The GoGlobal Blog

Month: October 2012

Photo Journal, Angkor Wat

Photo Journal, Angkor Wat

As I promised, here is a photo depiction of our trip to Angkor Wat!

First of many incredible trees at Angkor Wat.
"Take the picture," says our tour guide!
Incredible molding/carving on every wall.
Scale of temple wall in comparison to my height.
The temples at Angkor Wat are still practicing places of worship.
Apes roaming the grounds.
Ape following classmates.

Smiling Buddas

I am miniature compared to this tree.

Perfect blend of nature and man.

Angkor at sunset.

Seeing Space Ships in Cambodia

Seeing Space Ships in Cambodia

Day One- October 17, 2012

“I am in a surprisingly good mood despite the current situation. I have never been the one who likes to wait, especially in heat and overcrowding, but here I think I can make an exception.  Which is laughable, because even without my mental exception I have no choice.”

a clustered line of vans waiting for the ferry

The above is a journal excerpt from my trip to Cambodia.  After 3 hours of driving through the Cambodian countryside on a journey to Phnom Penh, our bus was halted by a massive line of tuk tuks and mini vans filled with people.  They were all waiting for a pair of rotating ferry boats to cross the Mekong River.  At that moment, I could only think of the number of frustrating layovers I have experienced with airlines, angry because I felt I didn’t get what I paid for.  This situation was different, I wasn’t sitting in any mundane airport forced to watch subtitles on CNN while I listened to John Mayer over the loud speaker (no offense to John Mayer or CNN).  I was in Cambodia: wandering the streets during an unplanned stop, waving at smiling locals, watching water-buffalo graze in the distance, or reading Joel Brinkley’s exceptional book, Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land.  Life was good.

"clown cars" full of Cambodians traveling over holiday and waiting for the ferry

Before coming to Southeast Asia, I pictured Cambodia as a paradise.  I was ignorant, and to be honest, any foreign country sounded like a paradise to me.  In reality, Cambodia does have a wonderful landscape, but it also has had a long history of war and economic struggles.  What is most surprising about my lack of knowledge on Cambodia, is that the conflict and genocide tied to the Khmer Rouge take over happened while my parents and grandparents were alive.  I suppose these events could have been overshadowed by the Vietnam War and issues that directly impacted the United States, or even the fact I had never taken a Southeast Asian class until this semester.  The trip to Phnom Penh was exciting and emotional.

1) Our group visited Toeul Slang Highshool and the Killing Fields (also a movie), both sites of mass killings during the late 1970’s by the Khmer Rouge.

victims of the Toeul Slang High School killings
classrooms turned prison cells at Toeul Slang High School
bracelets left in memory of mother and child victims at the Killing Fields

2) We were given a lecture by a Cambodian economist who essentially spoke of more struggles than successes on the current political and economic state in Cambodia.

3) Visited the Peace Cafe, run by Center of the Dove ( a Jesuit Org.) that teaches life skills to those who are shut in and disabled in Cambodia ( Besides selling coffee and hand made goods, the Center is also the leading producer of wheelchairs in the country.  These chairs are stable enough to last on gravel roads.

Peace Cafe
homemade furniture at the Peace Cafe

4. Our trip to Cambodia occurred during the mourning period and funeral for the late King, Norodom Sihanouk, who recently died in Bangkok.  On our first night in the city, we witnessed many Cambodian’s praying and lighting incense in front of the palace in his honor.  Black ribbons were worn across the country in remembrance.

palace in Phnom Penh lit to commemorate the late king
lighting incense to honor the king

Day Three- October 19, 2012

“Again, I am in a surprisingly good mood despite the current situation.  After all, I just saw a space ship.”

a "space ship"

The above is also a journal excerpt from the Cambodia trip.  Surprisingly, our second bus, to Siem Reap, was delayed.  This time the bus broke down.  For two hours our group explored a village 1 and 1/2 hours outside of the city.  The space ship was located in a park, and I was more than willing to imagine the children on their way to the moon. It was sunset, and we took in the view while watching a man fish off of the bridge.  At 9 pm we made it to our hotel, ate, and rested for the long day ahead.

