Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Back Home

The journey home from Italy was tiring, but I have already adjusted to jet lag well. I left my hostel at 7:00 AM, took a 7:45 bus to the airport, and took off at 12:30, since my flight was running an hour late. I flew into Chicago and felt happy to be home. It was strange to realize that Chicago felt like home. Being abroad made me think of all of the United States as home, whereas before I had always thought of Connecticut as home (and now Virginia). Ordinarily Chicago would feel far from home, but coming back from Europe it felt like a familiar place to me. It felt nice to be home after traveling for 45 days. I went through customs, which was a breeze because I ran off the plane before everybody else and was among the first people in line. The customs officers chose not to inspect my bag and so I walked through without any hassles. I even got through TSA security very quickly and so I had nothing to do in the airport for about 4 hours while I waited for my connection. My first purchase in the United States was at a Starbucks, where I bought some banana bread as a midnight snack, although it was only 5 PM in Chicago. When I landed in Richmond I was tired since I had barely managed to sleep all night and to me it was 6 in the morning. Luckily mom was waiting right outside the door for me and the drive home felt fast since we had a lot to talk about. As soon as we were talking I didnt feel tired anymore and ended up staying up until almost 3 in the morning.

I have been home for a day and a half and am relaxing before I have to finish my Monroe Research project and then head back to school. My facebook friends will probably already have noticed that I uploaded my favorite photos to my profile. I also ordered prints of my favorite shots today and will pick them up soon. If I have time I plan to put them into a scrap book along with some of my ticket stubs, and put a few into frames. I hope to finish my Monroe research project soon so that I have time to relax before going back to school, but knowing me I will probably keep working on it up until the deadline anyway, perfecting the final product rather than taking it easy.

Last night we had ribs with barbeque sauce and mashed potatoes, an all-American meal that I haven't been able to enjoy for a long time. I missed my mom's cooking for sure. Tonight we will have fish since the seafood available in Perugia never looked very appetizing to me. I thought it was strange that the grocery store always offered octopus as an option, but my mom told me that octopus is a typical food in Italy. I may have been in Italy for over a month, but I clearly haven't learned all there is to learn about Italy. I guess I will just have to go back some time!


I really enjoyed Rome a lot. On my first day in Rome I saw the Trevi Fountain, which I thought would be sort of deserted at night time but which was completely packed. I couldnt even get near to the fountain, and gave up on the tradition of throwing a coin into the water because there were just too many people.
There were so many people at the Trevi Fountain that I decided to take a picture of them!

I also found my way to the Quirinale before the sun set and took a photo of this monument

The next morning I decided to get up early to get in line for the Pantheon. I arrived at the Pantheon shortly before 8, only to find that it did not open until 830 and that there was no line whatsoever. It turned out that I was wrong and that people do not stand in line for the Pantheon but that you can just go in whenever you want. While I waited for the Pantheon to open I went to the nearby Piazza Navona, which is shaped like an oval and used to be used to track meets in ancient Roman times. Now there are three beautiful fountains in the piazza, and it is also known for its art market.
Piazza Navona is not very busy in the morning, which allowed me to enjoy the fountains by myself. The statue in the background is the central statue and also the biggest. It has four men who, according to my guidebook, represent the four corners of the world: Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Each man was not labeled and I had a hard time telling which was which.
The left-most statue relative to where I entered Piazza Navona
I also went to Campo dei Fiori where there is a fruit market. I bought a huge peach bigger than my fist and a croissant for breakfast. The peach was expensive but I was glad I bought it when I bit into it and tasted how sweet and delicious it was. After, I went back to the Trevi Fountain, which by then was deserted except for some workers cleaning the coins out of the fountain. I wonder if they sweep the fountain each morning of each week. There were a lot of coins in the fountain.
In front of the Trevi Fountain
By the time I got back to the Pantheon it was open and several people were inside, but only a few. It was silent inside and every little sound echoed on the inside. The atmosphere inside was really great and I am glad that I got to see it without a crowd.
In front of the Pantheon

It is difficult to understand just how big the Pantheon is until you see a person standing next to one of its enormous pillars

The morning sun was on the right side of the dome. The dome is 7 meters thick at the bottom and 1 meter thick at the top and made of progressively lighter materials

The painter Raphael is buried inside of the Pantheon slightly to the left of this photo
After going to the Pantheon I found the Vittorio Emmanuele monument at Piazza Venezia. The outside of the monument was impressive and entry was free, but the inside was rather dull. There was a flag display in the front part of the museum and some military relics. The roof was the most interesting place because it had a great view of the city. I found the monument only when I was lost looking for the Colosseum, which I could see from the roof of the monument and helped me find it later that afternoon.
The Vittorio Emmanuele monument from the outside

