Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On Top of the World

Went to Switzerland this weekend, and it was amazing!  We stayed in a small village named Gimmelwald on a mountain in the Jungfraujoch region near Bern.  You have to take a cable car up from the town in the valley just to get to it, then another cable car or a hike up the mountain to Murren, the main town on the mountain which is also the main jump off point for skiing.

We got in very early Friday morning and then made our way up the mountain to rent skis in Murren.  Then we took the cable car even higher up the mountain, almost to the top to Birg, where the main ski trails are.  I could have picked a better place to learn how to ski for the first time: I fell a few times (tumbled is more like it) before I got comfortable, but by the end of the day I was making it all the way down the runs just fine.

By the end of the day I was sore and tired, but it was awesome.  At night we hiked up the mountain above Murren a bit, then sled all the way back down into Gimmelwald, it was a bit nerve racking but cool.  Saturday the conditions weren't very good so half of us didn't ski again, but we walked around and above Murren for a bit and saw more of the town.

Sunday we had to go back down the mountain to leave from Interlaken, so we left early and got to walk around and see the town, which is much bigger than any of the towns on the mountain or in the valley.  A lot of the stores were closed because it was Sunday, but a few were open, so I bought myself a Swiss army knife as a souvenir.

Overall it was an amazing weekend.  Unfortunately this week I have four exams and a paper so it's going to be a bit busy.  So far one exam down, three and the paper to go.  This coming weekend I'm staying in Rome, but me and a friend might do a day trip on Saturday to somewhere close by.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Quite a long weekend that was.  We took the overnight train to Venice from Rome, which meant that we arrived in Venice at 5:30am.  While it was certainly nice to walk around for a while before the crowds got there, it was incredibly hard since hardly any of us got much sleep on the train, and we couldn't check in to our hostel until later in the day.

We walked to St. Mark's and saw the square and the basilica right after sunrise, which was pretty cool.  Afterwards, because it was already open, we went in and saw the Palazzo Ducale, where the Doges of Venice used to live.

The rest of the day we walked around and hung out, then went out and saw some of the town at night.  Saturday the guys and I went to Burano, an island farther to the North in the bay.  I saw it on an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations on the Travel Channel.  Bourdain went to a restaurant there and had amazing risotto.  So we took one of the water lines to the island and checked it out.  The island was pretty and quaint, and we were able to find the restaurant, so we had lunch there.  The food was a little more expensive than we usually pay, but it was amazing.

Saturday afternoon was crazy.  The streets were full of people, and it turned into a huge party, complete with live music in St. Mark's square.
 Sunday we went to mass in St. Mark's basilica, which was amazing.  The inside is completely covered in gold mosaics.
By the time we all got back early Monday morning, we were exhausted.  It was definitely a fun weekend, and Venice was very interesting, but I think the Carnevale experience was over hyped by people I talked to.  Venice was more interesting than the festival was, because everything in the city started closing by 10pm and there actually weren't that many events going on with the festival other than the street party atmosphere.  But definitely a fun weekend.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

10 Things (Part 2)

So the first one was about things I missed about the States; this one is hopefully a bit more upbeat.

10 things I like about Italy:
  1. Food: anything and everything.  Pizza, pasta, seafood, meat, vegetables.
  2. Shopping: not just souvenir shopping but also grocery shopping.  It's fun to go shopping at the open air vegetable markets after class, or just browse the specials at the small neighborhood grocery stores.
  3. Wine: being able to find varieties of quality wine for much cheaper than in the US is nice.  It's also interesting to learn about the different types of wines, most of them from Italy.
  4. Trains: even though they may not always run on time, it's very convenient, and cost effective, to go between cities using the rail system.
  5. Siesta: although it's annoying that stores and other things close at times between 1 and 4pm, once you start acting as the locals do and take that time out of the day to rest, it really helps.  Especially since I don't have class during that time, but before and after it.
  6. Speaking a different language: while my Italian is still not where I want it to be, it's pretty awesome to converse with some of the locals and both understand most of what they're saying and also be able to make myself understood.
  7. Il Calcio (soccer): if you think Americans are crazy about football, then multiply that by about 10 and you get how Italians feel about soccer.  Almost everyone has their own team, most often the local one.  Rome is divided because it has two teams: Roma and Lazio.  Personally, I cheer for Roma.  And the games are amazing to attend: the fans are excited the entire time, even more passionate than the ND student section by far.
  8. Religion: while not many Italians actually go to mass on a weekly basis, there is no shortage of churches to choose from, and they are all amazingly beautiful with interesting histories.
  9. History: merely walking down our street will take you past a 4th century archway (which I only recently found out was built in the 4th century).  They have a different concept of "old" here, and anything under 300/400 years doesn't really make the cut.
  10. Weather: so far it hasn't been very cooperative, but it's supposed to clear up soon.  It's still better than the South Bend Winter so we can't complain.