Cambodia has many tropical wetlands. Most homes are built elevated from the ground. All stairs also must be built in odd number due to religious superstition.

“I almost wonder how this place looked 9 centuries ago,” Jack said to me on our excursion to Angkor Wat and surrounding temples.  It was a time warp.  Everything was handmade and carved from stone.  The magnitude and beauty of the Hindu and Buddhist temples were unreal.  It was a perfect fusion of nature and man.  I will include photos in their own post (you won’t believe the trees I saw!)

The trip to Cambodia is something that makes the Vietnam program exceptional, and for some, could possibly be a reason to join the program at all. As our coordinator Chris shared, no group experience to Cambodia is the same.  So if any of you go in the future, I am sure it will exceed any expectation I have set now.

The days are counting down, I am off to choose my classes for the Spring!

Xin Chao,




After 2 months of sweltering heat, non-stop street noise and urban landscape, we decided it was time to head north to the Central Highlands for cooler weather and fresh air.

Da Lat is a small, peaceful French-inspired town in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. It is supposed to be 8-11 hours by bus from Saigon but thanks to the most terrifying mountainside bus ride of my life (in which I fell off my seat and still have a bruise thanks to the erratic driving) our driver got us there in 6. We were immediately taken with this town, it was cold! Cold in Vietnam! So cold in fact, we all wore North Face jackets to keep warm! This is a big deal coming from a city that requires at least 3 showers a day just to stand the heat. And everywhere we looked, it was green. The town is extremely charming and was once the honeymoon choice of Vietnamese. On our first day we took a cable car across a massive valley to a monastery on a lake. After spending the day admiring the massive buddha statues and lakefront, we headed back across the valley for our favorite part of vacation–ice cream.

On our second day there, we decided to climb to the peak of Lang Biang mountain outside of town. The current group is fairly outdoorsy and the smaller group we went went are all hikers. But nothing prepared us for the hike ahead. The combination of humidity in the jungle, the straight up the side of a mountain “path” and the altitude made this the most difficult hike any of us had ever undertaken. But my god, the views from the top were worth every bit of it.

Da Lat was also very, very different from the culture that we had experienced in Saigon. There are several minority tribes living in and around Da Lat making for a very interesting mix of people. From the hiking to the people, Da Lat fully exceeded my expectations. If you find yourself looking for an escape from the city, Da Lat is perfect.

To see pictures that won’t post here, please go to:

