A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: taylork210

Spring Break 2009: Sweden, Prague, and Budapest

April 2nd-April 12th

Wow. What a whirlwind of a spring break. We definitely planned our trip out well, with the only oversight not spending more time in Budapest. Three cities in ten days was absolutely perfect.

My friends went to Amsterdam for the first four days, but since I had already been I opted to go to Sweden to see Vanessa. For those of you who don’t know, Vanessa is one of my closest friends from Dickinson who is from Sweden and decided to study there this semester (university in Sweden is free for Swedish citizens). I flew into Copenhagen on Thursday evening, and took the train to Lund, Vanessa’s university town. When I got off the train, I was so excited to see her that I jumped on her and cried for a few minutes. We went back to her friend Hedvig’s place, where Vanessa stays during the week when she has class to ditch my stuff. We were going to meet up with some of her friends, but we ended up having a glass of champagne and talking for two hours: five months of separation made a catch-up session majorly overdue. Hedvig came home after a while and talked our ears off. She was adorable, just like Vanessa in so many ways but also completely different. Vanessa told me there are a group of five or six of them who have been friends since kindergarten, so I was excited to meet all of these girls I had heard so much about.

Vanessa had class on Friday afternoon, so Hedvig showed me around Lund. I met some of her school friends who were preparing for a big spring celebration that night. When Vanessa got out of class, we took the train to Helsingborg, Vanessa’s hometown in southern Sweden. It is an adorable town, quaint and quiet, relatively desolate even at the beginning of April. Apparently I brought Rome’s good weather to Sweden: it was 65 degrees and sunny the entire time I was there. Vanessa said it was usually about 50 and grey and rainy. We met up with another of Vanessa’s friends, Mathilda, and had dinner with her. Oh and I finally met Vanessa’s boyfriend, Lucien! I have spoken with him on the phone, on Skype, and we are Facebook friends, so it was finally nice to put a face to the name. It’s a good thing I was shown around Sweden by native Swedes, tackling the language would have been a bit much, considering reading Swedish is like reading Chinese.

On Saturday, Vanessa and I climbed up to the top of Helsingborg’s castle, which had a great view of the city. We could even see Denmark across the water. Vanessa took me shopping on the small shopping streets, where I found a pair of jeans and a dress and a shirt…overall a successful shopping expedition. The only other thing I looked for was a spring jacket: I found the perfect jacket in the wrong color and the wrong size, but was then on a mission to find the perfect jacket. After shopping, we took the boat over to Denmark to see the castle where Shakespeare’s Hamlet takes place, which I thought was fascinating. Vanessa’s old nanny, Gulli, and her husband, invited us over to her house for dinner. She reminded me of the Hungarians—she would not stop feeding us. We had a typical Swedish carrot-and-onion soup and then stuffed ourselves to the brim with Swedish pancakes, which are a bit like crepes. I met Vanessa’s roommate, Caroline, that night, and we made tacos for dinner. We rented a movie and had a really relaxing night.

Sunday was another low-key day. Vanessa and I slept in for a while and went to the bakery around the corner, where Vanessa introduced me to all of these phenomenal Swedish breads. My favorite one had poppy seeds on the outside and was sweet and tasted like almonds on the inside. We went to the mall to visit Caroline at work, still in search of that jacket, but it was an unsuccessful trip. We headed back to Vanessa’s apartment so I could organize my stuff before going to Lucien’s house that night.

Lucien picked us up and took us to his house, where his family had made an Arabic barbeque. I was not really prepared for my introduction to Lucien’s family, who are Catholic Arabs from Lebanon living in Sweden. When we arrived, I was literally thrown into seemingly intense conversations between the men of the house (Lucien, his two brothers, and their father) in Arabic. I say ‘seemingly’ intense because Arabic is a very harsh language—they were laughing and smiling the whole time but sounded like they were about to take each other’s heads off. Vanessa was sitting next to me, speaking equally harsh (but more soft spoken) Swedish with Lucien’s sister-in-law. I sat there with a thoroughly confused smile on my face, trying to comprehend even a bit of either conversation going around me, enjoying the wonderful garlic-infused Arabic food in front of me. Lucien’s mother, who hardly speaks a lick of Swedish or English, simply gave me a reassuring look, that seemed to say “I apologize, you must be perplexed by these strange languages. But welcome to our home. Now eat.” It was the first time since I have been in Europe the language barrier has been a huge issue. I could at least say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in Spanish and French, but here I was totally lost, completely out of my comfort zone. Despite this, I sat there and allowed myself to be awed by the customs and lifestyles that were simultaneously spanning cultures and generations.

I did not want Monday to come because it meant I had to leave Vanessa. She was leaving for New York City with Lucien on Thursday anyway, so I could not have stayed much longer if I had wanted to. We went to Malmö, another small town further south of Helsingborg, closer to Copenhagen, where I had to fly out of later that day. We did even more shopping here, still on a quest to find that jacket I tried on the first day. I think we went into every single store in the town to try on all colors and styles of spring jackets known to man. Defeated and worn out, Vanessa and I stopped for a coffee shop. I had given up: we had been everywhere, I had tried everything and was so over it. Vanessa saw something she liked in the window of a shop, so we stopped in one last store, and asked if they had this brand or knew of anywhere else carried it. As luck would have it, there was one store we had not yet checked, at the other end of town. Newly inspired with potential, Vanessa and I booked it over to this mini-mall in hopes of finding something. Because I had set myself up for disappointment, I was overjoyed when I found the exact jacket from that first day in the correct size, and 50% off! I could not resist, and by some other stroke of luck, I spent my last 2,000 Swedish Kroner on the jacket (the equivalent of $20…quite a steal). We walked as slowly as we could back to the train station, prolonging our goodbye. I bought my ticket, said a teary-eyed goodbye to Vanessa and cried the entire twenty-minute train ride to the Copenhagen airport. Even though I had not seen her in five months, it was like not an hour had passed: we did not skip a single beat.

