Monday, December 15, 2008

What amounts to my final post

Buenos Dias my friends, and welcome to the final blog of my journey. Yes, we've reached that time after 17 total weeks of me being overseas, and this being my 85th blog. More on the wrap-up ideas towards the end, because I've got some things to share and what a better time to do it than in my final city of Barcelona, Spain.

But I have a lot to catch you all up on, and plenty of pictures to get to, so let's get to it!

I arrived into Paris Friday morning after the trying experience that was the night train. It was uncomfortable, smelled terrible, and took about 16 hours, adding up to an experience that if I ever repeat, it'll probably be too soon. Plus, I got charged 7 euro for a breakfast I didn't even ask for, I was just handed and after I turned it down, they said "take it" in Italian, so I did. And then they charged me. Ciao Italia, I suppose.

I got into Paris, and it was absolutely gigantic. It's so huge in comparison to Rome. The metro system there is a piece of art in and of itself, as it have 14 metro lines, along with 5 more RER train lines, and well over 100 stations, so the city is uber-connected and easy to navigate after a little learning curve. I had all of the bags, but managed to make it to my hostel pretty easily, or easily to the 120 stairs before it. It harkened from so far away, like it was taunting me. But I got up there, a sweaty mess indeed, yet I made it, showered, and got a Jambon et Fromage sandwich from this boulangerie pictured here and ate in a little park, enjoying the French air and taking my time, I was in no hurry after that train experience.

My hostel was in the Montmartre district, which is where the Moulin Rouge and the Sacre Coeur church is, and it's pretty much an adorable little neighborhood with absolutely indecipherable streets and complicated layering of buildings, apartments, and shops that couldn't have been anywhere else but Paris. It was weird being there, actually trying to speak French that I've studied for so long (but it's not easy after 4 months of total Italian, let me tell you), and seeing the city that had so long only existed in books and studies.

Kelly arrived that afternoon and we set off into the city and went to the Louvre straight away. It's home to some of the most famous and illustrious artists' works and it shows. It's beautiful as a building, and for all you Da Vinci Code fans, yes, this is the central art museum for the action. The Pyramid Inverse is here, along with the Venus de Milo, tons of fantastic paintings by David, and yes, the Mona Lisa.

We made our way to the ticket line, but as we arrived, as it was after 6 on a late-open night, they let all under-25 visitors in for free. No complaints from me! Woohoo, that's 11 Euro saved after a semester of spending.

Kelly had been here before, but I had not (obviously). It was huge, and you could easily spend days in there (many people do) but I didn't have days, I had hours, so I made it through it pretty quickly, but I feel like I saw everything I wanted to see; someday in the future with more time and resources, I'll stay longer, but for now, two hours got me through it to see the big ones. The Mona Lisa? Pretty cool to see, but as I'd heard before I went, it's really tiny. I mean, it's just little compared to some of these wall-encompassing paintings surrounding it, but I got a few pictures, including one with me in it. Cooooool.

Wandering the halls of the Louvre, it's hard not to take in just the sheer value of all of the works there. Billions worth, and all being cared for with state-of-the-art curation techniques and curators, it's pretty cool to think about the history and variety of art there. I certainly appreciated it.

The Venus de Milo is another instantly recognizable piece, and I spent my time taking it in, but again, there are so many impressive works there that it feels like even though it's iconic and amazing in its own right, when surrounded by so many other works, it feels a little underwhelming in a way as you're already so overwhelmed with the massive amounts of work, if that makes any sense. I hope it does. If it doesn't, I guess you'll just have to go and check it out for yourself.

We left the museum maze (the hardest exit to find ever, let me tell you) and got some fresh air, which was freezing but refreshing. Paris is much, much chillier than Rome, by like 10 degrees, and the wind is so bitter and ever-present that it feels like you're in a freezer, which is something I haven't felt in a long time, but feels like everyone back home is getting a bit of right now (and I'll be privy to tomorrow . . . whoa).

Once outside, I turned around and saw the amazing full moon of the evening rising over the Louvre and the other direction was the Seine, and it was just pretty impressive. Paris is a lovely city, but I just wish I had the people there to share it with. It was something that really held me back in this journey, and although having Kelly was good company, I missed the company of people who can experience it with me and share it over basic conversation, etc.

It was beautiful, though. Not a single doubt about it.

I took a bunch of pictures, some of which'll make it on here, but others will make it to Picasa at some point. I also got a video, which is always a nice aid, right? So feel free to take that in, and just imagine being really cold too and it's just like being there (sort of).

From there, it was off to the Eiffel Tower, which I probably would venture to say is safely in the 5 most recognizable monuments in the world. If I had to list them, I'd probably say Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, The Great Pyramids, The Colosseum, and maybe the Great Wall or Big Ben. It's weird to think I saw two of the no-doubters of this same trip, but I digress.