Donkey Sandwiches

Donkey Sandwiches

There is always that local place that you love to eat at. Back home in Cincinnati I love to go to my neighborhood Skyline Chili. In Chicago I really enjoy going to a place called Ghareeb Nawaz before or after I head into work for the day or in the harsh Chicago winter to Pho 888 a few stops down the Red Line to reminisce about Viet Nam over a bowl of steamy pho, remembering the pho restaurant I frequented everyday down Alley 18 so that by the end of my semester in Saigon, I could just say ‘the usual’.
I was looking for a nice place to eat here in Beijing, that little restaurant that would become ‘my place’. I technically can cook for myself but the public kitchens on each floor of my dorm are not the most sanitary. There was once instance when I went to fill my metal and clay thermos with hot water to make a warm green/oolong tea and when I turned the level to the spout of the hot water heater, a half dozen roaches scurried out of the grille of the machine. Besides that the kitchens are not always open, and when open are usually occupied by Thai, Indonesian, or Vietnamese exchange students. They seem to have a monopoly on the kitchens while the American, Korean, and Japanese students seem to have resigned themselves to eating out. Is this a cultural thing? Going to supermarkets around UIBE have also led me to believe trying to cook here would be more expensive than just eating out. It would also be a waste to buy all the utensils to cook and then just leave them behind at the end of the semester. Thus, I searched around for some good (and cheap) local restaurants. My adventures around campus and a few streets slinking away from the university yielded interesting results, none could compare to the glory that is… DONKEY!
My first week in Beijing was a whirlwind of Orientation. During that time, one of my good friends Tyler was just getting ready to head back to the States after spending the summer in Beijing. Tyler had also been in Beijing two semesters prior on the same program. So, for the first week before I headed out on the Silk Road excursion, Tyler helped out with some useful things, including finding some good places to eat. Of all these places, none come close to the ‘Donkey Restaurant’. The exact translation of the restaurant is something like, “Little Donkey Restaurant”. It is a cozy little hole in the wall a block from campus down a little side street.
The first time when I went with Tyler and his girlfriend I was a bit skeptical of how good donkey could be. He ordered some sandwiches and I was hesitant to bite into mine, but once I did I was hooked. The sandwich itself is made of a kind of flatbread they make in a big iron press in the back of the restaurant. It is so warm, oily, and flaky on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. Stuffed into the flatbread are strips and chunks of donkey meat surrounded by minced green peppers. The meat is like beef, but a bit more chewy and sweet. The green peppers are juicy and mildly spicy. On the table red chili pepper paste and Chinese vinegar are available. I usually put just a dash of vinegar on the sandwich, gently slather on the red chili pepper paste with the tiny metal spoon, and then I add my own ingredient: Maggi Sauce. I carry a little bottle of Maggi sauce with me whenever I go to the donkey restaurant because it adds a little extra flavor to the already awesome sandwich. All in all a great meal, and all for just 5 RMB, which is close to 1 USD.
There are other great things to eat at the donkey place- like donkey rice, donkey jiaozi (potstickers), and donkey soup, hotpot, and fried green beans. The rice is nothing special, but the donkey jiaozi and soup are quite good. The soup is a kind of thick egg-drop soup with the shredded donkey and peppers from the sandwich thrown into the mix. It’s a great winter food- warm and spicy with lots of flavor. It always comes to the table in a large ceramic bowl accompanied with lots of smaller bowls and a large ladle, a family style soup. The jiaozi are packed tightly with tenderized donkey meat. The jiaozi from the donkey place seem to be more filly than other comparable jiaozi of pork, beef, or vegetable that I’ve eaten in other restaurants. The fried green beans are served with peppers and taste a lot like French fries. The hotpot is a whole meal in itself- a large bubbling pot of donkey chunks, tofu, mushrooms, noodles, cabbage, and peppers.
Going to get donkey has become something more than my little hangout, but has become a sort of ritual of my friends and I. At least three times a week for dinner or lunch we all decide to go to get donkey. A slang has come up “Lets go do the donk” or “let us partake of the sacred meal that is donkey” We have a little joke amongst ourselves. I’m sure you can guess what it is… Anyway, our little donkey excursions have been a bonding experience and the meals are always great. The workers in the restaurant know our faces and whenever we deviate from our usual meal they become surprised. One day we decided to try a donkey hotpot instead of sandwiches, and they were very surprised!
I never thought of donkey sandwiches as Chinese food, but I have found them to be one of my favorite dishes. I was talking with a professional photographer from Russia over a donkey sandwich one night after a photo shoot and he actually told me on his flight to China all he could do was think about eating donkey, at a different restaurant, but still- donkey. Who would have thought?
Sitting in the restaurant in the little orange tables and stools looking around at my friends, its so funny. It isn’t how I imagined China, but it’s great. I found my little place, I have good friends to share it with, and according to Chinese Medicine- donkey is a yang stimulating meat (heat producing) and so will be great for this winter. One of the Chinese students told me that there is an old saying that the finest meat in heaven is dragon, but that on earth the finest meat is donkey. I would have to agree. I’m going to miss eating donkey when I get back to the US, but for now I’m going to enjoy it while I can. Anyhow all this talk about donkey is making me hungry and it’s about lunch time, so I better call some friends so we can go eat some ass.

Visiting the homeland? Awesome. Visiting the actual home in the homeland? Incredible.

Visiting the homeland? Awesome. Visiting the actual home in the homeland? Incredible.

