each. It blew my mind. The day that my friend Sarah and I arrived was gorgeous. We lucked out with great weather. We hiked through the first four islands, because of time we couldn't make the last one. It was about sixty-five degrees and sunny for our hike. The first trail was easy. It was the Via Dell Amore, or trail of love. People leave locks on the trail as a sign of good luck in love. The Cinque Terre cities look like they are carved into the hillside and splashed with different colored paint cans. The contrast of colors from the buildings, water, cliffs, and sky make for astonishing views. I suggest while hiking to take a ten minute break and just sit on a rock overlooking the cliffs and take in the moment. It is seriously something to behold. Sarah and I weren't sure what to expect upon arriving but were taken aback as soon as we stepped off the train from La Spezia, the main train station. The hike to four of the towns took us about four hours. The last hike was brutal but worth every burning step. I loved Cinque Terre and would go back in an instant.

I left my heart in Cagliari

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy was the most breathtaking place I have been in my life, yet. There really isn't more to say other than it is absolutely stunning. I went during the off season and stayed in an apartment. The people of Southern Italy are very different than the ones that I have encountered in Northern Italy. They have a much more laid back attitude. For someone coming from the West coast it hit me as a beach mentality. The landlord at the apartment complex was Angela, or Mama Angela as the group of girls I went with and I came to refer to her as. Her husband Umberto was a cop and kept a fatherly watchful eye on us the entire trip. Unfortunately neither of them spoke any English and our Italian isn't exactly passable for fluent. We had a mediator, Giaccomo or Jack-Uncle Jack, who was out of town in Rome. The three of these people went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable, safe, and having a great time. They were the most accommodating people I have ever encountered in my life. They treated us like family. While in Cagliari we ate picnics on the white sand beaches, dipped our toes in the turquoise water and tried to absorb every ounce of sun our pale white skin could. We visited the castle there. It had the best views in town. You could see all the colorful buildings and villas and the beach. It was amazing. I left my heart in Cagliari. It was the first place I was truly sad to leave.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Our run in with the Polizia

On my last travel week I was afforded the chance to go to so many amazing places! I started off the week with a three day stay in Cagliari. It is in Sardinia which is an Italian island. From the moment our plane hit the ground it was nothing short of an adventure. Once we got off the plane and got our luggage we tried to grab a taxi to take us to our "hotel” that ended up being an apartment in a gated complex. Our taxi driver didn't speak a word of English, was about seventy-five-years-old, and could quite possibly have been intoxicated. He didn't exactly know where we were going even though we gave him directions. Steph H, Steph F, Hannah and I all cautiously piled into his car and away we went. He started out driving as any Italian does: crazy and fast. While he was driving he was also reading the directions and trying to answer his walkie-talkie. About ten minutes into the drive it was obvious he had no clue where he was going. We took the liberty to call Angela who we would find out was our landlord, who also didn't speak very much English. We decided that it would be in our best interest to put Angela and our driver on the phone together so that she could give him directions. While he was on the phone with her he crawled to about five miles per hour. I'm not sure what that would be in the metric system. And then it happened. We saw red lights flashing behind us and knew we were getting pulled over. It was our first run in with the Italian Polizia. He got out of the car and handed them a variety of papers. We're still not sure if he was driving legally or not. Twenty minutes later he came back and the police pulled away, keep in mind the meter is still running, and he grumbled something about not being able to talk on the telephone while driving. Mama Mia! It was a catastrophe to say the least. We finally made it to our apartment and the adventure in Cagliari continued.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Italian Mass

This past Sunday I got to go to a real Catholic Italian mass. It was such an amazing experience. I feel a bit guilty since I have been living in Italy for the past couple months and have only gone to mass, oh, a few times. Plus it's Lent so that means double the guilt. Steph Hornsby and I went to the market Sunday morning in Crespano del Grappa. It is just a short twenty-minute walk. We attended mass at 11:30. The church doesn't look like much on the outside but on the inside it is more beautiful than any church I have been in at home. The mass seemed pretty much the same as one at home except for that it was entirely in Italian, obviously, and the way they received the Eucharist was very strange. Usually when it's time to take the Eucharist you form two straight lines and everyone takes it. This was a bit different. Italians don't exactly know what a straight line is. Everywhere you go they form blobs. It's a trademark really. Church is no different. They formed a "blob" with no order to receive the host. The weirdest part for me was that not everyone took it. In fact, most people didn't. So much so that Steph and I felt a tad confused on whether it was appropriate for us to go up. In the end we joined the Italian line. After mass was ended we both looked at each other in amazement really. It was an experience I will never forget and am so blessed to be afforded the opportunity to do. Can't wait for Palm Sunday.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Roman Holiday

