The GoGlobal Blog

Author: Laura Osterndorf

Sophomore. Political Science and Journalism major at Loyola. Second time visitor in Europe and first time blogger. Seeker of fun, adventure, and hilarious stories abroad.
Alla Fine…

Alla Fine…

Well, it’s finally happened: I’ve become one of those annoying study abroad enthusiasts that everyone loathes. They may as well have me as a promoter in one of the insufferable Loyola orientation groups that so entices a student to go to the alluring Loyola Rome Campus (as they did with me a few years ago). But as I continue to be afflicted by insurmountable examples of culture shock on an hourly basis, I knew that I must write one final post. So, I write to you not from my previous home of four months but from a hipster, only too American coffee shop (not even a café) in Milwaukee to show everyone how I reached this point of both Study Abroad vexation (and hopefully persuasion) to you all.

My final month abroad proved to be busier than any of the rest. Granted, I had finished the majority of my travel after Spring Break was over. While I fell in love with every place that I visited, the country with which I continuously remained the most infatuated by was that which I inhabited. Having seen Florence and found myself captivated by it, I desired to venture to one other city in the same country as my Roma home. After all, I had yet to see the famous city of canals and carnevale, Venezia, or Venice.

Two of my friends and I decided to conveniently take a night train both to and from Venice to save money on hostels. We arrived at the station around 11:00pm and befriended a couple of Texans in our same car (I loved being around any Americans who made me feel superiorly more Euro). We arrived in Venice at 6:00 am, just in time to watch the sun rise over all the rivers of the city.

Having heard quite a bit of build up, Venice delivered on all of the romanticism and radiance I’d assumed it to have. To say it is a city built on water makes me reminisce of similar sentiments expressed about previously blogged cities like Amsterdam. Yet while the main River Amstel flows through that city, it would be easy for someone to see that waterway as a facet of the city which can either be acknowledged or ignored based upon someone’s preference. In walking through the streets of Venice, I sometimes felt as if the canals were a greater part of the city than the cobblestone. You would turn down a street only to find that you were led to a dead end…into water. Luckily, there’s almost always a water taxi to help you out if you get lost which is also almost inevitable. We didn’t survive half the day without asking someone where we were on our map (to which they replied that the papers in our hand were useless). Despite complications occasionally navigating the canals, the day spent in Venice was one of utter peace. It’s not a huge city so there’s not a TON to do or see like some of the other places to which we traveled. However, this suited us perfectly. It was a day that could be spent getting lost in the city, making our way to Piazza San Marco, window shopping for old Carnevale masks and famous Murano glass, and gazing out at the gorgeous water. Before the day was finished, we couldn’t leave without taking a gondola ride. After a bit of bartering, we found an Italian who was not only dressed in the traditional gondola get-up, but was also a Chicago lover. We skipped his serenade and settled for a beautiful ride through the charming canals of the city. From sunrise to sunset, we were euphoric in the perfect day we had in this beautiful city.

BUT THEN, disaster struck. If I was to call my day in Venice euphoric, I could only describe our night train back as the exact opposite: complete and utter misery. The train ride home was the definition of torment. You see, we bought our tickets at 9:00pm for our night train at 11:00pm. We happily sipped on a nice Prosecco as we watched the sun set on the water of the beautiful city. Then, we boarded the train and spread out in our car. We did all of these actions, not realizing that if you want a guaranteed seat on the train, you must purchase your ticket 24 hours prior. However, we SOON discovered this in a very unpleasant way. After the 3 of us had cozily slept for probably 45 minutes on the train, we were awakened by a boisterous, broad-shouldered woman exclaiming in a thick accent that we were in her seats. We confusedly looked at her tickets and unhappily consented to leave, seeing that we were indeed laying the spots that her tickets specified. We moved a few cars down where there was only one other person. Almost as content, we spread out once again and fell asleep. Soon after, I awoke unpleasantly to a bright light shining in my face. I opened my eyes to see a carabineri police officer’s flashlight in my face. I hurriedly grabbed my ticket and attempted to hand it to him. After a short exchange of him not taking my ticket and my very American “What. Do. You. Want????” slow pleading, he stated in poor English that he wished to see our passports. Understandably, for safety reasons, we had not brought our passports because we traveling within the country. When we explained this to the carabinieri, he scoffed and told us that it was a law (false!) that we had to have our passports on us at all times. It was then time to play my favorite game, Dumb American, with a “What? I didn’t know we needed it? I’m so sorry, I’m new to this country, I’ll never do it again”. The officer unhappily told us to not make the same mistake in the future. We fell asleep for the third time…only to be awakened less than half an hour later by a full family of 8! We were in THEIR seats this time. It was not worth the language-barriered negotiations; we grumpily and groggily got up and shuffled into the train hallway. Then the real hell began. We traveled from car to car, searching for a compartment in which there were three seats for us to sit and found none. Every time the train stopped,  we rapidly searched cars to find people leaving their compartments but never found any luck. Eventually, we consented to sitting in fold out chairs in the car hallways filled with only gypsies. Dead tired from so many hours on our feet in Venice, we fell asleep in these chairs where only one of our cheeks fit. But like I said, there were quite a few stops and every time the train halted, people (not as learned as us) walked around trying to find compartments to sit in. Every time, they would walk past thereby knocking our knees and waking us up. When the train started again after the stops, we would be awakened again, either by an incessant man selling “l’acqua! L’acqua!” or a different carabinieri officer thinking we were one of the gypsies who had snuck on. If only my Italian or my patience had been strong enough to tell them, “BELIEVE ME, if I hadn’t paid to be on this train, I wouldn’t be here!” However, after all this horror, the real point of hell came when we met Giuseppe. A balding, middle-aged Italian man started to chat with my roommate and after he explained to us the ticket situation (this was the first we had heard of it), he feigned sympathy and told us that he would trade off his compartment with us. Giuseppe told us we could sleep for a few hours in his compartment and then he would sleep and we would continue to switch off for the rest of the train ride. We thought we were finally experiencing rewards for the ordeal we’d been put through and thanked him profusely. We slept for perhaps an hour in Giuseppe’s car before he woke us up. He called us into the hallway. However, he didn’t go into his compartment; no, he called us out in the hallway to mock the way we were sleeping and hit on my roommate. Furious, we retreated as far away from this biggest gypsy of them all and went to sleep again with the less trickster of gypsies in the hallway. After one of the best days of my life, came one of the worst nights. When I found myself in my dorm after 7 hours of agony, I appreciated the jenkeness of JFRC in a whole new light and resolved to share my ticket knowledge with everyone and anyone who needed it to travel.

Disappointingly, Venice was the last city of Italy (aside from my own) that I further ventured to. My next time in Italy (this is hope and desperation speaking now), I’d like to see Cinque Terre, Sienna, Assisi, or many others. However, I did get to travel once more after my Venetian excursion. The last trip we had booked far in advance when we had arrived in Italy was to Greece. Apparently, I actually have quite a bit of family from Greece (who knew?) and they reside on one of the Grecian islands. So, I guess you could resolve my last trip as a sort of homecoming? However, ancestry aside, I was determined to make my last trip one of the best and I definitely succeeded in that aspect. Where I had taken many trips all over Europe  this semester (and had absolutely adored them all, don’t get me wrong), Athens felt like a genuine vacation. The weather was perfect; I got ridiculously sunburned just by walking around the Acropolis. The city was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen; it possessed the pseudoarchaic appeal of many European cities I had visited. However, it also had the ancient monuments (similar to that of Rome) that left you breathless. Seeing the Parthenon atop the Acropolis was a magnificent memory that you only truly appreciate after you leave.