Let me start off this post by saying how incredibly blessed I am. Not only am I studying in Rome, not only do I have all these incredible professors, not only do I get to travel to places I’ve only dreamed about (or pinned to my “Places to See Board” on Pinterest) I am also lucky enough to have incredible support from my friends, family, and most of all my parents. My parents have given me the gift of an amazing education, which allowed me the opportunity to study abroad in Rome. On top of that, my parents helped me earn every dime that I’m spending here in Rome. Without them, this semester, this LIFE, wouldn’t be possible.

For that reason I was so incredibly excited that they were able to come to Rome and visit me for a week. Hearing SLA Gina announce “Mary Mantia your parents are here” in Mensa was, although slightly embarrassing as the entire room burst into applause, also the most wonderful words to hear.

I spent the beginning of the week showing them Monte Mario and introducing them to “my” Rome. I took them to Simply (that might have been a selfish motive), to the restaurant near Piazza Navona to get pear pasta, to Trastevere to try my favorite suppli, and showed them what the life of a “typical American college student studying in Rome” was like. I even brought them to watch our Calcio game (thankfully we won in a last minute goal)!

After getting through a week of crazy classes my parents and I set off for Bagni di Lucca and Riolo. Why these places? Well let me tell you.

I am half Italian (25% Sicilian 25% Tuscan) on my father’s side, making him 100% Italian. My Tuscan side of the family comes from a town called Riolo, above Bagni di Lucca, which is right by Lucca. Since I was a child I’ve heard of my family speak of this mysterious villa in Riolo, that we apparently still had a claim to. It wasn’t until I was older that members of my family went back to the house, reclaimed it as our own, fixed it up, and made it into an incredible Tuscan villa. For the last few years or so I’ve heard these great stories of members of my family going to the villa, drinking brandy at the Bar Italia in Bagni di Lucca, and enjoying our actual homeland. I had only hoped that one day I would be lucky enough to see it.

Let me just say that the entire weekended exceeded my already high expectations. Bagni di Lucca, for one thing, is a beautiful tiny town where it seems every body knows your name. With a river cutting through the town every view is breathtaking, and looks like a scene out of “Under the Tuscan Sun.”

My parents in Bagni di Lucca!

After spending a quiet day in Bagni di Lucca, eating and drinking our way through the town, we relaxed at our hotel and prepared for the next day. Because Saturday was the day we had been looking forward to for quite some time.

Saturday morning we met up with friends of of family members (Michael and my Uncle Danny, who come to Riolo often) who then drove us up to Riolo from Bagni di Lucca to see the family villa.

It. Was. Beautiful. This is the house that my great great great grandmother was born in, where my originally family line worked and played and grew. I couldn’t get any closer to my homeland than I was at that moment. From the grapes growing off the balcony, to the original bed frame, to every niche and corner it was perfect. I was overcome with this feeling of home in the middle of a country I’m not even a citizen of. I wish I could more eloquently describe what it felt like to be there but in this moments words fail. It’s a feeling I will never forget, and will treasure until I once again find myself at the Villa (which trust me, will be as soon as possible).

My parents and I at the Villa!

After that incredibly emotional experience we headed back down to Bagni di Lucca, to enjoy the town along with more food (like wild boar!). I remember thinking as I sat with my parents talking over a couple of drinks and cigars about how ridiculous and amazing my life is in this moment. The only thing missing from the picture was my brother, who I’m sure will one day be back there with us. Life truly does not get better than this.

Does life get any better?
Rome Lesson #284: No One is in St. Peter’s Square at 5:30am.

Rome Lesson #284: No One is in St. Peter’s Square at 5:30am.

I’m sure that the title of the blog surprises you. Who wouldn’t want to walk around St. Peter’s Square before the sun is out? But that’s what we found out when we arrived at The Vatican at 5:30am, in anticipation for the Papal Audience!

We were on a mission. We are in Rome, living right next door to our dear pal Benny and we wanted to be in the front row for the audience. Want isn’t even a strong enough of a word. The front row was our destiny.

First in line!

