Thursday, September 27, 2012

Two Tickets to Paradise

Cinque Terre. Five towns. Paradise on Earth. The destination of my weekend.

Yeah... Well first I had to get there. After Rome I was really impressed with Italy's public transportation. Buses, the metro, trains. What more do you need? Well after this weekend my opinion might have changed a little bit. Trains are stressful...

So after meeting up at 6:30 and boarding our train at 7:00 in the morning we headed to our first destination, Pisa. We figured that everyone had to have picture with the leaning tower and it was on our way. Well I am here to tell you that Pisa is the ugliest city I have been to in Italy.  The main piazza has a statue of a fat guy in the middle. That pretty much sums up the feel of the city. I paid an extra 2.60 euro for a few pictures that didn't turn out so well. My advice: save your time and money and invest in photoshop.

Trying to get the perfect shot.

Couldn't get it, so we went for a jumping picture.

So after a two hour stop in Pisa we thought we were on the final leg of our journey to Riomaggiore. Rookie mistake. Our tickets told us that we had to get on a train going towards La Spezia and then get off at the first stop. So of course that is what we did. Well the first stop happened to be a totally abandoned train station in the ghetto of Pisa... It was super sketchy. We got there only to find out that we were supposed to get back on a different train to La Spezia. Really? Was changing necessary? Thus after a few moments of manic panic on my part we boarded our next train. At La Spezia we easily boarded our last train to Riomaggiore. We made it to Riomaggiore at about 1:30 in the afternoon. Let me tell you Riomaggiore (and all the other towns) is gorgeous! So many colored houses just hanging to the edge of a cliff right next to the very blue water.

After seven hours of no food and stressful travel we were all starving. Too starving to look for a quality restaurant. We just had some focaccia, which was good, but not as good as what was to come. After our quick lunch we checked into our "hotel." After walking up a bunch of stairs illuminated by a sketchy red light we reached our room. It was thankfully much nicer than expected. After checking in we headed out to explore Riomaggiore. 

Our first stop, the clock tower up on the hill. It turned out that the tower was completely open to the public. We were able to explore an old building and take in some incredible views. 

So I don't know if you can tell, but Riomaggiore is kind of gorgeous.

Basking in the beauty of the town.

After our jaunt up the tower we changed into our swimsuits and booked it to the beach. Let me just tell you that swimming in the Mediterranean was unlike anything else. The water is so much more salty than the Pacific. You could not sink if you tried. And the water is warm! As a Washingtonian I have no qualms swimming in 40 degree water, but here I didn't have to. It was so very wonderful. After swimming we laid on the beach for almost two hours and just relaxed. That was really the first real down time I have had in Italy to just sit and enjoy my surroundings. It was a little piece of the dolce vita I have been hoping for.

Look at that beach!

Could we have been any happier?

Our swim session was followed by one heck of a dinner. We headed to a restaurant right on the marina. 
The Cinque Terre are known for their pesto and after eating it I totally understand why. It is fabulous! The bread was also incredible. In Tuscany they don't put salt in their bread, but in the Cinque Terre they do. It was a nice change. However, dinner also had one very unfortunate event. I tried caffe d'orzo... It is roasted barley that Italians drink as a substitute for coffee. My advice: NEVER drink it. 

After dinner we headed to the marina to watch the sun set. It was maybe the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. We had an impromptu photo shoot and just sat and talked. Then of course we went to get gelato. Is any night every really complete without gelato?

The next morning we woke up bright and early to get a head start on our long day of hiking. We also had the best breakfast at the best bakery in all of Italy. I had focaccia and a lemon torte. YUM! I love my life (even if my thighs don't). We ate breakfast at the marina and watched all of the fisherman leave for their day of work. It was SO cool!

Touting our focaccia in fro

And that, my dear friends, was breakfast (half-eaten).

Beautiful view of the harbor.

After breakfast we headed out on our hike to the other four towns. It was one heck of a hike. So many stairs!! The views were breathtaking, the towns colorful, the food wonderful, and the people sweaty. I really can't say anymore than that. It was a day of blissful contentment, too perfect for words. So I'll let the pictures do the talking.

We left our mark on the Via Dell'Amore

The lovers.


Main Street of Manarola

The view looking back at Manarola.

The view from the trail.

A quick photo stop.


I was brave and tried seafood.

I liked it!

Another view of Vernazza.


Rocking the head scarfs we bought along the way.

So... I'm thinking I'll be back for my honeymoon. Guess I'll have to marry rich!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ode to a Pink Water Bottle

I have a special friend. A friend that I know so well. I take her everywhere with me. To school. To work. On hikes. Through thick and thin, hot and cold she is always there for me. She even helps me think better and stay healthy. I know of no better remedy for a headache than her presence.