That day, I was in four countries in the span of five hours: Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. I flew from Copenhagen to Amsterdam to meet Dana, Brenna, Caitlin, Ariel, and Jaclyn so we could fly to Prague together. Initially, I was not really excited to see them after being with Vanessa, but those reservations quickly dissipated when I saw them at the airport. We had only been apart for five days, but we had never spent that much time apart from one another: we basically live together in Rome, so it was a new concept, to travel separately. The flight to Prague was painless, I read my book, The Other Boleyn Girl the whole time. When we got to the airport, however, we had to quickly figure out the conversion rate in order to determine how many Czech Crowns to withdraw for taxis and hostel payment and things. We ultimately came to the conclusion that Czech Crowns (and Hungarian Forint, for that matter) are Monopoly money. We each took out about 4,000 Crowns, which is about 150 Euro, and the ATM spit out four 1,000-unit bills, which we did not really know what to do with. We did not grasp conversion rates at all while on break.

We took a taxi to our hostel, the Czech Inn, and arrived to a receptionist who was a Robert Pattinson look-alike (I again apologize for the obscure Twilight reference…For those of you uneducated in the world of vampires, Robert Pattinson is the gorgeous actor who plays the character of Edward Cullen in the movie Twilight. He also plays Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter movies). Naturally, none of us could compose ourselves. Even Brenna, who is always the most collected out of any of us at any given time, had a difficult time forming coherent sentences in front of him. The hostel was great—clean, friendly and extremely helpful.

We were out the door at 9a.m. on Tuesday morning: we wanted to make sure we did not miss anything in Prague, even though we were going to spend four full days there. We walked around a bit, saw Wenceslas Square, which is not a square at all, but rather a long boulevard running from a museum down to just before Old Town Square. We walked around a small market there for a while, and I could not help but feeling like I was in Disneyland: the stands were all in stalls that were little wooden house-like things which were so cute—selling everything from pastries to sausages to hand-painted egg shells. We even saw a blacksmith making bells right in the main square. We went into Old Town Square to take a free walking tour of the city, which was a tour of the west side of the river. This included a hike up to Prague Castle and the surrounding gardens, the Czech Senate, the Charles Bridge, and the John Lennon wall; the only place in Prague where you can graffiti. We had GORGEOUS weather while we were there—about 80 degrees and sunny the whole time. I got so burnt the first day I couldn’t let anything touch my chest for the rest of the time we spent in Prague, but things could have been worse. For dinner that night, we dove into a small pub-like restaurant that served typical Czech food, which was amazing. As usual, we stuffed ourselves over capacity and then had to roll ourselves back to the hostel.

Wednesday was basically a repeat of Tuesday, except the walking tour this time was on the east side of the river. We got an explanation of the famous Astronomical Clock, situated on the front of the old Town Hall building. It is a beautiful clock that has a face for twelve-hour time, twenty-four hour time, a face for the astrological signs, and something else but I cannot remember what it stands for. Every hour on the hour, the windows above the clock open and the twelve apostles do a cameo in the frame of the window. It was so beautiful out that we did not have the attention span to stay on the full 3-hour long tour, so we ducked out early and went to walk around the Jewish Quarter. That’s the thing about having Jewish friends: they want to see the Jewish part of every city we go to. It is a nice change of pace to learn about the Jewish history of each country and look at synagogues instead of Catholic churches. We walked back to the John Lennon wall to sign our names and take pictures in front of the huge peace sign in the middle. I signed my name with the other girls, then found a peace sign and wrote ‘K.K.C.C.K.’ in it. I also wrote Philip’s initials. I do not know if that is something he would have done or not, but now the letters ‘P.E.R.’ are etched on the wall forever.

We then walked over the Charles Bridge back in the direction of Old Town Square, where we ran into some of our other friends—Brenden, Michael, Kristin, and Chelsea—who were there separately from us. We had lunch in the square with them, and then walked around a bit. We went to see the “Fred and Ginger” Dancing building (which was not anything special). Then we went to a church where the some Czech government officials who tried to assassinate Nazi officer Reinhard Heydrich (one of Hitler’s most esteemed colleagues) hid out after the attempted assassination. I did not know about any of this before we went into this church, and was both significantly creeped out and fascinated. We were going to go visit the Botanical Gardens, but we got caught in the rain so we returned to our hostel for some down time.

On Thursday morning, we said goodbye to Caitlin who was returning to Rome to meet up with her family. We met up with Dana’s friend, Lindsay, who was also on spring break. We dedicated this day to go get lost in the Prague Castle, which proved to be relatively easy. We hiked back up to the top of the hill (my legs are going to be the only part of my body in great shape when I get home) and went into see the different parts of the castle. Unfortunately, some of the castle was closed off for restoration, but we made do with the other things to see. Probably the coolest part of the whole tour were the crown jewels, which were so astounding they looked fake. The honking jewels on the crown looked like the ones you find on those plastic play tiaras. We went into the St. Vitus Cathedral, which echoes Notre Dame in every way. The only difference is that there are more stained glass windows allowing light to stream into the nave, giving the cathedral an all-around lighter, welcoming feeling. We walked down Golden Lane, a small street lined with souvenir shops, and one of the oldest streets in Prague, if I am not mistaken. When we were finished with the castle, we came down from the hill ravenous with hunger. We quickly suppressed that with bagel sandwiches, a bit reminiscent of the States considering bagels and turkey do not exist in Italy.

