The GoGlobal Blog

Author: Amanda Mc Donald

My name is Amanda McDonald and I am a junior Journalism major at Loyola University of Chicago, originally from Louisville, Kentucky. I begin each day with lots of coffee, sprinkle in some photography in the afternoon, and spend all night dreaming about my future travels. Living at the John Felice Rome Center will definitely be the journey of a lifetime, and I am delighted to be able to share my adventures as a Go Global Blogger!
Avventura di Amanda

Avventura di Amanda

Stapled on the last page of my passport is a small folded piece of paper stating my name and my Italian address. That, combined with my student visa on one of the stamp pages, has allowed me to live in Italy for the past four months. It is hard to believe that those days are officially behind me. I have left the country and am now traveling with a friend from home before I go back to the United States next week.

The question I have been asking this past week has been, where has the time gone? Within the blink of an eye I am finished with finals and it is almost Christmas!

While the semester as a whole was even better than I ever could have imagined, I have to admit that this last week was tough. The stress of finals combined with all of the feels I had knowing my time in Rome was coming to a quick halt made it hard to focus. I just wanted to be out in the city, exploring and eating gelato. Instead I was in the library, trying to finish up all of the final papers, tests and projects I had. The stress was overbearing, and no amount of pasta helped. I texted one of my friends who studied abroad last semester and explained how I felt. She said that it was very natural to feel overwhelmed-I was leaving my new home very soon and that was hard! But what helped me the most is when she told me, “everyone always talks about how hard the first week is but nobody ever tells you how hard the last week is”.

Hearing her echo exactly how I felt was very insightful. I took a good, hard look at who I was when I got to Rome in late August, and who I am now in December. Of course, the two are very different, and in a good way! I have always had a sense of adventure, but now it is heightened so much more because of all of the travel I have been able to do this semester. I am glad I go to school in a city like Chicago, where there are always things to explore!

At the beginning of the semester I started putting the hashtag #avventuradiamanda on all of my Instagram and Facebook pictures. At first it was for convenience, when you clicked on the hashtag it would take you to the pictures I posted while abroad. But the Italian translation of “adventure of Amanda” quickly became my silent mantra this semester. I could list all of the adventures I have had these past three and a half months, but that would be endless (booking hostels, finding train stations, stumbling on one of a kind book stores, climbing coastal hills, etc…)! Instead I invite you to go to Instagram and search the hashtag!

In the end, I have realized that leaving my new friends, Rome, Italy, and Europe is very different than leaving Chicago or Louisville. At least with Chicago and Louisville I can attach an exact date to my eventual return. With Rome, I am not exactly sure when that will be (soon I hope!). I guess that is all part of the adventure.

My excitement to see my family and to live in Chicago again builds everyday, but I also already miss Rome. Everyone always says it, and I believe but it is definitely true…


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3 Places You Must Go in Sicily

3 Places You Must Go in Sicily

Ciao! What a busy two months I have had… Since I last posted, I have been to 10 cities in five different countries. Each weekend I slept in a different place and saw and did so many incredible things! This past weekend in particular was one of my favorites of the semester.

Last Thursday night I flew to Sicily. My aunt and I arranged this trip about three months ago. This has been the longest I have gone without seeing someone in my family so to spend time with a familiar face was comforting.

During our four-day trip we visited three cities, and I would say they are definitely places you must go if you ever find yourself in Sicily.

