The GoGlobal Blog

Month: September 2012

Under the Tuscan Sun

Under the Tuscan Sun

Buonasera, friends! I promised you a couple of blogs this week and here’s another one! This past weekend we went to Tuscany, the land of great food, expansive views, rich culture, and…did I mention great food?

We started off the trip in Cortona, a tiny village known for its sweeping views. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were greeted with a breathtaking view of the Tuscany countryside. With the Tuscan sun shining down on us (see what I did there?) it felt like we were meant to become a part of the culture.

We went on a quick tour around the city where we got to see the Cathedral of Cortona, dedicated to Margaret of Cortona. Inside the Cathedral there is the “Descent of the Holy Ghost” painting by Tommaso Bernabei. It’s amazing how in every church in this country you find another piece of art that you’ve only before read about. After walking out of the city wall, which includes part of the original Etruscan city wall, we hopped back on the bus and headed to Arezzo.

Before arriving in Arezzo we had a 9 course lunch in a villa overlooking the countryside. 9 courses! Pastas and meats and bread, oh my! Somewhere between the 4th and 5th course someone at my table looked up and said, “We’re sitting in Tuscany sipping vino, eating a huge lunch, and casually seeing all these amazing places. What is our life??” That seems to be our general feeling about our semester so far. The fact that we are here is completely overwhelming.

After lunch we once again set off for Arezzo. Arezzo was fantastic. The town has this incredible medieval feel to it, and everywhere you look you see a different coat of arms. The town has such a wonderful traditional feeling, in fact, the the movie “Life is Beautiful” was filmed in the center of town. Off of the main piazza is the Cathedral of Arezzo where Pope Gregory X is buried. Can you believe it? We literally looked over our shoulder at one point and saw him. Absolutely amazing.

After touring around the town we went back to our hotel for a “light” dinner. Just kidding, it was also at least 5 courses. Eating in Italy should be a sport, because it definitely involves training and stamina. Not that I’m complaining!

The next day we headed over to Anghiari, another great small town. We were given a few hours of free time to explore the town and relax. The entire town is on a huge hill (as is every place in Italy), and every time we turned we were looking straight down a street that ended in blue skies and rolling green hills. Pictures truly don’t do it justice.

After a few hours there we left for Sansepolcro, stopping along the way for lunch in a castle/villa. The owner of the property took a group of us around before lunch and showed us the torture chambers, which he now uses as a wine cellar, and showed us all the medieval torture devices. A little morbid but very cool at the same time! At one point he pointed up to the ceiling and said, “You see this arch? This arch is 1000 years old!” We were standing under an arch that is three times older than our country! Absolutely crazy.

After another fantastic lunch of a million courses and more carbs than I could ever eat (literally the courses were bread, bread with liver pate, bruschetta, rice, pasta, pasta, meat and potatoes, dessert) we headed off for Sansepolcro.

Now Sansepolcro was fantastic. We went on a weekend of this huge crossbow tournament held there, and we were able to see the crossbow trials and the run through of the parade. The parade involved tons of people all in medieval dress announcing the tournament, playing drums and trumpets, and showing off the history of the town. We even joined in the parade at one point! It was so silly but so much fun. Once the parade was over we jumped back on the bus (I was on the “Rus Bus” aka the fun bus) and headed back to the hotel.

After another marathon dinner involving the best dessert I have ever had (imagine chocolate on sweet bread on cream on a cloud and you almost have the idea) a group of us went out to explore the town. We found the main piazza that was absolutely buzzing with people. Arezzo, although popular, is a bit off the beaten track of Italy and it was great to mix with locals and hear and taste the local culture. Even though I love seeing all the sights it’s the culture and the feeling of the people that truly makes this country amazing.

The next day we set sail for Lago Trasimeno for a three hour boat cruise. Not only was the boat cruise incredibly relaxing we also got to see some amazing sights along the lake, including the small island in the center where it is said that St. Francis of Assisi did his 40 day fast. You see? Everywhere you turn in this country you find another corner of history.