Friday was another early morning because it was our last day in Prague. Brenna and Ariel had left way early that morning—they were on the 6a.m. Student Agency bus to Budapest. Dana, Jaclyn, and I were not scheduled to leave until four that afternoon, so we just walked around Prague, doing some last-minute postcard shopping and such. We went to the Franz Kafka museum, which was equally intriguing and depressing. I did not know anything about Kafka’s work or life before our trip here: I could not have told you a single thing he wrote. After learning about his life, the obscure nature of his novels makes complete sense. He was one disturbed man.

The bus ride from Prague to Budapest was 7 ½ hours which was a bit rough. It was a really long trip and the guy sitting in front of me insisted on leaning his chair all the way back so I had exactly zero leg room. They showed a few movies and we were able to watch a few episodes of Friends, which passed the time. We got to Budapest really late, around midnight, and then had trouble finding our hostel. It was literally a hole in the wall, in between a bar and a tattoo parlor. The taxi dropped us off and we all looked at each other totally bewildered. Even though Brenna and Ariel arrived there earlier in the day, our phones did not work so we could not call them to ask them if we were in the right place. Thankfully I was able to send them a text message and they came down to meet us. The hostel was cool—it was actually an apartment that with about fourteen beds that the guy rents out to students and people who are traveling. We learned that the out the apartment actually used to be the landlord’s (Adrian) when he was doing graduate work at the university in Budapest. He was only supposed to stay for a year but fell in love with the city (shocker!). He is half Finnish, half Hungarian, and grew up in Australia. He gave us all kinds of recommendations on where to go out, where to eat, how to get around the city—all in all he was incredibly helpful.

The next morning, I met up with Huba (my great-uncle)! He took me around to see some things I did not get a chance to see the last time I was there—I didn’t realized how little of the city I last time I was there. In fact, we spent all of our time in the hotel and the immediate surrounding area: we only saw the Csarnok and the Citadel. Huba took me to Hero’s Square (for a second time), to see his namesake of a statue. We went to see Parliament but did not go inside because the line was too long, so he took me to Castle Hill, where some of the cousins went last time. At 10:30a.m., Huba took me to the best ice cream place in Budapest, followed by a marzipan museum. Then, we climbed to the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica. Ok actually we took the elevator. Huba told me it was the first time he had ever taken the elevator up to the top. He said he brought Kicsi and some of her friends there and even they climbed the stairs to the top! I think we took the elevator because of time constraints—Huba was trying to get out to Zamardi for the better part of the afternoon. Oh—St. Stephen’s hand is preserved in the basilica. It is housed in a little thing that looks like a house, made out of gold and decked out with precious jewels: quite a setting for an old shriveled up hand.

Huba then took me around Budafolk to see Palko’s statue again, which was just as powerful as it had been the first time. We saw where the Takács house used to be, and drove by Atila and Anci’s house. We went to their apartment to meet up with Zsuzsi and Emeshe for lunch. I almost broke down when I saw Zsuzsi: I guess that is the effect the Magyars have on their family. It was so good to see her, and made me really homesick. Lunch, as usual, was phenomenal—the Hungarians know how to cook and even more so they know how to feed people. I know I will never go hungry when I am around my Hungarian relatives. We had kaposta (stuffed grape leaves), thickly sliced ham, bread, and beigli (pronounced bagli for those non-Hungarians). They asked me if I wanted to call home—thank the lord it was 6:30am in the States and no one was awake, otherwise I might have lost it. I told Zsuzi that and she joked that we could call Zsolt because he would be awake (Emeshe translated for her—her English is pretty good!). After lunch, Huba took me back to the hostel, where I met up with the rest of the girls before heading to the Szechenyi Baths for the remainder of the afternoon.

The baths were amazing, completed by the beautiful weather outside. We spent a few hours in the warm bath, just hanging out, talking, and giggling at the European men in Speedos. I got a much-needed massage—he worked out every single kink I had in my back (which is difficult with the kinds of knots I get). We basked in the sun for a while and then went and walked around the gardens a bit, admiring a castle that is nicely nestled behind some trees.
By the time Sunday came around, I did not want to leave Budapest at all. We spent most of Sunday morning at the baths again, only deepening the redness on my chest, but it was well worth it. Leaving meant leaving the family and everything I love about my Hungarian background, as well as a rough reentry to Italy where there were three research papers and four finals waiting for me.

I did eventually miss the Italian food. Although Italians love their carbs, at least they attempt to incorporate veggies into their diet, unlike the Czech or the Hungarians. I also missed speaking Italian—I often found myself thinking in Italian, which I only realized as an afterthought. Pretty remarkable afterthought.

It was a wonderful, exhilarating, and wholly exhausting trip.

Posted by taylork210 02:42 Comments (2)

Paris, ooh la la!

Weekend in Paris, March 27th-March 30th

If I could use one word to describe the city of Paris, it would be elegant. Many of the cities I have traveled to surprised me: I was not expecting Paris to look like it did, but I don’t know what I had been expecting.

Unfortunately, our hostel was a bit far away from anything we wanted to do or see all weekend, but thankfully the Paris Metro had a stop right across the street from where we were staying. Our flight out of Rome was at seven in the morning, so we had a full day to explore Paris when we arrived to the freezing, foggy weather. For some reason, though, this is the kind of weather I associate with Paris. Dana, Brenna, and I dropped our stuff and immediately headed to the Montmarte area, where Sacre Couer is. This is a really artsy area, full of cafes, art galleries, and artist vendors, where I bought a little painting. After eating some lunch, we took the metro to L’Arc de Triomphe and climbed up to the top of it. Chris told me to climb this rather than the Eiffel Tower, because from here you can see the Eiffel Tower. And the view was phenomenal. Sacre Couer looked like some kind of middle-eastern temple on a hill: it is clearly the highest point in the city. The light was hitting the white domes of the church so it was illuminated against the grey skies. The Eiffel Tower towered above everything else, making it visible from every area of the city. We could see all the way down the Champs de'Lysses to the Louvre, and could even see the top of Notre Dame.

