The GoGlobal Blog

Author: Angie Stewart

I'm a sophomore from Columbus, Ohio, studying journalism at Loyola University Chicago. I love writing, watching quirky indie movies, learning languages and exploring new places. I've traveled around the U.S., and once to Canada, but I've never been abroad. Living in Rome will be my next great adventure!
All good things must come to an end

All good things must come to an end

The past few weeks have been a blur of last-minute sightseeing, nights out with friends, and studying for final exams (yes, we actually study here).

In calcio news…Celeste rocked this season! We made it to the final four, but didn’t make it to the championship game. However, I’ll make the bold statement that we had the BEST game of the season against Rosa in the playoffs. We tied it up at the end, and went straight into a very intense shootoff. Each team went through all of its players, because the goalies were stopping every shot with ease. I was so nervous when it was my turn to kick, but I managed to make a decent shot! A few friends came up to me afterwards and told me they had a feeling that if anyone was going to shockingly win the game out of nowhere, it would have been me. I’m generally terrible at soccer, so that would have been hilarious. Rosa’s goalie ended up making the winning goal, disappointingly, but I had fun sitting in the stands to watch the playoff game without any pressure. I never knew how intense reffing could be until I saw Byron sprinting around out there on the field with his Macklemore haircut.

On Thursday, the JFRC had its end-of-the-year banquet. It’s also known as “JFRC Prom.” We all got dressed up and took pictures before hopping on the busses to a nice restaurant where we were immediately handed prosecco and various cocktails. The party busses were fun: We jammed to hits including the Remix to Ignition and “All Star” by Smash Mouth. Classic. Sander made one last profound and nonsensical toast at the banquet, superlatives were awarded, and academic achievements were recognized. The food and wine, as usual, were wonderful. My favorite dishes were the risotto with a hint of mushroom, and, of course, the tiramisu. The party busses dropped us off at Piazza Cavour after the banquet, letting us loose on the city. Rome was our playground. I had a delicious cocktail at Bar del Fico that tasted like Jolly Ranchers, and then headed with a big group of people to a club called Shari Vari, where we danced the night away. I fended off creepy Italian men with a sexy dance move that involves vigorous elbowing, and Melanie gave the insulting bartender a dose of his own harassment. I’ve learned that the later I’m out, the more feminist I become. There are worse personas to take on, I suppose. We had a tame night compared to some other JForcers – but I’ll leave them to tell their own crazy stories.

On Friday, my acting class had our performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I can’t lie – I was so proud of myself! I get really nervous when I have to speak in public, let alone act in front of my peers and administrators, but I went out there, remembered (most of) my lines, and had so much fun playing Puck. It was such an invigorating experience, and I think it shows just a sliver of the confidence I’ve gained this semester. SLA Mitch asked me at lunch yesterday if I’ve ever acted before, because apparently it seems like it!

There were a lot of lazy afternoons this month where I passed time just lying out in the courtyard with friends, hanging out and making flower crowns out of the daisies. Earlier in the month, JFRC had a karaoke night. I sang a couple times with friends and adequately embarrassed myself. Tonight, I plan on doing the same at our usual haunt for a good night of karaoke, Scholars’ Bar. One Sunday, I went to Porta Portese (a huge market in Trastevere) and spent the morning haggling for the best prices on knick-knacks, gifts, and clothes. Gab, Mel and I started filming for our Italian project there, and it got ridiculous. Another morning, I climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica where I sat overlooking Vatican City, overcome by inspiration. “Wait” by M83 was stuck in my head as I journaled there and reflected on life. Another weekend, I took a day trip to Villa D’Este in Tivoli with a group of friends. We laughed a ton, climbed a mountain that was topped with a giant cross, and ran all the way back down. I also went to the top of the Vittorio Emmanuele monument one day, because that’s what you do on a normal afternoon in Rome. I visited the Knights of Malta keyhole and the mouth of truth, spent time eating gelato in front of the Pantheon, had the best pizza ever at Dar Poeta and discovered the pleasures of “pear pasta.” I chatted with friends over aperitivo at 8 millimetri in Trastevere. On Easter, I went to Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica and watched Pope Francis roll around in his Pope-mobile and give a blessing from the balcony. I’ve had a busy month.

Capri, Rome 171
View from the top of St. Peter’s dome.


dar poeta
Buffala pizza from Dar Poeta

Last week, I went to a place called Bar Canova for aperitivo. It sits right on Piazza del Popolo, and it’s the place Federico Fellini (director of La Dolce Vita) frequented when he was in Rome. I also attended the Great Italian Opera, which left me absolutely stunned. I’ve never heard anything like it! Afterwards, Bri and I romped around the city. We found the spot where you can get the closest to St. Ignatius’ body and talked about how much he inspires us with his revelry-turned-sainthood. We had a heart-to-heart next to the cat sanctuary, then symbolically stuffed all of our problems into a wine bottle and threw them away. Not too long after that, I lost my iPhone – I think someone grabbed it out of my purse as I walked through a crowded pub to go to the bathroom. As much as it sucked to lose such a valuable item, I think this was in some ways a blessing. Since then, I’ve been able to really open my eyes to what’s around me. I’m not preoccupied with finding WiFi, looking at directions, or taking pictures. I experience Rome as it’s happening in the moment. For my friend Kenzie’s birthday, we visited a place where they serve liquor in chocolate glasses. Another time, I went to San Calisto with Bri, Regan, Ali, Melanie, and Gabrielle. Some of us bought a Peroni and walked around the streets of Trastevere sipping on beer – I’m going to miss that so much! We went to Fries, as American study abroad students do, and then went to Baccanale. And then we went to Vibe, a club under Villa Borghese. The music was too rave-y for me, but the dancing was fun as usual.

On the tenth of April, I took a day trip to Capri with Melanie and Gabrielle for Melanie’s birthday. We took a boat tour around the island and went into the Blue Grotto. Needless to say, it was incredible! The water was bluer than I knew was possible. To get into the grotto, we had to switch into a rowboat. We got a student discount because they thought we were in high school – perks of looking young, I guess. The rowboat guy had to swing us in with a rope, and we laid flat in the boat to avoid hitting our heads on the tiny entrance to the cave. He and the other rowboaters sang an ethereal Italian song as we rowed around in the darkness, the water faintly glowing blue from the reflection of the sun outside. Later, we sat on rocks on the beach and ate our sack lunches overlooking the water. As one must when in Capri, we indulged in some Limoncello and melted Kinder eggs. We then took a cable car up to the top of the island, grabbed some gelato, and wandered through tiny winding paths through white houses that looked like they belonged in Southern Greece. We finally found our way to a park with a spectacular view, parked ourselves on a bench, and relished in how thrilled and thankful we were to be there.

Capri, Rome 049
Rowing in the glowing Blue Grotto.

Last night, Melanie and I went out for celebratory “We’re done with finals” gelato at Frigidarium (or, as she calls it, FrigidariDAMN). We then went to a wine bar called Cul de Sac, where we posted up for nearly four hours, talking, drinking delicious wine, and discovering the joys of pate while watching people scurry about in the pouring rain. It was much deserved after having slaved away at studying the previous few nights. When we got back to JFRC, we joined a crew headed our for cocktails and nachos atFoodoo, where we had more deep discussions – including the very profound recapping of our favorite Disney Channel Original movies from childhood.