One fateful weekend we were parted from each other. I left her sitting by me in class and walked away without remembering her presence. It was traumatic. I longed for her presence all weekend. Yet she was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, she showed up at a social event of Sunday. She was there waiting for me. Oh sweet winds of fortune, I thank thee!

With such a level of friendship it could not be doubted that she would accompany me to Italy. I did not forget her. She was comfortably seated on the plane. It was with eager anticipation that I yearned to share the Roman water with her. Yet, fate would not have it so.

After only 4 hours of slumber I was in great need of a short rest. I shut my eyes and drifted of to the world of dreams. When I awoke she was gone! The tragedy! I had kicked her in my sleep and she had rolled away. I searched frantically for her. I even asked the flight attendants if they were aware of her whereabouts. No one had seen her. My dear sweet friend had gone missing.

Oh 16 oz. pink camelback, oh how I miss thee!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The City of Flowers

Firenze. Florence. The word literally means blooming flowers. A name that the city most certainly deserves. As the birth place of the Renaissance it witnessed the blooming of Western Civilization and today the city is nothing short of breathtaking.

Now after that little poeticism I'll get to to the real deal. I got to go to Florence on Monday! Florence was the city I was most looking forward to Italy. It has just always seemed so beautiful to me and I was not disappointed.

We got on the bus in Siena at ten. The bus ride lasted about an hour and it was one heck of an hour. We got to drive through the Tuscan countryside! It was unbelievably incredible! The rolling hill and ancient villas are gorgeous. It's everything you see in the pictures and more.

After arriving in Florence were taking on a walking tour by the teacher of IHUM 201, Silvia. I am not in the class so a lot of the information just went in one ear and right out the other. However, Silvia knows everything about Florence. It was very impressive.

Our first stop was the Bargello museum. We didn't get to spend a whole lot of time there, but what we did see was awesome. They have an entire room dedicated to Donatello. We got to see his David. It was the first David and the first Bronze statue to be cast in one piece. I really liked it, but nothing can measure up to Bernini's. Although I have yet to see Michelangelo's... However I did get to see a whole room of Michelangelo's statues. That man was incredible! All of his work is just so incredible.

After the museum we were free to find lunch on our own. After crossing the Ponte Vecchio (no big deal...) we discovered an awesome sandwich shop. I had the best sandwich I have had in Italia. It was just tomatoes, mozzarella, and pesto on a fine loaf of focaccia. Yummmmmm. This lunch also brought my first encounter with a gypsy woman. She sitting on the fountain next to us cracked out on something. She had a voice that makes Cher's seem high pitched and she kept asking for money. Sketch-a-sketch...

Enjoying our sandwiches.

Il panino ottimo!

The stunning ponte vecchia.

After lunch we headed to the Duomo. It is so ornate and beautiful on the outside, but the inside was plain and simple. Still beautiful, just different. Then came the scary part of the day, the climb to the top of Brunelleschi's dome. AH! I am afraid of height and I had to climb over 400 stairs between two domes that are hundred's of years old. I was freaking out, but I made it. The view was totally worth it.

We're on top of the world looking down on creation.

The unbelievable view!

Overall I would say that Florence was pretty dang awesome. I can't wait for our overnighter in a few weeks. Hoping to find some cheap leather!

Next Adventure: Cinque Terre!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In Pursuit of the Golden Arches

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that two young women in possession of American descent, must be in want of Wi-Fi. –Jane Austen

With this in mind Anne and I set out for McDonald’s and free internet. There is a sign right next to our house that indicates that Mickey D’s is only two minutes away. Let me just tell you, McDonald’s lies!

After walking for about fifteen minutes we couldn’t find it. We didn’t think it could possibly be farther than that. So we decided to walk back to the bus stop and take a bus into the city to go to an internet cafĂ©. We waited for about ten minutes and the bus never showed up. (Side Note: I really do not understand the bus system in Italy.) We decided that we must have passed McDonald’s and that we should try to find it again. So we set out in pursuit of the golden arches. On the way we decided to ask an elderly woman for directions. In Italian that was so fast and spoken with such a heavy Tuscan accent that we could only make out about every other word we gathered that McDonald’s was far away, about another kilometer. As college students hardened by two weeks in Rome we thought a kilometer was nothing… I mean it is less than a mile! So we recommenced our journey. After about 20 minutes we found ourselves in the ghetto of the outskirts of Siena. We didn’t think anyone would build a nice restaurant there (McDonald’s are very fancy here in Italy), but we pressed onward anyway. Our effort was rewarded with the sight of trash along the road, but it was not just any trash. It was trash labeled “Big Mac” and “French Fries.” We thought that we must have been getting closer. After another ten minutes I spotted flags waving in the wind, flags emblazoned with golden arches. We had made it! So with shaking legs we entered the restaurant only to find that there was only one worker and a line of ten Italians. We decided to forego our much-anticipated cokes and just used the internet. So in summary we walked two hours for fifteen minutes of internet… I have never felt so American.

