When I was “studying” in Italy during my spring semester of 2008, I halfway attempted to start to keep a blog of my travels while I was over there. Similar to my fitness routine when I first arrived, I started out with a lot of energy and excitement for it, and kept it up for the first half of the trip. Gradually, time spent running or documenting my various escapades was replaced with a high level of wine consumption (give me a break- I was able to get over a gallon of that wonderful grape juice for about $4), gorging myself on pasta and a general lack of commitment towards anything that kept me away from those two useful, highly important vices. I’d completely forgotten about this attempt at journalistic brilliance until stumbling across an email in my inbox with the link to the blog’s website. More than anything, I’ve posted these all on this site for my own organizational peace of mind. It’s somewhat interesting to read these again after the few years that have passed. In retrospect, I’ve decided that pictures were needed to complement these posts. Enjoy!
Okay, here’s my first real posting from Italia. I’ve been here in Viterbo for 5 weeks, and it’s crazy how fast the time is going. So far, it has been an amazing experience. The city I live in is about 60,000 people, but it feels like a lot less. The central part of town (and also the oldest) is still surrounded by huge walls dating back to the 12th & 13th centuries. All the buildings are made out of large stones, terra cotta roofing and some wood. The streets are all cobblestones and some are barely wide enough for a single car to pass through. Every morning I wake up it feels like I’m living 1000 years in the past. The area of town known as San Pellegrino is considered the best preserved medieval quarter in all of Europe! It’s incredible to think about how many people, horses and carts have passed through this place before me. U.S. history really only dates back a couple of hundred years. Here, that’s nothing. This town was actually founded in 800 AD, but there are some buildings over 2000 years old! We’re about a 1 ½ hour train ride north of Rome and 3 hours south of Florence. To get to the Tuscan countryside, it’s 30-45 minutes by bus. The Mediterranean Sea is 45 minutes away by bus! Viterbo is very centrally located in Italy, so that makes it nice for traveling within the country.
That brings me to my next topic: traveling. I’ve never traveled this much in my life (probably because it’s nowhere near as cheap or as easy back in the States) and I love it. There are two train stations here in Viterbo, so it’s simple to get to any other part of the country, or Europe for that matter. We’ve traveled to a bunch of smaller towns around this area. There are 4 beautiful lakes all within a half-hour radius or so. The one in Bracciano is amazing.
Also in that town is the castle where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were married. Montefiascone and its famous wine are about 10 minutes away. There are so many places around here to see. The best thing about this small area is that no one speaks English. It’s really forcing me to learn the language. You kind of have to in order to survive! Other trips have included Rome and Florence, which were both even more than what I was expecting. It’s hard to grasp the fact that you’re actually seeing all of these things, such as the Coliseum, Michelangelo’s David, the Vatican, etc. I’ve only ever read about them and seen them in books, so seeing them in person is almost surreal. We’ve done all of this in the one month we’ve been here, and things aren’t slowing down anytime soon. This weekend our whole group heads up to Venice for 3 days. Two weeks after that, about 7 or 8 of us are headed down to Sicily for 3 days of hiking (hopefully Mt. Etna) and relaxing on the beaches there. I can’t wait. There are plans in the making for trips to Grenada to see one of my fraternity brothers, Greece sometime and hopefully Egypt for spring break. Also, my buddy Vinny from back in the States will be over here for 3 weeks after we finish school. We’re planning on doing a whole loop up through Paris, Amsterdam, Gemany (staying with another friend there), Poland (to see Auschwitz and maybe a Metallica concert), Prague (Czech Republic), Salzburg (Austria), Switzerland and then back down in Italy. I’m here until June 4, so trying to get everything in before I head back.
The food here is amazing, although I don’t eat out too much. Most of us live in apartments, so it’s cheaper to buy and cook your own food. Right outside of my door is a butcher, fresh fruit/vegetable markets, pasta shops, etc. It’s pretty rewarding to get your food from these small, family owned shops. Plus, it’s fairly convenient. However, the big supermarket, Ipercoop, is much cheaper. The thing I look forward to most throughout the day is dinner. It’s usually 4-5 times a week a group of us will get together at someone’s place to have a huge dinner (multiple courses) and great conversation. The wine is also very good. You can get a bottle of Montefiascone wine for 1 euro here ($1.60) that at a restaurant back in the States would go for $25. You’d be surprised how much more you begin to like wine when it’s good quality and cheap. Also, I’ve got a cuisine class that whenever we meet; it usually lasts for about 5-6 hours. We go to our instructor’s apartment around 6pm and don’t leave ‘til sometime after 11pm. The class is supposed to end at 9, but we all stay longer to eat more food and talk. There’s nothing better than great food and great people to share it with. I’ve got a lot of friends over here, which is awesome. Still trying to work my way into the Italian crowd, however it’s somewhat difficult when you don’t know the language very well. It’s coming along, though.