After landing and having a few glasses of champagne and a fantastic lunch full of great conversation we set off for Rome, ready to sleep the three hours back to campus. Everyone returned to campus exhausted, full, and ready to sleep!

racing through the tiny streets of Rome

racing through the tiny streets of Rome

There have been a few times, thus far, that I have truly missed the ease and reliability of Chicago’s public transportation system.  One such time was the other night, when it seemed I had been thrown into an obscure version of the Amazing Race, Italian style, as a group of us rushed to the Mass of the Holy Spirit…

Our task: to arrive at the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio before 6:50pm.  The mass didn’t start until 7:00pm, so why, you ask, was the time so specifically 6:50pm?  Because, dear readers, that is when they closed and locked the doors to the church.  Being newly transformed Romans, we initially did not see anything particularly challenging about this.  A few of my friends had class until 5:45pm, but that gave us an hour to get downtown, and so everything still seemed just dandy.  Once class was out, the group of us bounded up the road to the bus stop and waited patiently for the 990.

…And that was our first challenge: the 990-bus.  Even though we knew that the 990 was notorious for being late, we all still had false hopes that the Italian bus system matched that of Chicago’s.  However, when 6:00pm rolled around, we finally realized once and for all that this was tragically not the case.  As we started getting anxious and even contemplated taking a cab, the 990 finally flew around the corner and screeched to a nail-biting stop.  Once on, the ride itself was even more of an adventure.  Vespas were flying past us and weaving speedily in front of us while our driver used his ninja-like reflexes to hit the brakes just in time, making all of us lurch forward.  Finally, feeling like we were reaching our destination, we all let out a long held in sigh and relaxed…all too soon.  For we soon found ourselves at a dead stop with horrendous traffic surrounding us.  When we finally arrived at the Piazza Cavour stop, our stop, we felt there was absolutely no hope we would get to mass: it was 6:37pm.  However, we decided to go for it, to sprint to the finish.  Or at least, let a taxi sprint for us to the finish.

…And that was our second, and thankfully last, challenge: the taxi.  Seeing a taxi stand across the street, the eight of us dodged passing Fiats, split into two groups, and grabbed a taxi.  The first group was soon racing off to the chiesa, leaving my group behind.  The taxi we had picked proved fruitless.  As we shouted the address to the driver and started to climb in, the driver started muttering in Italian and waving his arms emphatically.  We took this, correctly, to mean he didn’t want us, and, therefore, would not drive us anywhere.  Slightly crushed and definitely confused, we went hopefully to another taxi.  The driver, a very friendly woman, graciously ushered us in and we were finally off to our ultimate destination.  With hands gripped around our seat belts, we sped through the streets of Rome, through tiny, narrow alleys that would never constitute as streets anywhere other than in Italy.  We kept checking the watch and found the time always tantalizingly closer to 6:50pm.  Each time we thought we were at the chiesa, the taxi sped around a different corner.  When, finally, we arrived at the chiesa, the clock read 6:54pm.  We stepped out of the cab, just glad that we had finally made it, but strongly doubting our ability to enter the church.

But, as God would have it, many other JFRC students, faculty, and staff were arriving at the same time we were.  We joined a much larger group and walked quietly, and tardily, into the breathtaking sanctuary.  The mass, and dinner that followed, was completely worth all the anxiety and hassle we went through that night.  That night we all came together as a community, one that would be together for the next three months and help each other adjust to this new culture and new home.  Italy may have its quirks, but as you look around and see what this country has to offer, you somehow grow to appreciate them.

I live here, now I have to conquer it

I live here, now I have to conquer it

The past two weeks have been more then I ever could have imagined.  The more I have explored Rome, the more I and my friends figure out how much it really does have to offer.  How often can you go to a city and turn every corner and have an old building sprung on top of you.  The way that I have been able to explore the city is through running.  I try to run five days a week and although it is not alway the case, I will just blame it on the weather and not the abundant wine.  Two of my runs have been epic in my point of view.  I have never ran more then 9 miles in my life and rome has eased me into running one 10 mile run and just today I ran 13.1 miles.  On these runs I have literally sweated throughout the entire city.  On my ten mile run I ran through this long list of monuments and buildings – Stadio Olimpico, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Cavour, Rome Hall of Justice, Castel Sant’ Angelo, Trastevere, Isola Tiberina, Circo Massimo, Arco di Costantino, COLOSSEO, Foro Romano, Wedding Cake, Piazza Venezia, Bassillica di San Pietro, and the Vatican… On my half marathon run I ran through Borghese Gardens, Trevi fountain, up to the top of the Wedding cake and along the Tiber river.