We climbed down the stairs and started to walk down the Champs de'Lysses, feeling thoroughly inadequate against the French women who are even more impeccably dressed than Italian women, if that is even possible. The walk was gorgeous, the huge boulevard leading you directly to the Louvre. And oh, the Louvre, the amazing Louvre. I was taken with the sheer size of the building, not realizing that it extended even beyond the courtyard where the glass pyramid is located. It is a gorgeous building in and of itself, and therefore appropriate that it holds the biggest art collection in the world. Despite our exhaustion, we went on Friday night because it is free for students. And let me just say this: the tour of the Louvre was the single most overwhelming experience of my entire life. It was sensory overload when we walked into the huge lobby with entrances to three different wings, each with three floors and each with a more priceless art collection than the next. It took us forever to find the Mona Lisa, and when we did, I was pleasantly surprised. I had heard all kinds of criticism about this famous painting: it is the size of a postcard, it’s not worth it, you can only see it from twenty feet away, and other gripes from people who had a less-than stellar experience with DaVinci’s painting. I would like to thoroughly denounce all of these disappointed claims: I personally thought the Mona Lisa was amazing, and certainly lived up to my expectations. Brenna, Dana, and I shoved ourselves through the crowd right up to the front so we got a great view of it, and it ended up being a lot bigger than I expected. After this wild goose chase to find the Mona Lisa, we were thoroughly beat and nearly fell asleep waiting for our other friends.

As if we had not run around the city enough that day, the other girls we met up with wanted to climb the Eiffel Tower at night. They were finished with the Louvre at ten, and the Eiffel Tower closes at eleven, so we literally ran to the metro and ran to the Eiffel Tower. Brenna and I didn’t go up the tower, we just sat by it and marveled at this amazing architectural achievement. Pictures just don’t do the intricacies of the Eiffel Tower justice, and at night it is even more spectacular. Nothing compares to the experience of sitting underneath one of the massive pillars, even if we froze to death.

The next morning, we got up super early to get a jumpstart on our day. It started off well with the most incredible pastry of my life. We then went to the Musee D’Orsay, which is a train station-turned museum, filled with works of art by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Matisse, Lautrec, and much more manageable than the Louvre. It was a nice change of pace to be in the presence of impressionist paintings rather than crucifixions, annunciations, adorations, nativity scenes, and other religious artwork that dominates Renaissance art. I was really looking forward to see Monet’s Water Lilies, but the painting was on loan to an art museum in Givenchy.

From the Musee D’Orsay, we hopped on the RER, Paris’ regional train, and went out to Versailles, which is definitely everything it is cracked up to be. We paid a bit more for a private tour of King Louis XV private apartments (which you do not get to see on your own), but first had time to walk around the palace by ourselves. Everything in the palace is overly ornate, overdone in excess: excess in color, in gold plating, in elaborate chandeliers. Even the expanse of the gardens, perfectly geometrically designed (after the Italian Renaissance gardens, mind you), were beautifully lavish.

That night we went back to Montmarte for dinner, found a cute little restaurant that served French onion soup and croq monsieurs. When we sat down, the host told us that he did not want to hear us making too much noise. Well, put twelve hungry girls in the middle of a tiny restaurant and we’re bound to make some kind of racket. I don’t think the French people dining around us were too fond of us after that.

We got up early again on Sunday morning to get to the market at La Motte Piquet, where we bought fresh strawberries and pain au chocolat for breakfast. This market literally has everything, from the fresh catch of the day to shoes for sale. We were in awe of the colors bursting from the fruit stands and the pungent stench of cheese that pretty much takes Paris by storm.

We then went down to explore Notre Dame. The gothic architecture of the cathedral has an extremely ominous complexity that is not found anywhere in Italy, only emphasized by the gargoyles lining the top. Even the interior of the cathedral had an extremely creepy feeling. The inside of the cathedral was so cold we could see our breath. The long nave seemed to be never-ending and appeared to swallow the altar and the priest who was performing mass.

After visiting Notre Dame, we walked to see the Pompidou: a strange modern art building that does NOT fit in with the motif of Paris. We walked around the Jewish Quarter for a while, the only section of town with shops that were open. We basked in the sun in Plaç de Voges for a while before trekking to Angelina where we proceeded to drink the best hot chocolate of our entire lives. They do hot chocolate correctly in Paris: they gave us a huge pitcher for the three of us, complete with a gigantic bowl of whipped cream and ice water. But it was so rich we could not even finish all of it.

For dinner, we went back to Montmarte to a fondue place on the recommendation of some of my friends who are studying in Toulouse, France. It is a tiny room, that an probably seat about forty people at a time, serving a fixed menu complete with aperitifs, fondue, and wine out of baby bottles. None of us could keep a straight face when we started to drink, and were easily the loudest ones in the jam-packed room, laughing hysterically at the concept of three 21-year-old girls drinking wine out of baby bottles.

Brenna and I took Dana to the Eiffel Tower because she went back to the hostel early the other night, and she was just as astounded as we had been the first night. What we did not tell her was that every hour on the hour, the lights of the Eiffel Tower blink like crazy, giving it a sparkling effect. Dana was thrilled and jumped up and down like a toddler. On our way back to the metro, we stopped to get our first French crepe, which was utterly phenomenal. I resolved then and there never to eat a crepe again unless it was in France.