After a quick conversation with some Swiss Guards about where the entrance would be (who knew that they were so friendly!) we set up camp in a walkway right outside the square, and assumed our “homeless Catholic college students” roles. Sleeping in shifts as the wonderful guys that were with us kept watch over us and our items we suddenly found ourselves in the front of a huge line of tourists, locals, nuns, and a choir singing in Polish. As soon as they opened the gates we rushed the square like a football team charging the field. We pushed. We shoved. We made a few sacrifices along the way. But when we breathlessly made our way to the front and darted into the seats next to the barrier it was all worth it. WE WERE IN THE FRONT ROW!


And let me tell you, the front row is the way to see a Papal Audience. We didn’t need the zoom on our cameras he was right in front of us! As the Pope passed us in the Pope mobile we all began to tear up. Here we were, a bunch of die hard Catholic students, studying in Rome, with the Pope less than 10 feet in front of us. We were absolutely overwhelmed.

No zoom!

The audience was beautiful, with readings in all different languages, a blessing, and shout outs to every group in attendance (the JFRC group was the 2nd loudest, after the Polish choir!) We left the audience feeling blessed (literally!) and so grateful for this semester and every amazing opportunity that it has given to us (thus far!)

Waiting for the blessing!


My dear followers! I am SO sorry for my lack of posts this month! With midterms and traveling and the general excitement of Rome I completely slacked on keeping you up to date. Mi dispiace (I’m sorry)! I’m going to go wayyyyyyyy back, to the last weekend of September, for this blog, as I tell you about my travels to BARCELONA!

The last weekend of September I went to Barcelona with Fernando and Theresa, after booking this trip way back in June (so needless to say I was looking forward to it!) As soon as we got there we hit the town, and it felt like we didn’t sleep until the plane back to Rome!
(Sidenote: I found out the hard way that when traveling between EU countries they don’t stamp your passport! How disappointing! Who doesn’t want more stamps??)

We started our day on Friday by seeing La Ramblas (how fitting for traveling Loyola RAMBLERS), a famous street in Barcelona with shops, vendors, and a direct path through the city. As we walked down we quite literally stumbled upon this HUGE open air market (I believe the St. Joseph market). We went in and tried all kinds of fruit, candy, meat, fish, everything we could get our hands on. For a foodie like me it was paradise!

We then continued our way through the city, seeing the sea side, random huge Picasso sculptures, and various churches along the way (Like Santa Maria by the Sea!) We then found ourselves at the Cathedral, which was absolutely breathtaking. Huge in both height and width with a dark gothic interior and high vaulting arches it was any Catholic’s dream.

After the Cathedral we went to the Picasso Museum. If you ever find yourself in Barcelona this must be on your to-do list. The museum walks you through his life, showing you how his works evolved as he grew and learned, until finally developing into the style we all know him for. Standing in the city where he worked seeing all these paintings I’ve only ever seen in art books was indescribably. Also, the area around the Picasso museum has all these fabulous shops with bowls and whatnot that reflect the Picasso style. I ended buying the cutest little bowl there, which has now become my Rome cereal bowl!

On the topic of food, we then began the best part of our journey: eating our way through the city. We had a fabulous lunch of tapas and sangria at some tiny place by the Picasso museum. After going back to the hostel and napping till about 9:00pm (they eat so late there!) we ventured out again, this time eating a fabulous place in a piazza (which I believe they call a placa? We debated over this for quite some time) right off of La Ramblas. We ordered the “classic” tapas plate, and found ourselves with FRESH seafood, veggies, Catalonian bread (which they’re famous for) and fantastic fried foods. Taking in the atmosphere and enjoying tapas in Spain…does it get any better than that?

And Sangria makes it even better!

After a night of Spanish nightlife and a good night’s sleep we found ourselves traveling to La at Sagrada Família. La Sagrada Familia is this HUGE church that’s designed by Gaudi and has been under construction since the late 19th century (the interior was just finished in 2010!) The church is adorned with a variety of architectural types, and is absolutely overwhelming when you look at it. It’s incredibly tall, and yet the top two tiers aren’t even constructed yet! The inside is mesmerizing, with vaults, and stained glass, and crazy designs that I’ve never seen anywhere else. We found ourselves wandering around in it for over an hour, just trying to take it all in. Under the church they also have a museum type galleria, explaining how the construction was started and the history of La Sagrada Familia thus far. We could have spent a full day there, it was that overwhelming.