I’ve been waking up in a panic for the past few days, because I can’t believe my time at JFRC is coming to an end. I never thought the end would come, and here it is. There were times throughout this semester when I wanted nothing more than to hop on the first plane back to the United States. Homesickness made me hate Rome for a few weeks. There’s trash and dog crap everywhere, the bus can take over an hour to even show up, and seeing the same 250 people every single day can get on your nerves. The carbs were getting to my waistline and I never seemed to have the time or energy to go to the gym. My clothes didn’t fit and I felt like I didn’t fit in. Nutella started making me sick. I didn’t realize it then, but what I was experiencing was culture shock. But now that I’ve reached the end of the semester, I’m so grateful I didn’t go home. I’ve found a new home here. I’ve made friends who will last a lifetime, I’ve had the best gelato ever made, and I’ve seen all that I came to see in this corner of the world. I stumbled across confidence when I had just given up on finding it. The JFRC feels like a secret club because I can’t possibly explain the journey I’ve gone through physically, emotionally and spiritually. I opened myself up to God and came to better understand Catholicism. I hit some terribly low points here; but I also bought a symbolic “I-survived-Baccanale-this-time” tank top.  The culture shock meeting I went to last week put the fear of God into me: SLA Chandni was explaining to us how we can experience intense Romesickness and a painful adjustment period when we return home to the States. Other peoples’ lives have moved on while we were away, and sometimes I might feel lonely when I find myself in groups of people who don’t know what I’ve experienced here. They won’t know that Secret Bakery is bae, and they won’t know the joys of almost getting run over by a Vespa or Fiat every time you cross the street. Keeping in touch with my Rome amici will help immensely – we’ve already planned aperitivo nights, pick-up calcio games, and frequent JFRC reunions. I’m so thankful for the SLAs who have looked out for me this semester, for the professors who showed us the world in the context of Rome (shout-out to my homie Professor John Nicholson – you rock that beanie!), and for the friends who’ve been there for me through it all. You inspired me endlessly, shaped the best memories, and helped me fall madly in love with Rome. I can’t wait to see what our next Great Adventures will be.

Never ciao – just see you later! …Or “Arrividerch.”

Romping around Rome, Assisi, and Barcelona

Romping around Rome, Assisi, and Barcelona

So much has happened in the past few weeks!

I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Rome and it was much more anticlimactic than you would imagine. The Irish pubs in the center of the city were all jam-packed, so a few friends and I just meandered around the city and returned home before midnight (no, dad, I didn’t fly off to Ireland for the day!).

That Friday, I had to attend a makeup class in the evening. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, so I spent it exploring Rome on my own. I first went to Piazza Navona, where dozens of artists had their paintings set up. My next stop was Campo de Fiori, a small piazza with flower shops and other vendors. I perused through some spices and some clothing items before stopping to eat a panino and people-watch from my perch on a fountain. Not quite ready to head back to the confines of campus, I traipsed back through Navona toward the Pantheon. On the way, I shopped in a small bookstore. Then I picked up some decent cheesecake gelato from a gelateria that advertises hundreds of flavors, and ate it on the steps in front of the Pantheon, in Piazza della Rotunda.

Artist in Piazza Navona


Later that night, I saw Insurgent with Marie, Roshni, and Katherine at a movie theater that was showing it in English. Before the movie, we had dinner at Da Bufetta and got gelato at Frigidarium right next door. Both were incredible! At Da Bufetta, I got a glimpse of how much dough the cooks had in the kitchen. It was enough to make at least two fully grown humans. Frigidarium was life-changing – gelato will never taste the same. The Frigidarium flavor tastes like my favorite cake batter flavor of froyo back at home. I combined it with a chocolate crème flavor, had it dipped in chocolate, and voila! The perfect gelato.

Pizza from Da Bufetta
Gelato from Frigidarium


That Saturday, I took a pilgrimage to Assisi with the school. We started with a morning prayer on the bus before all falling fast asleep. We saw the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, a beautiful building with two levels and a crypt where the tomb of Francis is kept. Our guide explained to us what all the murals in the upper church represented. Many of them depicted the life of Saint Francis, with allusions to the life of Jesus Christ. Our guide made the comment once that with all the progress of modern life, when it seems like man can do everything himself, many people don’t feel a need for Heaven. I was overcome by a feeling of need for Heaven when he said that. The mere thought that man can do everything himself seems absolutely dismal to me — we clearly haven’t figured out to make the world a peaceful place for ourselves. Standing in the upper church beneath dozens of incredible murals, I realized just how much humanity is in need of Heaven.

We strolled around the streets of Assisi for a while, grabbed panini and gelato for lunch, and then went to the Basilica di Santa Chiara to see the cross relic that Francis was praying to when God told him to rebuild His church. We prayed once more in a side chapel. On the bus, I got to know some of the Deacons from JFRC, and they told me about their time spent studying in Assisi. We stopped at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli at the bottom of the hill, which interestingly had a church inside a church, and said a final prayer. Our dinner that night, which lasted several hours, consisted of all kinds of locally grown and produced foods. Father Al and Father Bore hilariously teased each other from across the table. The table erupted in laughter every time Father Al would make an old-person joke about Father Bohr, to which Father Bohr would respond, “You will burn!” On our ride home, Father Al showed us a few of his dance moves as “Uptown Funk” blasted from the speakers.

Basilica di Santa Chiara


The next day, I woke up bright and early to volunteer for the Rome Marathon. It was inspiring to see people from all over the world converge in the eternal city to accomplish one of the greatest physical feats. Two of our own J-Forcers, Joey and SLA Chandi, also completed the marathon!

On Wednesday, calcio was cancelled due to a torrential downpour. Instead, I went to an aperitivo bar called Foodoo with Bri, Ali, Reagan, and Reagan’s sister who was visiting. We ordered delicious fruity drinks and had a refreshing girl’s night out.

The next weekend, I flew off to Barcelona with Bri and Roshni. Naturally, I played the song “Barcelona” by the Plasticines when we were landing.

We took a taxi to our hostel, Hola Hostel, to drop off our luggage. Roshni parted ways with Bri and me because she was going to visit a friend from home who is also studying abroad. Bri and I almost immediately decided to head for the beach. On our way, we passed the Arc de Triumph, which I think I may love more than Rome’s triumphal arches for its unique brickwork and patterns – the fact that it’s surrounded by palm trees only adds to its beauty. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Of course, neither of us had brought sunscreen. We bit the bullet and laid out our clothes as makeshift towels, and soon fell asleep in the sand (we’d had an early flight). As you can imagine, I was soon looking a little lobster-like.

Arc de Triomf


Bri and I had lunch at a beach-side restaurant. We split a salad topped with berries and nuts, some bread, and delicious cod fritters…and, of course, sangria. After over two hours of talking, enjoying the food, and wrapping our minds around where we were, Bri and I decided to head back to the hostel. We walked slowly along the beach. We kept walking slower. And slower, and slower. Until finally we found ourselves lying down fully clothed in the sand to take another nap. Bri woke up to a father telling his child, “You can do whatever you want here! Look at those girls!” We decided it was time to leave.

We went out with the hostel that night and met another student from Chicago who studies at John Cabbot in Rome. It’s such a small world! We also met a girl from Canada who had just graduated and moved to Barcelona for an internship, even though she’d never been there before. She’s definitely another one of the many courageous people this semester. As for the clubs – the nightlife in Barcelona is everything everyone says it is.

The next day, Roshni reunited with us. We trekked about a dozen blocks in the heat to find a churreria. My chocolate-filled churro was more than worth it.

Chocolate-filled churro



We had a nourishing lunch – steak and eggs, for me – and then went to the Cathedral for a free historical walking tour through the Gothic Quarter. We saw Picasso’s first donation to Barcelona, ancient Roman buildings, and Placa de Sant Felip Neri, where dozens of children were tragically killed by a bomb explosion in the Spanish Civil War. The plaza, however, also has happier history: it was the setting of a scene in a Woody Allen film! While we were there, an extremely talented a Capella group burst into song and dance. We visited the corner of Carrer d’Avinyo, where Picasso stood waiting for his father after school every day. There used to be a lot of brothels on the street, and Picasso got to know the ladies well since he was there so often. According to our tour guide, they inspired his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Cathedral in Barcelona



The tour ended at the port. Exhausted, we took another nap in the grass. A series of advertisements reading, “Coffee lovers this way,” each with an arrow, led us to Costa coffee. The coffee and cheesecake gave us the energy to trek onward to the magnificent Magic Fountains of Montjuic. The fountain lights turned off early due a technological problem, but I ran into Katie, a girl from my last semester’s marketing class! It was the most unexpected place to run into someone from home – she’s currently studying in England, but happened to be in Barcelona for her spring break.

Bri, Roshni and I entertained ourselves by finding hilarious English translations in a nearby clothing store. Then, we had empanadas, nachos, and fajitas from a vegetarian restaurant. Once again exhausted, we called it a night and headed back to the hostel (with an unplanned hour-long detour).