When I told Stefani I was going to Paris, she told me to go to the bar where she hung out while she was studying there. Against our better judgment and our body temperatures, I dragged Brenna and Dana to The Long Hop for a drink or two. As per Steffy’s request, we asked for Eric, but the bartender told us he was fired two years ago because he was too nice to girls. Gio, the bartender, seemed honored that we showed up anyway, and gave us each a few free drinks.

Our flight on Monday did not leave until eight that night, so we had a relaxing day to explore areas of the city we had not yet seen. We checked out of our hostel and dragged our stuff with us all day. We went to the Luxembourg Gardens and walked around there for a bit—we saw a movie being filmed! It looked like it was set in the 1800s, and they must have done about ten takes while we were standing there watching.

For our last meal in Paris, we wanted to have a picnic around the Eiffel Tower with baguettes and cheese. We literally spent an hour and a half running around Paris trying to find a cheese shop. It should not be that hard to find a fromagerie in a city that is renowned for its cheese. Ideally, we wanted to buy cheese from the artisan who makes it for Presiden Sarkozy, but it was closed two days in a row! Eventually we found a place and bought some brie, some other cheese with caraway seeds, and a few slices of salami. So after our cheese-and-baguette quest, we found a bench near the Eiffel Tower and picnicked there until it was time to head to the bus station.

I know it’s cheesy, but everything about Paris really was magical.

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Posted by taylork210 02:42 Comments (2)

Pompeii, Naples, Sorrento, and Capri

Weekend with the program in Southern Italy, March 20th-22nd

Our program is beyond phenomenal: I have zero complaints about the way they run things, and I would be a spokesperson for AIFS in a heartbeat if they asked me. For example, I don’t know of any other program that would willingly take 170 college kids to the area of Italy run by the mafia, but they did.

Our weekend in southern Italy was fantastic. In three days we effectively visited Pompeii, Naples, Sorrento, and Capri: a sightseeing feat only rivaled by our stay in London.

Our buses left from Termini (the train station) at 8:00am on Friday, and I slept the whole way. I could never fall asleep in cars or on buses until this trip, but for some reason I have taken to passing out before we pull out of the parking spot. The drive was only about three hours, and we arrived in Pompeii to freezing rain. None of us were dressed appropriately—why would we have been? One would assume that the area three hours south of Rome would be significantly warmer, but alas, no. We had a lunch break and then gathered with our professors for a tour of the ancient city of Pompeii.

I had heard mixed reviews of Pompeii: some people said it was really cool, others I spoke with said it was incredibly boring. Personally, I found it fascinating. The city was buried by still-active Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. Excavation of the city stated in 1773 and today in 2009 only two thirds of the city has been excavated. Most things I have seen this semester have exceeded my expectations greatly, and Pompeii was no exception. I think I was expecting to be walking around ruins like the ones in Rome, but we were literally walking through a city, on ancient city streets with buildings and houses and amphitheaters still intact from 2,000 years ago. We saw old bars, old houses, and even got to go inside a brothel, which is extremely well preserved. We saw Pompeii’s old Forum, which is designed similarly to Rome’s, although it’s expanse is much greater. We saw pottery that looked like it could still function, and saw bodies that had been buried by the ash! There was one man lying on the shelves with the pottery, a 14-year-old pregnant girl, and a dog. It really was crazy to see this kind of thing, to be walking among these people, frozen in time. We were able to make out the tracks in the streets from the wheels of the old chariots—it was so cool. Our professor also pointed out a bakery that had been open early to start baking for the day on that fateful morning of the Vesuvius eruption. When this bakery was excavated, they found loaves of bread still in the oven. We went inside the old baths, which still have the mosaic on the floor still completely intact. During our tour of the ancient city, the rain came and went, but the fog lingered. Vesuvius loomed around every corner, periodically appearing out of the fog, only to disappear a second later.

We arrived at our four-star hotel on the water just before dinnertime. Our rooming situation worked out well and I ended up staying with Dana for the duration of the trip. We unloaded our stuff and braved the still-freezing weather to grab a bite to eat. We found a little pub with all sorts of sandwiches and bar food: a nice break from our usually carbohydrate-filled meals.

On Saturday, we rose early to head to the National Archeological Museum in Naples. Upon arrival in Naples, Dana exclaimed “This is the bunkest town I have ever seen!” to which we dissolved into fits of laughter. Bunk? What does that mean, we asked her. She enlightened our uneducated minds and told us that “bunk” is used to describe anything lower than down-and-out. After learning this, there is no other way to describe Naples. Dirty and trashy with crime lurking around every corner, you immediately feel like you’re in a town run by the mafia when you enter this city. My friends were really excited to find business run by the mafia—they are all taking the “History of the Italian Mafia” class and told me how to pinpoint mafia-run stores: 1) there are people, usually men, hanging around outside who greet you excessively when you enter; and 2) if they do not give you a receipt when you finish your purchase. They were instantly pleased. We dove into a tabacchi (tobacco shop, equivalent to a 7-Eleven or something) to grab a bottle of water and were immediately ushered in by three men who were standing outside, looking like they were just shooting the shit. We also were not given receipts when we bought our water—a telltale sign this business does not pay their taxes. As soon as we got to the next block, Dana and Brenna squealed with delight at the notion of buying something from the mafia.

The museum was relatively boring, mainly because we had seen a lot of the same things in Pompeii. We toured with Franz, which never lasts less than three hours, making it difficult to pay attention for that long. There were a ton of artifacts that were buried by the lava of Vesuvius, not just ash, and were better preserved. In fact, there were some objects that did not look like they had been damaged at all, including the oldest artifact buried by the volcano: a gorgeous sapphire-colored vase.