Roma! I spent the past three days in Rome. It was an absolute blast. I had so much fun. While I was there I saw so many amazing monuments and ruins. I walked through the Palatine Hill, sauntered through the Roman Forum, fought my way in the Colosseum, took a tour through Vatican City, pushed my way through a political rally to get to the Pantheon, stumbled upon the Spanish Steps, and swam through a sea of rain and wrong turns to get to the Trevi Fountain. Rome got dubbed the city with the best views. They were truly amazing. Our last night there a group of us decided to splurge on a nicer dinner at a restaurant called "Bebbos". We were really getting into the whole essence of Italian eating because each night we didn't start dinner until nine and took our sweet time, finishing around ten thirty or eleven. At Bebbos a few of us started with the bruschetta. I got the eggplant bruschetta. We were trying to mind our manners and eat politely so we used a fork and knife to cut them into dainty bites. Our hostess, a rather brass woman, came over and scolded us for our etiquette. She told us that we didn't have to use forks and knives, "Italians use their hands to eat bruschetta!" We figured...when in Roma. We lost the utensils and did it caveman style. On our walk back to the hostel we met three Italian soldiers who were guarding the German Embassy. We asked for a picture with them but since Luigi was on duty and holding a gun he declined a photo. But Guseppe and Vincez were more than willing to oblige. They were hilarious. Vincez was in love with Sarah. He gave her his Italy patch and made her wear his hat. Then we told them that we would "tag" them in the picture on Facebook, and boy did they have a problem with that. Immediately they made an x with their arms and said "No Facebook!" I guess they would get in trouble if this was found by their superiors. By the end of our conversation they invited us dancing and said they would pick us up in Giuseppe’s car at the nearest metro. They tried to lour us there with the promise of patches for all. Their trickery was wasted upon us. We never did make it to that metro at 2 am.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Tourist that got Taken

I don't know if you are aware of the stereotypes that follow American tourists but there are a few. One haunts you and trails you like a shadow from place to place. Vendors, restaurants, and shops can see you coming from a mile away and will try and squeeze every euro cent out of you that they can. Americans are apparently known for being na├»ve and easy sells. While I was in Paris with my friends Sarah, Lindsay, and Anna we hadn’t run into this trickery until one dreadful evening. Our last day in Paris we went to the top of the Eifel Tower and had a picturesque French meal across from its baby of landmarks, unfortunately Lindsay’s stomach didn’t appreciate the French onion soup too much because she ended up being too sick to come to our last dinner there later that night. Sarah, Anna, and I headed to Moulin Rouge to check out the legendary strip. We saw what we came to see and got down to the business of eating. We had learned the hard way to, “Eat what you can read”, meaning if you can read the menu than it’s probably overpriced a tad, but OK to eat there. We settled for a cute restaurant directly across from Moulin Rouge. We enjoyed the view over our steak and fries. We were treated to some interesting people watching to say the least. It was time for the check. We got it and were astonished. Our bottled waters were, are you ready for this, seven euro apiece! That’s a total of 21 euro, roughly about $26.00 at home. We got taken. Naturally, we all scoured the menu looking for the small fine print that somewhere gave the price. We never did find it. This was our one lesson to ask if we aren’t sure and never just order on a whim. People will take you for tourists. I’m just glad I skipped dessert.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Running the Italian Country Side

This morning I was supposed to go on a trip with my Italian class to a neighboring "village" called Asolo. The trip got moved and class got canceled. I was up so I decided to use my time wisely and go for a run. It is starting to get nicer here and warm up which is awesome for me because I love to run outside. I get way too bored running on a treadmill. I usually have to switch to three machines because one can't hold my attention span for more than thirty-minutes. Morning runs are part of my routine back at home. It just always starts my day off right. I have been missing them since I have such a crazy schedule here and have 8 am classes everyday. But not today. Today I went for a morning run to Crespano along the Italian countryside. Blue skies were trying to break through the clouds. It was quiet accept for the cars filled with people starting their day. The church tower bells chimed eight times in a melodic, deep ring that I have come to know over the past seven weeks. As I climbed the curve up to Crespano I could see the mountains with white snow covering their peaks. It was pretty amazing running back to school knowing that the Italian mountainside had my back. I closed my eyes and thought of how much I love this land. Taking in a deep breathe I smelled a wood pile burning not far away.  It reminded me of taking camping trips with my whole family in Oregon when I was little. I saw a guy mount his blue tractor which I think he may have either been moving or taking to school because he was carrying a backpack. Along the sidewalk, one of the only ones in Paderno, I encountered friendly older Italians who returned my smile with a "Boungornio!", good day, with a thick accent that made the letters bounce off their tongues. I made it back to school with time to shower and get to class. I felt like I should be heading to work at the University of Oregon Alumni Association since this is what I always did this summer and fall at Oregon. I have seriously missed my morning runs.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tongue Tied

