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)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Classes Begin

Classes began on Tuesday and because I was placed into the B2 level (which means high intermediate), my classes where not in the University for Foreigners but in an overflow location on Viale Roma in a middle school. The building was very nice but about a 15 or 20 minute walk from my appartment. The walk is beautiful and I didnt mind the exercise even in hilly Perugia, but I am glad I went to find it the day before classes began because the street indications here are sparse and it took me at least an hour to find.

I liked my professors a lot. My first professor in the morning was a woman and lead a speaking session. We did introductions and then my second professor taught a lesson on the conditional tense, which was a review for me. He mentioned the topics that we would be studying in the course, many of which are tricky and I am certainly not perfect at, but which I have already studied. Most people seemed bewildered by what I saw as a review, so I talked to to professor and my suspicion that I had been placed into  one level too low was confirmed. I switched into C1 (beginning advanced) level and immediately noticed a large difference. The other students in the class speak nearly fluently and the grammar is very challenging. I will definitely need to supplement the course with my own studying, whereas in the previous course I would have had a very easy time. I am glad that I switched because I am here to learn as much as possible. If I leave this course with a barely passing grade but a much improved student of Italian, I will be very happy. So far I have been taking everything in and my speaking has already improved a lot. I cant believe I have only 3 more weeks here!

Living on my own truly (without housing provided by WM, without a meal plan, in a foreign country) has been very informative. I negotiated a good contract on my apartment, and have experimented in cooking a few things. On Wednesday night I made chicken and mashed potatoes but had a few difficulties. First, the stove is absolutely ancient and must be manually plugged in, turned on, and lit with a match to work. To those more experienced with appliances this would have been simple, but it took me about 15 minutes to figure out how to get the stove and oven going. I made the chicken, but meat in Europe is different than in America, and I had to figure out how to clean the meat myself, which wasnt too difficult. My next big problem was confusiong concerning temperature scale. Since I am in Italy, the temperature scale is of course in Celsuis. I dont even know what temperature to cook potatoes or chicken in the oven at home, but I could take an educated guess. Here I set the dial to about the middle at around 150 degrees Celsius and put some chopped potatoes with olive oil and salt on the into the oven since I think I remember seeing my mom do this before in the kitchen. I wasnt sure whether the olive oil was supposed to go on before or after I had cooked them, but I used my instincts and they must have been right because I checked back every few minutes and it took probably about 30 minutes for them to cook to a nice, tender golden brown. In case the oven potatoes didnt work, I also boiled a pot of water on the stove and threw the other half of the chopped potatoes until they were tender and squished them with a spoon and added butter, milk, and salt. Is this how mashed potatoes are supposed to  be made? I dont know, but they turned out pretty tasty (but not as good as my moms and definitely less creamy). Both varieties of potatoes turned out quite good with my invented, Celsius recipes. The chicken I put in a pan and cooked until it was tender.

I made myself laugh a bit when I realized that, stereotypically, I am learning how to cook in Italy (although not quite in the way that people mean when they say that they are learning to cook authentic Italian cuisine while in Italy). Also, pasta is very very cheap here and I went a little crazy and bought gnocchi, tortolini, unbricelli, fettucine, fussili, rigatoni, and mezze righe. I am not sure if I will be able to eat all of the pasta that I bought before I leave. I estimate that I bought nearly ten pounds of pasta, all of which cost maybe a dollar a pound. I wonder if the prices here are better than they are at home. I plan to invent meat sauce soon, but it will have to wait until Monday or Sunday since I am going away to Napoli this weekend.

The University for Foreigners offers weekend trips and I signed up for an overnight tright to Napoli, Capri, and Pompeii. I am excited to see southern Italy, especially because I didnt think I would be able to see southern Italy while I am here. One of my friends from school said that as a kid she always wanted to take a trip to Pompeii as a kid, which sparked my curiosity. I will take plenty of photos. I am also excited about Capri and hope that we get to see some of their famous grottoes.

Apartment living is great here in Perugia. My Russian apartment mate moved out and currently only one other person lives in the apartment in the other room. She is from Singapore and named Ping. Ping is really nice and for the past few nights we have talked and talked for hours. She speaks Chinese and also perfect English. We tend to speak English together because she is a low intermediate Italian speaker. I have not really spoken Chinese with her since my ability to converse in Chinese is still very restricted, but we have had many conversations about Asia and she has recommended Shanghai to me over Beijing, but said that the Shanghai accent is not standard while the Beijing accent is. William and Mary has a program in Beijing rather than Shanghai, but maybe I will have time to visit Shanghai if I also choose to do a study abroad program in China. Kids here are also really friendly.