That being said, getting to the Acropolis was a bit of struggle. My three friends and I wished to see this spectacular ancient structure on our second day in Athens. We followed the main street signs of the city and climbed the picturesque mountain, but could not find a general way to the top by which everyone else was entering. Finally, we did not reach a common entryway which all other people appeared to be using, but a massive gate which seemed to be all the way around the mountain with no opening in sight. Here, we made a decision: from our point of view, we could either give up on making it to the top of the mountain and seeing the Acropolis and Parthenon, or we could jump the fence and continue our way up after that. When I say jump the fence, I allude to about a 10 foot drop. It was no small feat. But I wasn’t making it all the way to my homeland without seeing the primary piece of art and history of the country. My guy friend who came with us went over first. Then us 3 girls, significantly shorter, climbed to the top of the huge fence. Maybe we would’ve felt bad about sneaking into the Acropolis if we hadn’t been cheered on by an Irish woman who noticed what we were doing. She even offered one of my friends a hand on getting down and ordered us “not to get spiked!” by the fence. After the 3 of us girls had risked our lives and jumped over the fence, we further made our way to the top of the hill. Unfortunately, after all that work, we decided to take a detour on a more picturesque route on which we were discovered (apparently being in a taboo area of the hill where people aren’t allowed). After a failed game of Dumb American (“Laura, where is your purse? Aren’t the tickets in there?” “I threw my ticket away!” “We need tickets?”), we were chastised in the nicest and most pitiful way possible by a small Greek woman begging us to “Please get out. Get out please”. Sneaking into the Acropolis: almost completed. We were then directed to the general entrance and went in with the rest of the tourists. However, it was worth it. Not only the structure itself was awe-inspiring, but the view of all of Athens was incomparable. As with my home of Roma, I’m always impressed to see things that are older than the country in which I was raised. I think there is something so awesome and incredible about standing in the presence of such a beautiful, historical edifice.

As illustrated in the woman who forced us to leave the restricted section of the Acropolis, the people of Greece were some of the nicest I encountered in all of Europe. Almost as American-friendly as the Czech in Prague, natives seemed to be not only willing, but ecstatic to help out a lost tourist, especially an American. We encountered people giving us free offers if we dined at their restaurants and proprietors being apologetic, not irritated, if you asked for more than what was offered. I guess it would be hard not to be friendly and happy in so beautiful a place. As you can see, even when we were getting scolded at the Acropolis, the woman did it in a way that made it seem like she was the problem in the situation. And if you now have an accurate opinion of the delightful people, I wish I could show you the food. I liked to try traditional dishes wherever I traveled in Europe. Therefore when I went to Greece, I tried a lot of customary, foreign named dishes out of my comfort-zone, only to discover I  loved them all.

On our final full day in Greece, we decided to take our vacation a step further and journey to one of the nearby islands. With time restrictions and recommendations considered, we decided upon Aegina, an island in the Saronic Gulf. A short and scenic ride away from Athens took us to this island that challenged any tropical vacation I’ve ever taken. The combination of beaches and traditional European city added up to paradise. The day was the most relaxing end of any of our trips. Despite feeling like I was at one big frat party whenever I looked at signs in downtown  Athens, I dreaded leaving this tranquil and stunning paradise of a country.

This semester made me despise airports. I hated going through security. I hated packing under ridiculous restrictions. I hated the damn buses that Europe makes you get on after you get off a plane because you are dropped off too far from the terminal. I would say I hated the plane ride itself, but let’s be honest, I’m too good at sleeping on public transportation to ever remember that part. And I hated the feeling when you were at the airport after a weekend trip was over. I always felt sad to leave each city I visited. However, I always had the consolation that I was coming home to Roma. However depressed I became about leaving a visited country, I felt immediately better whenever I exited the plane and uttered my first “Ciao” to an Italian in the airport.

Having lived in the country for fourish months, I fancied myself a near native by the time April rolled around. This is good because at the beginning of that month, I had my family come to visit me. My parents and brother were joined by my aunt, uncle, and cousin from Kentucky to challenge me on what kind of tour guide I could be. My parents stayed in a villa by Piazza del Popolo, near the Spanish Steps. Having been confined to the wonderful company of the JForce Crew for the past months, it was extremely odd to see familiar faces from the past. However, it was wonderful to see my family. It was their first time in Europe and for once, I felt not like a child on my family vacation but a host in my homeland with them as visitors to this new life I had established for myself. An almost broke college student abroad, I enjoyed the week of tours and fine dining (compared to the couple euro pizza in which I would usually indulge). On the first day with my parents, I saw the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon another time, though I don’t think I could ever get tired at gazing at any of those. I impressively was able to share with them facts about all of these things thanks to my Art in Rome course. Luckily, my parents were also conveniently located near Villa Borghese. One of the most spectacular views in Rome can be seen from atop the hill and a feeling of total serenity can be achieved while resting in the garden by the pond.

The following day, my family and I traveled to Florence. Unfortunately, there was less time to shop so I was unable to show off the bartering skills I had acquired. But due to decreased shopping time, I was able to spend more time seeing the impressive spectacles of the city. I saw the David once again (acquired more taboo photographs) and this time climbed to the top of the Duomo, showing my parents the magnificent view of the city. We returned to Rome just in time for a wine tour in Lazio. To discover the makings of this staple of my Italian life was certainly a fascinating and valuable experience. This experience was made even more invaluable by the wine tasting that followed. Also, with my parents, I saw the Vatican Museum once again and captured more illegal images of the Sistine Chapel on my camera. Here too I was further able to impart Art in Rome knowledge. Then, I showed my family my campus and gave them advice on where to find the best gelato in the city. I was sad to say goodbye at the end of the week but knew that they were happy that I was so happy in my new home.

With family visits over and all my travel finished, I was determined to take advantage of Rome as much as possible in my final month. I could have gone sightseeing everyday of my final month and still not seen everything the city has to offer. If I had better kept up with my blog, I could have recorded the sights in the succession of which I saw them. However, because in my final month, every moment was either spent seeing the sights or studying (I know, shocking that I actually had to go to school in my 4 month vacation), I have to unfortunately jumble my thoughts together in this post. I’ve already discussed some of the sights I was able to see in the final month. The Pantheon will always be one of my favorite places. To sit in the piazza surrounding the massive structure and sip on a cappuccino is one of the best feelings I’ve ever known. From there, you can take a  short walk to the Trevi. I love the Trevi Fountain because you are just walking down one of the cute narrow alleyways of Rome and then BAM, you are assaulted by this amazing image out of nowhere. It’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen and you are filled with so much love for the city and all those around you.

In the last few days, I finally stuck it to Loyola by getting inside the Colosseum. I’d seen the outside twice and had been played with promises of entering. Anyone who’d told me it wasn’t worth it to see the inside was sincerely incorrect. Having learned the history behind the Colosseum made looking at this massive structure many times more impressive.