While traveling internationally you come across a plethora of languages. Since leaving the United States I have come across countless languages. Before I came to Italy I took one semester of Italian, not even enough to get by. Since planting my "home base" in Italy I have tried to pick up the Italian language. I am taking an Italian for Traveler's class that is giving me the basics and is helping my speaking and understanding the language quite a bit. I have taken Spanish my whole life and while I am far from fluent I know enough to manage. Italian and Spanish, both being romance languages, are very similar. Going to "bars", cafes, and ordering a hot chocolate or coffee and a pastry and using what I have learned, have helped me to pick up a couple key sayings. Just as I thought I was adjusting to the language barrier I left for my first travel week. Now they say that they speak English in England but it is entirely different English than what we speak in America. Even my Italian taxi driver commented on how, "In America you speak poor English". And here I was thinking my vocabulary was pretty colorful. Landing in London I found myself with a puzzled look on my face and a slew of mumbles in my ears. I had no idea what in the world these people were saying. I knew it was English but it sounded like straight gibberish. I'm sure that what I was saying was confusing to them as well because on more than one occasion I had to repeat what I said and vice versa. As the days went on though, it got much easier to be understood and to understand. I ended up loving their charming English accents. I think it's particularly funny when English people try and say my name, Tina. It comes off as "Tiner". Gets me every time. If I thought London was tough, my head was in a tizzy when we hit Paris. Paris is an international city. With that in mind I was told they would speak plenty of English. This was not the case. Barely anyone in Paris spoke anything but French. Now I had my Italian running through my head, mixed in with American-English, some Spanish, and new French words I was taking in along the way. By the time I got back to the Venice train station at the end of the trip I was so linguistically confused I didn't know where I was. I said "merci", thank you in French, to the teller. Mama mia! Languages are hard to keep straight. It's safe to say by the end of my travels I was severely tongue tied.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Travel Week 1: Paris, Paris, Paris

My time in Paris seems like a daze. By this point in our travels we were worn out. Paris didn't make a great first impression on me. The subway system was more confusing, dirty, and smelly compared to London's. The weather was equally as dreary. For a city with some of the most beautiful attractions in the world it left a lot to be desired. We found our way to Hotel Des Arts Bastille in the Montmartre district of Paris. It was tucked away but super close to the metro which is extremely important for globe trotters such as us. We ate pastries every morning at the same pastry shop on the corner. My favorite was a croissant that looked like a bear claw covered in toasted almonds and filled with an almond chocolate. Sarah, Lindsay, and I saw the Notre Dame first thing. It was absolutely stunning. We stopped at a cafe for lunch and Sarah and Lindsay both thought they ordered salami Panini’s when actually they ordered salmon. Miscommunication? I think so. I got my very first real crepe with bananas and nutella! It was amazing. I loved every bite. We shopped and shopped until we were so worn out we needed a nap to rest up. We decided to go to the Louvre after six because that's when it was free. Now for all of you art connoisseurs out there plug your ears because this may hurt, we went through in a record setting time of thirty minutes. I think we should get a medal or something because we still saw my girl Mona a.k.a the Mona Lisa, Venus, Mary Magdalene, and countless other pieces. After the Louvre we met up with more CIMBA students who were in Paris as well at the Spanish corner for drinks. Sarah and I headed home around 12:30 because the trains stop running at 1 am. We made our first two trains but missed the last one and had to take a taxi the rest of the way. It was a bummer to say the least. The next day we were up early to take a day trip to Versailles. First things first though, the group we were with wanted to go to Starbucks. It was my first Starbucks since leaving America. Ironically this coincided with the first day of Lent. Now, I'm a Catholic and I gave up coffee for Lent so this was God's true test of faith to me. I passed. I ordered a wonderful hot chocolate. But for a coffee addict this was true torture. Versailles may have been the highlight of the trip for me. I am a bit of a history nerd and love period movies-Marie Antoinette-so this was right up my alley. The palace was magnificent. Unfortunately my camera jammed right before we went into Marie's private house. We spent about four hours there and I don't think we even scratched the surface. It was stunning. That night Sarah, Lindsey, and I got a classic French dinner con fritz. The rest of the trip was spent climbing the Arc de Triomphe, all 284 stairs, and going to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower was huge. It was so surreal to actually be at these legendary places you always see pictures of. We had lunch right across from the Tower at a pub called Eiffel 34. I got the best walnut and goat cheese salad. The goat cheese practically melted in my mouth, it was so creamy. Poor Lindsay got sick from her French onion soup and couldn't make the trek to the Moulin Rouge for dinner with us. Anna, Sarah, and I went to Moulin Rouge and had yet another savory meal. Let me tell you sitting across from the Moulin Rouge made for some pretty interesting people watching. Then it was up early and off to Venice. We got on the wrong bus to Mestre and ended up on the island close to Rialto, crossed the bridge and grabbed a train. It feels so strange to be back, yet comforting to be back in Italy. It is quickly becoming my home away from home.