I guess I could talk about classes (they tell us that that’s the main reason we’re here). They’re not too bad. I only have one class a day, and nothing on Friday…so, it’s not too stressful. Besides my Italian and cuisine classes, I have a culture class and a class about gardens in the Renaissance. It’s a pretty interesting class. What makes it even better is the fact that not only do we learn about these gardens, we actually get to go see them.
Well, those are the basics about my home here and what I’ve been doing. I’d love to from you all whenever you get the chance. Just shoot me a comment and I’ll reply whenever I can. Hopefully within the next few days I’ll have a special site set up where I can post all of my pictures for you to see and comment on as well. I’ll keep you posted when I get it set up. Ciao!
Well, this last weekend we went on a three day trip to Verona & Venezia (Venice). They’re both in northern Italy, so it was pretty chilly but worth it! The trip was organized by USAC (my study abroad program), so we didn’t have to make any of the arrangements, which was very nice. However, that meant packing 55 people onto one charter bus, which wasn’t comfortable at all!
We left Viterbo at 7:30 am, and after 6 hours of driving, pulled into Verona. Now, for those of you who don’t remember your Shakespeare all that well, Verona is the setting for Romeo & Juliet. And wow, this place wouldn’t be much without the play or movie that was shot here. I wasn’t all that impressed. It was really strange to listen to everyone talk about Romeo & Juliet as if they were real live people. Our tour guide took us to their “houses” and everything like that. However, the house that she said was Romeo’s really might not be (even though he NEVER EXISTED!). Regardless, it wasn’t a bad place to spend 3 hours. It was the day after Valentine’s Day, so there were tons of couples out and decorations all over the city (after all, it is the setting of one of the most famous love stories ever). We managed to find our way to the Adige River, which was very cool. The Duomo in the city was also very nice. However, I was ready to get on to Venezia.
After another two hours of driving, we made it to Venezia. It was 8 pm and dark out, but you could still tell that there was a lot of water out there. Vehicles aren’t allowed within the city, so our bus dropped us off and we had about a 10 minute walk to our hotel. It was pretty surreal to be crossing all of the chanels on bridges. We dropped off our stuff at our hotel, grabbed a couple of slices of pizza at a nearby pizzeria and made our way to Piazza San Marco. The group I was with all weekend was very solid…I don’t think we stopped laughing once over the whole 2 1/2 days. The 7 or 8 of us had an awesome time. After wandering across bridges and down tiny alleyways, we came into the piazza. It was pretty quiet at night, except for another group of Americans from Hawaii (they were studying in Florence). We drank some cheap, boxed wine and took it easy for the rest of the night.
The next morning, we had a guided tour of the Ducale Palace and St. Mark’s Cathedral. All of the upper-level students had to take the tour with an Italian guide, whereas the lower level got to hear it in English. However, I got talked into taking the Italian tour. It was difficult, but still somewhat interesting from what I understood (which was only about 25%).
Once the tour was over, our little group got back together and went out to the surrounding islands of Venezia. You can buy a 24 hour “bus” pass for 16 euro, which was definitely worth it. Since no vehicles are allowed in the city, the bus system is comprised of large boats that carry people around to different stops. It was a 25-30 minute ride out to the islands, but the weather was clear, so we had amazing views.
The first island we checked out was Burano. This island is famous for its lace. Also, all of the houses were painted in vibrant colors, and all different from each other. It was a cool little place to catch some amazing sunsets and get some more cheap boxed wine 🙂
That night, we had a good dinner at a little ristorante and then proceeded to look for a gondolier to give us a ride. My buddy Ryan and three other girls were able to track down the last guy still working. He was willing to give us a ride, but since he was the last one out, we had to pay more money (20 euro each). However, it was very worth it. It was 45 minutes long. Our guy sang us a couple of songs and gave us a pretty good tour of the city, including Casanova’s palace (no wonder that guy met so many ladies, his place had a huge balcony overlooking the water…he probably wasn’t even that charming, he just had an awesome place). Since it was at night, there was no one else out on the water, so it was very peaceful. I’m not going to lie, it was incredible. Definitely one of the best places I’ve seen since I’ve been here.