Why did we do it? Sometimes you just really want to be connected to the outer world.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Life in a Tuscan Hill Town

Sorry for the long wait. I don't have internet at my house and it wasn't working at the school for a while. But...


I live in a town in Tuscany. I get to call this place home. How incredible is that?

So I am living with the most adorable Italian couple, Marco and Paola. They are so funny and they make so much fun of me, but I love it. Paola's cooking is pretty dang incredible and I am pretty sure that by the time I return I will resemble a hippopotamus. But it is ok because it all tastes so good. Some women sacrifice their bodies for their children, I choose to sacrifice mine for delicious food.

I am in love with this town. It is incredible to walk to school on tiny streets lined by houses that are centuries old. Also, the Piazza del Campo is incredible. I go there at least twice a day... As soon as I walk into it I just feel like all of my problems wash away. The people here are also so much nicer than those in Rome. They are always willing to talk and help me out. And they are BEAUTIFUL. The women dress well, but the men are incredible. They always look so fashionable. That just doesn't happen in America.

It's been really fun to practice the language and it is actually going pretty well. I mess up a lot, but the natives are so helpful and kind about correcting me. It helps that my host parents pretend to not a speak a word of English. I am pretty sure that they understand everything my roommate and I say to each other...

School is school. Classes aren't going to be easy, but it's alright I'm in Italy!

More updates to come.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Singin' in the Rain

There is simply too much to blog about. I have decided that for now I will just give you some snippets of life here instead of a detailed inventory of the events of my life.

So the weather in Rome is not what I expected. Who am I kidding? Nothing in Rome is what I expected. It has exceeded all of my expectations.

The first week the weather was incredibly hot and more humid than anything I have ever experienced. It was the kind of weather where I literally needed to take a shower after about five minutes. Pair that with at least 5 hours outside, walking in the heat and you have one sticky Katie. It's ok. I didn't smell nearly as bad as some of the Italians... I am pretty sure deodorant hasn't been discovered here. 

So after that weather the rainy streak of the last few days was a welcome change. It started on Sunday right after church. A fine mist began to descend from the sky. By Tuesday it was pouring. For me, a Washingtonian, it seemed normal and manageable, even fun. I love the rain!

Normally I am extremely opposed to the use of umbrellas. In Washington we just never use them. However, life in the USA is a lot different than life in Italy and rain introduces a whole new set of challenges here.

Challenge 1: Getting on and off the metro. You have to avoid being picket pocketed while attempting to open your umbrella in time to save you from getting drenched. I am here to tell you that it is an art form. In one hurried attempt my professor’s wife opened her umbrella a little to quickly and sprayed her husband with rainwater. Hilarious.

Challenge 2: Waiting for the sometimes unreliable public transportation. Italians like to take life at a more laid back pace. Meetings start late. Meals are long. And sometimes the bus comes an hour late. This is fine in clear weather, but after exploring some freezing catacombs with 24 girls who have already been out in the rain for 5 hours you kind of want the bus to come on time. We ended up as a line of umbrellas along the Appian Way. It was pouring and most of our umbrellas/rain jackets had reached capacity. Add the fact that cars kept driving by and splashing us and you have some very wet BYU students. We stood there for an hour. In which time we sang songs from every known musical, giggled, and watched someone very important (probably the pope) drive by in a very nice maserati with a huge police escort and a helicopter overhead. Luckily, our bus came eventually and we made it safely back to our dry hotel.

Challenge 3: Dressing appropriately. In Rome the name of the game is layers. You never know "weather" (haha punny...) it will be hot or cold. So I end up with a v-neck, a sweater, and a scarf. Most of the time I wear just the V-neck. This causes a problem. Where do I put the sweater and scarf? If I bring a backpack I am constantly worried about it being behind me. I can’t keep my stuff safe back there. If I bring only my purse I have to tie my scarf and sweater to it and I look ridiculous. I’ll let you know if I figure out the solution.

Challenge 4: The Pantheon. For those of you who don’t know the Pantheon is a Catholic church that was originally a pagan temple. It has one very large cement dome. The thing is that in order to be structurally sound the dome has a giant skylight in the center. This leaves a hole that is open to the elements. What happens when it rains? Well locals told us that the rain never touches the ground. Seem true? We didn’t think so. So when it rained we booked it to the Pantheon to find out. I am here to tell you that the rain does touch the floor. There is a drain in the center of the floor to catch it. Myth busted.

