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Pretty in Paris

Pretty in Paris

Make sure to visit this at night for a stunning light show every hour on the hour
If you can afford it, the views from the tower are breath-taking

I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Europe before. I saw some cities in Spain, France, and Italy, and loved them all enough to come back. Recently, I returned from a trip to Paris, which I saw last time I was in Europe.

I thought I wouldn’t have much to do, since I’d been to the Eiffel Tower, seen inside the Louvre, and entered the Notre Dame, but I didn’t have enough time to visit half of what I wanted to.

As preparation for this semester abroad, I hunted down works of fiction that took place in Europe as inspiration on where to visit during my stay, and I had a few new ideas on what to see in Paris. This trip was so fun because it was like a scavenger hunt, I was either viewing the touristic attractions in a new light or visiting places a tourist would normally walk by.

Be sure to look for the cat if you don’t have the time to read part of a book in there
A complicated, beautiful work of art. If you think it’s pretty on the outside, wait until you walk in

I highly recommend reading a couple books that take place in the countries you’d like to visit, because that way you’ll learn about new places to visit, or gain more knowledge on places you already know of.

Thanks to the books I have read, I was able to visit the church of St. Etienne du Mont, Shakespeare & Company, and learn more about Point Zero.

I learned Point Zero is where all distances in France are measured. Apparently if you make a wish on it, it’ll come true, and if you don’t make a wish, you’re bound to return to Paris again one day.

Don’t worry, I made sure to stop at Point Zero before I left Paris, but I can’t tell you what I wished for, or it won’t come true!

It’s worn away from the tourists walking past, to Notre Dame
Halfway done??? What???

Halfway done??? What???

This weekend I took my first solo trip. I spent the weekend in a hostel in Granada where I explored the city and built relationships with the others in my hostel. As I wrote this, I was on the bus home from Granada; I went first to Madrid and then I had a shorter ride back to Salamanca. I am exhausted from this weekend, but it was so wonderful and will absolutely be a trip I remember for a long time.

I began traveling at about 8:30 on Thursday evening, and I arrived in Granada at 6:30 AM on Friday. Overnight but travel wasn’t necessarily the most comfortable way to do this weekend, but I was able to spend the full day on Friday exploring Granada because of it. My hostel was about a 35 minute walk away from the bus station, so after a cup of cafe con leche I hauled myself and my backpack towards my home for the weekend. Throughout the semester I have been collecting photos of graffiti that has caught my eye, and the graffiti in Granada did not disappoint.

It was pretty early and I technically wasn’t supposed to check in to my hostel yet, so on my way I just wandered, took my time, and took in the sights of the city. I lived in the neighborhood Albaicín, which is located above the city center which means that it has some of the most amazing views you can find in Granada. I stumbled upon a beautiful view on the way to my hostel and decided to sit and journal for a little bit. I wanted to spend a weekend by myself in part because I wanted to relax and recharge, but also to reflect on the semester as it has gone thus far.

In the past few years I have realized how introverted I am, so even though I am very social and love spending time around others, it drains me of energy. I anticipated a weekend where I didn’t really talk to other people and would just be spending time with myself, but what I did not anticipate was how wonderful my hostel would be. I spent the weekend in Makuto’s backpackers hostel, which is unlike any other hostel I have stayed in. Immediately upon arrival, I felt like I was being welcomed into a home. It still wasn’t technically time to check in, but one of the employees got me set up with a shower and breakfast. In all other hostels I have stayed in the people living there keep to themselves, but at Makuto there were multiple rooms designed just for people to hang out and be in community with one another.

After I got showered and changed, I went back out into the city to explore. I walked around the city center, ate some lunch, stumbled upon a beautiful garden, and wandered. The beautiful thing about traveling alone is that I was able to wander without a destination without having to be mindful of what others are wanting to do. I just walked without any intentions, and experienced the sights of the city. After checking in later, I took a siesta (because I am now adjusting to the relaxed Spanish lifestyle and get a little cranky if I don’t get my daily nap oops), and began to talk to some of the people in my hostel. I ended up going for tapas with a group of 5 people– it felt like a group of friends though, rather than people I had just met. We went to a few different tapas bars, and spent the night enjoying each others company.