Vegetarian nachos


Sunday morning, we woke up early enough to have breakfast at the hostel and set out to discover Gaudi’s famous modernist architecture. It wasn’t hard to spot – his buildings, Casa Botllo and Casa Mila, are marked by soft curves and whimsical balconies. The most astonishing of Gaudi’s feats, however, is the Sagrada Familia (or as I like to call it, the Sangria Familia).

Casa Botlla


We bought tickets for 6:15 p.m., so we had time to kill before seeing it. We bought scarves, rocked the “Yacht mom” look, and trekked up to Park Guell, and saw all of Barcelona sprawled out below us. We could clearly make out what we called the “Larry the Cucumber” building.

Standing atop Park Guell
Standing atop Park Guell

The Sagrada Familia was partially under construction, but it’s the one building in the world that can’t be ruined by it. The outside is decorated with creatures of all sorts, and culminates in points that look like melting candles. In typical Gaudi style, no part of the building is untouched by an unusual flair. The inside of the church is even more breathtaking, which I didn’t think was possible. My jaw dropped when I walked in, and I couldn’t stop gawking at the ceiling. The pillars look like trees rising into a heavenly canopy, illuminated by light shining through the colorful stained glass windows. Thanks to my art in Rome class, I recognized the Four Living Creatures in the transept of the church. I got dizzy from spinning around looking up at the ceiling and the unbelievable architecture.

Sagrada Familia


For dinner, we had paella at a restaurant across from the hostel. Bri and I went out dancing for a few hours, and then all three of us caught a plane in the wee hours of the morning. Thanks to Holy Week traffic, it took less time to get from Barcelona to Rome than it did to get from the Rome airport to campus. Despite that minor annoyance, the weekend was a wonderful one!

Arrivederci, tutti!

Greece Lightnin’, Turkish Thunder: A Spring Break to Remember

Greece Lightnin’, Turkish Thunder: A Spring Break to Remember

At long last, here’s an account of my biggest adventure this semester – my spring break excursion to Greece and Turkey. I’ll try to keep it brief!

Led by the dean of academics (“Sander”) and SLA Mitch, I and 43 other students hopped on a plane to northern Greece. We spent the first two nights in a 5-star resort hotel called Cavo Olympo, nestled between the foot of mount Olympus and the Aegean Sea. Unfortunately, the fog was so thick that I never once actually saw Mount Olympus. Friday evening, we checked into the hotel, freshened up, and ordered milkshakes from the bar before going out for a delicious group dinner at a restaurant called Gastrodomio.

We were supposed to hike up Mount Olympus on Saturday, but unfortunately, incessant rain changed those plans. Instead, we visited Greek ruins and a museum that housed intricate mosaics, the oldest organ ever found, and fascinating sculptures of Greek gods and goddesses. Constantinos, our amiable tour guide who strongly resembled John Lovitz, kept us captivated with stories from Greek mythology. Afterward, we hiked up to a castle on top of a cliff. In the ruins of one of the castle’s chapels, I spotted human remains!

View from my castle

Then we had lunch – lamb and fries – in a Greek tavern on top of a mountain. The fog was so thick that we couldn’t see anything out of the window. We were actually enveloped in a cloud. In the afternoon, during our down time, we returned to the hotel and many of us enjoyed the steam room, the sauna and the pool. That night, we were set loose in the small town of Litohoro. Gabrielle, Melanie, Katherine and I headed straight to the first gyro place we could find. They were delicious as expected (and cheap!).

My first Greek gyro

We sat in the gyro-ria playing a Disney guessing game, waiting until an acceptable time to explore the nightlife. It turns out there really wasn’t much nightlife to explore. We ended up in a bar full of hip youths, and felt very old and out of place. It didn’t help that we made fools of ourselves in the language department. When the bartender asked in a thick accent if we were ready to order, I thought he had asked where were we from. I responded happily, “Chicago!” He just stared at me for a long, awkward moment before repeating himself. Melanie had a similarly embarrassing interaction while we were ordering, so we left shortly afterward and found a lounge where we fit in better and had large mugs of decadent hot chocolate.

On Sunday, we took a road trip to Thessaloniki, stopping at museums and the tomb of Phillip II along the way. The first night in Thessaloniki, we went to a cocktail bar to celebrate Maureen’s birthday and played a game called “What are the Odds?” which is basically a glorified version of Truth or Dare that only involves ridiculous dares. While we were romping around the city, the stray dogs would follow us around because they thought we were a pack. One of the highlights of Thessaloniki was climbing to the top of the White Tower, a famous landmark from ancient Greece that was once a mark of suffering and devastation but has become a symbol of hope. Later, we went to Blue Cup Coffee, which had a cozy atmosphere and yummy drink options. I got some sort of strawberry and vanilla coffee concoction.

The White Tower of Thessaloniki

The next day we set out for the town of Xanthi. In the morning, we saw the Jewish Historical Museum of Thessaloniki where we learned the tragic suffering that Greek Jews endured during the Holocaust, and also learned about the role of Greece in World War II. The sun finally came out later in the day, just in time for us to wander through the ruins where St. Paul was once imprisoned. We stopped along the coast in Kavala for a pre-dinner, where I ordered Taziki (as usual) and a small fish appetizer. We had our last group dinner in Greece that night. It was the most divine culinary experience. First, bread was brought to the table. My friends and I were eating some when Ioanna, who was our guide for the trip, came over to us and said, “Don’t eat the bread. There’s a lot of food coming.” I mentally scoffed and thought she had no idea how hungry I was. But as usual, Ioanna was right. For a solid hour and a half, food just didn’t stop coming. We were always rushing to finish one thing before the waiters brought out another. It was almost overwhelming but my taste buds have never been so happy. For the rest of my life I’ll be dreaming about that meal: the lamb, taziki, fries, salad and countless cheese-filled appetizers. Ioanna also gave us Greek names during dinner – you can call me Agaliki.

After we ate, most of us went out together for a final adventure in Greece. We witnessed Ioanna using her Goddess magic when she led us to a bar and later demanded that an employee escort us to the cool club down the street. At the club, Gabrielle and I had fun getting to know our bus driver, Costas. He didn’t speak great English, but we talked about his career. Most of the time, we stood at a table in awkward silence due to the language barrier and ridiculously loud music. When we were ready to leave, we had to find our way back to the hotel on our own. Melanie asked two young people sitting outside the club for directions, and they kindly offered to walk us. We learned that their names were Nick and Katerina. Katerina had the most beautiful curly Greek hair. Nick taught us a foul word in Greek. We made it back to the hotel safely.

The first thing on our agenda the next day was a wine tasting in the Greek countryside. Ioanna taught us how to properly taste and evaluate wine like true connoisseurs. We spent the rest of the day on the bus, headed for Turkey. When we arrived in Istanbul, we went straight the Orient Express for dinner. The food wasn’t anything special, but the atmosphere was really interesting – I felt like I could be in an Agatha Christie novel. The waiters wore conductor outfits and brought the drinks out on carts designed to look like trains. The next day, we visited the Blue Mosque and the Ayasofia. The Blue Mosque was beautifully decorated with geometric patterns and rich drapery, and we took off our shoes and wore hijabs while inside. While in the Ayasofia, we could faintly hear the call to prayer, which was an ethereal and moving experience. I learned from our Turkish tour guide, Koko, that the call to prayer is sung by in harmony by one person from each mosque in the city.

5 Blue Mosque (above) and Ayasofia (below)

Gabrielle, Melanie, Katherine and I had lunch in a restaurant with a beautiful view. I had Heinz ketchup for the first time in months – I nearly cried because I’ve missed it so much. Then we explored a palace that overlooked the Golden Horn, where I saw an ornate clock exhibit as well as ancient weaponry. That night, Mel and Gab and I walked down the main strip near Taksim square, and found a small café-like restaurant where we could hear live Turkish music. We tried Turkish delight, a sweet, gummy-like treat, and smoked melon-flavored hookah afterwards to fully soak up the culture.

The next day, we went to a church with beautiful mosaics and then took a cruise down the Golden Horn. While drinking Turkish tea, I listened to Ioanna talk about the peace walk she took from Athens to Istanbul. It was so inspiring – she told us she believed that if she kept a clean mind and spirit, no harm would come to her. She asked us about our dreams while we looked out across the water at Asia. When we came ashore, we went to the Spice Market and then had yet another delicious lunch at a place Ioanna recommended.