The view of the Colosseum from the roof of the Vittorio Emmaneuele monument
At the Coloseum I met a man in line who is a high school teacher of ancient greek and latin and who had come to see the exhibit. We became friends and he gave me a tour of the inside, telling me some of its history in Italian. He was very nice and we exchanged names so that we could be facebook friends.
Inside the Colosseum

A giant arch near the Colosseum

Part of the Foro Romano, which was part of a combined ticket with the Colosseum
I also went to the Foro Romano and the Palatine Hill. The day before there had been a strike and the Palatine Hill was closed, but luckily it was open because I enjoyed walking around and seeing the Roman ruins. After the Colosseum I headed towards the river, hoping to find something to eat for lunch and a bench by the river. The region over the river is known as Trastevere, which means "over the Tiber," but there was not much there. I did manage to find an alimentari and so I ate a mozzarella and prosciutto crudo panino by the river and walked along the river, enjoying the views.
A view of the Tevere from the retaining wall where I ate my lunch. The river was very quiet and had some bridges that only pedestrians could cross
I returned back to my hostel where I met some boys from Poland who ate dinner with me and told me about Eastern Europe and asked me about America. One of the boys had been living in England and so his English was quite good. They made me curious to travel to Eastern Europe some day. The next morning I woke up early to get in line at the Vatican. Normally the Vatican museums are closed on Sunday but since it was the last Sunday of the month, they were free. I met my apartment mate Ping there and we saw the Pio Clementino and the Stanze Raffaelle and the Sistine Chapel. There were so many scultures and so much rich artwork that it was difficult to take it all in. It struck me that the Sistine Chapel was much smaller than I expected, although the word "Chapel" rather than "Cathedral" perhaps should have given me a clue as to its size. It was very crowded and very loud inside. I saw several people get thrown out for trying to take photos or videos. It's a shame that people were being disrespectful, but I still enjoyed it very much. Ping had some information on the artwork with her and we read about Michelangelo's frustration while making it. Apparently blue paint was very expensive then and he painted large portions of the walls in blue in part because he was angry about all the criticism. I also remembered from my European History class in high school that many of the figures had been covered with clothes although Michelangelo originally intended for them to be nude. The Sistine Chapel was great, but one of the parts of the museum that I enjoyed a lot was the hall of maps, because it inspired some great conversation among Ping and I as we talked about the places in Italy we had been to.
Statue of the Laocoon in the Museo Pio-Clementino. He tried to convince the Romans not to accept the Trojan Horse

The hall of maps. The ceiling was also intricate and beautiful and in this photo looks like it is made of gold. There was gold on the ceiling, but it was predominantly covered in art work

Me in front of the map of Umbria. Perugia, the city where I lived for my month long study abroad, is found in Umbria. Umbria is one of 20 regions in Italy and is the only one that does not touch the sea

The stanze Raffaelle were impressive. They were covered with paintings on all walls. Even the floor was an ornate mosaic
Ping and I went to the Basilica of San Pietro after the Vatican Museums and saw the Pieta' and listened to the Pope give a sermon. We ran into Helen from the University for Foreigners, who was in Rome along and was glad to have some company. Together Ping, Helen, and I saw the Trevi Fountain again, where I finally threw in a coin and made a wish this time, and we went to the Pantheon, which was interesting to see again since the light was shining to the left now in the afternoon. We also went to the Spanish Steps, where some street vendors tried to get us to buy roses insistently and tried to put the rose in my purse so that I would have to pay for it. Helen and I went to the Castel Sant-Angelo and Ping had to catch a train, and she told me she had been accepted to a Masters Program with scholarship at the best university in Estonia called Tartuf. She is very proud to be from Estonia and told me that many people who visit do not expect much but leave very impressed. I also heard her speak Estonian to some strangers from Estonia that she ran into and it sounded very beautiful. I hope some day I can return to Europe to travel in Eastern Europe.
Me, Ping (Singapore), and Helen (Estonia) at the Spanish steps

A Castel di Sant'Angelo turret. The castel had a long and interesting history. At one point it was a fort, at another a prison, at another a home to the Pope, and now is a museum.
I was glad to spend my last day in Italy with great company. It was a great coincidence that we ran into Helen in Rome because I think it made her day much more enjoyable as well!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Island of Elba