The next day, rather than going out by myself, I went on a journey to the Alhambra with a few new friends from the hostel. We didn’t have tickets, but there are a lot of places you can visit for free! We spent a few hours there, but we could have spent the entire day because it is so huge. Afterwords, we got chocolate con churros and pizza for lunch which was exactliy what I needed at that moment. We then relaxed at the hostel for a bit, before it was time for the guided walking tour!! Every night at about 6, the hostel provides a free walking tour of the neighborhood, which takes you to all the beautiful viewpoints. The last viewpoint was on a MOUNTAIN!! We climed a mountain for one of the most beautiful views I have ever experienced. We came home, and it was time for dinner. The hostel has a family dinner every night, and last night we had paella. We didn’t do much for the rest of the night, besides spend time with each other, and it was so wonderful.

I miss my mom. A lot. I miss my friends and family, I miss Chicago, I miss the kids I work with, I miss my apartment, I miss my dog– I miss home. A few days ago, I talked to my mom over facetime and I told her how much I missed her and how hard it is to be thousands of miles away from her. She asked me, “do you regret going to Spain?” because she said it worries her, how much I miss home. I was actually talking about this with a friend a few days before my mom and I talked, but I didn’t come to Spain to have an easy time, I came here to learn and grow. I’m not in Spain to feel comfortable, because if everything were comfortable I wouldn’t be growing. I have been in Spain for two months now, and these months have been incredible but they have also been so difficult. Despite the hardships, though, I have grown so much in both my Spanish but also as a person. I just spent the weekend in Granada by myself without having second thoughts. Two months ago, I would not have been able to just up and go to a city I didn’t know for the weekend without another person, but here I am.

This upcoming week marks the beginning of Semana Santa, Holy Week, but it also marks the beginning of me walking the Camino de Santiago. For about ten days I will be walking a section of the ancient pilgrimage trail by myself. I won’t be fully alone because there are going to be many other pilgrims walking the trail, especially since it will be semana santa. I have gotten all my gear, bus tickets, know where I will be sleeping each night, and now it just needs to be time. This is something that I never would have been able to do prior to being here.

I may miss my family endlessly, and I may want nothing more than to be in my apartment surrounded by my best friends, but if I were to have spent this semester in Chicago I would have had a regular semester and wouldn’t have gone so far out of my comfort zone and wouldn’t have grown as much as I have. I miss the comfort of my life in Chicago, I miss the monotony of every day life: walking to class, taking the train to work, being at the IC all night; however, I am so thankful for the experiences I have had, because without them I would be stagnant rather than growing. 

Being an Airbnb host for the right reasons

Being an Airbnb host for the right reasons

 

I have traveled to Oslo, Norway three times now. The first time I stayed with an amazing couple with two kids. I paid 412 SEK ($50) for both nights, which I believe is reasonable. The price was definitely lower than it should have been based on the experience I had. Each night my friend and I came back, it was either talking all night or playing card/board games with our hosts. They also drove us to the city each day on their way to work. On Sunday, the wife (Nina) made us baguettes with over 10 spreads to choose from. Spreads are common to have with snacks and to use on baguettes, or crisp bread. A commonality in Sweden and Norway is food in tubes: kaviar, cheese, and dill spread. Also, we had homemade chocolate cake because it was Mother’s day. I did not know what to expect from booking my first Airbnb, but I was blown away.

They are such amazing hosts so I visited Oslo a month later with my brother and stayed 5 nights for FREE at their home. Again, each day consisted of traveling the city and each night was talking, board games, or card games. My brother is in SLU med school so he geeked out talking about Norwegian healthcare.

The wife is the main contact for all her Airbnb guests. What she wants most out of Airbnb is for her guests to be treated well on their first visit, so they come back and bring something from their home country. Yes, she has a motto, “if I like you on your first stay you don’t have to pay for any further visits, but you do have to bring something from your home country… preferably chocolate :).” Nina wants to hear stories from around the world, so she can visits those places later and experience the stories first-hand. She has been to 29 countries and she is 31 with a 8-4 job, 9-5 husband, and two kids 6 and 8 years old. How does she travel so much? Because it is easy to get away and know where to go when you visit people who were previously your Airbnb guests. I LOVE IT… to the point where I am debating renting out my other bed in my room, if that is even possible.