The Eiffel Tower looks close since it's tall, but it involved crossing over the Seine (a beautiful thing to see in its own right at night), down past several museums and eventually into the neighborhood before coming up on it in all its glory. The approaching walk though was kind of fun since it just felt like around every corner you were going to see it in its entirety, but it took a few blocks before it was totally in view.

This picture of it here is a few blocks away and isn't the best of showing it, but I liked the effect of the blue on the night sky, so you get to see it too, even if it's not the full deal quite yet.

But eventually, you do come up on it, and it's pretty darn cool. I was near-frozen solid at this point, but that's not to say I didn't take it all in and try to get a few pictures with me and it together, but the night and the flash combo needed never seemed to work. Maybe Kelly's pictures will look better, but instead of posting crappy ones of me and it, I'm going to post better ones of just it, along with maybe a video for you to savor, too. Cool?

Yes, it does in fact have a European Union flag symbol on it, and yes, every hour on the hour, it does what it's doing above: flahsing like a ton of flashbulbs and looking even more impressive, which is cool to see in the night. Along with the full moon and all the lights of the city, it was pretty bright.

But cold. Don't forget cold. Because it was.

After this 20 minute check-out period, we headed back to the hostel and I crashed out pretty quickly after that, only to be woken up here and there by the stumbling in of my roommates, but eh, what are you going to do when you're paying what I was paying per night? Not a hotel, that's for sure.

I got up and had some breakfast the next morning (Saturday) and rolled out to see the Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triumph, but not before hitting up the Sacre Coeur, or the Sacred Heart Church in Montmartre in the highest point in all of Paris. We wandered over there and got there after an impossibly complex weave of streets after asking a local for directions, and we got there pretty quickly and got to the top, which provided some excellent views of the city and, oh yeah, one of the more impressive churches in all of Europe, not just Paris.

It looks a little like the Taj Mahal, if you squint, I think. It's probably the white coloration and turret look, but it was pretty cool, absolutely in prime location for views and for checking out the whole of Paris. I took a ton here that I really like, but I can only put so many up. Picasa soon? Absolutely.

It was windy. Give me a break.

We went inside where it's forbidden to take pictures, but I took one very slyly, but I didn't like it enough to put on here when compared to some more of the outside, because that was just as awesome.

From there, it was off to Arc de Triumph and the Champs Elysees, which was so huge in terms of a turn-around that it reminds me a little of Times Square. It's a huge staircase up into the top of the Arc, but before that, I got a few pictures of the structure as it is from the outside, but with the wind it was in the teens, and it felt it. It allowed for a few pictures, but not before getting into the safety from the winds inside the Arch.

But it crazy to think that such a big and famous arch is still just in the middle of a big car loop. It's just a part of everyday life. It's one of the beautiful things about Europe, and I better understand the culture now like I never did before I came: they talk about their history and its importance so much since its so integrated into their daily lives, not just in museums and galleries and roped-off areas of no visitors. It's just on the way to work, or in between you and your destination, but not THE destination, if that makes any sense.

Getting the ticket to go up to the top, I spindled around the Statue-of-Liberty-esque stairway to the top, some hundreds of stairs up and making the ground look pretty far away. Never bothers me, heights don't do that, but I could tell for some people (hmmmm, mom?) it might have been a little more unnerving.

But the view from the top?

Totally worth it.

I have a ton of pictures that just need to be in this blog, so I am just going to let them do a little of the speaking for themselves. It's iconic stuff that I've talked about in this blog, while other monuments need no words.

Just a few more, with a video.

It's hard not to really take that in and just enjoy it. It's so iconic, it needs no words, and lord knows I've got words for days, so that's quite the accomplishment in a phote.

Good stuff.

Now video? Whoa talk about immersion.

We walked down the Champs Elysees, and eventually Metroed our way over to the Notre Dame de Paris, or the focus of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the church dedicated to Mary in Paris. Notre Dame literally translates to "our lady," which most people miss. On a similar note, "Madonna" literally means "my lady" as in Mary. It all comes full circle a bit, which is always a fun game.

But yes: Notre Dame: fantastic, beautiful, and really, Gothic architecture at its finest. I don't know if I could pick between the Milanese Duomo or Notre Dame for my favorite Gothic Church, but know it'd be a close battle for that top spot since honestly, why should you pick? Since when you get down to it, they're both beautiful.

Pictures galore and not enough writing at this point can facilitate as many as I'd want to post, but know that what I have here is just a taste of everything I was able to take, and it'll eventually make its way to Picasa, I know it, you can count on it.

Inside was a feast of stained glass, slightly darker than Medieval style, but it lends nicely to the darker, more introspective and fear, even, which Gothic style models itself on.