From there we made our way to the National Museum of Catalonian Art. Before going to Barcelona one must know that they consider themselves Catalonian, not Spanish, and that their culture and even dialect is completely different than the rest of the country (hence the name of this post, as that’s how they pronounce Barcelona!) To this day there is still a movement to break Barcelona away from Spain and claim their Catalonian independence. So, knowing how much pride they take in their culture, the museum just highlighted their achievements through the ages. The museum also sits at the top of the city, and when you walk out the front you are greeted with a sweeping view over all of Barcelona. It may have been rainy but it was still an amazing view!

After another night of tapas and Spanish life we left for the airport (at around 3am to catch our 5am flight!) Overall the weekend was a crazy whirlwind, but absolutely one of the most fun trips I’ve taken since being here!

Travel > School

Travel > School

Croatian Weekend
During the first weekend of October I decided to take a trip to Croatia. I do not think as a person or even as a student traveling abroad I would have ever imagined myself going to this country. However, the only thing in my way of Croatia was an extremely long bus ride. The tour group left at around 5:30pm in Rome and arrived in Croatia at around 9:30am the next day.
As I write this post on the bus back, it was worth it!  I took sleeping pills for the first time on the way there and man are those things weird. I would be knocked out for three hours then awake for ten minutes then knocked out for another two hours. Due to the sleeping pills I missed the sunrise in Croatia. I was disappointed that I missed it but three hours later I woke up coming down the MTNS to the city of Split. Split, Croatia is the second largest city in Croatia, and Croatia itself has only been a country for twenty years. This relatively new country used to be apart of Yugoslavia. It has the equivalent population of Minnesota. In Croatia they have their own currency called the Kuna. For 1 us dollar you get about 5.75 Kuna.
I went to the beach all day in Split and for lunch I had Braised chicken for a total of 40 Kuna, this also included a giant bowl of mashed potatoes. Water on the other hand was 15 Kuna; so apparently just do not stay hydrated in Croatia.
On Saturday it was arranged that the tour group get on a boat and go island hopping. We went to on island off the coast of Croatia called Brac. On this island we made two stops, the tiny towns were amazing and left un touched by the tourism that plagues most of Europe. We got to swim at our own private beach as a group and I went for a long swim to catch the view at the end of the bay. That night I went out to dinner with a group of friends in a town just north of Split called Trogir. This was an amazing town surrounded completely by water. To enter the city you must cross a wood bridge. Once your foot leaves the bridge you step back into history into the age of the Diocletian. There was a grand Diocletian palace, with an amazing church in the center of the palace walls. We ate dinner outside on the sea, and in front of us were 5 story yachts with all of the crew hanging out outside of them.
Firenze – Florence
The weekend of the October 12th to October 14th I went to Florence, IT. It might just be my favorite place in Italy to this date. I finally was smart and consulted the books in the library to see if there was a travel book on Florence or on Italy. Lucky for me, there was 8 books specifically on Florence to choose from. The one I chose worked out perfectly as it guided me to neighborhoods, bakeries, and gelato places, cities that as a normal tourist would never have thought of to go. On Friday I explored Florence main central district. I went inside and outside the Duomo, which is a fascinating work of Architecture and human accomplishment. I also went to the top of the tower directly to the south of the Duomo and climbed the 424 stairs to the top. The view from the tower was breathtaking and I was able to see all of medieval Florence in it entirety. It was a 360-degree of Florence from the tower and I did not want go back down the 424 steps. For the rest of the day I spent it going to the small town of Fiesole in the hills of north Florence. From this vantage point the view was absolutely breathtaking, looking over olive groves down the hill to the beautiful city of Florence was amazing. Also in Fiesole are the ruins of an old Roman village built at the time of Augustus’s rule.
Saturday I explored Florence more and went to a great panino shop called Pino’s. This is the name of the owner and the shop, where on the menu you can order what is called the Fantasy. The fantasy is your choice of whatever ingredient you want on a panino. I got Tuscan Salami, Fennel Salami, Hot Salami, Parmesan Cheese cut straight of the wedge and fresh ball of mozzarella sliced up and it all comes together on the Panini press and served to you on a wood plate. I went to that same place three times. Also on Saturday I went to the Piazza Michelangelo that has the best view of Florence within the city walls of Florence. To cap the night off I met up with some friends and went to Gusta pizza which is wood fired pizza place, where you order and then get a takeaway box to eat on the steps of the piazza nearby. Finally we all finished the Italian way, I got Gelato and this time I watched an Italian women get gelato and she ordered what is called a Briesole. To explain this simply it is a sweet roll cut in half, and then you are allowed to pick three flavors of Gelato and all of this is only for 3 euro. Most of the time when you get gelato it is a very small portion meant to be consumed very slowly. However, when I received my Briesole it was massive and covered my whole face when held in front of it. I got the flavors of crema, stratictella – which is not simply vanilla and chocolate chips, it is actually more milk and sugar based, and on the bottom layer was chocolate mouse. My friends and I ate this on the ridge two bridges west of the Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge I have ever seen in my life that has houses on it. Additionally it is the only bridge in Florence to survive the German retreat in World War II and within the first floor of the houses are the fanciest jewelry stores in Italy. When these stores are closed the storefronts look like the outside of treasure chest.
Sunday topped off with more exploration of the hills of Florence and also a band from the Netherlands entertaining whoever stopped by in the Piazza from the time of 4 to 5:30PM. Soon after I walked down the 100-shop street that most people who visit Florence do not even know is nearby. This is street is just outside the original city walls and is filled with shops, pastry shops, small pizzerias and on a Sunday night when normally everything is closed and it was even on this street, it was chuck full of Italians. One pastry shop had the biggest buffet I have ever seen and it was all fresh pastries and small appetizers. Also there were two huge posters taped to the ground and kids were allowed to draw with markers whatever they felt like meanwhile the parents chatted amongst each other and enjoyed a pleasant evening. I was the only person on the 10-block street that did not speak Italian or was not Italian. It was an amazing experience and I am now hoping to find this same kind of street within Rome.