Cruise on the Golden Horn


In our down time, we drank more tea and played chess at a café near Taksim. I almost got run over by a tram (watch out for those if you ever visit Istanbul). We went out with Turkish students that night, a meeting arranged by Ioanna. We talked with them about the Turkish education system and what they think of Americans. They took us to a kebab place and then to a bar where we danced to 80s/90s Turkish hits. Then we went to another pub where they played a lot of classics – most memorably, they played “I will survive.” When we were walking home at nearly 2 a.m., Starbucks was still open. It was glorious. I was home.

The next day was filled with shopping at the Grand Bazaar. Bartering was stressful at times, but I bought gifts for people back home and adopted a terrible British accent while doing so. The sheer size of the Bazaar was incredible. It would have been easy to get lost among the thousands of stands selling scarves, spices, dishes, trinkets, and nearly everything else under the sun. We had our last dinner as a group that night at a restaurant called Feraye. I had the honor of sitting next to SLA Mitch and learning about his favorite places to travel. Everyone got up to dance (including Sander, Ioanna, Mitch, and Costas) before our dinner had even arrived. I enjoyed the appetizers the most, but for the main course, I ate a fish that still had a face. After dinner, a few of us went to a club called IQ. We went crazy when the DJ played “Fireball” (the JFRC calcio theme song) and danced the night away.

The next morning, I went to the Turkish baths with a group of girls from school. We stripped almost completely naked to be scrubbed down and washed by large, motherly Turkish women. It was indeed awkward at first, but I appreciated the way the body wasn’t treated as a taboo, sexual object to be ashamed of. It was a relaxing, eye-opening way to finish off spring break.

On the bus back to JFRC, Sander gave a long speech full of inspirational musings about the trip and the rest of our lives, such as, “I hope it gets inside you, you get a feeling, and it gets in your heart.” Another gem was, “You go left, you go right, you go straight ahead.” He had everyone on the bus either laughing or crying as he talked about how we had all become a family.

Me, Ioanna, and Gabrielle at the airport

Stay tuned for my post about Barcelona! Ciao belle!

A profession of my love for Paris

A profession of my love for Paris

I spent the weekend in Paris. It still seems surreal…I’m in a comical state of shock about it.

I’ve dreamed of going to Paris ever since I began learning French in middle school. And finally, over the weekend, I lived that dream, and it ended entirely too quickly. It was absolutely magical in the most unexpected way…in the sense that it was magical in literally every way.

I went with 7 friends from the Rome Center, including one friend from my French class freshman year of college, Melissa. It was wonderful to discover Paris for the first time together! We left early Friday morning and I read a Paris travel guide while listening to my favorite French tunes during the 2 hour flight.

When we arrived, we went straight to the apartment we rented through AirBnB. Embarrassingly, there were issues communicating with the janitor about getting the key — and then separate issues getting the key to work — but finally a kind resident named Guillaume who spoke a little bit of English helped us assuage the janitor and find a working key to the flat.  It was a flat in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, a dingy artist’s apartment that had a ladder leading to a tiny loft with two mattresses laid out on the floor and rugs covering up disconcerting stains on the carpet. We settled in and set out to find the Eiffel Tower. On the way, we stopped at a cafe and I ordered an obligatory croque madame, which was obviously delectable. The French waiters laughed at us, as was to be expected.


We traveled on, turned a corner, and there it was: the Eiffel Tower. I rattled off facts I’d learned from Rick Steves’ audio tour iPhone app as we stood beneath the massive arches that curved into the tower’s legs. We first went up an elevator to the second floor, which was surprisingly extremely high above the city, and then transferred to another one that took us to the top. I stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Looking out over Paris. (This is still sinking in.) Any of my friends can confirm that the biggest, most dazed smile remained plastered across my face the whole time. That is, except for the times I got a little teary-eyed. I’m an emotional person. We could see Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Seine River, Sacre Coeur, the Arc de Triomphe… all that I’ve been reading about for years, finally laid out in front of me. From above, Paris looks like a dollhouse. The buildings, white and pristine, and some a complementary grey, are delicately decorated but not overly grandiose. The sun was setting and the Eiffel Tower’s long shadow folded itself over a multitude of buildings. I’m terrified of heights but forgot about my fear when I looked out over the magnificent city of lights. It’s no wonder so many of the greatest writers found their inspiration in Paris…Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein. Ah, mon coeur.


So after going to the Eiffel Tower, and taking some fantastically crazy Ellen-style selfies with it (“Elfies”), we walked along the Champs Elysees, a mile-long street filled to the brim with luxury in all forms. Lamborghini’s, fashionable people, the highest-end stores. The Arc de Triomphe crowned the end of the street with a yellowish glow, the flashes of cameras twinkling from the top, where tourists stood. We savored macaroons of various colorful flavors at Laduree and then had dinner — sandwiches, escargot and wine, for most of us — to end the physically exhausting (and, for me, emotionally exhausting) day.


The next morning we went to a Boulangerie down the street and got baguettes for breakfast. We skipped all the lines for the Louvre and got in for free because we’re studying in Europe. Basically, we were VIP status. We saw many wonderful works of art, including a couple of Monet pieces, but I have to say I most adored seeing Napoleon’s tiny bed and artifacts from his palace. Outside, we took pictures with the pyramid, walked through the Tuileries garden, and held pigeons. A few of my friends wanted to go to Chipotle, a commodity to us since there are none in Rome. But obsessed with immersing myself in anything and everything Parisian while I had the chance, I opted instead to go get crepes. Bri and I ordered a crepe salee (ham, cheese, and egg) and a Nutella Banana crepe to split between the two of us. Yes, they were divine. No, I’m not the same person as I was before. It was so French. Sitting in a cafe, eating crepes, chatting about life and people-watching. Paris, take me back!

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Next, we went to La Cure Gourmande, a chocolate shop near the opera house, where they gave us samples and I conversed with the employees in French. And then we went to Galleria Lafayette, a grandiose shopping center with seven floors and clothes that were slightly hundreds of dollars out of my price range. We had a fun time perusing the French fashion– and I even found something lovely for under 30 euros! We went up to the roof and looked out over the city, with a view of the opera house, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe. I really could never get used to that view. From inside, in a glorified food court, we watched the Eiffel Tower’s light show. Each of us gasped when it began — the tower sparkled, covered in thousands of shimmering lights. Even watching through a window, it was magical. For dinner, we ate at the apartment. Derrick and Advait made pasta and grilled cheese (made with Gruyere), that we paired with wine. While they cooked, we studied for our theology midterm exam, like the responsible students we are. It felt so right, being there with a great group of friends, chatting and eating dinner together in our Parisian flat. It was like a heartwarming scene from an indie movie. We went out later to Rue Mouffetard, which was recommended to us by several people for its nightlife. There, despite the rain, we found a crowded bar where everyone was drinking the same Belgian beer and we learned a bit about France’s gay culture, to put it simply. A little ways down the street, we danced in a club where the basement was a series of caves and they played extremely outdated American music. “Play that Funky Music” and “Boogie Wonderland” were big hits among the strangely mixed crowd of people. At the end of the rue, we found a chic lounge-bar, where we talked for a while and tried not to fall asleep in the assorted comfortable couches and chairs.

The next morning, I bought a cream-colored beret and we visited Notre Dame. Naturally, as cultured college students, we took more Elfies with it and Nick impersonated the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I was really excited by the flying buttresses, which I remember giggling about in French class many years ago. Honestly, though, the church was gorgeous. It stands out among all the other buildings not only because it’s massive and on and island, but because it’s bravely dark and gothic. Inside, next to a statue of St. Theresa and Joan of Arc, I felt moved to pray for the first time in a long time.


Then we ate more crepes. On the other side of the river, we went to Shakespeare and Company, a quaint little bookstore. Upstairs, in the attic, I eavesdropped on an English-language writing class, taking notes on their prompts and tips. I felt like I had found a place where I could belong in Paris; I imagined myself living there, attending that workshop…the future felt possible. Ironically, right after having that profoundly inspiring moment, I bought a book of Sylvia Plath’s poems that were written in the three years leading up to her death. C’est la vie.