  1. Palermo: This is the largest city on the island, with a total metropolitan population just under a million people. We stayed at a hotel in the old part of town, and were very close to many of the historical sites. On Friday morning we took a tour of the city. This is when we learned about the town’s history, from the fragile beginning to the violent mafia era that ruled the area until recently. We also saw some of the city’s most popular sites, such as Via della Liberta, the main shopping street; Teatro Massimo, a large theater built to entertain 3,000 or more people; and the Palermo Cathedral, a unique church that looks unlike any cathedral I have ever seen because of its unique exterior. After our tour we ate pizza while catching up. We wandered around for the rest of the day, eventually finding some gelato. Saturday night we went to Teatro Massimo to see the Martha Graham Dance Company. It was the first time this semester I had been inside a theater and Teatro Massimo did not disappoint. It was beautiful and so was the show.
    Shops, restaurants and churches line each street, especially Via Roma and Via Vittorio Emanuele. Palermo has many street markets overflowing with fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood. One of the most popular markets is called Il Capo and it is located directly behind the Teatro Massimo. I have been to a few markets while in Europe, but this one was by far my favorite. When I say the produce was fresh, I mean it was fresh. The fish had been caught that morning and the clams were still alive and spitting water out of the bucket. Many varieties of fruits and vegetables line the stands. There were some things we had never seen before, such as the Italian broccoli, which does not look like broccoli at all, as well some items we have at home but look very different thousands of miles away. We found out that Sicilian eggplants are round instead of elongated and the average pear is about the size of two regular pears at home.
    While we walked through the market we noticed a church. On a whim we decided to go in and were completely blown away. The entire interior was made exclusively of marble and completely decorated in small designs. It was the Church of the Immaculate Conception, and even the altars depicted famous scenes all in marble. Many of the churches in the city have the same style. Arab influences mixed with the time period of when the specific church was built created very beautiful facades. They are all worth seeing! There are so many churches in the city that you can’t go wrong with visiting any of them.
    Friday night was also the night of the Paris terrorist attack. I will admit that this shook me up because I was in Paris just two weeks before. What was comforting, however; was how the world responded to the attacks. The amount of love and support people all over the world gave to the beautiful city of light was very heartwarming. Palermo was one of these supporters. Saturday night when we arrived at Teatro Massimo it was lit up with the colors of the French flag and people had arranged candles and flowers in the piazza. It was a very moving sight.
  1. Monreale: Sitting on a hill overlooking Palermo, Monreale is a must see, not only for its views of the valley and the sea but for its food and buildings. My aunt and I decided to visit this city because it is the town where her grandparents, so my great grandparents, were born. It is only about a 25-minute drive up the hill from the center of Palermo. We first went to the Cathedral, which is being restored. Inside we saw many mosaics, including one of Jesus that is the largest of its kind in the world. Just his hand is six feet tall. The cathedral is also the burial place of some of the area’s royalty, including King William I and William II. After we left we went to a spot where we could see the clearing, all the way down through Palermo and to the sea. Then it was time for coffee. While we sat and enjoyed some Sicilian cookies an older gentleman our guide knew came and sat with us. During our conversation (translated by our wonderful guide) my aunt and I found out that he might have known our ancestors. He said they had lived not far from where we were and that they were shoemakers and iron workers. We were so excited! Neither my aunt nor I had planned on doing any research into the family history while we were there; we only wanted to see the town. However, the new information was great! Who would have known that we would meet someone who had a small family connection to us over coffee!
    Our next stop in Monreale was the local convent. Here we spent a lot of time admiring the columns in the courtyard because of how decorated they were. As I have mentioned, Sicily is filled with mosaics. These columns were no exception. Each was decorated uniquely with small tiles, with biblical tales and local stories carved into the tops of the columns. For example, I recognized a carving right away, the Starbucks mermaid (or a siren as she was known before the coffee powerhouse adopted her).
    Before we left we stopped at a bakery that our guide said was the only one in the area to still use a wood-fired oven. There we got some bread and peeked into the kitchen to see the oven at work. You definitely don’t see that at Panera…
  1. Cefalu: Sunday morning we hopped on a train and traveled 50 minutes east of Palermo to Cefalu. This tiny coastal town was great for a quick stop. All in all, we spent about three and a half hours there. We saw the cathedral, which was similar to Monreale’s, walked to the edge of the town and ate pizza by the beach. It was not warm enough for swimming, as it was definitely the off-season. A lot of the small shops were closed and it was pretty quiet. I can only imagine how the city is during the summer. It was beautiful anyway. It was definitely great for a little “trip within a trip”!