Travel Week 1: Lovely London

Where do I even begin? For our first travel week Sarah, myself, Lindsay, and Anna all went to London for four days and Paris for three days. In London we met up with a group of five girls all from CIMBA who we were sharing a hostel room with. Four guys from CIMBA were also staying at the hostel. Once we got to London it was raining. We managed to find our hostel, Palmer's Lodge, and move in. That night we hung out and used the hostel's bar, Chapel Bar, and ate in their restaurant. Day one was filled with excitement. Sarah, Anna, Steph, Kim, Hannah, and myself all went to Camden Market. It was filled with cute shops, tempting treats, and had everything from electronics to candles. We got great chinese food there for only three euro! The lady gave us a "special price". We hit up Abbey Road-which has special meaning for my Daddy who is a huge Beatles fan, Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, shopped at TKMAXX, saw Harrods, and of course took a picture in a red phone booth. A group of us headed out to the Walkabout which was an Australian bar about a five minute walk from our hostel. Sarah and I discovered "Cider". Cider is a mix of beer and white wine but it is so delicious, I am sad it's not in Italy. In London we took the "tube" and "coaches" everywhere (tain/buses). We went to Buckingham Palace and saw the changing of guard, Westminster Abbey, London Eye, Big Ben, Piccadilly’s Circus, and Parliament. I can't believe I saw where the Queen lives. Too bad she wasn't home that day. Sarah and I tried to take pictures with guards but they would not budge. I think we almost got one to smile because he was clenching his jaw pretty tightly. He was a cutie so we told him we were staying at Palmer's Lodge if he got a minute. Sadly, he didn't answer. We went to an ice bar that night with all the other CIMBA students. Everything was made entirely out of ice from the cups to the chairs. We had to wear these cloaks and gloves, and could only stay for forty-five minutes. We looked like straight up Eskimos. After that we went to a two story Sports Bar and danced the night away. The next day was a busy one visiting The Tower of London and envying all of the jewels there, then going to the London Bridge and eating some great pub food at Firehouse, best onion rings of my life. We climbed all 528 stairs of St. Paul's Cathedral, walked the Millennium Bridge, and scoped out some fine art at the Tate Museum. After that it was time for some more pub food. Sarah and I got to meet up with my friend Kristen and have dinner at a pub in Westminster. Being in London was such a dream come true and a blast and a half. I can't believe I got to do everything I got to do.It was so nice to hear some semblance of the English language again. I loved it and would definitely go back. I am truly blessed.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Formal Affair

Here at CIMBA there are three formal dinners. All 152 of us pile onto buses in our best dress and head to a gourmet restaurant for a sit down five course meal. Our first formal dinner was on Wednesday night. Well Wednesday was the start of a gruelish week for me. I had a presentation in one class, then I had a presentation, paper, and blog post due Thursday, not to mention the quiz, test, three chapter tutorials, and project I did today, Friday. After this long day I snuck a quick run in and showered. Here's where things got a bit hairy...literally. You see our showers are about the size of a hall closet at home, maybe smaller, so you can imagine what trying to shave your legs would be like. It's not a pleasant experience. It took me a whopping twenty minutes to complete that ridiculous task. I got ready, actually did my hair and makeup, something I haven't done much of since arriving here and having eight am classes every day. After this long, arduous process I was ready. We went to a restaurant in Castelfranco called Ristorante Barbesin. It was about a twenty minute drive in the "rain". Some girls busted out umbrellas for this drizzle, obviously they've never been to Oregon. This was nothing. We got to the restaurant and were seated at tables of ten. It was my friend Kristen's birthday and another guy, Levi's. We had the birthday table going on. The food was about one hundred times better than the cafeteria garb. they've been passing off to us here. We started with some gourmet appetizers. Then came risotto, followed by pasta with duck, and then the best steak ever with scrumptious potatoes. For dessert we had an out of this world peanut butter ice cream/mouse in a chocolate cup topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and dusted with powdered sugar. If that weren't enough a waiter came around and individually poured hot chocolate on top of the entire thing until it look like a molten lava chocolate volcano that exploded. It was so freaking good. We drank great white and red wine during the courses and espresso for dessert. It was an amazing evening and I can't wait for the next one.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lost in translation...literally.