I also saw some less traditional tourist spots in Rome. I went to Santa Maria in Cosmedin to see the Mouth of Truth. Legend has it, if an enormous liar sticks their hand in, the mouth will shut on them. Happy to inform you guys, I passed the test. After that I went to Il Foro, or the keyhole. At the top of a hill there is a door with a keyhole born out. If you take a peak in, you are able to see three different states and a distant St. Peter’s. It is incredible to me that a tiny spot can yield such an amazing view.

And a semester in Italia would have been incomplete without seeing a game of Calcio, or soccer. I got to see a Roma vs. Palermo (where I traveled to in Sicily) game. We may have lost, but I made it all the way to the field, got to wave a flag, and had a great time.

Another of my favorite spots in Rome is Piazza Navona. There are adorable cafes surrounding the Fountain of Four Rivers and a square full of painters and artists. I bought myself a small print for my apartment next year so that I could attempt to forever immortalize my beautiful home of four months when I am in Chicago. Also in Piazza Navona is the magnificent church of San Agnese in Agone (seen in Angels and Demons). I got to learn more about that church in my art class along with many others. My alternate favorite church I saw was San Giovanni in Laterano. The statues of all the saints inside and the magnificent golden ceiling were amazing sights to behold. Even if you’re not Catholic (just like me), you’re able to appreciate the beauty and magnificence of all the churches in Rome. I even got to see the church of San Ignazio di Loyola (holla!). The baroque ceiling applying the illusionistic design of painting and sculpture is an amazing piece of artwork.

Of course, in my own opinion, none of these churches compare to San Pietro, or St. Peter’s in the Vatican. I may have said in an earlier blog post that upon entering, you are overwhelmed by the amount of artwork. The inside is an incredible sight. However, my favorite part of St. Peter’s was the climb to the top (La Dolce Vita style) to get a view of all of Rome. This isn’t any Sears Tower view; my heart swelled with love for the semester and city where I’d spent some of the best times of my life.

In between trying to squeeze every little bit of sightseeing in, I did have to attend my last classes and take final exams – regrettable. In retrospect, I’ll miss all of my classes a lot. This is the first semester of college where I not only found all of my professors to be competent, but brilliant instead. Contributing to my overall euphoria, I never minded attending class. I was just so happy to be in Rome that I actually enjoyed soaking up all the knowledge these genius people could impart onto me.

So final thoughts on the courses I took/advice for any prospective students –

History of Late Antiquity – Now, I’ve always been interested in history. However, as I may have said before, I’ve only always had  a traditional US perspective to draw from. Because of this, I enjoyed this course that much more. The late Roman Empire was fascinating as a society because it was infinitely different than any system of government I’d ever studied. I found the emperors to both be mad and fascinating. These people were insane! They fancied themselves gods (and I guess reasonably so considering they were based on a Pagan religion) and therefore must’ve thought they could make the craziest rules possible. I mean, Diocletian just decided all of a sudden that there should be a tetrarchy out of nowhere? What is that!? Plus the overthrowing of one another out of boredom is ridiculous. All of this was taught to me by my glorified professor Evers. Evers is a bit of an famous personality at JFRC and for good reason. He has a teaching style that is unlike anything I’ve previously experienced, but he made class engaging and humorous. The subject matter could’ve been dry, but he did a good job at stressing to us the most interesting points. I’ll forever miss his “coffee break?” offer every 15 minutes during my history course next semester.

Political Science – There is hardly any experience better for my major than what I had this semester. You don’t get any more legit than being taught by the Italian ambassador to America. I mean, he was teaching us about NATO not because he’d read about it or listened to lectures. He was teaching us about NATO because he FOUNDED NATO. That’s insane!! He had such valuable insight on a different country’s perspective of the involvement of the US in foreign affairs. I admire him very much and am thankful that I was at JFRC in the one semester he was too. I consider myself extremely lucky to know him.

Art in Rome – probably the hardest class of my college career. And it was my Art Core! Who would’ve thought? Though my grade point probably won’t be as thankful, I will never regret taking this class. Because of it, I saw many more sights of Rome than I would have otherwise. Not only did I see more than many of my friends, I knew much more about everything I saw with them. I loved knowing interesting little facts about all the historical monuments. I saw so much beauty through this course and I owe all my thanks to Professor Nicholson. Probably the hardest grader I’ve ever encountered, I have ultimate respect for this man. He’s a genius of Roman Art. Someday if I know ¼ as much about ANYTHING as he knows about the art and history of Ancient Rome, I will feel completely and utterly accomplished in life. When I was on trips, I found myself wishing that this professor was traveling with me, so that he could tell me why that church looked the way it did or who was that person in the painting I was seeing.

Italian Film Genre – Ah, my favorite course. Though I sometimes had trouble staying awake when the lights went out (a few of my friends can attest to my odd sleeping positions), I found this class to be interesting, fun, and insightful. Finally, I think I received a bit of insight into what my brother’s (a film major) courses are like. I no longer know what’s going on in American pop culture so it’s good that I got my fix in film class of what was going on in Italian films. I came to have favorite actors I enjoyed seeing and could recognize different styles of directors I admired. But mostly, I loved our professor DiBiagi. I have a great amount of respect when I see professors who are passionate about their subjects and I could see that Dibiagi loved film with all his being. Not only did I respect his passion for his craft, I found him to be an amusing person. I  may never understand the concept behind the parabola of Commedia dell’Italiana, but I will always picture his endearing “Am I speaking English?” in my head. I appreciated his take on life and I don’t think I will ever forget him or any of the teachers I had this semester. I only wish I could have them all again.

So here I sit…back in the States. Now, in a Starbucks. The Italians would kill me if they knew I was neglecting their way of coffee experience for such a mass produced, label promoting societal fashion. A week has gone by since my return to the States and it has not gone exactly swimmingly. My body has rejected the American air and I’ve gotten extremely sick. The dentists tell me I need my wisdom teeth out. I have to condition myself not to say “Ciao!” when I enter a business and not to insert Italian phrases (Dove? Mi dispiace?) in daily conversation. I can feel people getting annoyed with me when every story seems to begin with “When I was in Paris/Barcelona/London/Amsterdam….”. One of the only consolations is that I know everyone who was with me in Rome is experiencing the same culture shock and withdrawals.

Even after a week, there’s a lot of things that I miss in an immense way.

I miss walking down the street and hearing many different languages. It’s a change to have to tell myself that people actually will understand what I’m saying and I can’t speak freely wherever I go.

Hell, I miss trying to speak Italian myself. I liked the challenge and enjoyed learning new words and phrases whenever I ran errands.

I miss the freshness of every kind of food.

I miss that I can’t get as strong of espresso and that I can’t finish a meal with gelato. I haven’t had pasta since I’ve returned…not super surprising I suppose. That is one thing it might take a while for me to yearn for.

I miss the way the waiters wouldn’t bring me the check for four hours if I didn’t ask.

I miss looking around me and seeing ancient ruins. Here I see only suburban businesses and tall buildings.

I miss the insane driving on the roads. I mean, I miss making fun of it. I’ve since driven in my own car and thought to myself that I am an insanely good driver compared to many people who would go through the lanes in Italia. I would be ticketed in a second if I tried to pull the stuff the Italians did on a daily basis.