My “second” family, as I call them now, took me to their family cabin in Hemsadel, Norway. We went skiing all Saturday in the second largest ski resort in Norway. Previously, I only been on slopes that lasted at most 2 minutes. The longest slope here took 20 minutes to get to the very bottom. It was absolutely surreal. We had the 6 year old son with us, so we often took it slow. At one point, myself and the husband went off-piste and that’s where the real test began. I was toppling down the side of the mountains through fresh, powdery, untouched snow. I am hurting so bad three days later, I wasn’t able to go to the gym haha. I can now say I witnessed what real slopes are like, rather than the fake snow back around Chicago. Myself and the husband, 31 years old, had a 6 hour conversation into Sunday morning. What I found amazing is that someone who is 10 years older, from another part of the world, and a father could have such similar experiences and thoughts as I do… We are all humans in the end.

The purpose of this post is two-fold. One, it is to remind me how opportunities can rise from trying new things. I had no idea booking my first airbnb would snowball into so many experiences. Second, it is to educate my readers about how beautiful and exciting meeting new people is. Airbnb is an amazing platform to do so. It shouldn’t be about the money, unless you need it. If you have a part of your home that is vacant, try renting it out. There are a lot of characters in this world to make your world just as exciting to live in. The experiences are endless, if you choose to open yourself up to new experiences.

MIDTERM

MIDTERM

I’m half way through the semester and through the internship. In retrospect, I think I’ve accomplished a lot so far. At the beginning, I didn’t have any idea what to expect. I wasn’t sure if the office would be like in Chicago where everyone is business formal, or business casual. I didn’t know how serious the staff would be, if they’d be friendly, and actually help me build career skills. There is such a stigma towards business interns where we’re known for getting people coffee, filing, and essentially doing grunt work. This being said, I expected the worst. I’ve never had an internship before and I wasn’t familiar with the work-life in Italy. I’ve only heard that in Italy people are a lot more laid back, so I had no clue what it would be like here. The most interesting aspect of this internship is the staff because they’re really open and give constructive criticism. It is incredibly helpful. My least favorite aspect is the commute. It’s a twenty-minute walk to the train, fifteen-minute train ride, and then a ten-minute walk. Two euros a day, three days a week is no fun. I understand how to use MeetEdgar, I better understand how to schedule posts on social media to reach a wider audience, and I understand how much dedication it takes to market. During this semester I had the hardest time getting used to the work, school, life, balance. Now, it isn’t so bad. All I had to do was get used to the routine by staying consistent. Interning in Marketing reflects what I’ve done in my marketing courses because I’ve constantly got to be thinking about who my target market is, what content they’re looking for, and how to use that to sell a product. Beyond the job itself though, I personally wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing something I had no experience doing. So, here I am doing it. I think by the end of this internship, the most rewarding part is going to be the fact that I got through it. I never thought my first job would be in Italy so that still amazes me. It is difficult, but I’d recommend going through this internship to anyone.

Spring break came around just in time. I truly needed it. My friend Cat and I went to London and it was the best city I’ve ever been to. Our hostel was above a pub and they had free breakfast. We met the nicest people who took us to some clubs and pubs and talked to us about the difference in cutlure in the UK vs the US. It was hysterical. It was such a relief to be in a city where transportation works and people speak English. We went on a slide in Stratford London that was literally the height of the statue of liberty. Afterwards, we went to Paris and Versailles. Not as fun, my friend got mugged in front of the Louvre. On the bright side, I met up with 3 friends from Chicago that I really missed, one of which studies in Paris. We went to a club with a ball pit.  A piece of home is what I needed to pull me through the rest of this semester.

Pizza and Immigration

Pizza and Immigration

‘It is a privilege to be a resident of Sweden where people are respected regardless of religion, belief, colour, appearance and nationality,’

The idea for this post came from pizza. I love pizza and I guess residents of Sweden do to! It seems that on most corners you will find a pizzeria with a family name on the sign. I have tried about 4 places in Jonkoping and Tenhult. The style of pizza is definitely different from Chicago pizza. Your order is almost always a full thin-crust pizza and is not meant to be shared. Also, every pizzeria has about 30 combinations where some are radically different from anything I have ever seen before. I tried a pizza once that had marinara, bananas (common topping), pineapple, paprika and roasted peanuts… I was the only one who liked it.

I looked up and noticed who was serving me this delicious compilation and not once was it a native-born Swede. One pizzeria owner was interested in my English and we had a conversation about our origins (while he recommended the kebab pizza, kebab being one of the most common foods in restaurants). He told me how he migrated from Iraq to Sweden 27 years ago and opened his pizzeria doors 21 years ago.

Angelo: Do you like living in Sweden?

The owner: No, I miss home too much (long pause). You know, it is the motherland. How could I want to be elsewhere?