Monday morning saw me flying back to Rome and bidding my aunt farewell in the airport. I will admit that I immediately missed eggplant pizza, Cassata (a Sicilian cake) and the picturesque hillside as soon as I got back to campus.

There is less than a month left of school and I cannot believe how fast this semester has gone by. Soon I will be home about to celebrate Christmas! I can’t wait to share stories of Sicily and other places with my family.


History in the Making

History in the Making

This past weekend I took a trip to 1944.

Utah was the NCAA basketball champion, Pensive won the 70th Kentucky Derby, the Oscar for best picture went to Casablanca, FDR was re-elected President, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was a five star general for the American Army serving as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe as World War II started to wind down.

The United States has been very fortunate not to have had many modern wars fought on domestic soil. Europe, however, is a different story.

For two days, myself and 40 other students witnessed first hand the graves, troop landing sites, battle sites, and museums of WWII. It is one thing to read about these things in history books; it is quite another to see the actual battlefields and read all of the names, ages, and hometowns of the men and women who fought and died. It is a strange and sobering feeling that creeps into your stomach when you realize that you are the same age as they were.

On the first day, we visited Pomezia, the German War Cemetery. The sheer simplicity of the layout, the entrance, and the tombstones perfectly reflect a classic German style. The space is somewhat small for being the final resting place of 2,740 soldiers, but it looks that way because three individuals are buried in each plot. I found two soldiers that I share a birthday with. They died at the young ages of 21 and 22–only one and two years older than me. If that doesn’t make you appreciate the life you have, then I don’t know what will.


Our next stop was the Museo Piana dell Orme. This was no ordinary museum. This museum had life-size replicas of scenes from the war, complete with real artifacts and chilling sound effects. There were authentic uniforms, war vehicles, audio tapes of bombs exploding, men shouting, planes, cars, and tanks. We went scene by scene through the war exactly as it happened in Italy: from the invasion of Sicily in July of 1943, to the Allied landing at Anzio that began in January 1944, and finally to the liberation of Rome on June 4, 1944.


After the museum, we traveled to the site of an actual battle, Isola Bella. While the area is now occupied by houses and farm land, it was once littered with bullets and ash as the Axis forces residing on the hills surrounding the area targeted the Allied powers down below. The only remaining clues that a war was fought there 71 years ago, are two columns that had obvious damage from the conflict. Otherwise, Isola Bella is a now quiet and peaceful street.



It was then time to visit another cemetery. The Sicily Rome American Cemetery is located in Nettuno, just outside of Rome, and is the site for 7,861 American servicemen burials. In contrast to the German cemetery in Pomezia, the Sicily Rome American Cemetery had larger crosses, a fountain, a two room memorial, and only one person buried in each grave space. It was a peaceful and moving tribute to the fallen soldiers.


As a group we laid flowers at the grave of John Burke, a Loyola University of Chicago student who was killed near Cisturna in January of 1944. We also saw and read about others buried at the site: Ellen Ainsworth, a nurse who died while helping patients during a gun fight; Sylvester Antolak, a Medal of Honor recipient, and Henry T. Waskow, whose death was emotionally depicted in a widely-read column written by Ernie Pyle (who died in Japan in 1945).

We placed a wreath beneath the Brothers Statue (one man represents the Navy and the other represents the Army–they symbolize the bond American service men and women have) in the memorial, and were able to lower and fold the American flags as representatives of the John Felice Rome Center. It was an incredibly moving experience, and one I won’t soon forget.


Next on the itinerary was the beach at Nuttuno, close to where the Allies stormed the beach in Anzio. This was a nice change of pace compared to the rest of the day. The sound of waves replaced the loud roar of bombs, and the view of a luminous sunset replaced the visions of wounded and dead soldiers, the destruction of bombs and tombstones. After recounting my trip later to my dad, I found out that my great-great-uncle (my Grandpa’s uncle) had been a part of the landing at Anzio. This was so exciting! My dad said that my great-great-uncle lived through the fighting and made it back to the United States in one piece. I had no idea that I had a personal connection to WWII in Italy.