I miss the buses which were unpredictably not on time or almost continuously on strike.

I miss the cobblestone roads that messed up my shoes.

I miss the small children playing accordions on the subways, instead of the insane homeless people yelling obscenities at me.

Let’s not be totally down on America. I like the fact that my water is free here. I like the fact I can get Mexican, Indian, or Chinese food instead of pasta, pasta, or pasta. And I like the fact that I’m with my loved ones who missed me so much.

But right now, I’m just missing Roma.

I’ve never been anywhere where I’ve been so euphorically happy all the time. It was the best four months of my life. Even when I was running errands, I was just incredibly happy to be in Rome. I was just happy to be. So that’s what Julia Robert’s friend meant in that horrible movie – the beauty of doing nothing. To be content to just be.

It’s true what they say. You don’t realize how amazing everything is until you leave. And it’s also true that you learn a lot about yourself in a semester like this. I feel like I’ve changed a lot as a person. Grown up, sort of. I guess that’s what sort of being on my own this semester and all the traveling forced me to do. I feel more intuitive about the world around me. Things have changed and my perspective has changed for the rest of my life. I know who and what are valuable in my life. And I now know better the kinds of things I want out of life. But the biggest thing I’ve realized about myself is that I always want my experiences in Rome to be a part of me, continuously. And it needs to be a part of my future too. With the coin I tossed in the Trevi, I made a wish to return to Rome, and, here’s a sappy ending, but I feel as though I honestly will fulfill that wish and return. But that means the process has to start to get there. Let the further acclimation to America continue. Rome was a part of my life and always will be, but it’s time to have my next adventure – even if I’m not speaking a different language, trying a different food, or dodging the insane foreign driving on the street. I had an established life there but it’s time to come back to reality and continue the life I’d already started. See you later Roma. Tornero un giorno. Grazie per il vostro tempo. Arrivederci lettori.

In Europe, it’s not “Spring Break” but “Holiday”

In Europe, it’s not “Spring Break” but “Holiday”

Every week, I talk to my parents back in Wisconsin and every week I hear the same question: “So you’ll be staying in Rome this week then?” Every week so far they have heard the same sort of answer: “Well actually this week we’re headed to…” and then take you can take your pick with which country you would like to fill in the blank. In the last weekend of February, I was still unable to tell them that I was staying in Rome. However, I could inform them that I’d be remaining in the same country at least With intentions to stop by Venice for Carnevale, a group of my friends headed up to Florence on that Friday.

Florence is the capitol city of the Italian region of Tuscany. The city lives on the River Amo and has great importance to the Middle Ages and Renaissance because of its art and architecture. For me, it was great to see more of Italy. I love the fact that every Italian city has its own distinct personality. Salerno and Sorrento were quaint and calm. Palermo in Sicily was outgoing and uninhibited. However, Florence is my favorite of the cities I have visited in Italy thus far (excluding my home of course). Florence has an old world charm. I found it to be very laid back when i gazed upon the bridges and water. However, once I entered the market in the town itself, I was met with a vibrant and challenging atmosphere. In the center of the town, there are stands set up with some of the most aggressive salesmen on the planet. Whether you want herbs for cooking or small electronics, there will be a salesman there who will continuously offer it to you. Persistent as they may be, the catch about this transaction is that you can barter almost any item down to a more desirable price. Florence being a city known for its leather, it would be impossible to pass through the marketplace without being called over by multiple men trying to sell purses, jackets, and boots of the material. On our second day in Florence, we met one particularly uninhibited salesman. The man ran over to my friend and practically forced a coat on him. Within several minutes, we were taken into the man’s shop. Before I knew it, I was wearing a green leather coat and the man was telling me how I would find no better quality anywhere else in the world. After he tried to light me on fire to prove the caliber of the material, the real bartering began. I am not the most assertive person and felt somewhat uncomfortable pushing after the first several minutes. However, my roommate was used to dealing with people like this. Puling out joking jeers such as “I could stitch that hem myself” and “my parents own a leather store!”, the price slowly inched down from inconsiderable to preferred. An hour and a half of bartering later, the price had gone down 170 euros and my friend and I walked out of the store, exhausted, dazed, and in new genuine Florence leather coats. I’m still somewhat perplexed by how the exact purchase occurred, but the green leather coat has been a favorite Euro purchase yet.

Florence would have been a failure if we had not gone to the Academia Gallery. After walking around town, we had to stop to see one of the most famous Florence attractions: the David. The museum is very nice, but what everyone comes to the place to see one main man. It is funny that the one thing everyone comes to see is the one thing in the museum that they’re not allowed to take pictures of. This didn’t stop anyone from trying. At first, we hesitantly snapped photos as inconspicuously as possible. Later, it turned into a game of how many pictures we could take of this off limit statue.

Though we never reached Venice because of the price and unavailability of tickets, I couldn’t have been happier to spend that weekend in Firenze. It was one of my favorite cities I visited that semester. With my new leather jacket acting as a pillow and my picture of the David on the camera in my pocket, I contentedly slept the whole train ride home.

The week after Florence was intensely focused on the study part of my being abroad. Having been caught up in travel for an immense part of my time here, it was hard to force myself to buckle down and do some serious cramming for midterms. The exams themselves were much harder than I had imagined they would be. This was very regrettable. The fact that this week was during what should’ve been my spring break preparation made things even more stressful. However, I got a nice break on the Thursday when I got to see the Sistine Chapel. Overwhelmed by the sheer amount of artwork that could accumulate in one area, I only hope I’ll have further opportunities to gaze at the ceiling’s beauty another time this semester.

Once my last hellish midterm was complete, it was time to rush to the airport to begin the Spring Break of most awkward flight times imaginable. Save the first flight we took, every other airplane took off at around 4:00 in the morning. This led to a lot of sleeping in various modes of public transportation (sound familiar fellow Whitnall London travelers?). The first flight left on Thursday night so we departed from our dorm after I finished my last midterm. Things luckily ran much more smoothly than the last Amsterdam airport experience and before I knew it, we were on our way to London.

I couldn’t wait to go to London. England was my first European experience during my senior year of high school. Since the moment I left, I have wanted to return. Some may shun London because it is somewhat reminiscent of large urban areas in the United States, such as Chicago or new york. However, I think that is precisely why I feel at home there. I could genuinely see myself at home for an extended period of time there where I couldn’t in other fairy tale towns such as Prague or Amsterdam. Based on my senior year memories, the city has always held a special place in my heart.