That is all for now, off to study for a few midterms
Steve O

To the Top of Da Lat

To the Top of Da Lat

Last week was full of heavy rain, copious amounts of schoolwork, and bouts of moderate homesickness.  I was stir crazy and waiting for a weekend excursion to Da Lat City.  Da Lat is located in Vietnam’s southern section of the Central Highlands.  The weather is cool year round, which was a much-needed break from the sweltering heat of the city.  The mist-covered valleys in Da Lat coin its name “City of eternal spring.”  Its mountain landscapes make it the perfect destination for the “outdoor adventurer.”

Getting to Da Lat was no smooth ride.  Our group of eight took an overnight bus on Thursday.  We rocked and sped our way down narrow and bumpy roads.  Kate, from Boston College, even said, “There were times I felt as though the bus was only on two wheels.”  Another classmate, who shall remain unnamed, may or may not have fallen off of the back seats at approximately 3am.  I even admit to motion sickness.  Sleep was impossible, so at 6am we arrived at the Da Lat bus station exhausted.   We made our way to the “Pink House” hotel, dropped off our bags, and didn’t return again until 5pm.

View of Da Lat City

On our day of exhaustion we took a cable car to a monastery in the city.  It was a hot tourist destination, but it was so beautiful I didn’t care.  Ariana and I hiked down to the lake, with minimal tourism, and even bought a few gifts for friends and family.  (If I told you what it was I would ruin it, so I will move on)  When we returned to the hotel we climbed a million stairs to the room and I passed out cold on my bed.  Will tried to ask how my day was, but I didn’t even hear him.  When I woke up it was dark and I was still in a trance of fatigue.  We had dinner, desert, and briefly explored the city.