The group split up for the last few hours of the day; we were all trying to squeeze in the last things we wanted to see and accomplish. A few of us went to the Musee D’Orsay, which was once a train station but was converted to a museum. This makes the interior of the museum fascinating in and of itself. We saw Van Gogh’s second Starry Night, as well as his self-portrait. I saw a Picasso painting (and laughed at loud at his comical style — not sure if that was the intended effect, but it is what it is), and lots of impressionist paintings including works of Renoir and Monet. I stood mesmerized, looking at Monet’s water lillies, letting the flecks of color envelop me in the serenity that Monet himself must have been feeling. I felt truly present. Often, my mind is a thousand different places apart from where I actually am. But not at that moment. I was completely there, in Paris, standing in front of one of the most famous paintings in the world.

Next, four of us split off to make a mad dash to Montemarte, wanting to squeeze it in before meeting everyone else back at the apartment. We didn’t know if we would make it in time, but after dozens of flights of stairs and a lot of power-walking, we finally made it to Sacre Coeur. From the top of Montemarte, we took in a last breathtaking view of the city. A man was playing guitar and singing “Hey There Delilah” in broken English with a thick French accent. The immense domes of Sacre Coeur, just as I’d heard, billowed into the sky like clouds. That moment was the peak of the trip. Making it to Sacre Coeur under a time crunch and physical strain was a microcosm of my lifelong dream of visiting Paris, in a way. Because nothing incredible — nothing worth working for — has ever been easy.


To make the end of our trip perfect, though, we had to make it to Moulin Rouge. I used my mad French skills to ask for and receive directions, we ran past a plaza filled with artists and down a hill, and finally we turned onto the Grand Boulevard that had an astounding number of risque cabarets. We saw the Moulin Rouge’s appropriately red windmill from a distance. In front of the building, Kelly, Bri and I donned our rouge lipstick and posed happily as Advait took our picture. I had one final delicious crepe (the most delicious of any I’d had over the weekend) from a nearby crepe stand, and we made it back to the apartment to meet everyone at exactly 5 p.m. The perfect ending.

The only thing I’m truly bummed about is that I didn’t get a chance to lean over in a restaurant and say to a Parisian, with a smirk, “Bon Apetit,” as Rick Steves highly recommended. Oh well…next time.

Paris, you can bet your baguettes that I will return! Tu me manques et je t’adore!






One month reflection and a weekend in Venice

One month reflection and a weekend in Venice

So this is a blog post all about how my life’s been twist-turned upside down.

I’ve officially been in Rome for an entire month! It feels like I’ve only been here for days, but at the same time it feels like I’ve been here for months. In many ways, the first month feels like a vacation. Plenty of other things in life only last a few weeks: summer camps, extended vacations, middle school relationships. But now that I’ve surpassed that one-month milestone, I guess you could say it now feels “real.” I’m here for the long haul…that feels unsettlingly short.

I miss my family, my friends, my boyfriend, my dogs, Loyola, and chicken salads with ranch dressing. I also miss Rome already. My carb intake is at its prime, I had my first exams last week, and I have to figure out my housing situation for next year from all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. I also have to finalize my major, about which I’m considering a last-minute change, by the time I come home from Rome. A lot of us here are trying to find summer internships or jobs, too, but have no idea where we’ll even be living over the summer. Steven, one of the SLAs, ended up taking a year off after his semester abroad to stay in Rome and work as an au pair. It’s surreal and terrifying – that could be any one of us.

I mentioned it somewhat jokingly with a Fresh Prince reference at the beginning of this post, but it’s actually true. Rome is turning my life upside down by showing me that there are infinite possibilities for what I’m going to do with it. It’s a wonderful and overwhelming thing. The possibilities are exciting and exhausting. I want to make the right choice, to take risks – but not too many – and to ultimately be successful. It’s a lot of pressure to shoulder when all I want to do is go lay in the courtyard, eat a blood orange, and soak up Rome’s winter sun.

That’s the truth you won’t hear too often from anyone who studies abroad. Yes, I get to do incredible things. But it’s studying abroad, not vacation abroad (though some people do indeed act like it’s a vacation). I’m still going through all the typical college struggles, but I usually opt instead to write about my crazy stories!

Speaking of crazy stories.

I went to beautiful Venice the weekend before last! Carnivale, a celebration leading up to Lent, was at its height. During Carnivale, people dress up in elegant costumes, don masks, and parade around the island. It can be best described as a classier, more elaborate version of Halloween. The attention to detail in some of the costumes is nothing short of astonishing – same with the immense crowds. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.


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carnivale 3

The first thing we did was take a gondola ride. IT WAS A DREAM COME TRUE. Our comedic gondolier, dressed in stripes and a beret, spouted out fun facts about the places we were passing and even hummed a little bit. He pointed out the fish market where Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp filmed scenes for The Tourist, as well as the palace where Marco Polo was supposedly born. We passed the Rialto Bridge, which was anticlimactically smaller than I expected.

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We later explored Piazza San Marco and walked through St. Mark’s Basilica before checking into our hostel, A Venice Fish. I must say that the greatest stories from this weekend stem from our hostel experience. The guy running the hostel was a young dude with shoulder-length curly hair named Nick, born in Italy but raised in Wisconsin, with a fascinating life story. Nick showed us to our room through sliding doors, right off the main room. The seven of us girls took seven beds; the eighth was occupied by a friendly guy named Mike from Los Angeles.

We explored the city more during the day, going in and out of little shops between the numerous canals. We spent a lot of time searching for inexpensive Carnivale masks that would suit our distinct personalities and styles. On one street, I spontaneously decided to dance along to some accordion music. A tall guy in a dark mask took my hand and started swing dancing with me, right there in the middle of everything!

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In the evening, we attended the hostel’s dinner, which included all-you-can-eat pasta and wine. Afterward, we joined a large group that was going to a local club. Nick claimed the place was “authentic Venice” but it was really the worst kind of crowded and the worst kind of hipster. Still, the night wasn’t a waste. I met Jean from Brazil, who spoke only Portuguese and French. Since his English was poor, we conversed in French the whole night! I’m ecstatic that my five-plus years of French class have actually paid off.

Saturday, we set out to find boat passes that would get us to the glass blowing and lace making islands of Venice. With the massive crowds, and stopping in stores along the way, it took us several hours to even make it to Piazza San Marco. There, we had further difficulties buying our boat passes. We eventually made it onto a boat headed for Murano (the glass-making island), where we lifted our spirits with gelato and coffee.

After indulging, we perused the dozens of tiny shops, each filled with distinct styles and forms of glass. I bought a dazzling bracelet with matching earrings! The island was extremely calm and serene in comparison to the main island of Venice – it was exactly what the seven of us needed.  Fun fact: glass blowing was restricted to the island of Murano in ancient times to prevent glass blowing-related fires from happening on the mainland. Thanks, Rick Steves!

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Then we went to Burano and meandered through a few lace shops. The patterns were intricate and handmade with a delicacy you won’t find in the U.S., where things are sloppily mass-produced. Unfortunately everything started closing around 6:30 p.m. and the island got eerily quiet and creepy. We got on the first boat back to St. Mark’s. Our next objective was finding food.

Maureen led us to a Rick Steves-recommended restaurant next to the Rialto Bridge, where we enjoyed spaghetti, lasagna, and red wine. The streets were packed with the craziest array of costumes: everything from children dressed as Spiderman to a heard of bananas. We drank some succulent hot sangria in a little alley-cove next to a main street, while watching people walk by and jamming to the American music blaring from the Sangria stand. After a group of men dressed in priest costumes gave up on either trying to convert us or flirt with us (I’m still not sure which), we went back to the hostel. Insanity ensued.

Nick was taking a group of people to go out again; three of my friends and I decided to join. I mistakenly assumed we’d be going to Piazza San Marco to join the Carnivale activities. We walked for a long time, following the group past all the places we knew, turning right when we came to the edge of the island and traipsing down a long boardwalk that was suspended from the side of the buildings. At the end was a small bridge guarded by a stern looking and troll-like security guard who was doing bag checks. We riddled past him, wound through a building dotted with guards and police, and exited onto a pier, which held a colossal elephant sculpture and an enormously regal swan. The scene somehow proved that this was a big deal. There was a massive crowd gathered, but rather than tourists, it consisted of local Venetians and young students of all nationalities. It was evident we’d been given access to the real underground Carnivale party. Three lines later, we made it into the warehouse-turned-club just before midnight.