Of course, the two London experiences were destined to be different. A large part of this dealt with my place of dwelling during my time there. Since a semester abroad has a tendency to leave you slightly strapped for cash, my friends tried to find ways to save money during the break. Money goes fast when you’re staying at hostels every weekend. We decided that in London and Paris, we would explore a new and slightly uncomfortable option called Couch Surfing. The couch surfing community is on an online website tracking people from all around the globe. Essentially, these strangers will put up travelers for free in whatever city they’re staying in. The desire to let unknown visitors come in your house for no reparation  does not make sense to me. However, plenty of people love to do it; the website offers numerous individuals in every city with purely the wish to meet new people. One of these people is Bob and he has a small flat on the outskirts of London. It was hard to not like Bob after the very first impression he gave us. When we called him from the airport, he said (in his British/Lebanese mixed accent), “Tired girls come all the way from America! I make you chicken!” It was at this moment that we had to decide if we were going to hold up the rouse while staying in this man’s house. Figuring we should probably tell him the truth, we traveled to the flat and were met with a bit of surprise. First of all, Bob isn’t really into electricity. The house was lit by the fireplace in the living room. This meant limited light and limited heat. Second, the bathroom looked like it came from the 1700s. With its wooden floors and ancient bathtub, we resigned ourselves to disgustingly taking as few ‘showers’ as possible out of fear we may  feel less clean once emerging from the tub. Third, Bob has birds. These birds are let free to fly around his living room. With these first few views, we were slightly worried about this new place that we’d stumbled into.

Along with those minor details to get used to, it’s hard to just enter a stranger’s home and feel totally at ease. Before we received our 4am chicken, we all flinched a bit when Bob took out a long pointed spear-like item. However, this was used to move the food around in the fire. We soon learned that Bob prepared all of his own food over fire. He even bakes bread himself in that way. Our first home cooked meal in 2 months tasted glorious. After preparing our dinner, Bob told us a bit about himself. He used to live on a boat but moved off of it for the love of his life, Kasia (who we heard quite a bit about throughout the weekend). He used to work as a hairdresser in London and volunteered to give us all free haircuts, which we politely but skeptically refused. Now, he asserts that his career is traveling the globe and providing a place to stay for people like himself. Bob lives to help people and it is impossible for me not to like a person like that. We went to bed that night with open minds and full stomachs.

And then came my  first  wasted day in London. Having gotten an amount of hours of sleep that I could have counted on my fingers during midterm week, I couldn’t force myself to wake the next morning regardless of the fabulous city that surrounded the flat. My roommate and I enjoyed our 24 hour coma at Bob’s house, waking only for him to offer us homemade bread for lunch.

In the new travel novel that has become my life, there are a couple distinct characters that make a big impression. Bob is obviously one of them from London. However, there are a couple other big players. We weren’t the only couch surfers staying with Bob. During the day of our 24 hour catnap, we awoke one more time to meet ‘the Bulgarians’: a mother and  a “half-conscious, semi-sedated son”. I tried to stay away from this guy as much as possible after he told us that he had been in a mental institution earlier that day. He and Bob had a odd jam session with guitar and bongos in which I forgot all of Bob’s quirks and stood amazed at the oddity of this new man before me. The mother was very nice, though I was not happy when she accidentally got us locked out of the flat. Seeing this lanky foreign woman sprint up the hill to the house to hand us the keys made up for it a bit in my memory though.

The day after my vegetative state, I arose feeling fully rested though a little regretful. However, I justified my lame behavior as indication that I really did need to take care of myself and finally get some sleep.  Just the same, I was ecstatic to actually get up and explore this familiar city.

It was just as bustling and thrilling as I remembered. Hearing the British accent made me smile and riding the double-decker bus gave me a feeling of excitement. It was an intoxicating rush of dejavu to see such familiar sites as Piccadilly Circus and Tower Bridge. And past fellow London travelers, I saw the horrible Harrods though I dared not go in having learned my lesson the first time and not wishing to lose my friends or the day.

We had a number of touristy items to get off our checklist: changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Hyde Park, St. Paul’s Cathedral and many more. However, we had a separate less traditional mission to complete. When my friends went to Munich, they heard from a separate traveler about a London must-visit. It took us a few hours, but we trekked through Soho (basically the Belmont off London) to make our pilgrimage to Chipotle. After months of pasta, pizza, and paninis, a Mexican fix from home was just what we needed.

I have one regret of the spectacular city. It appears the only thing harder to find than Chipotle would have to be Abbey Road. We asked everyone we could find and no one knew how to give us directions. For goodness sakes, why do British people hate the Beatles?! Guess I’ll hit that up when I make my permanent residence in this city.

It made me sad to say goodbye to London. Both times I’d been there I’d had such lovely experiences. But as I bid farewell to one amazing city, I said hello…or rather Bonjour! to a new one.

Paris surpassed all expectations I had had. I wasn’t really sure I’d like it before I went. I’d heard from past travelers that the food was bad and the people were rude. While I experienced certain instances of both of these being true, I was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the city that I didn’t expect. Not to an Amsterdam extent obviously, but a great part of the city is on water. During a boat tour , we passed beautiful architecture and amazing historical sites (the one most evident in my mind being Notre Dame). Spending the days roming the streets of the ever fashionable Champs Elysees and spending the evening climbing the Napoleonic Arc de Triomphe, I more than loved everything we did in the city. My two favorite things we experienced were the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. We first saw the Eiffel Tower at night. Seeing the massive structure lit up and against the Parisian night sky was gorgeous. The following day, we were able to ride to the top and see all of the city laid out before us. We added to the experience with lunch at the Eiffel tower and continued to gaze at the magnificent view of the city. I also adored the visit to the Louvre. The amazing art museum demands days worth of attention so it broke my heart that we only had a few mere hours to spend there. When we walked through the massive museum and a cello player serenaded us at the entrance, I felt like I was in a movie. Though every room of the museum has many items that would demand your attention, the big draw is to see the Mona Lisa. It is much smaller than I would’ve imagined, but still a cool sight to see. The city had so much beauty and history to offer and I was amazed by how much I loved it all.

Since there are absolutely no rules of the road in Rome, it was interesting to spend Spring Break in places where people actually abide by crazy ideas like lanes and parking spots. Though London was crazy with driving on the wrong side of the road, the civilized roads of the city now seemed foreign to me. Paris also exhibited normal driving behavior…except when we went to see the Arc de Triomphe. I thought I might die darting through traffic to see this amazing monument. Thankfully I more than made it through to get to the final city; Barcelona.

The unconscious, semi-sedated Bulgarian may as well have come from this new city. I’ve never been in a place where people are so thoroughly insane. Being in this town is like being in a crazy dream where no one makes sense. For this reason (among many others) I couldn’t help but be in love with this place.

Barcelona is one big party city. As you walk down Las Ramblas, the main street of the city which was conveniently located right outside the hostel in which we stayed, you are met by numerous crazy characters. I mean characters in a literal and metaphorical sense. The literal translation would refer to a great number of people who paint their bodies or dress in crazy costumes and stand on podiums. For a couple coins, you can take a picture with a man dressed as a golden statue, a monkey, or even a drag princess. In the midst of these costumed characters was a Spanish break dancing troop. They all jumped to the ground when the police drove by and gave the crowd a hard time for not giving them enough euros; they were fantastic and hilarious. But you can’t take a few steps beyond these people without being bombarded by another type of person. Since Barcelona is a party city like I referred, the going out culture is huge. Because of this, all promoters will do anything they can to draw you into their bar or club. You get assaulted by offers of free shots and drinks without taking 5 steps outside your door.

We certainly saw people who took advantage of these offers. By now, I’ve grown accustomed to the overly friendly European ‘gentleman’. However, in Barcelona, the cat calls are just taken to a whole new level. I preferred a different person who clearly accepted the promoters offer. As we were leaving our hostel on the final night, a man was running down the street, arms posed in front of him like a dinosaur chanting “They won’t get me!” It was probably the most hilarious way in which we could’ve ended Spring Break.