And if you read my last blog post, you would know why inside I was like “aww man why does everyone have to go breaking my heart?”

A lot of pizzerias are owned by immigrants mostly form Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Chilean and Iraq. They immigrated their “motherlands” in times of political turmoil. Many Chileans came during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet during the period 1973-1990. The Iran-Iraq war brought many from both countries avoiding a war they did not believe in. They were able to do so according to the Geneva Convention which granted many residence permits to Sweden.

‘I am proud to be part of a country that gives shelter to those in need.’

Sweden also became an asylum for many Syrians during the war zone that is occurring in Syria. Sweden has granted permanent residence permits to all Syrians and led to Syrians being the largest immigrant group in Sweden. Every fourth immigrant is from Syria.

The current situation is that every sixth person was not born in Sweden. Sweden has become an asylum for the right reasons. It is amazing to be able to see the diversity everywhere I look. It is not a new sight for me considering Loyola is similar with diversity, but still beautiful to understand.

The task for Sweden now is integrating refugees into all aspects of Swedish society. From the testimonies of refugees, it looks like all Swedes are excitedly willing to accept the challenge.

Thanks for reading and HEJDA (GOODBYE)!
Angelo

quotes came from this website:

Sweden and migration

Winter Break in the Winter

Winter Break in the Winter

At Loyola we get Spring Break and Winter Break, but at SLU Madrid we get Winter Break and Spring Break. Our Winter Break was after our midterms, so it just ended, and I chose to spend mine in the cold snowy countries instead of on a beach (and I only slightly regret it).

Bike riding through Copenhagen

I travelled to Scandinavia, visiting Stockholm, Sweden, Oslo, Norway, and Copenhagen, Denmark and even in below freezing temperatures I loved them. I definitely recommend bringing a Chicago winter coat for the Spring semester, because I incorrectly assumed it’d be sunny and beachy weather, so I had to buy a winter coat in Spain.

Walking the streets of Stockholm

Despite my mistake coming into the trip, I wound up having a lot of fun touring the cities! Since it was so cold my friends and I took every opportunity to go into the little shops along the streets and saw things we wouldn’t have if we had just walked by, and I ended up with some pretty cool souvenirs. We also booked tours so that we were doing more than just walking around in the cold. There are free walking tours in every city we visited, but we paid for ours in order to be a bit warmer travelling inside a bus. I learned a lot about the local history and current opinions on the city I visited and I stand by the belief that guided tours are worth the money.

Out of all the cities, Oslo was my favorite just because I loved how the city looked and felt covered in snow, and how beautiful the parks were even in the winter. I do think Copenhagen was the most fun city I visited though, because we booked a bike tour, so we were biking to all the sights! It was freezing so I was completely bundled up, but the tour was absolutely worth the cold weather.

My friends and I kept joking how it was warmer in Chicago than where we were, regretting not choosing the warmer climate, but enjoying the experience we were having. I definitely don’t regret the trip, but next time I book one I’ll be planning according to weather first.

Hello Rome, have we met?

Hello Rome, have we met?

Week Seven is already coming to an end. I can hardly believe it myself. As I reflect on the past month and a half, I can’t help but wonder, what have I actually accomplished in my time here? Home is where someone notices your absence. Has my home noticed mine? Have I already grown accustomed to a life away from the house and people I’ve always known? Can I honestly say I’ve taken advantage of the privilege of a life abroad and all that that entitles? My friends and followers all comment their envious blips on my posts, reaffirming my “luckiness.” I’ve met people from around the globe whose presence has affected me as a traveller and made me realize the importance of the impression you can leave on someone’s life, as big or small as it may be.

This might get real cheesy real fast, but bear with me. Call it what you may: meditation, homesickness, the cliche quest of a young adult trying to “find herself,” or whatever. Life abroad away from my family, friends, even weather, has made me realize just how much I take for granted. It started off with the little things like how close my house is to Target and the availability of a reliable dryer when I do laundry. It eventually built up to include how easy it is to FaceTime in the comfort of my house without having ten people walk in on me and the comforting feeling of knowing my mom is cooking up dinner in the next room. The familiarity of the home I grew up in has created a security blanket that I’ve had to shed in order to full enjoy what Rome has to offer.