The next day, we went to another island, Murano, which is very famous for its glass-blowing factories. We were able to watch a couple guys make some vases and other stuff, which was impressive. After that, we took it easy…walked around the island, ate some kebabs and cruised around on the boats. We left Venezia that afternoon, and after 7 hours, pulled back into Viterbo. It was an awesome weekend!
CINQUE TERRE (3/5/2008)
Sorry it’s taken me awhile to post again. The past two weeks have been a little crazy, so I’m just now getting a chance to write to you. So, here goes.
Two weekends ago, 4 of my buddies and I randomly decided to rent a car and drive up through the Alps and into Switzerland. After looking into it more, we decided that that type of trip should be planned a little more in advance, but we still wanted to rent a car. So, we switched our plans to go to the Cinque Terre instead. The Cinque Terre is a group of five small towns in the province of Liguria on the Italian Riviera. They are built up the mountains in coves all along the coastline, and offer some incredible views. There are towns like these all along the Riviera, but what makes these five so special is the fact that there are tons of trails connecting them together. You can walk along the coast between all of the towns, which is beautiful!
So, we figured out all of our plans on Friday and took off Saturday morning. The trip up there was pretty easy and short (4 hours). We had to park our car in the port city of La Spezia and ride a train into the first of the five towns, Riomaggiore. The ride was about 10 minutes, so not much. However, we had to take the train because the towns aren’t accessible by vehicle. You either have to go by train or ferry, and the ferries aren’t running this time of the year.
Right when we got to Riomaggiore, the sun was setting. So, we quickly scrambled down to the rocky beach and watched the sun and the water for a couple of hours.
As you can see from the pictures, it was amazing! It was starting to get a little dark, so we headed back into town to find a place to stay. We ended up renting a couple of apartments, which wasn’t bad. My buddy Jake and I got a top floor apartment with views overlooking the town and the sea…definitely worth the 25 euro we had to pay.
The next morning, we got up early and started our hike through the towns. The first section from Riomaggiore to Manarola was really easy. The trail was flat and paved, so no problems. After Manarola, things got a little harder. The trail turned to dirt and was less maintained, however, still fairly easy. From Manarola we headed to Corniglia. About halfway through we stopped at a big rocky beach and layed on the beach for an hour or so. We realized we still had a ways to go, so we packed up and headed into Corniglia. So far, the trail hadn’t been too stressful. No section had taken more than 45 minutes, so we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. That changed pretty quickly. From Corniglia to Vernazza, the level of difficulty escalated drastically. The trail went straight up with steep, uneven steps and narrow dirt paths. The scenery was beautiful, so it wasn’t all bad. About halfway along, we saw signs for a free beach. However, the trail we had to take down to it was not for the faint of heart. It was a sheer drop off hundreds of feet down. There were long ropes anchored to trees that you had to hold onto so you wouldn’t slip and fall all the way down. After 25 minutes, we made it down, and it was very worth it. The beach was set back in a tiny cove, and no one else was there. The day was perfect…65 degrees, clear and sunny. We stayed there for a couple of hours, however no swimming because the water was pretty cold. Once we got back home, we’d learn the beach we were on was actually a nudist beach. Good thing it was the off-season! After the climb back out, we continued on the treacherous trail to Vernazza. This town was incredible. It was lively and was built on a huge rock jutting out into the sea. We’d been hiking for around 5 hours, so we decided to sit down and get some lunch. By the time we finished, we were all pretty tired and contemplating whether or not to undertake the last leg of the journey. We finally decided to do it (I mean, it’s not called the Quattro Terre)…you can’t get 4/5s of the way through and quit. Plus, we could see the final town, and it didn’t look too far away, or so it seemed. We headed out of town and hit a wall. Little did we know that this was the longest, hardest, least-maintained section of the trail. Most people start with this part and work back…we were exactly opposite. It didn’t help that we were all still full from lunch, either. This final part took us about an hour and a half, and by the end, we weren’t even stopping to look at the water or the scenery, fearing that if we did, we wouldn’t be able to start up again. We finally pulled into the final town of Monterosso and it was a relief. The whole journey lasted about 7 hours, but that includes the couple hours on the beach and lunch. I figure we did the hike in about 4 – 4 1/2 hours, which is a lot faster than the normal pace of 5 1/2. We were able to catch the train back into La Spezia, where we picked up our car and headed back towards Viterbo. In about 4 hours, we’d be back at home and able to relax, at least in a perfect world it would’ve happened that way.