Jessica (Germany) and I on the traghetto (ferry)
The weather was forecasted to rain all weekend in Perugia, and when we set out at 5 AM on the bus for Elba the sky looked gray. Luckily, Elba is off the coast of Toscana a few hours north, and as the sun rose and we continued to drive the skies looked clear and blue. We took a ferry to the island, which is the third largest island in Italy after Sicily and Sardegna, but which is much smaller in comparison. I explored the island with Jessica, a girl from my Italian class from Germany, and Rodrigo from Brazil. They both speak English but we spoke Italian just about the whole time, which I enjoyed.
Me behind Napoleon's house on the Island of Elba. He had a beautiful house that also serves now as a museum. The view from his garden was beautiful
A room inside of Napoleon's house
The beaches were rocky with a small sand beach in the part of Elba that we chose to visit, but there was also a sand beach elsewhere on the island. I found Elba to be very different from Capri, which surprised me a little. ELba is far less of a tourist trap. On Capri everything is catered to tourists and on Elba the island is perhaps not as cute but it looks more lived in and there seem to be mostly locals on the island rather than mostly tourists. 
A Moby Lines tragehtto and a tiny sailboat. I would have liked to find someplace to rent a small sailboat but I couldnt find one at the beach we went to. Instead I swam and suntanned (and burnt)
The temperature of the water was cooler and the tide was not as strong as it was at Capri. I liked that the waved were gentler at Elba and that the town seemed more like a normal town.

The beach at Marciana Marina with Italian flags in the background

Monday, July 18, 2011

Umbria Jazz and Assisi

Of course I had to go to Umbria Jazz at least once while in Perugia. While I didnt pay to see Prince or Lisa Minelli, I did go to a free concert. The group was from Tennessee or Kentucky so it didnt feel all that exotic to me, but the setting was fantastic and mellow and it was easy to see and hear everything.
The crowd wasnt too big and the weather was perfect for a night time concert. I bought a slice of pizza caprese at a pizza shop and watched the show from the middle of the crowd.
This weekend I went to Assisi, which is where Italy's patron saint Saint Francis lived. I was expecting Assisi to be exactly like Perugia but it was quite different. Assisi was brighter with wider streets, very clean, and seemed more modern than Perugia. Perugia has steep stairs, climbs, aqueducts, and arches throughout the city, and while Assisi is also hilly it is relatively flat in comparison. I can understand now how Perugia is considered a larger city compared to a small city like Assisi, where I feel that I was able to see just about everything in about half a day.
The Basilica of San Francesco. The inside was beautiful, but unfortunately no pictures allowed. There is a mcuh smaller, more humble church which is the one where San Francesco knelt before a cross. Notice how green the grass is and how blue the sky is. This is why Assisi is so pleasant.
Although Assisi is a famous pilrimage destination, there were also interesting secular sights. Two of note that I saw were Rocca Maggiore and Monte Subasio. Rocca Maggiore is an old fort. It was used in medeival times in its rivalry with surrounding cities like Perugia and Siena.It is situated startegically on the highest ground in the city and has a great view. It featured the innovative (at the time) fire tower system so that people from far away could signal danger to one another. It also featured a double door gate, which was a solution to the problem that gates were the weakest part of forts in Medeival times. There was a small room in between two gates so that if the enemy broke into the first gate, they couldnt get through the second gate once bodies had piled up in the small space between the two gates. Gory, yes, but also effective.
Part of the Rocca Maggiore.

Me on Mount Subasio. I hiked up for 30 to 45 minutes. If I had kept going I would have found the monastery somewhere, but I didnt have time, and really just wanted to see the view. Mount Subasio itself isnt very tall but the map listed some long hikes, so it must extend back far.

I recently bought some frozen burger patties thinking they wouldnt be so bad, but after cooking the first I realized it had no taste and dreaded eating the rest. But I had a great idea to make the burger taste delicious using just a few ingredients: the last portion of pesto that needed to be eaten today, two bread ends to finish off a loaf, butter, garlic, a frozen hamburger patty, and green beans. I melted butter on the stove and added in some garlic. Then I toasted the bread ends in the butter while also boiling the green beans and cooking the hamburger. I made some pesto pasta on the side to go with it all and voila! Pesto-garnished burger on garlic-butter toasted bun with green beans, pesto pasta, and aranciata! It sounds like it should be on a restuarant menu.
I have been getting more and more innovative and am particularly proud of this lunch I made today.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Perugian Life

On request, I will now post some photos of my apartment in Perugia. I already posted photos of my bedroom, which can be seen in a previous post. The bathroom has a tiny shower and it is impossible not to splash water everywhere, which explains why there is a bit of mold. If I was living here longer I would be more concerned about the mold, but Im not sure what the laws are in Italy and I dont know whether the landlord is responsible for the mold or if the tenant is. There is also a washer in the bathroom (no dryer) which has two unlabeled knobs on it and which my apartment mate and I cant figure out how to use, so we both have been washing our clothes by hand. I am glad I brought some woolite with me! There is also a bidet in the bathroom which my apartment mate and I are baffled by and dont use.

There is also a living room where I like to eat dinner and where I sometimes watch a bit of Italian TV. The fridge is also in the living room.

The kitchen has two stoves in it. I use the brown one and Im not really sure why there is also the white one. I think the white stove hasnt been hooked up to anything for a long time.