Now I know some of you out there are not runners and this may no interest you.  But one week ago our school took a trip to Tuscany which was unreal, each city we visited was walled in.  Usually only with one gate, we took sights such as the birthplace of Petrach, a medival bow contest, a little girl dance performance, and even a medival march and band.  All cities were amazing medieval towns.

To top it all off we took a boat tour on Lake Trasimeno and on the boat tour was many castles and even an island in the middle of the volcanic lake home to a total or 17 people even though it was was a village of 1000.

This past weekend that we are just finishing now, sept 14th to 16th I went to the beach in Ostia, took three trains from where my campus is up north in order to get the beach.  Walked down a freeway with my friend Mark and saw the Ostia Antica ruins for free. Continued are 5km walk to the beach, where we walked about another 1 or 2km in order to find the public beach so we would not have to pay.

In Italy you have to pay for a beach chair and the only way to get on to the beach is to pay for one of those chairs.  Thus meaning that the beach is privately owned throughout, except for a few public access points.  To be honest I think it just the way the Italians like because they need to be relaxed and do not care about time as much as Americans do.  In Italy the culture is extremely different, they values conversations and friends, more then they do money or time.  and to be honest I enjoy their culture a lot more the culture that I have lived with in America.

In summary, my time here so far has been beyond what words can explain.  I have made lasting friendships already, been surrounded by nothing but great people and good food and company.  I am on lifetime high as far as my life is concerned and it just keeps getting better and better.

I even caught a guy pick pocketing me, after my friend had fell on the bridge going to Trastevere, one man on the bridge helped me help her up.  However, after she was walking again another guy came from the front left side of me, and was mocking my friend Tanyelle who had fallen and at the same time acting like he was tripping me.  I soon realized this was not a joke as he reached his hand in my Oakley shorts pocket and had his on my wallet.  With his hand still in my pocket, I lunged with my right arm and grabbed a hold of his right arm and said “Let go of my #%$#@^& wallet.” Almost immediately he let go of my wallet and vanished away on the expansive bridge.  Guess my Ping Pong reaction skills really came in handy there.

Well that is all for now, I will get another blog posted next Sunday.

Be safe and live happily!

Steve O

An Exceptional Environmental Field Trip

An Exceptional Environmental Field Trip

Everyone, please take a moment to agree or disagree, but weren’t field trip days the best days of school?  Field trips are meant to supplement a learned topic for a class, like visiting a museum or attending a performance etc., but really they are an excuse to get out of class and have some fun, while praying that there is no assignment or notes to take.

I still remember my favorite field trip.  I was in 3rd grade and I visited Moon Marble Company in Kansas City.  Reflecting on this, I have no inkling as to how this was educational AT ALL.  I went in with all of my classmates and we all came out with tubes of marbles we picked ourselves.  I am pretty sure each of us lost about half of them by the end of the day.

I do not tell you this only to fill space on the page.  I tell you this because today I went on a fieldtrip with my Vietnam Environment class and it was one unlike any other.  Fieldtrips I have taken, especially in my primary years, were very disconnected to my life as it was in that moment.  Museums revealed pictures of the past and plays or concerts told stories that at times, seemed sensationalized for a desired emotional response.  Today I visted the Nhieu Loc Thi Nghe Canal Upgrading Project and two industrial “parks” in Ho Chi Minh.  This trip placed me in direct view of environmental problems and concerns for the Vietnamese people, particularly water and air quality.