About 2 hours from home, we stopped to fill up for gas. One of the guys put about 20 euro worth of Benzene in, however he didn’t check to see if the car actually took Benzene. Turns out, it was a diesel. One of the guys realized this before we started the car, but it was still too late. We were in a deserted gas station, 10 pm at night, nowhere near a town, no vehicles in sight…basically, we were out of options. We looked for hoses or anything to syphon the gas out with, but nothing turned up. We called our directors and they told us to just fill the rest of the tank up with the correct stuff and drive, but we didn’t figure that was the smartest. We finally thought to call the rental car emergency hotline. That was the best decision we could’ve made. They sent a taxi to pick us up and take us to the nearest town and a tow truck to pick up our pitiful little car. The next morning, they gave us a new car and we were able to head home. The mistake ended up costing an extra 65 euro per person, but I guess it could have been worse…we could’ve not realized that the gas was wrong.
Well, this last weekend was another incredible one. My friends Jake, Ryan, Jeremy, Melissa, Jenny, Jenna, Kate, Victoria and I went down to Sicily for four days. We left Viterbo on Thursday evening and had to spend the night in the airport. Our flight didn’t leave until 8:40 the next morning, but we didn’t want to spend money on a place to stay. We figured we could check in at 6:40 am, so a few hours that night didn’t seem to be a problem. We got there at about 11 pm, but that was after another interesting experience.
A lot of these trains you don’t need to buy tickets for because you’ll never get checked. The big transport/commuter lines, like the one from Viterbo to Rome, carry so many people that it’s impossible to check everyone’s ticket. However, sometimes they still try. We got from Viterbo to Rome without a problem. Right when we go to Trastevere the train to the airport was leaving, so we didn’t have time to buy a ticket (who knows if we even would’ve if we’d had time). About 15 minutes into the ride a guy comes by to check tickets. Jake, Kate, Jenna and I were all sitting by each other. The other five were also together, and the guy went to them first. Fearing the 100 euro charge for no ticket, Jenna, Kate and I decided to quickly get off at the next stop (we were lucky that the train stopped right then…there’s only one stop between Trastevere and Fiumicino). So, the three of us hopped off and waited another half hour for another train. While we were waiting, we saw this gigantic river rat. It was huge! The girls tried to hit it with oranges and sticks, but with no luck. It took off swimming, and it was easy to see it wasn’t a beaver, even though it looked like one.
We got on the next train and made it to the airport without any problems. Turns out, the others only got charged 6 euro, which was the cost of the train ticket, so nothing too bad. The night was a long, cold one on the concrete floor. None of us got much sleep. I was ready to board the train when the time came!
Our flight went smoothly, and right when we got to the airport, everyone split up. All the guys caught a bus to Syracuse while the girls went to go find their respective couch surfing spots. Turns out, Melissa’s and Jenny’s guy bailed out completely on them, so all five of the girls ended up staying with a guy named Dax (U.S. Navy). We didn’t see any of them again until Sunday night back at the airport.
Couch surfing is a program, kind of like Facebook or Myspace, where people create profiles of themselves and their homes. They then open up their homes for other couch surfers to come stay with them for free. It’s a type of hospitality group/service, and it’s pretty cool.