But of course we came to Barcelona to see more than just…crazy people. I couldn’t imagine a better place in which to end Spring Break. Our final day we walked along the beautiful water with the Spanish sun beating down on our faces. I loved seeing the Colombus Monument in the middle of town (bringing a bit of American pride to the setting). The Gothic Church of Santa Maria del Pi was also stunning. Barcelona never ceased to shock me with its breathtaking beauty. Even the food was gorgeous! We started every morning with a stroll through the open market in town. I’ve never seen such vibrant fruit in my life. Everything looked dazzling and tasted fresh. While we’re on the subject of food, I would say I experienced some of the finest cuisine of my life in this city. From paella to tapas to Sangria, I enjoyed every piece of food I placed in my mouth. With all of my 6 sense well satisfied, it broke my heart to leave the craziest place I’d ever been in my life.Thank goodness I have such a wonderful home to come back to. Having had the best Spring Break of my life, I returned to Roma.

Now that the majority of my traveling is done for the semester, I can finally give my home the attention that it deserves. These last few days were spent sightseeing with visits to the Spanish Steps, Jewish Ghetto of Rome, Castel de San Angelo, and the Trevi Fountain. Tossing the coin into the water of the fountain, I didn’t only wish to come back to Rome – I wished to never leave.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

There could not be a more appropriate name for this post. This entry is very obviously named in order to follow suit with everything in the captivating city. During out stay, it did not take us long to discover the odd sense of humor and original personalities of the Dutch people.

But before meeting too many of these colorful characters, actually getting to the city was quite a bit of work. Seeing as this is my first time  living in Europe (I say this in lofty hopes that there could be future prospects), I want to see every part of the continent that I am able. Obviously, this requires quite a bit of necessary traveling and that fact requires that I become accustomed to everything airport associated – airport food, airport bathrooms, and irritating airport security regulations. But no matter how many times I arrive or depart at an airport, I have a small feeling in the pit of my stomach that something will go wrong. I fear I will look too sketchy to make it through security. I worry the airline will send my luggage to Tunisia instead of my desired destination. Regardless, I don’t put my full faith in the airport til I saunter out of their sliding doors and into whatever new place I travel to that weekend. Never before have I been bested by the airports of Europe. However, my roommate was not so lucky this past weekend. The airline messed up her original ticket and forced her to rebook. As a result, we didn’t make it to our original designated flight time. Luckily, our flight was delayed 2 hours. Unluckily, this meant we had two more hours to kill in the airport and 2 less hours to spend on Thursday night in Amsterdam. However, given the current circumstance, everything really did work out for the best.

When we got into Amsterdam at 1:00 am, we didn’t have many options of activities. As we arrived at our hotel, we experienced our first strange example of the unique Dutch sense of humor. Upon exiting the cab, a man shouted “4 girls!”. Why yes, hello to you too extremely obvious man who is both able to count and distinguish gender. Not five minutes of walking later and an additional “4 girls!” exclamation occurred. We brushed both off and headed into our hotel.

Having read all of the reviews stating that Amsterdam hostels are filled with either vermin or drug addicts, we opted for the cheapest hotel we could find for the weekend. A double room for four people was a tad cramped but served its purpose appropriately enough. However, we were thrown off by a couple of things. In our new place of dwelling, the first thing to get used to were the stairs. Apparently, the Dutch are known for extremely narrow steps. We almost broke our necks everytime we went up and down to the concierge. Also, we were a little more than perplexed by the bathroom situation. Our bathroom was the one thing in the city that was extremely inappropriately named. They should’ve called it the showerroom, as in the whole room was a shower which just happened to have a toilet and sink. This spacial predicament resulted in wet feet and a plethora of damp toiletries throughout the weekend.

The next day, we ventured beyond our unusual lodgings and took advantage of a free tour of the city. We met in Damark Square which holds a few historic landmarks including Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, the Royal Palace, and New Church (different from Old Church which we saw later). See, I wasn’t joking, the Dutch really are into obviously naming things. Perhaps that is why we received shouts from the strange men from the night before; had they just hoped to obviously define new visitors in their city?

The tour itself was amazing. Despite the crazy reputation Amsterdam may have acquired, it is an utterly gorgeous city filled with amazing history. Because its founders literally built a dam across the River Amstel (again with the obvious naming!), the entire town is on water. This makes for gorgeous bridges and canals at every turn. The buildings were reminiscent of those I had seen in Prague but with a little cuter character. From the mod Jewish district (designed by crazy art students in the 1960s) to the Chinese Districts (meaning no Italian pasta for me for the weekend), each area we visited had more adorable personality than the next.

Considering myself somewhat of a history buff, I loved seeing the ports and museums for the Dutch West India Trading Company ,the hiding house of Helen Keller during WWII (complete with view of the church steeple she mentions in her diary), and the pub where Rembrandt crafted some of his most famous paintings. However, the tour didn’t only take us to dry historical sites. Right after gazing at Old Church, we turned to our left to see the notorious Red Light District with some of its famous ladies already at work in their windows. To end the tour, my inner Wisconsinite came out at one of the most famous Amsterdam cheese shops. It was the perfect tour and the perfect day.

As you’ve somewhat seen, the Dutch proved to be very interesting people. At risk of offense, I couldn’t help but to somewhat look at them as children during my time there. Firstly, their sense of humor is very childish. Our tourguide (a student named Nauschka) warned us at the beginning of the walk that many passerbys of tour groups like to shout “She’s lying!”. She counteracts this by teaching her groups to yell back “We know!” Also, a big aspect of culture in Holland is the usage of bicycles. In Amsterdam, they have difficulties maintaining easy passage through canals because the inahbitants of the city find it hilarious to throw bicycles in the river (25,000 per year!). When they’re not tossing the bikes in the river, people ride them (and ride them INSANELY) through town. They have a saying in Amsterdam to warn tourists – “if you hear the bell, you run like hell”. I found this to be extremely true and pondered if my obituary would humiliatingly say “Laura Osterndorf – death by bike in Amsterdam”. However, I found the most humorous thing about the Dutch to be their childish ignorance of any other culture. Usually I feel as though I must wear a sign on my forehead with Uncle Sam pointing at all the Europeans. However, in Holland, I was asked if I was from the UK more than several times. Having a bit of fun with the natives, we told a group that we were from Spain. We were met with barely any skepticism and only one person bothered to point out the obvious fact that I look nothing like any Spaniard who’s ever lived. However, the same person continued the conversation by telling us how mad they were that we (the Spanish) beat them in the World Cup. I won’t lie, it was nice to not be a totally ignorant American for the weekend.

Finally, there were a few main positives that stuck out this weekend in non-traditional ways. Nostalgically, I was reunited with my foreign exchange German friend Jan from high school; it seems crazy that it took 3 years and a different continent to bring us back together. Second, this weekend was a nice change of pace from a food standpoint. Because Amsterdam is such a touristy area, they cater to all ethnicities and desires. Italian food is big everywhere in Europe (not helpful to Rome natives like us who want to experience new food everywhere). In Amsterdam, I oddly experienced Mexican, Asian, and Bavarian food, all proving to be refreshing and delicious. Finally, the last and coolest memory I take back is going to the Trance Energy concert in Jaarbeurs Utrecht, a different city of Holland which is right outside of Amsterdam. The concert featured some of the biggest House DJs in the world. I had one of the best times in my life dancing the night away. Also, cultural fun fact: in Europe, they call concerts (as Americans known them) “parties”. To them, concerts are only orchestral events. What will these crazy Europeans think of next?