I sincerely apologize for this, but it is something that I cannot leave out, so pardon my vulgarity for a moment. Now, if you saw a sign over a room that said “Gabinetto Segreto” (Secret Room), what would you assume was in there? And if you also knew that women and children were not allowed in this room up until a few years ago, what kind of horrifying image would your imagination conjure up? Probably not every single phallic symbol you could ever imagine, spanning form children’s mobiles to brothel “menus” to replicas of a fertility god in every size imaginable. It was quite a sight, and just further proof the Pompeiians were sex fiends. Maybe they did not have anything better to do.

So after having a tour of the bunkest city in Italy, a museum with a thoroughly disturbing room, we climbed an active volcano! Apparently AIFS was really trying to integrate us into the Italian culture by making us do all of this crazy stuff. So our buses took us up as high up as they could go on treacherous, winding roads which could have ended tragically had we hit a pebble the wrong way. We descended the buses and were hit with freezing, ski-slope-like winds. In all fairness, we were on the top of a mountain. So we zipped up our jackets and started the climb to the top, which was difficult. I thought it would be a really good idea to climb Vesuvius in my boots, which now consequently do not have a sole. We were able to climb all the way up to the crater, virtually into the crater if we really wanted to. It was certainly one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had, peering into the gigantic crater to see the smoke rising from the sides, all the while holding my breath against the smell of sulfur, painfully aware of the fact that this volcano would have the same effects of an atomic bomb if it decided to erupt today. We were able to see all the surrounding towns quietly nestled at the foot of A VIOLENT VOLCANO. Seriously though, I do not know why people didn’t take the hint when Vesuvius buried a bunch of towns the first time to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. Maybe it’s a comfort thing: maybe people feel protected by the huge volcano. Sure that is possible, if you like the thrill of living in the foothills of a volcano that could blow any day.

After suffering windburn and the worst headache of my life from the altitude change, we headed back to the buses to thaw out. When we returned to the hotel, we had some time to take a nap and rest up before taking the metro to Sorrento for dinner. Sorrento was adorable at night, I’m sure it is even more charming during the day. We hunted down a restaurant we found in Brad’s guidebook, which ended up being a delicious meal. There were sixteen of us, and we took over the entire restaurant. It was filled with soft-spoken older couples who were thoroughly confused to see twelve girls and four guys: some sort of strange date night. Surprisingly, we kept our volume under control: we’re usually the loud, obnoxious American tourists. Thankfully, there was a party of three sitting a few tables down that proceeded to get drunk and yell and scream over whatever noise we were making. We caught the last train back to the town our hotel was in, along with three-quarters of our program who went out in Sorrento as well.

Fortunately, the weather cooperated with us on Sunday so we were able to go to Capri. If it had not, we would have gone to another museum—I do not think I could have handled another marathon museum tour. We took the hydrofoil (or ferry boat) over to the island, which took about forty-five minutes. I slept the whole way over…the rock of the boat put me to sleep immediately. It was about twenty degrees warmer on Capri than it was on the mainland—I have no idea why. I was immediately blown away by the colors: the turquoise of the water provided a great basis for the brightly colored rooftops in the shops in the harbor.

We took the funicular up to the town of Capri, where we got a cappuccino to wake us up a bit. Then, on our professor Sara’s recommendation, we went on an archeological hike up to Tiberius’s villa. Emperor Tiberius built a temple in honor of Jupiter on the highest point of the island. The walk up to the villa was phenomenal—we hiked through tiny roads dotted with Italian villas and an excessive amount of lemon trees. When we arrived at the entrance to the villa, we met our professors there, who graciously paid for our tickets so we could ascend further to the highest point on the west side of the island. The views just never stop amazing me: we could see the Italian mainland where we took the hydrofoil from, outlined by the bluest blue sea I’ve ever seen.

After about an hour, we walked back down to Capri and caught the bus to Anacapri, the east side of the island. We did a bit of shopping there and had some lunch. This trip is just full of surprises—my friend got a pizza that he thought had sausage and potatoes on it, but you have to keep in mind that translations are not always literal. Brenden’s pizza came out topped with sliced-up hot dog and french fries. After lunch we went back down to the harbor and walked around there before taking the hydrofoil back to the port, where our Giotto buses were waiting to take us back to Rome.

Oh Mama and Daddy, by the way, I am moving to Capri.

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Posted by taylork210 02:31 Comments (3)

Katelyn & Nicki take on Roma

A synopsis of Katelyn & Nicki's visit to Rome for spring break :)

I never really bought into the whole “honeymoon” phase of culture shock. I really just thought my abroad experiences were destined to be incredibly amazing and wonderful all the time, but I finally understand what the “negotiation phase” is.

I had a fantastic time hiding Katelyn and Nicki in my apartment for a week: it was almost like harboring fugitives…fugitives who happened to be my sister and my cousin who were just visiting me for spring break. I picked them up at the airport (because I do not think they would have been able to get to Rome proper by themselves), and literally attacked them both and cried when I saw them coming out of the international arrivals gate. Neither of them had slept at all and they were both in desperate need of coffee, so we hopped on the train and headed back to my apartment.

I am pretty sure they both wanted to kill me on that first day. First of all, we walk everywhere in Rome—something that neither of them were used to. Secondly, I threw their jet-lagged bodies into a sightseeing frenzy almost immediately. We dropped our stuff in the apartment only to head back to the metro to take it up to St. Peter’s to see the Pope! I do not know if either one of them were impressed (I think they were just exhausted), but now they can say that they saw the Pope. We went into St. Peter’s and I finally got a reaction of them—they were both floored by the massive basilica. I am still amazed by it every time I go in (that was my fourth time inside since I had been in Rome). Since they were dragging their feet and I could not get them up, we went home so they could nap. I do not really know what a four-and-a-half hour sleep is, but I think it is way more than a nap. I was tired so I conked out for a while as well.