Making the most of the rain.

Life continues to be great! Rest assured that I am loving Rome!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

When in Rome

Well Rome’s idea of Wi-Fi and my idea of Wi-Fi are a little different. Thus blogging may be a little scarce for a while. Also, it means I don’t have enough speed for pictures so for now you shall have to look at facebook.

Rome is kind of incredible and there is so much to say, more than I can ever express here, but I shall try.

Tuesday, August 28:
We landed in Rome at around 9 in the morning, but we didn’t leave the airport until around 1. Lots of waiting… not a fan. I think this is when we began to realize how hot Rome is. After about five minutes outside I am drenched in sweat. I have given up on my hair. It is far too hot to have it down.

After checking in to our hotel we went on a whirlwind walk through the city. By whirlwind I do not meant to imply that it was short. I mean it was five hours long… Talk about achy feet! In this walk we saw SO much of Rome. St. Peter’s. Piazza Navona. The Pantheon. The Trevi Fountain. Etc.

After Piazza Navona three of us girls wandered off to the Trevi Fountain on our own. There I got my first gelato. YUM! I might be eating it everyday now… Don’t tell my bank account. We eventually made our way to the Spanish Steps where we were conned for the first time. Just a warning: Indian men who give you roses are not nice! After taking you picture and making you smell them they will make you pay.

We ended the day with dinner at our hotel. We are fortunate to be served by the wonderful Haymitch from the Hunger Games. Our server appears to be only slightly less inebriated than the character. Just kidding! He is super nice.

Wednesday, August 29:
Our first day of scheduled sight seeing.

We began at the Museum of Roman Civilization. I have to say I thought it was not worth the time. It was built by Mussolini to showcase Rome’s glory, but it is just a sad building filled with less than impressive replicas.

The afternoon, however, was incredible! We wandered around for lunch and found an awesome bar. Don’t worry bars are cafes in Italy. We got to eat on the side of a fountain. Unbelievable.

Then we went to the Colosseum! I don’t even know how to describe the experience. No pictures prepared me for how huge it is. It was SO cool. After that we headed to the Forum. Also awesome. I love all of the old buildings. It is so fun to think that I have walked where Caesar walked.

Thursday, August 30:
We started in the day at the Capitoline Museums. Renaissance era buildings + a piazza designed by Michelangelo + a gorgeous view + a collection of some of the world’s most famous artifacts = heaven. I could have stayed there forever. It was so inspiring. All of the art is just so detailed.

In the afternoon we headed off to the Pantheon. The old Pagan church has now been converted into a Catholic church. It is stunning. Although I am learning that everything in Italy is gorgeous. The dome of the church is open to the elements. I really want to be in there when it rains! After the Pantheon we headed to the Baths of Caracalla. They are the ruins of some Ancient Roman thermal baths. They were so awesome and fairly untouristy. There were mosaics from 2,000 years ago and they were still beautiful.

Friday, August 31:
The day I have been looking forward to forever, St. Peter’s and the Vatican. Gah!

We started with St. Peter’s in the morning. That church is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. That is really saying something after the last few days. I had been looking forward to the Pieta since realizing that it was in St. Peter’s. It is a Michelangelo statue depicting Mary holding a crucified Christ. It is breathtaking and in person it is so moving. I cried. I really want to go to mass in St. Peter’s, but we think you need tickets to do so.

In the afternoon we wandered around that area of Rome to find lunch. We ended up in Rome where I purchased the best sandwich I have ever had. After lunch we went to the Vatican Museums. They are so full of interesting artifacts, more than you could ever take in. The Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel were the highlights. The Sistine Chapel is gorgeous. Even if it is studded by shouts of “Shh! No Photo!”

Saturday, September 1:
We went on a side trip to a small town called Tivoli to see the gardens at the Villa D’Este. I loved Tivoli! The people were so much friendlier and they actually spoke to me in Italian. The town was gorgeous and the villa was beyond description. We wandered the gardens for hours and just enjoyed the scenery. Well not only that. We also creeped on a wedding photo shoot and did a little (ok a lot) of posing of our own.

Sunday, September 2:
Today was a much needed rest. I cannot remember a time where I have been so tired, mentally and physically. We have walked so much that my back hurts. Didn’t know that happened!

Church today was phenomenal. The Italian members are so passionate about the gospel. I was very impressed by the teenage boys. They we so reverent and gave incredibly insightful answers. That does not happen back home.

This has been one of the best weeks of my life! Ciao amici!