So, once we got to Syracuse, we walked around for awhile searching for the ancient Greek ruins. Syracuse was founded back around the 7th century B.C., so it’s incredibly ancient. We stopped at a grocery store and picked up a bunch of food. After hanging out by the water for awhile, we started to look for the ruins again. We ran across the Catacombe di San Giovanni (Catacombs of St. John), but they weren’t too impressive. It took us about an hour, but we finally found the archeological museum. We paid 10 euro, and it wasn’t worth it. It was one of the most boring places I’ve been to in awhile, especially here in Italy. However, it did get us into the archeological park, so it wasn’t all bad. After walking down the road a little, we came across the Parco Archeologico della Neopolis. This place was pretty cool. The Teatro Greco is considered one of the best preserved Greek theaters in the world, and it was still pretty impressive 2,000 years after being built. The seats weren’t bad (Ryan even fell asleep on them for awhile). I guess plays are still held there in the summer. Right next to the theater was the Latomia del Paradiso (Paradise Quarry). This was the most famous of all the quarries where rock was excavated to build Syracuse with. It was massive. We walked down into it and into the cave which is known as the “Ear of Dionysius.” It was a pretty impressive cave…everything echoed, no matter how quietly. After seeing the ruins, we’d pretty much seen everything Syracuse had to offer. I wasn’t very impressed with the city. We walked over to Ortygia Island, which was a little more interesting, but still not much. The Duomo was impressive (like all Duomos usually are). We made it to the water, but never saw the castle or any of the ruins that the island is famous for. I think it was kind of a waste of time, but then again, we had to wait for the train regardless.
When we got to Catania Centrale, our couch-surfing host, Laura, picked us up and drove us back to her place. We dropped the Ryans (Jeremy is actually called Ryan…long story) off near their hostel and continued on. Once we got to her place, we were pretty wiped out. We spent awhile trying to figure out what to do on Saturday, and finally we settled on renting a car and driving around the island. Once that was squared away, Laura made us a simple pasta and then tried to convince us to go out. However, Jake and I were so tired that we ended up passing out around 10:30 (I know, kinda lame, but we definitely needed the rest). We were able to throw a couple of mattresses down on the floor, and the sleep was excellent. Laura was a very nice girl. She was fluent in 4 different languages, and she seemed very excited to meet new people. She was 25 and still living with her mom, but that’s pretty normal in Italy. Her mom seemed pretty stubborn, but still nice. She had a pretty thick Sicilian accent, so we could hardly understand a thing. They both have to be pretty laid back to allow random people to stay the weekend with them.
The next morning, we got up early to catch the bus to the train station to meet up with Ryan and Jeremy, and then another bus to the airport to pick up our car. Jake found the rental place online, and they said they had a spot to pick the car up at the airport. However, when we got to the rental place, no one had even heard of the company. Who knows what the deal was, but we ended up having to rent a car from Targarent instead. It wasn’t a bad deal, though. For one day, with insurance and one tank of gas and everything split between 4 people, we each paid a little less than 30 euro. It was definitely worth it for everything we saw! However, if you would’ve told me a week ago that I’d ever rent a car again here, especially 7 days later, I’d have told you you were insane!
Once we got our car, we headed south to the coast. We drove the coast for about an hour before coming to Agrigento and its Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples). These temples rank among the best preserved Greek temples in the world. The three that we were able to see were the Temples of Juno, Concord and Hercules. Juno offered incredible views of the surrounding countryside. However, Concord was amazing. All of its pillars were still erect and it was very impressive. It reminded me of a smaller version of the Parthenon. Hercules was definitely a ruin. Only 8 pillars were still standing, but apparently it was incredible back in the day. I can’t imagine what Agrigento must have been like in its golden age. These temples were up on hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. I bet it was a pretty imposing sight.
After an hour or so there, we hopped in our little black Fiat and hit the road for Corleone. Corleone, along with the town of Prizzi, are the central towns in the heart of Mafia country. Parts of The Godfather were filmed here. From what I know of the Mafia, there’s about 5 families in Italy who bring in over 10% of the countries income…now that’s a pretty powerful business. Everything we read said we’d never see anything associated with the Mafia there. I guess it’s a really deep-seated, culturally ingrained aspect of the area. Even if we did see something, we’d never have known. The Mafia is all about power, not publicity. Apparently, a few years ago they captured a big time boss, and it was the first time he’d been seen in 40 years…incredible! The town is about 60 km south of Palermo, so we had to cut north away from the coast and into the countryside of Sicily. It was an incredible drive. The mountainous, rocky terrain had a small road running through it. Ryan drove our car like a maniac through this area, but it was exhilarating. The views of the hills/mountains were gorgeous. I never would have expected that kind of landscape in Sicily! After awhile, we pulled into Corleone. I don’t know much about the Mafia and I haven’t seen the movies, but it still gave me chills. It didn’t help that the sky was a daunting, dark gray. You drive through this huge rock tunnel and come out up about the town. There are huge crosses up on the cliffs above town. We were looking down onto it, and I was surprised by how small it was. There was a tractor parked downtown and down another street a man was riding his horse (not exactly how I pictured the center of one of the most notorious crime groups in the world). We got into town, and it was easy to see that we were the only tourists by the way everyone stared at us. The main reason we went was to check out the Mafia museum. We weren’t able to get to it by car, so we decided to park and wander around (I know, not that smart of an idea). We finally found the museum, but it was closed, so we decided to keep wandering. We hiked up to a church and got some pretty good views of the city…however, right when we got there we ran into a mysterious guy dressed in all black. Odds are, he was just a normal person, but it was still creepy. We didn’t hang out for long before getting back in our car and getting the hell out of there. It really didn’t seem like a very inviting place. That could’ve been from my own expectations, but everything seemed to be telling us to get away, and I was very happy to oblige.