This past weekend Sarah and I decided to avoid the circus that is Carnival in Venice and visit Verona, the home of Romeo and Juliet. We took a taxi for nine people at eight Saturday morning, but only five of us showed up the other girls were still sleeping, this should have been the first clue to our traveling woes. Undeterred we hopped a train from Bassano to Padova. In Padova we had to switch trains. Ours was headed to Milan and Verona was a stop along the way. We had about twenty minutes between the two and were famished. We got the best pastry of my life. It was a square croissant that was half filled with custard and half with chocolate then drizzled with chocolate sauce on top and dusted with powdered sugar. Little did we realize what a great decision this snack would be. Filled with excitement and a sense of accomplishment for boarding the right train, we were off. Now, for those of you who don't know every ticket has an arrival time and Italian trains are prompt, and exact. Our eta was 11:00 am. Well, 11:00 came and went. We didn't think much of it because we didn't see any signs for Verona. Then the conductor said something along the lines of, "Verona...cinque." Our survival Italian kicked in and we pieced together that “cinque” is five. At the following stop we saw no signs for Verona again. We stayed on our train. At 11:45 panic hit us. We knew something was wrong. We asked the ticket lady if we had passed Verona and her face dropped. That said it all, we knew we were screwed. She informed us that the last stop was Milan and we could purchase a ticket to Verona there. The hysterics set in and a range of emotions came over us: stress, laughter, Sarah cried, shock, awe, and of course more laughter. We missed our stop! Here we were all proud, thinking we were conquering the travel faux-pa but no way Jose we were living up to them. With no other choice we dejectedly got off in Milan and got a one way ticket to Verona. Our train didn't leave for an hour so we decided to check out Milan. We arrived in Verona at 3:30.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Tale of the Italian Taxi Driver

I have taken a taxi from the Bassano Del Grappa train station twice now and have ridden with the same taxi driver. However, the two experiences have been horses of different colors to say the least. Upon arriving in Bassano with my dad we had to call a taxi to get to Paderno. Just calling the cab was one of the greatest language barriers I have encountered while being here. Dad and I had to figure out how to use an Italian pay phone. After twenty, frustrating, minutes of fumbling with euro change and dialing only to hear long beeps we reached a person, a person who spoke English. Our cab pulled up on time. Our driver was a younger guy who barely spoke English. He struggled to make conversation for the first five minutes into our drive, but yielded to silence after informing us that his "English is not so good". My dad and I took in the scenery in the meantime. Last weekend my roommate Sarah, and I and our two friends Anna and Lindsay took a cab back from the station to school after spending the weekend in Venice. We called a taxi right away, which was so much easier considering we knew the numbers, and had our nifty Italian cell phones. There was a cabbie loading someone into his cab while we were calling. One ring into the call the whole station heard Anna's voice echo on the man's walkie-talkie. This was a little embarrassing and called even more attention the "Americani" standing on the corner loaded down with back packs. He told us he would come back in five minutes. Twenty minutes later we were loaded in and headed back to campus. Sarah had the pleasure of sitting in the front seat. Immediately he brightened up and told us that he liked us. He played music, asked where we were from, and even hummed a tune or two. After struggling a bit and apologizing for his English he started asking if we had boyfriends, how many, where they were, and what their names were. He then went on to tell us that we have plenty of time to get serious, married, and make babies later but now is time for fun. His main target was poor, little, uncomfortable Sarah throughout this ordeal. After a car ride of pestering and overly personal questions he finally dropped us off back at school. Needless to say his English drastically improved during the car ride.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Frutelle, Croissants, and Gelato Oh my!