After the beach it was time for pizza and bed. To say that I was tired would be an understatement.

Day two was spent in Rome as we recounted the events that took place on March 23 and 24, 1944. Our first stop was a neighborhood in the city that houses a memorial called Fosse Ardeatine. This is the location of a massacre of over 330 Italian men on March 24, 1944. The events that occurred on March 23rd lead to the mass killing: A group of Italians bombed a German police force as they marched along a narrow street in Rome called Via Rasella, killing 33. The Germans sought reprisal for the attack: 10 Italians killed for each German killed. You can walk through the underground caves to see where the Italians were shot.

Interestingly enough, the group of Germans responsible for the massacre had never before killed anyone, and so it is said that they were most likely pretty drunk when they shot the Italians. The victims were concealed in the caves when the Germans set off explosives to seal the openings. The bodies were found after the war and given proper burials. Each of the victims had a plot in the large memorial that included their name, age, occupation, and pictures. The eerie silence that surrounded this memorial was chilling.


After Fosse Ardeatine, we went to the Museo della Liberazione. The entire museum was just the three small floors that were the German SS headquarters during the war. Prisoners, and those involved in the resistance of the German occupation in Italy, were imprisoned, interrogated, and even tortured there. Two of the floors were small, windowless rooms that looked like closets. These rooms acted as solitary confinement spaces, where a prisoner would spend hours, or even days, in the room. It was chilling to walk into these rooms and see the carvings the people made on the wall.


The building was abandoned by the Germans when they found out the Allies were going to liberate Rome. They took a lot of important papers (the Germans were incredibly good at keeping records-for instance, all of the people killed in the Fosse Ardeatine massacre were listed by name and checked off when they were apprehended). Many other items in the building were well preserved.

The final stop for day two was Via Rasella. This was the street where the bomb went off on March 23. Our two leaders for the trip, Jim and Phil, (who both attended the JFRC as students), recounted the story of the bombing for us while we walked. After the explosion of nails and other shrapnel, the Germans started firing their weapons at anyone and anything around the site. Their bullets hit houses and buildings along the narrow street. There are still holes in some of the structures today.


What struck me the most during the tour of Via Rasella, was that I had ventured along the same streets two days before, but I was completely unaware of the historical significance. Friday. I decided to venture into the city by myself, partly as a challenge to see if I could navigate my way around, and partly because I was restless and anxious to be in the city center after a long week of classes. I started off by the Vatican and made my way to Via del Corso. I eventually found myself in front of the Trevi Fountain. It was breathtaking to be honest- partly due to the realization that I was standing next to the Trevi Fountain, and partly because there were hundreds of people in that tiny piazza and it was hard to move. Anyway, I then thought I would get to the Spanish Steps and take the metro train back to Balduina and JFRC. However, I was completely lost somewhere in between the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps with no wifi and only a package of blackberries I had picked up at a market earlier. That was when I stumbled upon Via Rasella. Of course I had no idea that it was the site of an infamous bombing that lead to a massacre. During my time living in Rome, I have found that this is the case with most of the city. You walk around and admire the ancient architecture that so naturally blends with the modern tones, then you find out there is a story behind everything. Maybe that story is from the age of Constantine in the fourth century, or maybe it’s from the year 1944 and the end of WWII.

This weekend was an emotional one. Seeing cemeteries, battle sites and museums dedicated to the deadliest and most destructive war of all time definitely stirred my emotions and brought out feelings that I cannot begin to accurately describe. There was pride, mixed with sadness, mixed with wonder. Next weekend will also be a busy one for me because it is the start of Fall Break! We are very fortunate to get nine days off from class to go out and explore. I will be traveling to to Munich, Vienna and Prague!

Ciao! Until next time!


The Big and the Small

The Big and the Small


My first 20 days in Italy have been extremely busy but productive! Since arriving all of us at the JFRC have been learning how things work in Rome and on campus, and we all got to spend a weekend in the beautiful region of Umbria! Now that classes are picking up and routines are settling in, I have found I have more time to relax.