There were two rooms, each with a DJ. The atmosphere was wild. Music blared, accompanied by dizzying colorful lights, and almost everybody wore a mask. By the end of the night, there were people walking around in 10-foot-tall flamingo-creature costumes.

We made it back to the hostel safe and sound and crawled into bed around 3:30 a.m. Thirty minutes later, our fellow hostel residents threw a loud party in the lobby outside of our room. It made us all the more glad to check out the next morning.

In Calcio news, team Celeste remains undefeated! Ole!

Conciseness isn’t my specialty, so thanks for reading y’all. A dopo!

The Pope, calcio, Pompeii and good ol’ Rick Steves

The Pope, calcio, Pompeii and good ol’ Rick Steves

This past week has been packed with amazing experiences.

Tuesday was pretty tame, but I familiarized myself with the neighborhood and found a local café where I wrote a short story – something I’d like to get back into doing – while drinking a caffe latte. Later that night, I joined a floor event and watched American Sniper in Rinaldo’s Café.

Classes were cancelled on Wednesday, but I woke up at 3:30 in the morning to get in line for the Papal Audience at St. Peter’s Basilica. By the time the security gates opened at 7:30, I couldn’t feel my extremities thanks to the cold and incessant rain. Our group had also been edged further back in the “line,” which became more and more like a blob as Italians and nuns pushed their way toward the gate. The nuns don’t hesitate to use elbows, either. We ran to the Pope Pall VI Hall where the audience would be held and snatched up some good seats toward the front. Before the Pope entered the room, each country in attendance was recognized. It was remarkable to hear how many places were represented, how many people traveled so far for a pilgrimage of faith. When Papa Francesco finally entered the room, he walked slowly down the center aisle, greeting everyone and shaking hands. With people climbing over each other to reach out to him, it looked oddly similar to a One Direction concert. Almost everyone was standing on a chair just to catch a glimpse. But with smiles everywhere, some people crying with joy, and children jumping up and down trying to see over the crowd, it also reminded me of the scene in The Polar Express where the elves form pyramids and do backflips when Santa appears.

The audience was only about an hour long. Each passage of scripture and Pope Francis’s remarks were translated about eight times into different languages. I thought I had understood most of what was being said, specifically about the difficulties of fatherhood. However, I later read an article that said the Pope had made some controversial commentary about physically disciplining children, which I completely missed. My absentmindedness definitely serves as a testament to how limited your mental capacity is after getting only two hours of sleep. If I could do it all over again I’d get the extra sleep and push to the front of the gate, in true Italian fashion. Still, I’m in awe that I had the opportunity to attend such a significant event. When I woke up from a nap later that afternoon, I thought for a moment it had all been a dream.

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The best picture I could capture of Pope Francis. The chaos is evident.

Also on Wednesday, I had my first calcio (soccer) match! I’d been super nervous about playing since I had never played soccer before, aside from once or twice in high school gym class. During dinner on Wednesday, the SLAs hosted a Welcoming Ceremony before the games started. Pedro asked us to stand and place our hands over our hearts for the Calcio National Anthem, and all of a sudden “Fireball” by Pitbull began blasting through the speakers. We also watched a video compilation of the greatest inspirational speeches of all time, which always pumps me up. After taking the calcio oath of good sportsmanship, my nerves had calmed and I was ready to play.

I watched the first round of teams play for a while before finally my team, Celeste (Light Blue), was up to bat.

I figured the best way to play was to give it my best shot and pretend like I knew what I was doing. I assumed what I considered a “power stance,” knees bent, shoulders back, and played the defensive position as best I could. Once, the ball hit me square in the thigh, which blocked it from the goal. It was very empowering to have helped my team by simply standing in the right place at the right time, but I gladly took the praise as Pedro shouted from the sideline, “You’re killin’ it Angie!” Even the teammates who are extremely talented at soccer were patient and supportive of those of us who lack skill and experience.

My goal for the next half was to strike the ball instead of just being struck by the ball. I managed to complete a pass at one point! It was haphazard, but I definitely was starting to get the hang of it. Celeste defeated team Arancia 6-0! All the teams went out for pizza and beer afterwards, upholding calcio tradition.

Thursday night involved a gelato crawl with my floor. I finally went to Giolitti. It was even more amazing than I expected, and conveniently right around the corner from the Pantheon! On Friday, my Art in Rome class met at St. Peter’s Basilica. We learned about the significance of the massive statues of saints, the baroque artwork by Bernini, and saw a Raphael painting. After class, a friend and I went down into the catacombs where numerous former Popes are entombed.

Saturday morning I left for Pompei (the modern city) to see the ruins of Pompeii (the ancient city). We navigated our way through the train station pretty easily, but things got a little hairy on the last leg of our trip (note the European joke), when we had to catch a bus. All of a sudden a lady started speaking to my friend and me in rapid-fire Italian. I desperately uttered, “Parlo inglese,” but quickly noted that many Italians could not care less whether or not they’re understood. They just keep talking and talking. The woman told us through various gestures and a few comprehensible phrases to get on the same bus as her, and so that’s basically how we made it to Pompeii.

It’s too bad we didn’t look up directions to the hostel before we got there. We wandered for a couple hours trying to find it, but did stop for some delicious pizza and calzone on the way. We engaged in “Defensive Eating,” not knowing when our next meal would be; I consumed an entire pizza capricciosa. No ragrets.

Pizza capricciosa
Pizza capricciosa

Long story short, we did not see much of the Pompeii ruins on Day 1. Instead, we got very familiar with the quaint little town of Pompei and had some lovely conversations with the locals (in Italian!).

On Sunday, however, we got up bright and early having slept well in our very accommodating hostel. We Defensive- Ate the free breakfast provided (Cornetti, yogurt, and some sort of tiramisu thing) and set out for the ruins. We saw the main entrance that Pompeiians used, the Forum, the Temple of Jupiter, the House of the Faun, and stumbled upon an old brothel. A comical Rick Steves audio-tour guided us through the experience. What was incredible about Pompeii was the size of the area preserved by the volcanic ash from Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD. The streets were just as they had been when the city was thriving – before Vesuvius “ruined everyone’s plans,” as Rick Steves put it. Seeing the castes of the victims was a sobering experience. One was frozen in a face down position; another with their hands covering their face. I kept thinking of how those last moments played out for the people who had either been too sick or too stubborn to leave.

For the next part of our trip, we took a minibus to the cause of the destruction itself. What’s amazing is that Mt. Vesuvius is still an active volcano, and so many people still live in the area. Our minibus driver, Pasquale, took us partway up the mountain and said, in broken English, “I stop here. Road: ice. Go two kilometers to top.” So we started hiking. Sure enough, 40 minutes later, we reached the furthest point possible (it was too snowy to reach the crater). From there, we had a superb panorama of Capris, Sorrento, and all of Naples. And now I can say I’ve climbed an active volcano!

On top of Mt. Vesuvius!
I made it to the top of Mt. Vesuvius!

Finally, Pasquale drove us to Herculaneum, a small, extremely wealthy city that had been engulfed in lava the day after Vesuvius’ first eruption. It stretches stories below the modern city, basically settled in a giant pit. The lava preserved everything so well that many roofs, wooden doors, and walls remain almost entirely intact. Many of the buildings are mansions of sorts with fascinating art and gorgeous mosaic floors. It was easy to imagine the marketplace bustling with activity and people enjoying their lavish lifestyles. My impression was put into perspective when, just before we left, I glanced down and saw dozens of skeletons piled on top of each other, beyond the arches of cellar-like structures that faced away from Vesuvius.

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The ruins and victims in Herculaneum

At the train station in Naples, we had time to spare before our departure so we walked around outside the station to get a feel for the city. I’ve been warned that it’s sketchy, and it’s true. My friend and I didn’t necessarily fear for our lives, but as she puts it, “The male gaze was strong.” It was certainly disconcerting. We decided that Naples is probably a lovely city when you get a mile past the train station, but we weren’t going to see for ourselves.

I’m deeply sorry for this absurdly long post. If you’re still reading this, thanks for making it through!

Buonasera, miei amici!