By this point, it was starting to get dark and we headed home. We took a bunch of back roads to get back to the Auto Strada, and once again, it was an awesome drive. Still a little uncomfortable, though. In every town we’d drive through, everyone would drop everything they were doing to stare at us. I felt a little uneasy and very out of place. I was very happy to be back on the highway headed to Catania.
The next morning, we were up and ready to leave by 9. Our plan was to catch the bus to the train station to meet up with the Ryans and head to Taormina. However, we couldn’t get city bus tickets, which was pretty frustrating. Everyone kept telling us to go to the Tabaccheria to get one, but it was closed and we knew that. So, Laura was nice enough to drive us in and help us get bus tickets to Taormina. It was a beautiful day…probably mid 70s or so. We got to Taormina and made it to the Greek Amphitheater. From here, we caught some great views of the theater, Mt. Etna and the sea. The town is one of Sicily’s most touristy places, but at this time of year, no one was there. It’s set up on the cliffs overlooking Giardini and tons of beaches. After eating and relaxing on the theater’s seats, we headed down a little rough path to the beach since the gondola ride was closed. The beach was awesome. There were only about 5 other people on the whole thing, so it was very relaxing. Everyone drank some wine, ate some food and relaxed. I jumped into the sea, which was cold and salty, but very refreshing. I swear there’s nothing better than hanging out on a warm beach, listening to my Ipod, eating some food and throwing rocks into the water. This was the second weekend in a row we’d been able to do this!
After a few hours, we packed up and tried to catch the 5 pm train back to Catania. However, the train schedule and the actual trains were different. The train didn’t leave until 7, so we had to catch the 5:55 pm bus back. It wouldn’t have been bad, but there was a ton of traffic. Traffic came to a standstill the closer we got to the toll areas. When we finally got through, it was about 7 pm and we still had a good 30 minutes to go until the airport. By the way, our flight was set to leave at 8:30 pm. About this time, I started to get really nervous. The traffic in Catania wasn’t any better. To make it worse, our bus driver pulled over, stopped the bus and made everyone get off. I have no idea what the problem was, and all I could think about was that we were going to miss our plane and be stuck there. Five seconds later another bus pulled up and took us to the train station. Right when we got there, we quickly found a taxi to take us the rest of the way. We could’ve waited for a bus, but we would surely have missed the flight then. I think we probably found the best taxi driver in all of Sicily. He gave us a ride for 5 euros apiece, and he made quick work of it. We were taking back roads, running stop signs, passing vespas and flying around corners. He definitely deserved the money he made for that trip…I was incredibly grateful that we found him. We rolled into the airport around 7:40 and checked in soon thereafter. We made it through security and when we finally sat down by the girls, it felt like a huge weight was lifted. I was seriously freaking out for the past hour, thinking we weren’t going to make it in enough time…sooooo happy we did.
Our flight back was good, although Ryan’s bag was lost. I don’t know how they managed that, seeing as how it was a direct, one-hour flight…and Jake’s bag was checked right before Ryan’s, and Jake got his stuff. I felt pretty bad for him, but at least it was on the return trip. He had all of his valuable stuff with him as well, so that was smart. That’s definitely something I’ll remember on every trip I go on from here on out.
Once back in Rome, we had to spend another night at the airport. We found a much better spot to spend the night, although it was colder than the first night. However, you could actually lie on the benches, so it was worth the trade-off. The first train in the morning didn’t leave for Trastevere until 6, and from there, the first one to Viterbo wasn’t until 7. When we finally made it to Viterbo two hours later, I was dog-tired. I skipped my Italian class to get some rest.