This past friday I spent the day roaming around Rome; shopping and sipping cappuccinos in a cute cafe while watching the rain. Friday night, however, was one of my favorite nights so far. Earlier in the week we had the chance to sign up to distribute Panini’s to the homeless in St. Peter’s Square. I signed up, excited about visiting Vatican City.

When I first walked into the square, I was taken aback by how massive it is. I have been in some pretty big stadiums and buildings, but combining the size and historical significance made it feel tremendously magical. It was strange knowing Pope Francis was somewhere in the Papal Apartments right above me.


I was assigned to bag fruit for the homeless to take with them after they got their meal. A few of us set ourselves up in an assembly line and started filling bags with apples, peaches and plums. They all gladly accepted the additional food and thanked us profusely. It was eye-opening how a few small pieces of fruit put such a big smile on their faces and hopefully, eased some of their stress. Everyday at the dining hall there are apples to take and I don’t blink an eye, but there in the middle of Vatican City, apples were revealed to be much more valuable than I assumed.

After that night I could not stop thinking about how important small things are. For example, on Saturday a few friends and I took a day trip to Pompeii. Last semester I took a class on Pompeii for my history minor, so walking around the streets I had read about was something I had been looking forward to for a while!


Toward the end of the day, we were standing in the forum when something caught my eye. On the ground in the middle of the large open space was the imprint of a sea shell in the stone. It was so small and the only reason I saw it was because I noticed a hole in my shoe.


It was such a sharp contrast to everything else we had seen. I felt like I had been looking up the whole day, admiring the mountains outside of the city and the architecture that had been so well preserved after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. After seeing the shell I started to notice details that I might have missed, like the carving of a gladiator in a home and a stone that looked like a lego.

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Overall I had another amazing weekend!

I am excited to get to know Rome better in the coming weeks and will hopefully notice more of the small and unconventional details while still gazing at the bigger things.



My Roman Bucket List

My Roman Bucket List

Buongiorno! My name is Amanda and I will be writing about my adventures on this blog while living in the beautiful and eternal city of Rome! I had never been to Italy before, but I have to say, I am entranced. The people, food, architecture and overall atmosphere are unlike anything I have ever experienced! While I have been able to spend a little bit of time exploring the most famous sites of Rome, I still have a lot of things I want to do. Keeping this in mind, I wrote a “bucket list” to try and complete before I leave in December. A few are popular tourist destinations, a few are things I saw online, and the rest consists of anything my mind could dream up, but I want to do it all!

1. Get aperitivo (appetizers) at a rooftop restaurant.

2. Watch the sunset from the top of Piazza del Popolo.

3. Stare up at the Sistine Chapel for such a long time I get neck pain.

4. Buy a water-colour painting from a vendor in Piazza Navona.

5. Visit the Trevi Fountain while it is under construction and again when it re-opens in October.

6. Eat the largest size gelato I can get while people-watching on the Spanish Steps.

7. Get lost.

8. Tour the Castel Sant’Angelo at night.

9. Stand under the dome in the Pantheon.

10. Watch a sunrise over the whole city somewhere.

11. Buy my own Vespa.

12. Befriend Pope Francis and get invited to dine at the Vatican.

13. Discover an ancient artifact while strolling through the Roman Forum.

14. Get asked if I am Italian by a local.

I am very determined to finish all the things on this list, and will post updates all the time! Sadly I’m only kidding about the Vespa…

Nonetheless, “When in Rome” is truly a phrase I am living out for the next few months. So if that means getting gelato every night, so be it!

Even after living here for about one week, it still takes me by surprise when I wake up and realize that I am in a whole different country. Small occurrences keep me from forgetting where I am! For example, while I was typing this, the computer auto-corrected water color to water-colour. I am definitely not in America anymore!

As I get ready to go to class, I will leave you with a beautiful shot of the Spanish Steps I took two days ago.