The next day we were way more productive. I took the girls to see the Pantheon and a pretty church I visited the previous week with my art history class. We had lunch with my friends at Miscellanea, our fave hole-in-the-wall spot with 4 Euro paninis and 6 Euro pizza (thanks Rick Steves). After lunch we walked to the Trevi Fountain, and I forced them to be ultra-touristy and throw a coin into the fountain. I threw one in, as well, so I do the math correctly, I should be coming back to Rome at least four times in my life. That would be awesome.

It was a gorgeous day, so I took the girls up to Villa Borghese—the huge park where the Borghese Gallery is located. We did not go inside the Gallery, although I would spend all day every day in there looking at sculptures by Bernini, Canova, and other, and paintings by renowned artists like Titian and Caravaggio. Instead, we rented bikes for an hour and bombed up and down the hills of the park. I discovered some parts of the park that I had not known before, like a small lake hidden by a ton of trees. There were people in small rowboats in this lake, making the scene movie-esque romantic.

Tuesday I had class all day, so Frick and Frack had to fend for themselves. I left them the keys to my apartment and gave them explicit directions to the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill. I was happy to find out that they had successfully completed their task of seeing these things and they made themselves lunch. We all got changed and headed out to dinner at a place in one of my guidebooks. I had some awesome pasta with prosciutto and mozzarella cheese, and Kake and Nick had broccoli and sausage pizza.

We then met up with my friends at a place called Mood, which is where the “honeymoon” phase of my life abroad was rudely interrupted. Mood is this cool lounge/bar where we like to go on Tuesday nights because we do not have to pay a cover charge and they have fun deals. Apparently our entire program also decided to go that night so Richmond pretty much took over the entire area. For some odd reason, I was in a bit of a funk and just was not being myself. My friends were dancing, but I opted to sit with everyone’s purses to make sure they were OK. I just wanted a few minutes to reflect to myself, so I did not mind sitting on a pile of fleeces. Brenna and Dana quickly came over to me trying to convince me to get my butt up and dance, which I did not do immediately because of my current post of purse-watcher. Eventually, reluctantly, I got up, leaving my purse and a few others sitting at on the couch. There were a few of my friends sitting on the perimeter of the couches, so I just asked them to keep half and eye on our stuff.

I danced with my friends and Katelyn and Nicki for a while, and then we decided we wanted to go back to the bar for a break in the intense exercise we were getting. I went back to get my purse, and no one was sitting there. I grabbed the strap of the purse and immediately noticed that it was significantly lighter. And then the worst: I reached into the purse only to grab hold of a couple of lip-glosses and a tampon or two. No phone, no wallet. The phone was not a big deal at all, but my wallet held my student ID card, my debit card, credit card, and about 40 Euro. UGH I felt so stupid, so idiotic for even leaving my purse on the table in the first place. I specifically bought this one so I could leave it slung across my body all night and would not have to worry about it! What possessed me to take it off, I still have no idea. Maybe I was just sick of it, I am really not sure. Fortunately I was stone cold sober, unlike most of my friends, and was a lot calmer than if I had been intoxicated. Luckily I was able borrow Brenna’s phone and call Daddy, who played savior and cancelled both the credit card and the debit card immediately. The suddenness of it all was the worst part, I think. I just did not expect anything like that to happen to me because I am usually super cautious with my purse and belongings I take out with me. The second I was careless, some sketchy man saw my purse and grabbed the contents. In the large scheme of things, if that was the worst thing that happened, so be it. I was not hurt, nor was anyone around me. I do know a girl who had her entire purse taken—phone, house keys, wallet, camera, everything. At least mine was not that bad. Still, it put me in a funk for the next week and a half, a funk I had a hard time getting out of. Katelyn and Nicki could not have been greater—they were so funny on our walk home trying to cheer me up and make me feel more comfortable and better about the situation. They were spinning the situation into ridiculousness, so I had to laugh. When we got home, we all crawled into bed and fell asleep immediately, trying to forget the events of the night.

It kind of put a damper on the rest of their time with me in Rome, but we still made the time fun. At least it happened near the end of their trip, so we did not need the credit card for anything, and ended up just cooking in our apartment and being really low-key for the rest of the week. On Wednesday we just walked around the city picking up souvenirs for the respective family members and got lost in the little alleys around the Trevi Fountain. We stopped in an enoteca, or wine shop, so the girls could pick up some limoncello (which I think is disgusting). What we did not realize, however, is that we walked into a wine shop with a free wine tasting. The girl who worked there let us taste all kinds of Italian liquors—including the limoncello, which I almost spit back out all over the poor girl. She gave us this lemon cream stuff, grappa, and some kind of chocolate liquor which was actually really good. It was quite the experience.

On Thursday I had class again, although I just wanted to skip class and hang out with the girls all day. Unfortunately, though, I had a midterm and could not miss it. The girls went to the Vatican Museums because I told them they could not leave Rome without seeing the Sistine Chapel. They successfully navigated the metro by themselves to and from the Vatican Museums, which I was thoroughly impressed by. They spend the rest of the afternoon walking up and down my street shopping and getting last-minute gifts. We went out with some of my friends and stayed out pretty late for their last night…the girls were set on staying up all night, but we all ended up falling asleep, only to rise again at 4 to catch a cab to the airport. I fought back tears when I had to say goodbye to them, but watched them get through security safely. I took the train from the airport back to Rome, crawled back into bed and slept all day. It was so good to have Katelyn and Nicki, I am so glad they decided to come visit me for their spring break when they could have done a number of other things ☺.