Here is the street I live on. My room looks out over a hill and has a much more private and nice view. Speaking of the view from my room, I have an interesting story about that. As I mentioned earlier there is no dryer in my apartment, instead it is necessary to hang clothes out of the window. The second time I laid my laundry outside of the window to dry, a breeze must have blown up because two shirts fell down onto the ground a few stories below. I walked around the back of the building to go get them (I cant lose 2 shirts because I only brought 6), I realized that the plant covered area behind my apartment was actually a raised garden surrounded by a high wall that was completely inaccessible. The only opening was a tiny fence on the property of a bar that is on the other side of the field. The bar is just an outside area with tables and a bar, and right next to the bar is a stone fence. I asked the owner of the bar if it was OK if I could go retreive my clothes, and he said okay as long as I didnt actually come back with jewelry and gold. So I jumped the fence, only to find that there was yet another, higher wire fence. It would have been impossible to get over this fence if it werent for a small tree that I climbed to jump over the fence. Then I was in the plant covered yard, but had to go through the prickly plants all the way to the back where I live to get my clothes. This would have been impossible if it werent for my long pants and closed toed shoes because I was pricked even through my clothes. The owner of the bar thought it was all terribly funny when I came back and invited me to come back any time to his bar. I was glad he thought it was funny because I felt somewhat nuts for going back there. But the good news is that I have my clothes back and that I know for certain that no one is ever going to rob me through that window if I leave it open at night!
Perugia hills

Across the street. The view from my kitchen window

Via del Bulagaio

Monday, July 11, 2011

Napoli, Pompeii, Capri

This weekend I went to Napoli, Pompeii, and Capri with a school organized tour. I liked going on the tour because there were other students and, unlike in Florence and at the Palio, I wasnt alone. In Napoli I stuck with the tour guide and he showed us around the city. We saw piazza del plebiscito where there are buildings and monuments from many different time periods next to one another. We saw a church (in the photo below) and went in briefly but a wedding ceremony was about to start so we had to leave. There are buildings from the period of French, Roman, and byzantine rule. The tour guide said that it is rare to have all of these buildings with different styles coexist among one another because in many cities it was typical for old buildings to be torn down when a new leadership came in.
Piazza del Plebiscito in Napoli
Graffiti is typical in Napoli. Here is a statue facing the Mediterranean. I didnt have a chance to put my feet in until the next day in Capri

One of my favorite sights in Napoli was the Castel del uva (Castle of the Egg), which is called that because of a legend. In the legend, Virgilio came to Naples and brought with him an egg and said that as long as the egg didnt crack that the castle would remain standing. The owner of the castle hid the egg and the castle remained standing although most others in the same area were destroyed throughout time in various wars, especially during world war two. The egg is said to still be hidden inside the castle, which explains why it has never come under attack despite its vulnerable position by the sea. Another interesting part of Italian history I learned about was the destruction of Pompeii. At the time when the Vesuvio erupted in 79 AD, Pompeii was one of Southern Italy's richest cities. The Vesuvio erupted during the night and the flowing lava was not louder than running water, so many people were killed in their sleep. Other people heard the eruption and tried to scape by sea or to run away, but were killed by toxic fumes. It was sad to learn about the destruction of Pompeii, because I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been. The ruins of Pompeii are really interesting though and, although I didnt see any of them, apparently some skeletons still remain in the destroyed houses.
Me at the ruins in Pompeii. The population was killed by volcano lava in 79 AD
Entering the tiny blue grotto opening. We had to duck!
In Capri I took a boat tour around the island, which had straight rock cliffs on just about every side. Capri is known in Italy to be the expensive resort island of the stars. We saw the houses of Giorgio Armani, Sofia Loren, and previously of Mussolini on the island. We went into the blue grottoes, which are blue because of the way that sunlight reflects through the tiny cave opening, but which are more expensive to enter into than the Uffizi and the Accademia combined in Florence. I think that seeing the blue grottoes was a once in a lifetime experience though, so I am glad that I went in. There were other interesting natural features around the island that we saw, including rocks that had gaps in them as a results of wind. Our boat drove directly under an arch formed out of rock that I remember seeing on the Visions of Italy DVD my grandfather advised me to watch.
Inside the blue grotto, about to leave. I took a video of the inside as well. The rower was singing O sole mio
I took a sneaky photo of this boy at the beach at Capri. The beach was mostly rocky. This was taken from the rock jetty.
The beaches at Capri are rocky although there was a tiny patch of sand on one part of the island. I went swimming in the Mediterranean, which I thought was the perfect temperature but which my friend from Estonia thought was too warm.

Some friends from the University for Foreigners. Sofia (Mexico), Rodrigo (Brazil), Scella (Brazil), Me, Helen (Estonia)