Saturday was the best full day I have had in Vietnam.  I was captivated by everything and I was drowned by life moments.  Saturday, the girls and I took a full day hiking trip to Lang Biang Mountain.  After long showers and a quick rest, we ate dinner and joined the festivities at the Da Lat night market.  After the night market, we grabbed desert and sat together for about two hours.  I wouldn’t be able to put this entire day into words if I tried but I will share with you all of my highlights:

-quiet and cool air of Da Lat

-wild horses

-taking the trail less traveled

-waving at Asian tourists as they rode jeeps up the mountain

-beautiful bright red clay soil

-chirping birds, colorful butterflies, and bright green lizards

-the perfect way to get to know someone is on a hike, cheers to making new friends

-me “I can’t believe there aren’t many people” kate “except for ax murders”

-muddy shoes and no broken bones

Ariana and the biggest and loveliest tree of the day!

-climbing up 800 m. of only stairs to get to the peak

-back sweat

-eating a lunch of Ritz, peanut butter, Pringles, Oreos, and wine at the mountain peak

-a man making a phone call on the mountain peak

-I was afraid of falling down the stairs and Ariana says “Just stay low to the ground, if it looks slick, don’t be afraid to get those hands dirty”  I still fell, but it was nice encouragement

caked in mud

-we only spent $4 USD that day

-strawberry jam!

-rollerblades are a thing in Da Lat


-Ashley made her first bargain at the market

-eating curry with ginger

-discussing the presidential election

-we were the only customers in the restaurant for dessert

-learning what the words to Gangam Stlye are in English

We leave for Cambodia this week.  Tuesday night we will make cookies for the children at an orphanage in Phnom Penh and watch the Killing Fields. Then on Wednesday morning we will make our way west.  Cambodia’s story is wrought with beauty as well as tragedy.  I am on the edge of my seat for what is in store.

Xin Chao,


my heart resides in Venice

my heart resides in Venice

The train quickly backed out of the St. Lucia station leaving behind an amazing city, heavenly gelato, divine cornetti cioccolati, and, most importantly, my heart.  For years, I had watched movies and television shows with scenes of Venice and had felt an urge to see it myself.  Though I acknowledged that I wanted to go to Venice, I just figured that this feeling was a desire to travel and explore every bit of Earth that I could.  Instead, the second I stepped on Venetian ground, two days earlier, I felt strangely at home.  I smiled and took a deep breath of the slightly fishy smelling air.

Venice is a maze.  Each turn you take leads you to some little shop or bridge, each fascinating and wonderful.  The best part is, you don’t need a map.  The city is small enough that everything is in walking distance, so long as you ditch the Italian high heels and go for actual walking shoes.  Even when you think you are lost, and utter a hopeless “mamma mia,” you turn a corner and suddenly find yourself at the Rialto Bridge, at the edge of St. Mark’s square, or at an amazing gelateria.  Another wonderful thing about Venice is that there are no cars.  In Rome, every time you cross the street you get a sense that this could be your last moment.  But, in Venice, the only thing you have to worry about is getting so caught up in the city’s beauty that you accidentally fall into a canal.

If you are a shopaholic, don’t worry, Venice has plenty of shops.  St. Mark’s square is surrounded by high-end clothing and jewelry shops; it is a couture fortress.  If you are, on the other hand, more like me and find those shops just a wee bit out of your price range, there are plenty of amazing shops all around the city.  There is a plethora of clothing, shoe, purse, and fabric shops.  Even more shops, though, are dedicated to masks.  Home of Carnivale, Venice is known for its elaborate paper mache masks.  It seemed that every store was bursting at the seams with masks.  They lined doorframes, were displayed in windows, and tacked collage-like to walls.  I felt like I was in the masquerade scene of The Phantom of the Opera.

There is something about Venice that makes me long to return.  It might be how each tiny canal and ornate bridge feels as if they are secret passages.  Or, it may be the way sitting at an outdoor café in St. Mark’s square, listening to the gorgeous sounds of a classical jazz band, makes me feel completely relaxed.  Or, it could be the sense of happy isolation the city permeates by being alone in the sea, with narrow alleys that seem like no one has ever walked down.  It could be one of these things, but it is not: it is all of these things.  Venice has stolen a piece of my heart.