In Vietnam, the subject of the environment is broad, with essentially more problems than successful solutions.  For example, the Nhieu Loc Thi Nghe Canal Upgrading Project began in 1998 and is still in progress 14 years later.  The purpose of the project is to improve the landscape surrounding the canal, improve the social condition of canal inhabitants, provide sewage treatment systems, and prevent flooding in the area. What was seen today is one appreciated achievement, and that is the increase of green space along the canal.  The water in the canal is still drastically polluted, smells, and many slum migrants need to be relocated to a cleaner area with a sewage system.  But, there is even an issue with this.  Despite 5 story apartment building projects, many of the slum families choose to sell their new apartments and move back into slums along the canal.  By doing this they are able to run small and consistent businesses on their shack front, instead of no business on the 5th floor of an apartment complex.

Slum along the canal: notice the simplicity of the houses and trash floating in the water.
Slum view #2
Apartment housing project, many families choose to sell their apartment and return to a shack along the canal.

Another environmental problem I observed was at the Tan Binh Industrial Park, an area of the city with the worst concentration of air pollution.  Beyond the pollution was the intermix of industrial buildings with domestic community homes and businesses.  The households themselves were only separated by a line of trees which in no way could prevent the air pollution from reaching the lungs of the inhabitants.  A possible solution?  Relocate industries to the Hiep Phuoc Industrial Area on the south side of Ho Chi Minh, away from residences.  But even this is a problem because that land had been developed over a natural wet land.  I guess that was a give and take situation.

Ironic farewell leaving the Tan Binh Industrial Park
Electric lines running to the Hiep Phuoc Industrial Park

Today I was given the opportunity to be in a moment of history, rather than observe it through pictures or performance.  It was hard for me to view the environmental conditions here because I am so used to what I can now call the luxury of proper waste water treatment in Chicago.  Today I felt small, unable to “fix” anything.  I want others to hold the same common “luxuries” I have.  It was an exceptional field trip and I think it was an important one to share.

More environmental field trips and stories to come.



Visiting Nha Trang

Visiting Nha Trang

This weekend was our last free weekend in Vietnam for awhile so we decided to take a trip up to the beach town of Nha Trang for the weekend. Traveling in Vietnam has been relatively easy (aside from the language barrier). It was not difficult to purchase train tickets, we booked the hotel online and with the help of our program director, found several interesting things to do while we were there.

We left on the afternoon train and were treated to the most beautiful ride through the Vietnam countryside. After living in the heart of the city for three weeks, the view was a welcome sight. It was also so interesting to ride through areas that were so different from the limited view of Vietnam that we had experienced so far.

The three days we spent in Nha Trang were amazing and also eye-opening. The scenery is what I imagine when I think of the perfect beach town; crystal blue water with islands in the background and long stretches of beach. Some of the classes that are offered through the Vietnam center focus on the human impact on the environment in Vietnam as well as the problems that come with fast-paced development. Nha Trang is a prime example of both these things. Although the oceans that we went snorkeling in were beautiful, it was hard to ignore the fact that the once vibrant coral is now in fact dead. The bay has been completely over-fished and the beaches are dotted with litter. I was torn between marveling at how beautiful it was and a deep sadness at the fact that the marine life is most likely never going to recover.

I think this is the most amazing aspect about the Loyola Vietnam Center and I guess studying abroad in general. We are learning things in class on a Wednesday and experiencing them first hand on a Thursday. This is the sort of learning environment I dreamed of. Although it is more difficult, and I can no longer pretend the world’s problems don’t affect me, I am so glad I am here.

The Beauty of Nha Trang

The Beauty of Nha Trang

Nha Trang city is the coastal capital of the Khanh Hoa province.  It is located on the coast of South Central Vietnam.  At first I was skeptical to take the trip to Nha Trang with five of my fellow classmates.  Nha Trang, although very beautiful, is a hot tourist destination and even the former host town for the Miss Universe and Miss World Pageants.  The last thing I wanted to do was head to another busy city on my first weekend away from the bustling Ho Chi Minh City.  Gladly, my skepticism disappeared after we boarded the afternoon train to Nha Trang.  I soon remembered that I had only seen the urban landscape of Ho Chi Minh and no glimpes of the mountain and coastal scenes that I had watched on Top Gear.  When the train passed the first volcanic mountain all I could do was stare out of the window.  I had seen nothing like it before and my desire to go hiking kicked in.  Unfortunately it was getting dark and well, we were on a train.