I feel like I have never met such friendly people before, and I think its because we all dont know anyone and we all want to practice language skills, so we are very willing to talk to each other. I met some kids from VCU, one of whom happens to be from the Richmond area, and who is going on the Napoli trip this weekend. Perhaps I have found someone to practice Italian with in the states! Also, I was looking for a gelateria yesterday that my apartment mate Ping recommended to me when I ran into Aya, a girl from Japan who shared a hostel room with me during my first night in Perugia. We both had no plans so we walked together and spoke in Italian the whole time. I was relieved to find a student who is both as advanced as I am and also not a speaker of English. She is really nice and seems to have had aharder time than I have here getting situated. Her first apartment was in an unsafe area and she switched after she felt someone following her home one night. Her next apartment is very close to mine now, but she says they are over charging her a lot. I also met a girl from Russia and was completely surprised at her views on Russian politics. Her perception is that most young Russian people want to break away from the Communist past, and she was very complementary of how free America is in respect to Russia. I was surprised to hear this, but also realize that at a place like the University for Foreigners I will inevitably tend to run into foreigners who are open minded and friendly to different ways of thinking.

I have been on the lookuot for news of Berlusconi and the Amanda Knox case but the news stands here do not seem to carry the mainstream newspapers such as the Corriere della Sera or La Reppublica. I am a bit embarassedto say that while getting settled here I havent looked very hard for these newspapers. I am not really sure where I should buy a newspaper but that is the next thing on my list of things to do. While here I hope to accomplish some research for my Berlusconi Monroe project, although its completion certainly does not depend on my working on it while in Italy. Rather, I think that gaining the Italian perspective would very valuable to my research, so now that I am settled I will make sure to keep up with the news.

Monday, July 4, 2011


Florence was great. I got up early and got in line at the Accademia before it opened. There I saw statues and art, including the David statue. The statue is really impressive in person and you can see all the details like the veins in his hand and and his muscles. The statue was larger than life and really great. I spent a lot of time in Accademia and luckily didnt have to wait in line long to get in since I got there so early.

I also made sure to go to the Uffizi, where I was the Annunciation, Primavera, and the Birth of Venus, among other famous artwork that I didnt necessarily recognize. It was interesting but by the end I was getting a bit tired of art (I spent probably 5 hours in museums that day by then). I decided not to stay in Florence for the night and spent my last 45 minutes walking along the Arno and touring the piazzas sight seeing. It was really beautiful and I wish that I had my camera battery working to take some photos.

Today I am going to do some errands in preparion for class starting tomorrow. I am excited to start!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Il Palio

Today I got up at 5 30 to go to the Palio in Siena, which is a horse race that takes place in a piazza called the piazza del campo. I had a delay getting to Siena, but once I got there I saw that the center of the city is old and adorable. The flags and souvenirs of the contrade were all over the place and I decided to support Bruca, the caterpillar, because the colors are yellow and green. The piazza closes at about 4 30 but I was worried about getting a good place so I went in at 2 30 after seeing Sienas Basilicatta and also buying some gifts. I strategically chose the highest ground in the piazza and a place quite near the fence. The piazza was very uneven, so from a high point I realized that I would be able to see more than half the track even with everyone standing, but people on the lower part probbaly couldnt really see the high part well. Im not sure if my theory about their view is correct, but mine was quite good and only a patch behind me was invisible where I couldnt see over peoples heads.

First there was a parade which began at 5 and ended at 7 30. The parade became monotonous after awhile so I sat down to read a bit. I may have mentioned that I bought a copy of the Portrait of Dorian Gray translated in Italian. When the race started the horses had to line up twice because the first time one of them spooked. Everyone was being very quiet because the horses get scared easily. Not all 17 contrada compete in the race and I was pleased to see that Bruca was one of the 10 or so that did. When the race started all I could see was that Bruca had made a break for the front. It was exciting because at the first half lap he was about 5 horse lengths ahead of the pack. Unfortunately, Bruca was also the first to fall off his horse. Rideless horses are allowed to finish and win the race, but this was so early on that he didnt stand a chance. The other jockeys passed easily, but by the end at least 4 horses finished without riders. One of the conservative riders ended up coming forward, Oca, the Goose, to win.

I was worried about getting back to the train because I needed to check into my hostel by midnight unless I wanted to be homeless, and the race had started later than I expected. I followed an aggressive lady out of the piazza and the exit we left from we were literally next to the horse. Three steps and I could have touched it. The jockey was crying and being hoisted into the air and somehow I was suddenly in the middle of it. I think only the media beat me and the lady onto the track, since most people were being wary of whether they were allowed to leave yet I think. I whipped out my camera and took some chaotic pictures. At that point people were crying and singing and I was swept into the victory parade, which is seemed that all the fans from Siena were a part of. I felt a bit out of place since I hadnt even been routing for Oca, but I pretended to sing along and went with the crowd, hoping it would take me to the bus station. I saw such emotion and excitement in the victory parade that I can only imagine I was walking with the locals. Tourists, like myself, just chose the symbols they preferred for the most part. The horse walked into a church and the piazza in front was filling when I left the victory parade.