After dethawing from the cold of Amsterdam, it was nice to arrive back in the 60 degree weather of Rome and hear “ciaos” all around us instead of the hacking Dutch lanaguage we experienced all weekend. I can only hope the beautiful weather and beautiful language will stick around for Florence this next weekend!

“Study” Abroad

“Study” Abroad

With “study” being the operative word in the phrase “study abroad”, I begrudgingly left the fantasy Italian vacation to which I had become happily accustomed and was forced to start classes last week. It was certainly a busy week overall. With  going to classes, making travel plans (I absolutely cannot wait for Spring Break!!), and the weekend trip to Salerno, I have sadly not had the time I felt was necessary to allot to a well written post – my apologies.

This semester, I finally have the fantastic schedule that I’ve yearned for all of my semesters at college. My usual semester consists of taking 6 classes which forces me to be in class every day of the week. Further proving that everything is better in Europe, I am currently only taking 4 classes. I am ecstatic about the fact that I attend classes only 3 days during the week (my excitement about this fact was slightly squashed by the realization that this is my brother’s schedule at DePaul every semester).  Nonetheless, I am quite pleased with the amount of time I don’t have to spend in the classroom. However, I doubt I’ll entirely mind going to classes this semester based on the fact that I’m going to classes here in Italy.

Having gone to a week of actual school, I have a few initial opinions on the classes I will be taking. My first class is a history course based upon the World of Late Antiquity. It is taught by the Dutch instructor I mentioned in a previous post. So far, he  proves to be an engaging and amusing speaker; he’ll frequently pause throughout class to tell us  that we need a cappuccino break (so awesomely Italian). I have always liked learning about history so I figure this course will be enjoyable for me. In the first week, we discussed Roman emperors who’s stories are nothing short of legendary. In Ancient Rome,there were 80 emperors in 49 years! Multiple emperors even tried rule at the same time before they would end up killing each other off out of sheer spite and boredom. Having only experienced US history courses at the fabulous Whitnall level, it will be interesting to see a different world perspective.

The next course I am taking is for my Political Science major. The class emphasizes the evolution of European Security in the post Cold War World, a narrow but interesting topic. However, I have some mixed feelings about the professor. I would be inclined to have great feelings of admiration toward him because of his background as an Italian ambassador and diplomat. With that experience, he obviously has amazing insight into the world of international relations. The downside is that he has been a little hard to listen to this first week. This is not helped by the thoroughly dense material we have been assigned to cover. All of the reading he gives us will seriously cut into my vespa riding time. I assume this class will prove to be most challenging for me.

My third class is called Art in Rome and I predict it will be one of my favorites. Every week we go to a different museum or site and look at Roman artwork (shocking isn’t it?!). This Thursday, we will be seeing the Roman Forum and the outside of the Colosseum…again (damn you Loyola, I WILL make it inside by the end of the semester). However, next week we will be seeing the Pantheon. In the meantime, we’ve discussed….columns. Not as thrilling as actually going to see artwork in person but I suppose that it is necessary to listen to boring lectures to be able to go out and explore later.

The final class  is Italian Film Genre. I predict that this will also be a favorite of mine, as well as a nice opportunity to relax and watch Italian movies. Christopher, be excited…we have a Fellini unit.

At LUC, I loved my Italian classes because the foreign professors were such complete characters. In 3 semesters of college, my most hilarious class stories came from Italian professors Antonio, Elana, and Alessia. But here in Rome, it wold be foreign to have an American professor. Excluding my Dutch history professor, the rest of my teachers are all Italian and all highly amusing. It’s hard for me to see how I can dread the mere 3 days of classes I have when I get to listen to all of these hilarious people.

Aside from classes, the previous week was consumed with making travel plans for the rest of the semester. This upcoming weekend we will be escaping the cold of Rome (and by cold I mean the 50/60 degree weather, sorry Chi town). On Friday morning, we leave to go to Sicily. However, the biggest travel plans we made this week involved our Spring break trip which will consist of 3 amazing cities in 11 days – London for 3, Paris for 3, and Barcelona for 4. Life is good.

At last, I am becoming accustomed to my neighborhood surroundings. My friends and I have discovered the local supermarket, gelato stand, and shoe store; what else do you really need? But this past weekend was spent breaking away from our neighborhood surroundings to explore a few new cities. As part of Rome orientation, Loyola took us to Salerno. On Friday, we left at 7 in the morning (so brutal) for the Herculaneum. Herculaneum is an ancient city which stands in the shadow of the mighty Mount Vesuvius. This antique world which once stood proud now lays in exotic ruin due to the destructive volcanic activity it has experienced over time. There were many areas we explored and it was crazy to compare that ancient Roman world to the one I live in today. There was a room that served as an ancient fast food station (pretty legitimate) but there was also a section where the Olympic games took place (and took place in the nude which just sounds complicated and painful). With the enormous tour group, it was a little hard to soak up all of the information the tour guide provided. This was made more exhausting because I felt as though I heard the same fact in every room that we went in. Our tour guide seemed like a very nice woman but I wanted to count how many times I heard one particular story she was thoroughly pleased to tell again and again. Apparently, enormous feasts took place every week in many of these rooms. The Romans would eat food and drink wine to the point of vomiting. After puking, they would repeat the process over and over again. Hmm, sounds like the habits of the typical Loyola student in Rome? Just kidding!

After the Herculaneum we left for lunch in Pompeii and then headed to the hotel in Salerno. The town of Salerno was adorable. It was a little less crowded and definitely more calm than the busy streets of Roma which proved to be a nice change. We happily spent the night out in this lovely new city.

Toward the end of the weekend, our group also visited Sorrento. Our plans were slightly hindered when the weekend weather turned to rain and put everybody in a bit of a foul mood. Good thing the shopping was mainly in doors!

And now I’m back at home (barely…the bus driver got a flat tire on the way back) and ready to start another week. I set some goals for myself forthe next few days: go to Trevi Fountain, figure out the bus system so another 3 hour session of being lost downtown does not occur ever again, and try to realize I am actually here for schoolwork, not just vacationing in this beautiful country. The third will prove to be the most difficult but I’m afraid the best way to start is to unfortunately get off this blog. Ciao for now.

Roming Around the First Week…

Roming Around the First Week…

La mia vita e perfetta.  It seems crazy that I’ve only been living in Europe for about a week. Already I feel as though I’ve had months worth of experiences to share.

But I don’t want to be the girl who blogs in only clichés. I will fill you in on what I have been up to the past couple of days. As I said in a previous post, the first days of Rome were slightly reminiscent of the first days of college. We have had to go through many tedious orientation procedures necessary for our existence in the community. These have included a great number of different types of  orientation presentations. Some presentations have felt pretty pointless (yes, I get it….drinking wine and then taking a swim is not ok) but others have been quite interesting. After hearing about it in a presentation, I plan to work in Rome as an English tutor for an Italian native. I can only hope I’ll like Italian children more than American ones? Further, there are also the presentations that serve no other purpose but to scare the crap out of me (new goal: don’t get framed for murder and stuck in an Italian jail).