While the rest of my classmates packed their bags to seek adventure in various European regions, my friends and I decided to slow down and spend two weekends in Rome. This consisted of a pretty empty cafeteria and hardly anyone adding to the arduous slamming of doors every ten minutes. While I agree on wanting to explore Europe at large (I myself have trips lined up), taking a step back is also a necessary part of enjoying a study abroad experience. Hitting up our favorite pub and dancing the night away to throwbacks of the 2000s (is that what they think Americans listen to all day?) can be just as rewarding as taking flights around the continent. All you really need is good company, good music, and a drink (I’m talking about Mountain Dews, baby!).

While I have yet to hit the halfway mark on my trip, I know there’s still a lot for me to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, etc. I often question how I can return to my life in Chicago when every day there’s something new to explore in Rome. At this point it’d probably take a lifetime to accept and adjust to the norms of European living. Despite the stress and late-night cram sessions (sometimes I forget I’m here to study), my time abroad has already changed me for the better. My appreciation for travel and culture will stick with me in everything I invest in. While my experience will certainly differ from the next person’s, reflection is key in understanding just what this period of adaptation means for the future. I know in my heart I’ll be back here, but for now I’ll take it one day at a time.

-Andrea

Prati, Ramen, and Reading for Fun

Prati, Ramen, and Reading for Fun

This past Wednesday, I took a tour of Prati, a Roman neighborhood that is home to Castel Sant’Angelo and St. Peter’s Square, with several other JFRC students. What made this tour unique, was that it was led by Italian students. The students study English at a local school and they were between 15 and 20 years old. They had the chance to practice their English by teaching us about the local sights as we walked around. We practiced our Italian and heard about what life is like for students living in Italy. They were all very nice and their teacher Frank did a good job motivating everyone to step out of their comfort zones and start conversation in their secondary language. I had never been to St. Peter’s Square and it looked exceptional in the setting sunlight. The lights in the square had just come on and my pictures fail to capture how pretty it all looked under the navy blue evening sky.

On Friday morning I traveled outside the ancient walls of the city to see St. Paul’s Basilica, which was equally beautiful. I has been raining all weekend here in Rome, so the trek was cold and wet. After what seemed like hours spent on two crowded buses, I arrived at St. Paul’s and got to spend as long as I wanted touring the cavernous church. St. Paul’s church is different than those of the Renaissance era because it is not filled with ornate decorations, paintings, and statues. St. Paul’s is quite empty, just a huge, quiet space for prayer and reflection. There are several rooms along the perimeter with some art and stories that tell the histories of religious figures like St. Ignatius of Loyola who founded the order of the Jesuits. Lining the walls near the ceiling are portraits of every pope since the beginning of the papacy. The coolest thing about the basilica is that it is likely the final resting place of St. Paul himself, and there you can see his sarcophagus and the chains that he was bound in while imprisoned. After the basilica, I went to a nearby ramen place called Akira which was really great. Hot green tea and a bowl of steamy veggies and noodles was exactly what I was craving after walking around in the cold rain all morning. Plus anything other than the same dining hall food here is a welcome change!

One of the best parts of being here for me has been the free time I have. During the week, I enjoy a much lighter work load than I have during normal semesters in Chicago. I have been using the extra time to work out in the gym almost every day. I’ve been reading and writing a lot more for fun, watching less Netflix and taking in much less social media. I feel good about that and I hope to keep up these habits when I get back to Chicago. Now, watching the occasional movie is a treat, it’s much more fun because my appreciation for it has grown. Similarly, reading is much more fun, like it used to be before high school. Things are good and I hope to keep improving them throughout the rest of the trip.

I am about halfway done with my semester in Rome and it feels like I’ll never be able to fit everything into the next 6 weeks. In an effort to try, I finally put together a list of things I want to see and do in Rome before I go. I realize I’ll have to skip some things because of my budget and limited time frame. My plan is to do my best and spend every weekend that I have left in Rome off campus, rain or shine, checking out as many restaurants and sights as possible. This way, when I get back home, I’ll have no regrets and I’ll know I did my best to fill the trip with as many memories as possible. Be on the lookout for more posts in the coming weeks as I get really familiar with Rome, while also getting to see Poland, Amsterdam, Assisi and the Amalfi Coast.

 

 

 

St. Peter’s Square at Night
Also St. Peter’s Square at Night
St. Paul’s Basilica Ceiling
The Popes at St. Paul’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a Hike!

Take a Hike!