We arrived in Nha Trang at midnight and made our way to the Mai Huy hotel in an overpriced cab. (it is important to remember fare prices, many drivers are looking to hustle young tourists)  I woke up the next morning and could notice the quiet compared to Ho Chi Minh and the lack of petrol odor.  It was instantly calming.

We hit the beach for the majority of the trip.  For all of us, it was our first time seeing the South China Sea, and for some their first glimpse of the ocean at all.  On day two we had the opportunity to snorkel with the Happy Diving Company on Mun Island, one of the four first marine protected areas in the world. It was difficult to leave the island after such a fun day.  It was my first adventure snorkeling and I even jumped off the second floor of the boat a few times.  The only thing that made leaving worth while was the view of the sky as we returned to the harbor.  The mountains and coastline unfolded as we traveled on the slow rocking waves.  The clouds sculpted the sky in a way I had never seen.  They sat atop the mountains like bourgeois hats at a cocktail party.

The final beautiful portrait of Nha Trang was the morning sunrise.  Instead of a quiet walk on the beach, Will, Pedro, and I joined the party of locals exercising at 5 am.  From what I could deduce, families go the beach early, before work, and to prevent tanning in the afternoon, a very western practice.

The trip to Nha Trang brought forward many emotions:  fear for the unknown in a new city, especially when I did little of the planning (Thanks Ashley!), gratitude to my supportive family, and disbelief that I could afford to come to Vietnam (mentally and monetarily).

In the coming weeks I look forward to starting service learning with a seminary and Smile organization as well as our first Loyola excursion to the Mekong Delta.  It is a goal of my life to serve others.  We will not only be leading English Learning activities, but we will be forming relationships to those unlike ourselves, that is middle class college students of Chicago, Illinois.

I am off to read The Tale of Kieu, written by Nguyen Du, a tale of “lust, loyalty, sacrifice, corruption, faith, and justice.”  This will be the first Vietnamese literary work I read!



Photo Journal Week #1

Photo Journal Week #1

In short, I have solved my photo uploading and technology problems!  To make up for the absence of photos in my previous posts I would like to include them now.

Notre Dame Cathedral
Our home for the next 4 months
A small group of seven at the Vietnam Center!
The busses in Vietnam are very colorful.
Exotic fruit tasting
Day 3 trip to the Runification Palace
A common dish, Pho, pronounced Fa, with pork and rice noodles
Cho Lon Market, District 5


Day 1 of Orientation Weekend: Cortona & Arezzo, Toscana

This weekend, myself and my peers (all 180+ of us) hopped on four busses headed to Tuscany. Never in my entire life did I expect so much beauty condensed into three days of absolute perfection. We started off the weekend in Cortona a small village located on a Tuscan hilltop. As I walked through the village of amber colored plaster houses built along winding cobblestone roads, I couldn’t help but take in the warmth I was surrounded by. The soft amber color of the houses mixed with the sun’s golden reflection created a mood that rivaled even the most beautiful American sunset. Did I mention the view was amazing? Cortona was on the top of a huge hill, allowing us to see a magnificent view of rural Italy, one I will never forget.

After touring Cortona, we hopped on our bus and headed to Villa Petrischio for wine tasting and lunch, possibly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Our Associate Dean of Students, Cynthia Bomben, really hooked us up with the location. As I ran around the villa with a group of friends, glasses of delicious red wine in tow, I couldn’t help but experience one of those “I can’t believe this is actually happening” moments.

Villa Petrischio

After an enormous lunch on the terrace of villa, we headed for Arezzo. For those of you who don’t know me, La Vita E Bella, directed by Roberto Benigni, is one of my favorite movies. When I learned that the movie was filmed in the town of Arezzo, I couldn’t help but feel like I accomplished something extraordinary. The town was beautiful, no doubt about it, but knowing that I was in the place where a movie that defined a generation was filmed really struck me. After another delicious dinner (did I mention that meals here consist of 5+ courses?) a few friends and I headed into the town’s center to check out some nightlife. One would think that a small town like Arezzo was fairly quiet, however, as I quickly learned after stumbling across the towns TWO piazzas, it was not. Believe it or not, Arezzo’s youth population is huge! The moment we entered the square, we were not tourists, but rather a part of Arezzo.