Monday, February 13, 2012

La Patria

Well the weather didn't cooperate, but I had fun none-the-less.  We went to Sorrento Friday, getting in during the afternoon; it was raining pretty steadily all day.  Had a nice lunch outside (under cover though), I got seafood for the first time since I've been here: risotto with shrimp and asparagus.

That night we walked around for a bit, and tried to find a couple nice places that were mentioned in Rick Steves's Italy book.  Turns out most of them were closed because it's February (thanks for the heads up Rick), but walking around let us see some different parts of the city we would not have otherwise.

We actually found a nice bed and breakfast to stay at for only 20euro a night. It was on the main street through Sorrento, view from our balcony on one side:
Saturday we walked around to the two major churches in Sorrento, La Cattedrale and La Basilica di San Antonino. First two pictures are from the cathedral, the rest are San Antonino:

I saw this cool thing online after the Superbowl, so from now on there will be less Tebowing of monuments.  The new thing is Bradying:
The object is to imitate Brady's inevitable pouting after being sacked repeatedly by Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, and then losing to the Giants, again.  I have to work on my impression a little, and it was really wet in Sorrento so we didn't want to sit down. I promise to have better pictures in the future.

So Saturday we got into Naples in the afternoon, and we walked around before we got dinner.  We saw the Castel Nuovo by the harbor; the Royal Palace; Piazza Plebescito, with the Pantheon-like church in it; and the Galleria Umberto, a hundred year-old glass roofed mall:

After we got dinner, we walked around the center of the city and came across some people in Piazza Gesu' Nuovo:

If the "Occupy" movement hasn't made it to Naples, then I don't know what those people were out there for.  Sunday morning we went to mass in the Basilica of Santa Chiara, where the famous cloisters are:

It's a little harder to understand the people in the South when they speak more in dialect, because they use words not originating from Italian.  The South was ruled at different points in history by the Spanish, French, Austrians, and Arabs so there's a lot of different influences on the language and culture.  So even when they speak Italian, their accent is really hard to understand sometimes.  Sort of like somebody from deep in Appalachia trying to be understood by someone from Boston and vice versa.  It's also annoying when they automatically assume you don't speak Italian, like when they bring you an English menu as soon as you sit down.  I try to talk Italian as much as I can when I'm out, so I'm a little miffed when that happens, especially because my Italian is probably better than their English.  Anyways, before we left we went to a famous place to get pizza near the train station and for 7euro, the pizza was huge! I took a picture of it with my hand next to it for size comparison:

It was more of a tire than a pizza, they didn't even fit on the plates they gave us.  Overall, interesting weekend.

Friday, February 10, 2012

10 Things

Credit for the idea of this post goes to Emmy, with whom we brainstormed this list a couple days ago.