On Friday I went on a hike around Monte Mario, the big hill that is home to the JFRC and the surrounding Balduina neighborhood. Soon after setting off, JFRC librarian and enthusiastic hiker Ann Wittrick in the lead, I heard murmurings from some other hikers that this trek would be four hours long. Four hours!? I hadn’t seen anything about this on the posters. Apparently, the information was on Facebook. Once again, I was out of the loop because I don’t check Facebook. I was not the only one taken by surprise though, other hikers quickly grew apprehensive, several suddenly regretting their light breakfasts of coffee and cornetti. Nevertheless, we were off! As our feet pounded along wooded trails, up and down the hills of Rome, many of the original bright-eyed travelers fell away, opting to catch a bus home as the rest of us continued. I’d say that about 15 of us stayed for the entire trip. I’m glad I stayed because I got some cool pictures of the city and saw the Olympic Stadium where Rome’s most famous soccer teams play.

We made our way up the trails of Monte Mario Nature Reserve which is 139 meters (456 ft.) high. The hill is home to a lot of biodiversity which is not so easy to find in today’s metropolitan Rome. The ground beneath the oak and maple trees is a mixture of sand and gravel from the ancient days of Rome. Though there was more wildlife there years ago, the area is still home to rodents like house and field mice as well as birds like the Jackdaw, Long-tailed Tit, and Rome’s infamous Starlings. (The last of this group swarm the city every year in November and December, burying the city in buckets of their, umm, gifts) The hill gave us some unique views of the city. From different viewpoints along the trail we could see the Vatican, the Colosseum, and the Olympic Stadium poking out among Rome’s orange and yellow apartments.

After the hilltop, we visited a French cemetery for fallen French soldiers of World War II. Many of the soldiers had German names, evidence of the many changes throughout France’s history between the cultures of Germany and France. There were many graves honoring fallen Muslim soldiers as well. These had gravestones with different shapes, and symbols of a crescent moon and star. One of the JFRC’s theology teachers was with us, and he remarked that the Muslim graves were here because there had been so many Muslim soldiers recruited by the French army during the war. Not too far from the cemetery stands a giant statue of the Virgin Mary, meant as a symbolic praise to God for keeping Rome safe during WWII.

As we made our way back to campus, we visited the Olympic Stadium which was built to host the 1942 Olympic Games in Rome, but did not because of WWII. The stadium and adjacent Olympic Village was used to host the games in 1960. We saw the buildings that housed the athletes, and a practice field and track next to the actual stadium. The grounds of the stadium are dotted with Greek style statues depicting muscular athletes. Our S.L.A Judy, told us that fascist leader Benito Mussolini had ordered the statues to be built, with the ideal fascist Italian man in mind. These brawny dudes (not a woman in sight of course) were meant to symbolize the way Mussolini wanted every man to look. I thought it was funny then, when Judy also told us that the reason each statue was made to look across the field at the statue opposite it, could be traced back to ancient Greek traditions; specifically, the tradition of young men forming relationships with older men as a way to enter adulthood. We also saw the old headquarters of the fascist party in Italy. It was, an extremely square, plain grey building with no defining features. It looked like it had come out of a Fascists Architecture 101 textbook. In the courtyard outside, there were huge stone blocks inscribed with a highlight reel of Mussolini and, by extension, the fascist party. The blocks at the end of the rows have been left blank, with the idea that they would be filled in as the fascists continued influencing the world.

At the end, though my feet were tired, I was glad the hike was so long. I left with the nice reminder that taking a nice long walk is an effective way to clear one’s head. A hike in the woods, or a walk through the town can boost your mood and bring everything into perspective. I hope to visit the Monte Mario Reserve at least once more before I go.

 

 

 

Some of the Muslim graves in the French WWII cemetery we visite

The public soccer field next to the Olympic Stadium

View from Monte Mario trail

 

 

 

 

 

What I Learned: Cinque Terre

What I Learned: Cinque Terre

At the beginning of February, I visited a region of Northern Italy called Cinque Terre, which translates to “five lands.” This is an area of five small towns, and in just two days, I was able to visit each one. While I was there, I learned a few things that I thought I’d share with you all.

  • Before you go on a trip, you should do more research than a quick Google search.