Day 2: Anghiari & Sansepolcro, Toscana

We got to sleep in on this day, and by sleeping in I mean we woke up at 9AM. We headed for Anghiari, another hilltop village in Tuscany. Here we had the opportunity to explore on our own. Anghiari was everything I thought a Tuscan village would be. While famous films and other forms of media create idealizations of these Tuscan cities, one never gets the full effect of these cities until actually there. This town was definitely chill; we only had 2 hours to explore, so we took it easy, starting off with some cappuccinos and zeppoles (Italian donuts) and then meandering through the city, entranced in its simplistic beauty.

The town of Sansepolcro, however, was my favorite of all the cities we visited. As a Peruvian citizen, I am used to culture of all forms getting thrown at me in all forms without my looking for it. Every time I go visit, I’m constantly surrounded by physical manifestations of Peru, whether it be the food, dance, music, etc. Coming to Rome I didn’t experience too much of that, surprisingly, but Sansepolocro was everything I wanted out of an Italian city. We went on a good day, because it was the start of the cross-bow competition, a local tradition dating back to the sixteenth century.

Fun story: I wandered through the city with Fathers Al & Ted, and we stopped at a small cafe for a coke when I was jolted by the sounds of trumpets and drums. When I turned around, one of the families competing in the crossbow competition was parading down one of the cobblestone laden streets, dressed in traditional Spanish medieval costumes. Breathtaking.

Back to the hotel, and another great night’s sleep.


Day 3: Lago Trasimeno

This day was the shortest of all three, but the most relaxing. After piling into our buses, we headed to Il Lago Trasimeno located in Umbria for a boat tour of the town of Tuoro. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really listen to the tour guide because the lake and the surrounding scenery was unlike any I’d ever seen. There was a good number of small islands with castles surrounded by thick woods. There really aren’t many words to describe how beautiful this was, so I’ll define the beauty in one picture:

Il Lago Trasimeno, in all its glory. Possibly my favorite picture that I’ve ever taken.

After the boat cruise, we headed to a local restaurant overlooking the lake. After some delicious Pro Secco, we gorged ourselves with an endless variety of Italian foods: pastas, vegetables, meats, and of course, wine. One of our teachers, Sanders Evers, gave an awesome toast celebrating everyone that had brought us here (it took almost 9 minutes). It was honestly the happiest I had been in a very long time.

The bus ride back was hysterical to say the least. Shout out to the Yellow Russ Bus & the beautiful Susanna Cavallo for never ending entertainment in the form of La Onda Latina and some serious salsa dancing. Cheers friends.

PS: Tomorrow I have my first on-site class. When I skyped my friends and told them I was having class at the Vatican tomorrow, I couldn’t help but smile a little.

Roman Around!

Roman Around!

Wow! My apologies for not posting recently, we haven’t taken a break since we arrived! From classes to the Orientation Trip it’s been a crazy week and a half! I’ll post more this week to get you caught up on all the happenings of Rome!

Let’s rewind a little first. The first week/weekend we were here all the JForcers were excited to get out and explore the city and get to know our home for the next 4 months.

The day after we arrived the SLAs set up a picture scavenger hunt for us with instructions such as “Take a Picture Praying in Front of St. Peter’s” or “Take a Picture with the Carabineri (the police).”  It forced us to learn how to navigate the city (with a LOT of help from some extremely nice Italians) and do some quick sightseeing. What a blast! We didn’t win (we ended up with 25 points and the winners had 53!) but it was absolutely a blast. That night and Friday night we then went down by the Tiber River where tents were sent up with shopping and food and drink. The city becomes even more alive at night (if that’s possible) and it was so much fun to be out with tourists and locals, while checking out all the Italian street fashion.