It was an incredible trip. We had good people to travel and stay with, and besides Ryan’s bag, nothing went wrong. Maybe we’re starting to get better at this traveling stuff. Either that or we were just lucky…I’m guessing it was a little of both. I learned plenty from this trip. If I ever do any plane trips, pack light enough to carry the bag on. Also, when you get to your destination, stop by a grocery store and load up on some cheap food. A loaf of bread, cheese and lunch meat can last you the whole weekend.
My first experience with couch-surfing was positive, although I think I’d prefer my own room more. It’s hard to get too comfortable in someone else’s home, even if they tell you to. It’s definitely something I’ll do again, but maybe not for awhile. All in all, great trip!
RANDOM THOUGHTS (3/8/2008)
So, here are a few random thoughts for this journal entry. To start off with, I want to make clear how much I like and miss the convenience of a couple of different things back at home. One of these is the coveted dryer. Here in Italy, it’s very rare to find dryers…the only place to use one is at a Laundromat, where it costs 7 euro to wash and dry a load of clothes (which is over 10 US dollars). So, that’s out of the question. However, as time passes, it gets more and more tempting. Take for instance the other day. I washed a pair of shorts and my sweatpants (that’s another thing…the washers over here are pretty small, so you have to do multiple small loads). I took them out and they smelled fresh, yet after a couple of days of hanging in my apartment, they smelled really musty and were almost unbearable. So, I decided to hang them up outside…I don’t like to do this because we have a blacksmith/carpentry shop below us, and the smoke and fumes from their business makes clothes smell funny. But, with no other choice, I had to do it. I left them hanging outside over the weekend, and when I got back Monday, I went to take them in…and well, what do you know, but a pigeon (one of the many that live in the walls of our building!) had taken a huge dump all over my shorts. As you can imagine, I wasn’t too thrilled. After washing them again, I wasn’t going to take any chances inside, so I hung them up outside again. This time, I put them further out on the line, away from the wall and pigeon nests. I was fairly confident things would work this time. No luck. That very night it started to rain…and it hasn’t stopped raining for the last three days. So much for a quick load of laundry…I’ve been fighting this pair of shorts for nearly two weeks now! And another thing about laundry; there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t have clothes hanging up to dry. I wear about half the clothes that I brought for the first half of the week (yeah, I didn’t pack nearly enough stuff!) while the other half of the clothes dries. About the time I run out of clean clothes, the others are finally dry. It’s a never ending process with laundry over here. That 7 euro isn’t looking too bad anymore!
Another thing that would be nice is a potato peeler. The Viterbese use a lot of potatoes in their cooking, yet they seem to have no need for a peeler. Now, I’m from the potato state for goodness sakes, but it takes me awhile to peel a bunch of potatoes with the dull knives we have here in our apartment. I was talking to my Italian friend, Marco, about this lack of efficiency in the Italian culture, but all he could do was make fun of me. He was giving me crap about being a stereotypical American or something like that…I’m not sure, I kinda stopped paying attention to him. But, if using a dryer and a potato peeler makes me an American, then I’m definitely proud to be one!
Well, I’m basically living in a single apartment these days. My roommate, against all of the odds in the world, managed to find himself an Italian girlfriend. I’d tell you how it happened, but I’m still trying to figure it out for myself. He’s a really nice guy, but there are so many things about him that would make you write off the idea of him having a girlfriend…plus, he has the hardest time out of anyone in this program trying to learn the language. I guess is does make a little bit of sense that his girlfriend started out as his tutor! Now that I think about it, I might have to go find a tutor myself! Anyways, he’s very rarely at our place. It’s kind of nice, because we really don’t have much in common. We get along just fine, but we don’t ever really hang out, so him not being here much decreases a lot of the awkward moments. Having my own space is nice, but I’d rather have a roommate I could have a great time with than no roommate at all. Gets pretty boring at times.