10 Things I Miss About America:
  1. Efficiency. Take the US Postal Service, combine it with apathy and labor strikes, and you get Europe.  What I wouldn't give for stuff to run (somewhat) on time and on schedule without having to worry about whether or not that particular labor union decided to show up to work that day, I'll compromise on the customer service if I could just get that.
  2. Convenience.  It's easy to take for granted that you could be dropped in any city in America, and in relatively short order be able to find almost anything that you needed.  It's hard to find stuff when you don't know the word for it and you don't know the name of a store that might have it.
  3. Southern Food.  Smithfield's pork BBQ, Bojangles, biscuits and gravy, a proper breakfast or brunch, and last but certainly not least: Sweet Tea.
  4. Cleanliness.  Take the dirtiest city in America, and you'll have the average here.  Graffiti, street trash, and just general disrepair is common.  Obviously stuff is older here so some of it is understandable, but I still miss that about home.
  5. Space.  Even in the bigger cities don't give you the closed in feeling that cities here do.  These streets were not meant for BMWs and Mercedes Benzs to be driving down them, and these apartments should not have 4-8 people in them.  Sometimes it's more annoying than others, like when you have to stop walking down a street and hug the wall so a car can pass by.
  6. American websites.  A lot of websites are US service only, so if you try to access them from an international IP address, they won't let you.  A lot of the people in my group are trying desparately to get access to Netflix, Hulu, and other sites just to get a brief American media respite.
  7. Sports.  I love just being able to turn on the TV and easily find two or three games on on any given night, whether it's football or college basketball.  Yesterday I missed the Duke-UNC game, which turned out to be a great one, and I'll miss watching March Madness live.  Thankfully I'll be back in the States before Memorial Day weekend so I can catch the College Lacrosse Final Four.
  8. Ethnic food.  Italian food is great, but I miss the variety of cuisine in the States: Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Indian.  We've tried making a couple dishes here, but some ingredients are next to impossible to find.
  9. Movies.  I realized today that I'm going to miss an entire movie season, those being released both in the theaters, and on DVD as well.
  10. People.  But most of all I miss everyone: family, friends back home, friends at ND.  It feels weird only being able to see everyone on Skype, and hear about normal routines back at school while I'm here, but part of me wishes I was there.
I'm coming up with another list, slightly more positive: 10 Things I like about Europe/Italy
Leaving for Sorrento and Naples in the morning, so I'll have more pictures at the end of the weekend.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Abbiamo Vinto!!! (We won)

Sunday was a great day. Went to the Roma vs. Inter soccer game in the afternoon. Roma won 4-0, which was awesome.  The atmosphere was crazy, I'll definitely be going back.

It was crazy, and a lot of fun. Afterwards, we were walking home from the stadium and the Roma team bus drove by, then stopped on the curb next to us.  One of the players got off and got something from underneath the bus.  All the fans on the street were stopping and cheering and taking pictures. 

Then we came back and had homemade hamburgers and french fries for dinner: American meal before America's game.  We heard Hard Rock Cafe had a cool Superbowl watch party, so we made reservations for that.  There was a cover, but you got two drinks, chips & salsa, popcorn, and some free stuff with it so it didn't turn out to be bad.  But the game was awesome.  It was hard staying alert for parts of it (Halftime and the whole 3rd quarter), but in the end we all went nuts.

Then we started walking the 40 minute walk home, and randomly came across this gem:
Yep, walked right by it in the middle of Rome.  We didn't end up getting home until 5 in the morning, but it turned out classes were cancelled again because of the snow so that capped off a great day knowing we could all sleep in.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nevica a Roma!

The last time it snowed more than a couple inches in Rome was 1986.  That is, until yesterday.  My family always jokes about how whenever I go up to visit them in Connecticut I somehow manage to bring snow with me.  Well this time the snow had to travel a bit farther, but it still made the trip.

Our professor made 9:15am on-site class optional, thank goodness, because it was pouring rain, which quickly turned to snow by 10:30am.  Then at 2pm, JCU suspended classes for the rest of the day so I didn't have to go to my evening classes.  A few of us decided to walk to the Vatican to see how it looked in all the snow and I took some pictures:

And then this is the view from my kitchen window this morning of the Gianiculum Hill, after it had stopped snowing:

So they moved the Roma-Inter soccer game to Sunday afternoon, which was the original scheduled time anyways but whatever, so I think we're still going to try to go.  It starts at 3pm, and the coverage for the actual game of the Superbowl doesn't start until midnight, so we should be fine.  Hopefully the roads clear up a bit so the buses can run somewhat on time so we don't have to walk all the way to the stadium and back.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pioggia, Pioggia va' via.

Well our streak of nice weather is over, although I guess we were due for some rain.  But it started raining yesterday, and it's supposed to rain every day for the next week.

We're finally going to a soccer game this weekend: Internazionale Milan (Inter) is coming to Rome to play AS Roma in the Stadio Olimpico.  I've been somewhat of a Roma and an Inter fan for a while so I'm excited for it.  I'll definitely be cheering for Roma though.  A lot of the ND people are going, but we're sitting in different sections of the stadium, but a couple friends and I are sitting together behind one of the goals.  The tickets were actually reasonable, only 21euro each online, which was surprising because it's a kind of a big game for Roma, and it's on a weekend.  So it should be a fun time, soccer game and the Superbowl both in the same weekend.

Monday morning our on-site class was cancelled because the professor was sick, so a few of us decided to go to the Vatican and go to the top of the dome since the weather was nice. Afterwards we went inside the basilica and walked around for a while.  It's nice being able to do that on a random day because we're so close to it.