Unquestionably, the best presentations are the ones that provide insight into my surroundings. Yesterday, one of my professors (a “freaky deaky Dutch” in his words) filled us in on the history of the Colosseum and Roman Forum. It made me very excited for my semester’s classes to come. But more than that, it made me excited to actually see these places and luckily that’s what we did next!

When I saw the town surrounding Roman Bath in London, I thought that it had to be one of the most gorgeous places in the world. After yesterday, I felt the same way about Roman Forum. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such green grass or blue skies; I felt like Dorothy finally seeing colors in the Land of Oz. All the buildings featured beautiful pillars and ancient stones. I couldn’t help but be in awe of the history in which I had just been immersed.

After seeing the Roman Forum, we went to the Colosseum. Now, Loyola’s idea of scheduling a visit to the Colosseum is a little different than what I would do myself. Apparently, when Loyola schedules a tour of the Colosseum, they think it would be a great idea to do so when the Colosseum is actually closed. Typical. Way to go JFRC. I guess I’ll see the inside of the Colosseum some other day. To add insult to injury, Loyola provided buses for transportation to the Colosseum, but no way to get home. Four of my friends and I wandered the streets of downtown Rome for 3 hours before finally getting on the right bus home. However, I couldn’t imagine a better place in the world in which to get myself lost. Also, it gave me a chance to break out my Italian which is always fun, even if the language barrier is slightly challenging.

The people here are wonderful.  Italians are very friendly and somehow charmed by my American ignorance. One of the only downsides would have to be their lack of rules on the road. These people drive like maniacs! One of our cab drivers decided to drive between lanes and simultaneously give us all heart attacks on a night out. Besides that, they are some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. However, I’ve managed to meet many other fascinating people from different countries too. The amount of dialects I hear on a day to day basis never ceases to amaze and entertain me.

Of course a big part of Italian culture is the food, I have yet to experience cappuccino (shocking isn’t it?). However, I have experienced enough pasta for the rest of my life, let alone the rest of the semester. But yes, it is amazing.  I have also tried pizza at a little shop downtown. They cut you 2 square pieces and then you eat them as a strange sort of sandwich. And by strange I mean strangely delicious of course. Today was the first time I tried gelatto and it certainly did not disappoint. Coffee and chocolate, could there be a better combination.

I feels unbelievable to me that in this perfect vacation that is my life I must actually go to class tomorrow. Only one class starting in the afternoon isn’t bad though. And after these 3 days of class, we will be traveling to Pompei, Napoli, and Sorrento next weekend! I love Rome but I can’t wait to see other breathtaking places in this beautiful country.

Buonanotte!

And we’ve landed!

And we’ve landed!

Hello from my new home! Through the irritating jetlag, I write to you announcing I arrived safely and soundly in Italia.

The last couple of days have been a blur. It feels like freshman year of college again but with Europe and without the annoying icebreaker games your RAs force you to play. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING from neighborhood to the day to day routine, seems new and exciting. With the prospect of Rome waiting for me upon landing, the plane ride itself wasn’t even horrible. Those of you who went to London with me know that if I’m good at one thing, it is sleeping whenever and wherever I can. Out of the 9 hours we were in the air, I’m quite sure my eyes were closed for 8 of them. I woke up to ask for a glass of wine during the flight and was denied…regrettable but not exactly surprising for Loyola. And though one of my friends was not so lucky, all of my bags were waiting for me at the airport – very reassuring to know I would not be  judged in the land of Armani and Gucci for having to repeat the same outfit everyday until my luggage was recovered.

The first Italian conversation i witnessed was by my friend Megan. When walking to the buses that would take us to our new home, we were forced to awkwardly navigate the crowded, cobblestone streets. Even the quick “Scusi!” and “Prego” exchange seemed entertaining and exotic.

Now that I’ve been at my dorm for about a day, I’d say that the process of acclimation to the new surroundings is going well. The room that Betsy and I share is small but appropriate for the amount of time we will be spending there. However, technology has been turning against us since our arrival. If it’s not the lights which stubbornly refused to turn on for the first several hours, it’s the shower that unexpectedly turns off without provocation. But the biggest technological issue to get used to would have to be the absence of a phone. Though I should be receiving one in the next couple of days, I feel naked and awkward getting by without the certainty a quick text brings.

Despite minor complications, it is impossible to be in a bad mood. Leaving the snowstorm of Chicago and arriving in wonderful Spring weather was more than appealing. Being surrounded by vespas and different dialects everywhere I turn shows me that I am truly not in Wisco anymore. I just had my Italian Survival Language course. It reviewed basic language and taught me that I can’t just “go ciao-ing all over the place” (the words of my professor) because of cultural differences. That will be useful to know for when I explore the city further later tonight.

I already love it here and hope to have time to update everyone again soon! Arrivederci readers.

L’inizio…

L’inizio…

In precisely 36 hours, I will be sitting in great anticipation at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. My bags will be packed (and hopefully not exceeding the irritating weight limit), I will have survived the new  TSA pat down procedures necessary to travel, and I will be awaiting the announcement that I can board the plane and officially begin my semester abroad. 9 long hours after that, I will have landed in Rome.

But for the moment, I sit here on my laptop and realize I don’t seem ready at all.

My empty suitcases sit in my brother’s room in the same position since I first brought them out in a short lived moment of ambition on Tuesday. At risk of having a complete girl moment, the one, lonely checked bag I am allowed to bring is still sort of freaking me out, not to mention a constant running list of odds and ends for which we must continually run to the store. And of course, there’s a million questions racing through my mind: do I have all my necessary travel documents in the right place? Could I really hold my own in Italian conversation with a legitimate native? Will the Italians be able to appreciate my rapping ability and knowledge of all things Kanye West….or will I just be ‘that American’?

While I hope for the best, I assume the second outcome to be more likely. However, that minor pitfall could not hinder my excitement for this semester one bit. Ever since I returned from London at the end of the Spring Break of my senior year of high school, I felt the immediate the need to travel again….especially back to Europe.

Over this semester, I intend to immerse myself in all things Italia. I plan to (attempt to) speak the language and explore my surroundings, as well as any other country I find the funds to travel to. I also intend to experience new people, places, customs, and of course, fine Italian wines (it’s me, were you expecting anything different?).

So I guess that’s what this site is for. I’m new to the blogging idea so bear with me anyone who is actually bored enough to read my  rants. I wanted to share my Italian (and European) escapades with a large number of people. This desire made me think back to one of my Communications classes in which we were forced to blog with this site throughout the semester. At last I can finally say I got something useful out of that class!

So with my first entry published and one more item officially checked off  of my To Do List, I suppose I should actually finish……or who am I kidding, START packing or any other of the enormous amount of tasks which must be done before 36 hours from now.

Feel free to comment, this blog being public forum and your country being America (you might know, freedom of speech is strongly encouraged, thank you Poli Sci major). I’d love to hear thoughts to know that I am rambling for someone out there. And I’ll miss everyone in America so it would be great to hear from you!

The next time I write, I will be in my new home: Roma!

Io vi parlerò più tardi!