A castle, a gelateria, a Parmesean bowl, and a few piazzas (a long-overdue update)

A castle, a gelateria, a Parmesean bowl, and a few piazzas (a long-overdue update)

I’ve had two action-packed weekends and a two weeks of classes since my last update! Time really got away from me, so I’ll split it into two posts. Alas, here’s part one:

One highlight of the week before last was going out with a friend on what would have otherwise been a dull Tuesday. We spent a little bit of time walking around St. Peter’s Basilica, but then meandered down the street to Castel San Angelo. By the time we got halfway to the top of the castle, the sun was setting across from the Tiber River. It was as magnificent as anything you could imagine. Someone was playing guitar, a young Italian man was playing with a dog, people were casually walking around without a care in the world, light from the setting sun and streetlights just turning on were reflecting off the water…and I was standing in a castle. When we reached the top it was dark outside, and we got to see the whole city lit up. But more importantly, from the top of the castle, we spotted a crowd gathering around what could only have been Ed Sheeran — he was on tour in Rome that night!

Okay, realistically, it was just a large group of tourists gathering to take a picture. But I like to believe it was my pal Ed.

The view from Castel San Angelo
The view from Castel San Angelo

Later that night, we had a dish called Cacio e Pepe at Sparta Roma in Trastevere. It’s tagliolini (a type of pasta) served in a bowl made entirely of Parmesan. And, yes, you can eat the Parmesan. Best believe I did. I also highly recommend the tiramisu! We had the pleasure of dining next to a Korean-Canadian student named Elvis, who has long dark hair, wore a Misfits hat, and told us about how he’s traveling the world.

Another exciting thing that happened two weeks ago was attending the Mass of the Holy Spirit at the Church of St. Ignatius, Loyola’s patron saint. The church, like everything else here, was stunning (I’m quickly running out of adjectives). There were “fake” domes painted on the ceiling, made very convincing through optical illusion. For this reason I spent a lot of time looking upwards during mass…which is totally appropriate in a religious setting, if you think about it. The sheer size of the church, still with so much attention to detail and symmetry, was unlike anything I’ve seen before.

While many people went on their first trips, I spent last weekend exploring Rome.

On Friday, a friend (shout-out to Val!) helped me discover my favorite gelateria in the neighborhood: Il Pelicano. For the past week I’ve found a way to incorporate it into nearly every conversation. I’m telling you, it’s nothing short of divine. It’s not enough to say that the flavors are wonderfully rich and creamy. The gelato is dipped (dipped!) in chocolate (chocolate!!) and nuts, and topped with whipped cream.

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Gelato from Il Pelicano


After we indulged in the divine, Val and I were taken under the wing of an American student named Grace who attends a nearby university. She guided us to Via Del Corso by way of the Metro, where we popped in and out of stores until finally we reached Piazza del Popolo at sunset. A guy was playing the electric guitar in the middle of everyone bustling around, a tall Egyptian Obelisk towered over the scene, and it felt like we had just discovered this incredible secret that’s been hidden from the outside world. Piazza del Popolo truly feels like the “People’s Piazza” – not necessarily a piazza for tourists, who so many of the other piazzas seem to serve.

We ventured to a lookout above Popolo called Piazza Napoleone and were rewarded with a serene view of the city. The clouds had parted just enough for us to see the sun setting directly behind the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. I could faintly make out the tune of “Stairway to Heaven” being played in the piazza below. “TI AMO” — “I love you” — was sprayed in giant black letters on a sidewalk. I reflected on how I’d started my day with absolutely no plan in mind, yet we hadn’t gotten lost for a single moment. And I realized that’s the secret to adventure: If you don’t have any idea where you’re going, you can’t get lost.

That revelation somewhat eases the pain of the fact that I also have no idea what I’m going to do for the rest of my life (yay college years!).

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Sunset over Piazza del Popolo


The next day, I ended up in Piazza del Popolo again with a different group of friends. This time, a man was entertaining children with a giant bubble maker, someone else was playing acoustic guitar, and people were sitting around everywhere, content, simply enjoying the moment. Behind the lookout on Piazza Napoleone we explored Villa Borghese, a huge green and lush park. We wandered around for a long time, past a dog park, a zoo, and the National Museum of Modern Art. Throughout the Villa there were busts of many of the most influential people in history… Cavour, Machiavelli, and Marco Polo to name a few. We walked through a free museum that had no art in any room except for one. This one displayed the art of refugees from all around the world. The artists scavenged tons (literally, tons) of garbage around Rome to piece together collages of monuments in this city. The art looks simple, but its message is powerful: a humble ‘thank you’ to the city that has taken them in.

Sunday, after finding out that the Keats-Shelley museum I’d set out for was closed, I treated myself to gelato and sat on the Spanish Steps for a while. Then I traipsed through Villa Borghese (again) to the National Museum of Modern Art. My favorite parts were the cracked-mirror floor in the entrance and the massive statues in the classics and mythology section, particularly one depicting a mother smiling at her infant with the most joyful, uninhibited expression. I also spotted a few famous works by artists such as Warhol, Cezanne, Monet, Clemente, and Magritte. I’m not an art scholar by any means, but I enjoyed being swept up in comparing the styles, color schemes, lighting, and contexts of all the paintings.

This is where I’ll leave off and begin crafting a post about this past week – I’ll try to post more often so I don’t have to keep making ridiculously long ones!

A dopo, ragazzi!

Livin’ la dolce vita

Livin’ la dolce vita

It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been here for a little more than a week. I’m already overwhelmed by how many people I’ve met and how many incredible places I’ve gone! The shock of living in a different country is definitely beginning to set in. I can sum up the better part of this past week by saying I’ve been lost. A lot. Actually, each and every time I’ve left the JFRC (also colloquially known as “J-Force”) I’ve ended up lost at some point during the excursion. But really, it’s not so bad to be lost in Rome.

Classes began this past week. I’m taking Italian 101, Art in Rome (an on-site class), The Church in the World, and Beginning Acting. I can tell that each of the classes will be challenging in its own way. Thanks to some useful Italian phrases I’ve learned, I’ve been practicing the language every chance I get. I’ve managed to order food and drinks in Italian, introduce myself to random people, and have little fragments of conversation! For my acting class, we’ll soon start preparing monologues and gearing up to present A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the end of the semester. I’m completely excited and terrified about it, but as a good friend reminded me before I left for Rome, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

One night, my friends and I ventured out to see the Vatican and the nativity scene all lit up at night. I’d never seen it before, and it made me do some weirdly deep thinking (bear with me). Watching all the birds circling around St. Peter’s Basilica, I thought about how they’re so lucky that they can fly wherever they want to go and perch on top of these magnificent buildings. And they don’t even know how important the building is that they’re sitting on. They don’t know even how much of a miracle it is that they can soar through the air. But then it dawned on me that I’m kind of bird-brained in that sense, too. I can fly wherever I want to (hypothetically), and most of the time I get too caught up in everyday life to realize how lucky I am. I somehow ended up in Vatican City, standing in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, a place that most people on this earth only dream of seeing in their lifetime. It occurred to me that in every sense of the word, it’s a miracle that I not only get to go to college, but that I get to do it in a completely different country and learn about a vastly different culture. It put into perspective all the stress of planning weekend trips, and the anxiety I’ve felt about being away from home. I’m sure this is only one of the profound — and profoundly cheesy — moments I’ll have during my time abroad.

St. Peter's Basilica all lit up at night
St. Peter’s Basilica all lit up at night

After spending some time around the Vatican, we wandered down the street into this adorable little place called Bukowski’s. We split a bottle of wine amongst us and played a fun, wholesome game of Italian Scrabble. After a lot of laughing and, on my part, attempts at bending the rules, we set out to find the 24-hour “Secret Bakery” we’d been hearing so much about from other students. I’ve never seen more pastries in one place, or a bigger variety of them! It was like descending into Wonderland.

The weekend was full of adventure that deserves a separate post, but I’ll try my best to condense it into this one. We took our final orientation trip, and stayed at Lloyd’s Baia hotel in Vietri sul Mare. The place was absolutely gorgeous —  a hotel right on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the water — located at the starting point of the Amalfi Coast. I watched the sunrise over the water/mountains Saturday morning from my bedroom’s balcony. It was hard to tell whether or not I was still dreaming because it was both insanely gorgeous and ridiculously early in the morning.