The week before we left, I was stressed. Classes had really picked up, and I had a lot of work to do. I was traveling with just one other friend, and I let her do a lot of the research and planning. My research consisted of reading the first few things that popped up when I searched “What to do in Cinque Terre.” While these were helpful and gave me an idea of what to expect from the region, I wasn’t asking the right questions. I should’ve been searching the best time to go to Cinque Terre, for starters, because we ended up going during off season. This seems obvious- Cinque Terre is right on the water and many people go there for the beaches. February isn’t the best time to sit on the beach. But we still expected there to be more to do! As we sat in a restaurant for lunch on Saturday shortly after we arrived, we tried asking the waitress for some suggestions of things to do in the region. She laughed, a bit nervously, and said, “Well, in the winter, there’s not much to do here.” If we had done a little more research, we would’ve known this!

  • But you don’t always have to listen to what your research tells you.

That being said, I’m almost glad we didn’t know that going in. It would’ve skewed my idea of the region. It was almost funny, us walking around trying to find things to do. Even though we saw it in most of the towns, we were still surprised when we made it to the next and seemed to be some of the only people there. The weekend we went was a shorter weekend for us (we had had classes on Friday, so we were only able to travel Saturday and Sunday), so we had just the right amount of time to wander through all the towns before heading home. If it had been warmer, we might’ve gotten distracted by the beach and wanted to sit there all weekend. Don’t get me wrong, that would’ve been great, but going in February allowed us to really see all the towns, compare them, and pick which was our favorite. We saw some beautiful views and captured pictures that I will forever want to show off to family and friends.

  • Go to the bathroom whenever one is offered to you, but don’t look into it too much.

This has become something I’ve learned of Italy in general, but bathrooms are… different here. Public restrooms are often available near big tourist sites, but you usually have to pay up to one euro for entry. Restaurants have bathrooms, but you are of course expected to purchase something in order to use them. Stores like clothing stores and supermarkets do not have bathrooms. So, on weekend trips and whenever I venture into the city, every time I stop for a meal or gelato or a cappuccino, I make it a point to go to the bathroom. This was especially important in Cinque Terre because we were constantly on the go, and we didn’t always know when we’d find another open restaurant or bar. So… My second comment probably sounds a little confusing- why shouldn’t you look into the bathroom too much? During lunch on Sunday, asI entered the bathroom of our restaurant for the second time (trying to take full advantage of a free bathroom in reach), I looked at the ceiling and saw THE BIGGEST SPIDER I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE. I am pretty terrified of spiders, so the appeal of the bathroom was quickly diminished. In general, bathrooms here are fine, but many toilets don’t have toilet seats. The bathrooms are usually in the basement of buildings, and after trekking down steep staircases to get to them, they can be pretty dirty. So, use bathrooms when possible, but always carry hand sanitizer with you and don’t look up!!

  • Talk to the locals, even though it’s scary!

The friend I traveled with is much more advanced in her Italian skills than I am, so I leaned on her throughout the weekend to help us navigate the unfamiliar towns. I am used to keeping my head down and avoiding nerve-wracking situations, but she was great about asking the locals for suggestions. We met the owner of a nearby café (where we ate breakfast on both days and I had a late night snack on Saturday), and he gave us directions and made great cake!! I realized how important those interactions can be, even if they’re scary. This local’s café was our favorite place in Corniglia, the town we stayed in, and we were able to see more of Cinque Terre because we talked to the owner. (I’m hoping to write more about conversations with locals in a later blog post, so stay tuned!)

My best Italian is still me ordering gelato.

  • Embrace the local culture and norms of where you go.

I have never been the most outdoorsy person, and when I started telling people I wanted to go to Cinque Terre, they kept mentioning the hiking there. My friend and I left for the weekend hoping that the trains running between the towns we heard about weren’t just a myth. And they weren’t! We used the trains to get from some towns to the next. But once we’d spent some time there, we realized how big of a role the hiking trails played in the “culture” in Cinque Terre. We completed two hikes during the weekend (one on each day), and it ended up being one of our favorite parts. We decided to try the shorter trails so as not to burn out, which was a good decision because wow! I was sore for days afterwards! But the views we saw along the way were breathtaking. I snapped pictures constantly, each time muttering, “Okay I know I said the last one would be my last picture but look at that!” We met some very nice locals and fellow tourists who helped guide us in the right direction, and we enjoyed some good conversation along the way.

Some views from a hike.

Although the weekend wasn’t really what I had expected or what I would have planned, it ended up being so relaxing. It pulled me off campus without completely exhausting me, as some of my longer trips have. I learned to go with the flow for the weekend- something I’ve never been great at. It really payed off, and Cinque Terre has been one of my favorite places so far.

In front of our favorite view!