A couple of days I had somewhat of a weird experience. The buzzer to our apartment went off, so I went to the door to see what was up. There was a priest standing out there asking permesso (can I come in). Before I could process the situation, I said yes and invited him in…I know, not the smartest, but he was dressed as a priest with his black shirt and white collar, so I figured it couldn’t be too bad. However, I also had a ton of thoughts rushing through my head about how stupid I could’ve just been. This could turn out to be one of those horror stories that they tell study abroad students about nationwide before they take off overseas. I was waiting for the guy to rip off his collar, pull a weapon and rob me, or do something worse. Another thought was that he was going to try to convert me to whatever his religion was and I wasn’t going to be able to get rid of him. In retrospect I wasn’t in any harm at all. He came in, blessed our apartment, gave me a small cutout of Jesus being crucified, shook my hand and walked out. He was an incredibly nice person, I just really had no idea what to expect. Still, it was strange. I have no idea how he got into the apartment in the first place. You have to have a key to get in from the street, so who knows.
This week has been one of the coldest since we’ve been in Viterbo. That kind of serves as a stark contrast to being on a beach in Sicily last weekend! We had a field trip today that took us up into the hills about Viterbo, and wouldn’t you know it, but it started to snow on us. I’m not going to lie; I wasn’t even slightly excited for it. I thought I’d gotten away from that weather when I left Idaho…apparently not. Good news though; we were up pretty high, so when we got back down into Viterbo, it was only raining. That was definitely a relief!
More on today’s field trip. For our Italian Culture class, we took a field trip to a small town about a half hour away from Viterbo called Vignanello. Here, we were given a tour of the castle in the town. The castle was interesting, especially seeing as how it was finished in 1531. The cool thing about this place is that it is still inhabited by a real-life princess. I’m not really sure as to how all the details work out that make her a princess (or even if she has any special privileges being a princess), but I do know that her family has passed the castle on down through the generations until it finally came to her. We were supposed to get to meet her, but she apparently had other stuff to do (makes me wonder if she’s even real!). Another interesting fact about this garden is that one of the women who used to inhabit the place, Ortensia Farnese, led a very interesting life here. One night back in the 16th century, she and her husband got in a fight. It ended up being so bad that she murdered him with a fire-poker. She was the niece of the Pope at the time, so after 1 year of imprisonment, she was released to live back in this castle and was given another husband. As it turns out, she would go on to murder him, as well as her next husband after that…three in all (wow, you’d think after the first one guys would get the picture that she had somewhat of a problem). Along with this castle, we were given a tour of the castle’s crypt. This place was actually really creepy. It was deep under ground with tons of small tunnels leading off in different directions. A couple of my buddies and I were walking down one of these dark tunnels when we turned a corner and saw a small pile of human skulls. There were other bones around the place as well…not really the surprise you want to find in a place like this!
After the castle visit, we all walked up to the town’s elementary school. We split up into groups of 4-5 and went to different classrooms to meet the kids and work through some lessons with them. My group went to the Italian language class for 5th & 6th graders. It was actually the most rewarding part of the day. The kids were pretty interested in us, and they didn’t seem to be shy at all. A lot of them knew a little bit of English (as they should…everyone in this school takes English lessons for 3 hours every day!), so we were able to communicate with them a little that way. However, most of the talking had to be done in Italian. It was fun because it really forces you to try out what you’ve learned in your own classes. The kids had a lot of energy, and the teacher was incredibly nice. We all worked through translating simple phrases from English to Italian and vice versa. For awhile I’ve been thinking about doing something kind of like this later on in life. I’ve seriously been contemplating the Teaching English as a Second Language route when I get back to school in the fall. I didn’t know if I’d have the patience to do this type of thing, but after today, I’ve got a little more confidence in my ability to teach and help others learn a new language. If I were to get into this program, I’d be able to continue my own learning experience with foreign languages. Also, I’d be able to come back over here to Europe when I finish with school to teach. I know Mom and Pops aren’t going to be real excited to hear this (it means more schooling), but the more I’m over here, the stronger my desire is to come back here again. I’ve always believed teaching to be one of the most rewarding experiences/occupations someone can have, I just never figured I had enough patience to be a decent teacher…not so much anymore. I still have a lot to decide, but this seems like a possibility.
After the visit to the school, we had to go to the town of Caprarola for the second part of the trip. We went to the Palazzo Farnese, which was beautiful, but I wasn’t very interested. This part of the trip was for the people in the Survey of Art History class. So, we got a huge tour dedicated to explaining (in very precise details) every painting there…not something I’m passionate about…at all! I didn’t help that it had been pouring down rain all day, so my feet were soaked and I was freezing. Needless to say, after the 2 ½ hour tour, I was ready to come back here to Viterbo!