Though incessant rain and an unintelligible tour guide made Friday feel long and dismal, it was great seeing the temples and ruins of Paestum. Saturday was by far my favorite day of the orientation trip. We took a tour of a buffalo mozzarella farm and got to do a wine tasting/tour at Vini Marino wine farm. This is the stuff that dreams are made of, people. The buffalo were adorable in their own nasty way, but you could tell that they were enjoying their lush lifestyle at the farm. They get daily massages, their own beds, and simply saunter in to be milked when they felt the time was right. Oh, and the farmers play classical music for the buffalo some mornings to free them of stress. I never thought I’d be jealous of a buffalo, but, well…here I am. We sampled some of the cheese (which is very fresh, with an odd aftertaste, and would be delicious with tomato and basil), and had fantastic gelato that was made with buffalo milk.

Hanging out with the buffalo -- no big deal.
Hanging out with the buffalo

At the wine farm, we were walked through the process of wine-making and learned how it differs for red wines and white wines. The vineyard was as picturesque as you’d imagine, tucked away in a corner of the hillside. I’m not a wine connoisseur, but I can assure you that the wine was smooth and flavorful (are those appropriate adjectives to use for describing wine?) and I enjoyed it immensely. Later in the day, we went to the beautiful town of Agropoli and I attended mass at the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church.

Sunday, we packed up our things to head back to the JFRC and took a tour of the Abbey of Montecassino on the way. The Abbey is a monestary located right at the top of the hill (more like a mountain, from my Ohioan perspective) that has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since it was first established in the 11th century. Not only was the place huge with an amazing view, but the history was fascinating. If you ever have a chance to go there, it’s well worth the terrifying twenty-minute drive to the top of the hill, even if you’re afraid of heights like I am!

View from the central cloister of the Abbey of Montecassino
View from the central cloister of the Abbey of Montecassino

Well, I won’t bore you all by going into detail about the several four-course meals I ate over the weekend…or by describing how when 250 college students are thrown together to stay in a hotel on the bay for two nights, those nights are going to be quite memorable. All in all, suffice it to say I had a wonderful and totally exhausting weekend.

Ciao for now!

The beginning of my Roman Holiday

The beginning of my Roman Holiday

Buongiorno! I’ve had an exciting and exhausting first week in Rome. The city is nothing like I expected it to be–none of the pictures I’ve seen in textbooks or Google images do it justice. I have been fighting jet lag since day one, and orientation activities had all of us spring semester students too busy to sleep much. We began the trip with what felt like a dozen meetings about life here at the JFRC and a tour of the Balduina neighborhood. The Rome Center is situated at the top of Monte Mario, the tallest hill in Rome, which means that any trek through the neighborhood is sure to build up those calf muscles! With many signs in English, and many English-speaking Italians, it was easy to feel relatively comfortable right when I arrived here.

However, I’m beginning to notice all the small things that make Rome vastly different than anything I’ve seen back in the U.S. The most distinct difference so far is anything related to transportation. I’ve mentioned the hills already, but to add on to that, most of the streets and sidewalks are cobblestone. I’m convinced that there must be no rules at all for Italian drivers. If there’s a speed limit, they don’t seem to pay any attention to it. And stopping for pedestrians just isn’t something they do here–instead, they weave and dart around anyone walking in the street. That being said, Italian drivers have impeccable maneuvering skills. I surprisingly haven’t been hit (yet!). As far as parking goes, it looks like a free-for-all. I’ve seen the various tiny Italian cars parked in whatever direction they please, whether that’s crooked or backwards or in the opposite direction of the flow of traffic. It’s pretty comical, really, but also impressive. I’m glad I don’t have to worry about driving here. The streets are narrow and the vespas dart out of nowhere! Public transportation, as I did expect thanks to some helpful advice before I left, leaves something to be desired. Coming from Loyola, I’m used to the reliable and efficient CTA trains and bus routes. Here, the buses pretty much come and go when they please, while the train routes are very limited for a city so big. I’ve also noticed that Rome has lots of litter and is generally a dirty place. That must be why the people here wear black all the time.

But what Rome lacks in transit options and cleanliness, it makes up for in beauty. Over the weekend, I spent two surreal nights exploring downtown. As I wandered around with friends that I met during the group flight and orientation meetings, I got to see so many places I had never expected visit (I studied French for five years, so Italy always seemed somewhat distant). I saw the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi), the Four Rivers Fountain, and Piazza Cavour during those first couple nights exploring. I was extremely disappointed to find out that the Trevi is undergoing extensive construction right now so it is almost entirely blocked by metal structures and tarps. But there is a small pool of water that they encourage people to throw coins in. I did of course throw a coin, which is supposed to guarantee that I will come back to Rome at some point later in life! It was exciting to see the exact places where many famous movies, such as Three Coins in a Fountain, have been filmed. I absolutely adore the fact that people go out so much later here. My friends and I went to a place called Abbey’s Pub near Piazza Navone around 10:30 p.m., but by the time we left just after midnight there were at least three times more people crowding the streets than when we’d went into the pub! As the SLAs warned us in orientation, there is truly no personal space in Rome, even in the middle of the road at night.

One of the best parts of the nightlife here is the food and wine (obviously). I went to a Magnum ice cream store where a man dipped the ice cream into a chocolate coating and toppings right before my eyes. I’m still in shock at how divine it tasted–nothing like the boxed garbage we eat back at home! Of course, gelato is the real Italian specialty. I’ve been pairing chocolate (which is deliciously rich) with other flavors and haven’t gone wrong! So far, the tiramisu gelato is my favorite. And the tiramisu in general. The JRFC hosted a “dinner in the neighborhood” during orientation, where we paid for a several-course meal at a restaurant near campus. For the most part, I had no idea what I was eating. There was amazing pasta, cheese, and plenty of bread, so what else matters at this point? I’ll begin to understand the food terminology eventually. The food here is more fresh than anything I could hope to taste at home. So far, I especially like the pizza. Pizza is something I can understand in any language. And, yes, the part all my friends at home have been waiting for me to write about–I’ve been drinking incredible wine with many of my meals. Don’t ask me the names of them, though…that’s another thing I’m working on!  I also bought a bottle of white wine for under 4 euros, but realized when I brought it back to campus that I don’t have a bottle opener. I’m still getting adjusted to it all.

I also got to go to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum with an orientation group. Just as pictures don’t do these places justice, neither do words. I tried to soak up all of the history in front of me by imagining what life must have been like during the height of the Roman Empire. I cringed at how thousands of people gathered to watch gladiators fight to the bloody death, and stood in awe as I imagined the low, excited hum of voices as the men of Rome paraded into the Colosseum. When you look past all the tourists and their ridiculous “selfie sticks,” it’s mind boggling that the Colosseum was even bigger and grander than what we see today. The Forum, though, was the most breathtaking thing I’ve seen. Even more so than the Colosseum, it’s a lot larger than I would have expected. The ruins and rubble are situated right in the middle of modern Rome, so from the top of the Forum you can see the amazing juxtaposition of old and new and the nature that ties it all together. I reached the top just as the sun was setting, so I didn’t get to stay for long, but I wish I could have sat there and looked out over the city all day. It’s beautiful now, so I can’t wrap my mind around how magnificent the city must have been before it turned to rubble. You can see the ruins of countless palaces and churches with some of the most detailed architecture in the world–and the Romans did it without all the advantages we have today. It took decades, even centuries, for most of those places to be completed, making many modern buildings seem thrown up haphazardly in comparison. Walking among the various columns, arches, and building structures, I thought about how many people died or were murdered just beneath my feet. I know I keep speaking in superlatives, but seeing the Forum was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. After I left and went out to explore the city more, it began to sink in that I’m actually in Rome. We walked through the nearby Piazza Venezia, which was filled with tourists, but I loved how the city was bustling just next to the ruins. I also began to feel like I was in the Lizzie McGuire movie, which let’s be honest, is everyone’s dream.

My first class starts today (Italian 101), so I need to head off to buy some books and grab lunch. I hope you all continue to read up on my adventure throughout Italy and other parts of Europe!

Ciao tutti!


View from the top of the Roman Forum
View from the top of the Roman Forum