By the way, for those fans who have noticed a change in my blog, Zurich has been bumped up to the top because I added photos. Im not sure why the others werent bumped up as well to put them back in correct order. I have uploaded a few photos, but they each took over a minute to load, which was 1 boring and 2 costing me a fortune in internet cafe bills, so I will post the rest on facebook later, probably when I get back to the US. I think this is the longest Ive stayed away from facebook since high school and I dont plan to go back now.

I am in Florence now and it should be beautiful. Unfortunately my camera battery just died and I didnt think to bring my charger with me. I will have to take mental snapshots. Im sure the famous sites that I visit can be looked up online, and many places I go will likely forbid photography anyway.

Celebration after Oca, the Goose, won. You can see how close I was to the jockey and the man in the front about to cry

Oca winning!

The jockey and the man on the left crying of joy.

The victory parade. I tried to sing along!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ups and Downs in Perugia

After being here for just 2 days I have already figured out two Italian quirks: The first is that nobody knows what an "internet cafe" is and get confused when I ask. It took me two hours to find this one today because of the second quirk, which is that when people dont know where something is they point in a vague direction and tell you to try that way. I have been literally all over the city today, trying to find this internet cafe and also orient myself to the city at the same time. Unfortunately, like yesterday it started to thunder in the middle of the day. Luckily though I had brought my rain coat because I thought it looked like it was going to rain (I was hoping to be in the internet cafe by the time it rained).

To be perfectly honest, Perugia has been filled with mishaps ever since I got here. I had been talking to a girl online about an apartment with a single room for a really good price in a good location. She said that she was going to go to Rome in July, so it would be the perfect time to step in. We set up an appointment to see the place and she told me to come back at 5 to talk to the landlord. When I got there at 5 a few hours later, she wasnt sure if she still wanted to move out, and ultimately decided to stay. I rushed back to the hostel and luckily there was space there to stay the night. This morning I went to an apartment agency and decided to just pay the commission to make sure I have some place to live. They suggested a double room apartment under about 15 minutes walk from the University, and I took it. There is another girl living in the apartment named Ana, and the moment I moved in the very first thing she told me about was how terrible the landlords are and how the month before they didnt allow her to see the bills but charged her 100 or more euros for electric, etc. She told me they had lied when they said it would cost about 30 (other landlords have quoted prices of utilities anywhere from 20 to 50 euros so that was what I was expecting). At this point I was panicking that I had made a terrible mistake and I went back to the agency and tried to leave the apartment but ended up finding a different solution, which was to lock in my expenses at 30 euros. The lady who works at the agency then went over and yelled at Ana for telling me this, and said that I was the second person she had tried to keep from coming into the apartment. So my apartment mate (she lives in the other room and I dont have a roommate) probably doesnt like me much, but she is moving out on the 5th of July apparently, so I will only have to live with her a few days. So in summary, I have a place to live, but I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get there.

I also am a bit disappointed to find that I placed into B2, which means intermediate 2 level. I talked to other people in the level and they said that they have been studying Italian for 2 years, and their original languages are Korean and German, so they have no advantage over me. I have been studying Italian for 6 years and I really thought I could make it into the advanced level. I want to be in the appropriate level for me, but I also want the appropriate level to be advanced. I am going to do my best to switch, but they said the earliest I could try was after two days of classes, which dont start until the 5th for some reason. On the positive side, I was planning to take a trip to Siena to see the Palio tomorrow and spend the night in Florence, and I am now going to try to stay there for one more day since I dont have to be back to Perugia until Tuesday. This will give me time to see more of Florence and maybe Pisa.

Also, I have met some nice people. In the hostel I met a boy from China who introduced himeself as Sebastiano. I have run into him two or three times at random and he placed into A2 so we wont be in classes together but it is nice to know someone. Also, I met a boy named Wesley from Miami who has been to the University for Foreigners before and helped me get oriented at the University. I also met a girl from Estonia named Helen and we talked in the hostel last night for over an hour. I have been practicing my Italian as much as possible, but most people Ive met who arent actual Italians have a much lower speaking level than I do and dont even want to try speaking Italian. When class starts I hope to really practice more.

Perugia is beautiful and I am liking it despite all of these mishaps. I bought a copy of The Portrait of Dorian Gray in Italian, a book that Ive already read in English and enjoyed and today and yesterday sat in the Piazza XIV Novembre reading it in the sun. I am really excited for the Palio tomorrow and hope that the weather is nice!
A beauiful Perguia hillside

Perugia sunset

My new place to live, on the left. There is also a desk, window, and airmoir and the room is quite big with a nice view. The apartment is also very clean and has a nice living room