Saturday, then, we started out bright and early to see the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Stepping inside, seeing how expansive it was and how much history has happened inside its walls…wow. It was overwhelming. Everywhere you turned, especially in the Roman Forum, you discovered another piece of history. Professor Evers briefed us before going on some major things to look for, like the Arch of Titus and Basilica of Maxentius, but even with all they told us we knew we were seeing more than we could ever comprehend. Luckily, I’m in Art in Rome this semester and we’re going back to the Roman Forum on Wednesday to study even more of the architecture and art found in it. I can’t wait!

Saturday night then a bunch of us went to Trastevere, a neighborhood across the Tiber with fabulous shops and restaurants and wonderful little side streets to discover. We tried some fantastic cheap Italian food like suppli, a deep fried rice, meat, and cheese. Delicious!  I think I felt most Roman while we were sitting on the steps in the main piazza, eating suppli and sipping on a Peroni, the main beer in Rome. Watching the people, enjoying the company and just slowing down and taking it all in, it was perfect.

The next day we all hopped on the bus and traveled to Maccarese Beach. Although it was rainy and overcast most of us still braved the water and jumped straight into the Mediterranean Sea. It was cold, but worth it! We ended the day with a fabulous seafood buffet with fresh FRESH seafood pasta, pizza, and deep fried veggies and fish. We were all stuffed by the end of it, and were ready to head back to campus and rest up till classes began the next day!

“Maybe Europe agrees with you.”

“Maybe Europe agrees with you.”

Pretty much every time I’ve Skyped my dad within the past week, he’s commented on how good I look, and I must admit, I FEEL good.  Maybe it’s the Mediterranean sun, or maybe it’s the strength of the caffeine I’ve inhaled most mornings, or maybe it’s something even unknown to me, but Rome has worked wonders so far, and we’ve only been here about two weeks!  I can’t wait to see what other spectacles this visit has in store for me.

Concerning Classes: Can I just take a moment to comment on the curriculum?  [Pssh, it’s my blog, of course I can!]  Now that syllabus week has passed, students will officially begin to crack open their books and pop out their pens this week.  While classes like Italian Renaissance Philosophy, Roman Aesthetics, and the European Novel may sound intimidating, the professors here at the Rome Center encourage students to engage in their coursework through an active approach to learning.  For instance, two of my classes this semester, the Writing of Fiction and Art in Rome, are on-site classes that take my peers and me to different locations throughout the city each week, instead of keeping us locked inside a hot classroom.  Does the amount of work involved seem extreme?  Yes, admittedly, but the professors are all so approachable and the assignments appear interesting enough that I’m actually excited to work.

Concerning Tuscany: This past weekend, as part of our orientation into the John Felice Rome Center, the faculty took us on a three-day trip to Tuscany and Umbria.  After three long days of guided tours, sloping roads, and hours upon hours of eating what may be the greatest food I have ever tasted, I finally have time to talk about my experience.  The more I saw of the three medieval villages we visited, the more I wanted to live in them.  Cortona, protected by Saint Margaret, is rich in history and culture.  Some of the most breathtaking shots of the Italian countryside were captured next to it’s beautiful chapel, and I was thrilled to learn that I walked along the same paths as Roberto Benigni in “La Vita E Bella” – “Life Is Beautiful.”  Arezzo looked like something out of fairytale.  Probably because not much has changed since the Middle Ages, at least the buildings haven’t.  Neither have the festivals; the townsfolk celebrated their annual jousting competition in the town square just a week ago, where the crowd roared with excitement at the world-renowned flag bearers, who are pretty much the Cirque-di-Solei performers of medieval reenactments.  My personal favorite place was Anghiari.    I felt like I was walking through an ancient labyrinth of ornate lamps, winding stairs, and doors.  Many, many, outrageously awesome doors (most of which have found a new home on my camera).  In Sansepolcro, we were lucky enough to actually witness some of the town’s annual festival, where crossbowmen take to the town square to compete against each other with medieval arms, and parades are led by men in tights sounding trumpets and drums to signal the beginning of the games.

Oh, and one more thing: No matter how full you think you are, no matter how long you’ve been sitting at a table under the Tuscan sun (even if it’s been going on three hours), no matter how foreign the edibles look, when a servor puts food in front of you, you eat it and you like it.