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Posted by taylork210 05:24 Comments (1)

Barça

Trip to Barcelona at the end of February!!

My first trip out of Rome was a bit of a sensory shock. I traveled to a country where I once knew its language, but since they speak Catalan in Barcelona, my once semi-proficient Spanish skills failed me miserably.

The streets in Barcelona are about ten times the size of the ones in Rome. After standing in the center of the city for about ten seconds, I realized that everything in Barcelona is simply newer than everything in Rome. It was cool to walk by Gaudi’s crazy creations and to look at the other Gothic architecture that dotted the city. There is such a disparity between the history of Rome and that of Barcelona that I found myself missing the ancient ruins I walk through every morning.

That being said, I had a great time in Spain. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous at first—I was going to visit my friend Christy (from Dickinson, also a Pi Phi), but it just so happened that six other girls from Dickinson were also going to be there that weekend, none of whom I knew too well. Two others are Pi Phis, but we were just never all that close. The weekend was good, however, to get to know some Dickinson girls I had formerly only be acquainted with.

Finding the hostel in Barcelona was easy: there was a metro stop literally outside the front door of the place. Trying to get in contact with my friends, however, was a little bit more frustrating because my phone was not functioning properly. Luckily, I ran into Jenny, who was on her way to meet the other girls at the beach. We shared a cab (which was shockingly cheap—especially compared to Rome), and chatted about our lives in our respective countries. She is studying in Toulouse, France for the semester through the Dickinson program that is located there. She said she loves it, and her French is getting better.

When we arrived at the beach, Jenny and I strolled down the boardwalk admiring the sunset and soaking in the sun. It was SO warm in Spain!! I walked around in a t-shirt and jeans for most of the weekend. After about twenty minutes, we finally found Christy, Sarah, Hillary, Melanie, Jordan, and Sam, hanging out by the water. I was virtually tackled to the ground by Christy—I guess she was happy to see me! We headed to a tapas bar to grab something to eat, and ran into yet another Dickinson Pi Phi who is studying in Barcelona. I am pretty much a part of the small world game no matter where I go. We returned to the hostel to change and freshen up, and headed to this club on a hill in the richest part of the city, according to Christy. This club was in a mansion, literally. There were at least two floors, with a huge spiral staircase and an even bigger bar. As cool as it was, the crowd was not for us, so we opted out and headed back to get some sleep.

The next day, Christy got to play tour guide for our introduction to Barcelona. We got sufficiently lost trying to find the Picasso museum, and asked some nice Spanish ladies for directions. I admired the odd Gothic architecture on the outside of the churches, comparing these new techniques to those of Renaissance churches. We finally found the Picasso museum in the middle of a bunch of Rome-like alleyways and headed inside.

I had absolutely no concept of the variety of Picasso’s art, and was subsequently floored by the beautiful landscape paintings. I knew that Picasso was famous for his strange cubist and modern art, so I automatically assumed that all of his art incorporated strangely shaped people with sagging faces. I was thoroughly confused when we started our tour around the museum because I only saw paintings of sprawling countryside scenery, and thought to myself, this is not Picasso. I was happy to see that his art goes beyond cubism and captures human life in a relatable manner.

After the museum, we walked around the city just to get a feel for it. We walked up to the fake Arc de Triomphe and took silly pictures. We then went to see Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) cathedral. This guy was a nut. I mean actually insane. Anyone who has ever seen any of his work could agree with me. The Sagrada Familia is the strangest thing I have ever seen. It is adorned with weirdly depicted Biblical figures, and looks like it could have been constructed by a 9-year-old like Kristina. There are fruit baskets on the top of some of the pillars, and the rear view of the cathedral looks like a drip castle. Seriously—it’s like Gaudi took a gigantic-sized dropper and just dropped wet sand into place to form a part of the cathedral. Christy told us that when he was given his degree from the university, his professors did not know if they were allowing an overly creative person or a clinically insane person to graduate.

Christy then took us to La Boqueria, Barcelona’s market. I have never seen such vibrant colors! The colors on the candies and on the fruit were equally blinding, and managed to capture a few pictures of these stands. When I put these pictures up on Facebook, my friend Melissa saw the one of the candy stand and told me that when she was in Barcelona last semester, the vendor at the stand told her that taking a picture was equivalent to buying the fruit. I guess I was just that sneaky.

One of our other friends who is studying in Barcelona, Nick, joined a basketball team with a bunch of other Spanish university kids, so we showed our school spirit and went to cheer him on. We were the loud, obnoxious fans sitting on the edge of the court, making up nicknames for all the cute Spanish boys who probably did not understand what we were saying. It was a fun experience, though, and Nick looked like he was having a great time. Nick is about 6-foot-9, and awkward and gangly, but you would think that because of his height he would be a good basketball player. Not exactly accurate. He happens to be a phenomenal cross country/track runner back at school, so his b-ball skills were a bit rusty. It was still fun to watch, though.

Dinner and nightlife do not start until really late in Spain. I had to play a sort of game with myself—when I felt hungry around a normal dinnertime, I would tell myself to stick it out for another two and a half hours until it was really time to go out to dinner. We did not leave for dinner until 11:45 one night (luckily we were just going across the street), and closed out the place. We went to another really fun place called Elephant Club, where the stupid coat check woman almost my jacket and then refused to go look for it. Christy handed her my side of the ticket, which she clearly dropped on the floor and then said she did not know what happened to it. What someone would want with a chocolate-colored North Face I do not know. When she gave Christy lip, we went and fought with the manager, who was all too eager to help two blonde American girls. After a lot of prodding, I finally got my coat back and we bolted out of there as fast as we could…a crazy end to a really fun trip.

Posted by taylork210 00:45 Comments (0)

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