So here's the thing about Italy, it has the most wonderful sweets you can imagine. I have mentioned the miraculous mini-doughnut-holes filled with custard and nutella and just recently discovered that they are called "frutelle" and have a bit of history behind them. They are seasonal during this time of the year here because this is the time of the year in Italy where Italians eat up before they fast everything away later. In Paderno the frutelle are about half the size of Venice's fruitella. Also in Venice they roll them in sugar on the outside. Croissants are the other pastry that I have always had an affinity for, but here in Italy they take them to another level. They are served fresh, hot, and perfectly flakey. In my limited experience all of them are filled with something. My friend Sarah tried a cocoa one that was filled with nutella and drizzled with powdered sugar. I went the 'crema' route which to my taste buds was custard and also dusted with powdered sugar. Before I came to Italy you could say I was somewhat of a gelato pessimist. I thought it was more of a trendy food you could only find at one place in downtown Portland. Oh how wrong I was. Gelato is absolutely delicious. It is the brain-child of ice cream and frozen yogurt, combining the best of each. My favorite flavors are along the lines of hazelnut, coffee, tiramisu, and white chocolate. There are so many great and different pastries here. I am excited to try a new one at each new opportunity I get.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Venture to Venice Round Two

I just got back from Venice. I was there with friends for about two days. We stayed at an awesome hotel in Rialto called Hotel Malibran. It was just a short jaunt to San Marco Square and just around the corner from what seemed like thousands of shops. It was wonderful to get out of this little Paderno bubble that I live in for an extended period of time. Once we got settled in our room and dropped our backpacks we were off, off to find the Patisserie that was wafting the delicious aroma of fresh bread through our shuddered window that is. I got what Sarah, my roommate, and I have come to call "balls". They are these mini-doughnut-hole-esque pastries with nutella, fruit, and custard fillings. They are insanely good. Then we set out to see the monuments in San Marco. We saw the Rialto Bridge, the Basilica of St. Mark’s, the Bridge of Sighs, the Bell Tower of St. Mark’s, and the Doge’s Palace. After that we shopped, shopped, and shopped some more only stopping for an hour to have sandwiches. I ordered a simple cheese, prosciutto, and tomato panini and a cappuccino. It hit the spot. Newly energized we found the strength to shop again. After a quick nap the group of my friends I was traveling with met up with another group of CIMBA students, staying in our hotel that we caught the train with, for dinner. We decided to go off the beaten path and try a more local restaurant. We found "Trattoria Casa Mia". It was filled with locals which for travelers meant one thing: It had to be good food. The prices were a lot cheaper than they would have been in more of a tourist setting. I had gnocchi. Now I know I got it at a restaurant in Venice the last time I was there, but this was a whole new experience. It was served entirely different. It came out steaming hot on a large plate and engrossed in a four cheeses white sauce that almost had a gravy like consistency. Needless to say I finished the entire plate. We all shared calamari and a few liters of Prosseco. We left this afternoon after a croissant filled with custard for breakfast, some last minute shopping, and a nutella and white chocolate gelato that had been calling my name. One train ride from Venice to Bassano, and a taxi ride later, where the driver gave out free lessons in dating, and I'm back in my dorm. Back to reality...and class.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Venice: Che Bella!

My dad and I spent three days in San Marco, Venice before I came here. We stayed in Hotel Bisanzio, which was, "over three bridges and to the left", or so the lady at the tourist stop told us after I persuaded my dad to ask for directions because we spent an hour waiting outside starring at a map because he thought he knew where he was going. We got settled in, and warmed up. Then we were off we walked the through the Piazza San Marco and down the pier. After a much needed nap to recover from our jet-lag we got a recommendation for dinner from the concierges. The restaurant was smaller but nice. We stood out like a sore thumb as Americans. First we started with the calamari. It tasted like they caught it that morning, which they probably did, and was only lightly battered compared to the American way of saturating it in batter. For the main course we split the calzone pizza. It was stuffed with mushrooms, feta and mozzarella cheese, and prosciutto, and covered with a house red sauce. We each enjoyed a delicious glass or two of wine and finished with a cappuccino. We took the "do it yourself" tour which consisted of getting lost in tiny, narrow backstreets overrun with shops for two hours. But hey, who really minds being lost if you are lost in Venice? At the Basilica I got a rosary with rose beads, that smells like rose petals still. We shopped for loved ones at home who had sent wish lists, enjoyed cappuccinos and pastries at the cafe next to the Ponte di Rialto, and ate more wonderful food. Then it was just a water bus, train ride, and taxi fare and I was in Paderno.