Needless to say, at this point much walking had occured, and a break for food and resting up for Musee D'Orsay later on and more was needed, so a Croque Monsieur did the trick and off to the Musee it was. It started to rain at this point which I had somehow managed to avoid, and it was a little wet, but nothing a Portlander couldn't handle my any means, and the museum is inside, after all.

D'Orsay is inside an old train station, and it's got the more contemporary works that the Louvre lacks, specifically 19th century up until WWII. There were Picassos, Davids, Degas, etc, and I could go on for a while, but suffice to say it was really, really cool inside both structure wise and art wise, but we were rushed through a bit due to the nature of the museum closing a bit earlier, but no fear, I saw what I came for.

Which was what I could see in a few days.

I went home pretty early that night to get rested up, but not before one last stop: The Galleries Lafayette and Opera House along the way. Really, really, really huge Christmas displays mixed in with designer shopping like you couldn't believe, and I only wish Kirsten could have been here for that one, since it was like window shopping to the max, but with 1000 Euro items and up in some cases.

Oh well, in the future we'll head back, no doubt.

But the tree was huge and lit up, but also incredibly humid internal temperatures made the visit a little uncomfortable, but it was over before too long back into the cold for a nice night of getting to sleep and getting woke up by my hostel mates. But hey, what's a Euro Trip without a little of that?

A more relaxing one I suppose, but I digress.

One last picture here of the Opera House, which is really pretty awesome when it's all lit up, which it is at night. Who knew, in the city of lights?

But yes, after that came Sunday, which I really just got ready to bounce out of Paris, and I eventually (after a few delays and almost 24 hours of travel) made it to Spain, and now I am here in rainy but warmer Barcelona, taking it a bit easy before my flight home tomorrow. I feel really bad for Kirsten since she doesn't get in tonight until 11:30, meaning we probably won't get back here until midnight, and we have a wake-up call at 3:30 am. So, even with instant sleep, that's 3.5 hours of sleep before a trans-atlantic, over-the-east coast flight for her, but maybe it'll help her sleep on the plane, who knows?

What I do know, however, is that this European blog (barring some insane delays or unforseen unfortunate turn of events) is coming to a close. Before I wrote this, I went back and checked out some of my highlights for this 4 month, 17-week journey, which have included:

*Getting to Europe for the first time
*Getting settled in Rome for my 4 months there
*Going to Athens, Greece to see Kirsten and all the splendor of Ancient Greece
*Florence and the Duomo, the David, and the Ponte Vecchio

*Milan and the Jonas Brothers vs. Milanese Duomo
*Interlaken and the raw beauty of the Swiss Alps (and delicious chocolate)
*The changing seasons in Rome
*Egypt with the Tellams, which included camels, pyramids, and mosques
*Munich with Kirsten, drinking at the Hofbrauhaus and delicious pretzels and food
*Castel Gandolfo, Celano, Casamari, and Anagni with my great professors
*Istanbul with Kirsten, seeing the Hagia Sophia and shopping in the Grand Bazaar
*Meeting great friends, and saying goodbyes (for now) with tears in my eyes
*Paris and the splendor of the city of lights

And everyone, everything, and every moment in between. I kid you not, I have grown in so many ways, seen things I have dreamed my whole life of seeing, and can really, truly, and honestly say that I feel like an adult now, whereas when I left, I was unsure what I was. I have handled languages, stress, travel, budgets, friendships, traveling, sleep, and food in ways I never have before, and this experience has changed me for the better for the rest of my life.

The new experiences may have come to a close, but the stories, the pictures, the friends, and the memories I've made here will live on. I cannot say exactly how much this whole experience has changed me for the future, as who knows what the future holds, but I know that one day, when I look back on this time in my life, I'll be able to say that I truly lived my life, and set the pace for a life full of adventures, new experiences, and personal growth.

To all of you who have shared it with me through this blog, emails, stop-bys, and occasional skimmings: thank you. You are part of this too you know, and without you, I don't know if I would've spent the well over 100 hours combined time doing this anthology of experiences. After all, I've seen all these things through my own eyes, and I hope that at the very least once (hopefully several times), when reading this blog, you felt closer to me, felt what I was feeling, and wanted to set out on an adventure of your own. As if this journey has taught me anything, it's that with a good supporting cast of friends, family, and loved ones, the limits of what you can do with your life are set solely by you, and no one can take from me what I have seen and learned in these amazing four months.

Thank you so much to everyone, and if for a moment I could raise my metaphorical glass in cheers: here's to having a life and living it to the fullest.

So friends, I bid you adieu for now, and I'll be seeing you all again soon, I'm sure. And, for the last time in Europe,


Friday, December 12, 2008

Paris, Paris, qu'est-ce que c'est Paris?

Bonjour mes amis, et bienvenue.

I'm in Paris and have been now for just about a day, and many what an experience the traveling has been, let me just put it that way. I think my picture taking and my video posting will probably come later on at some point, but know that I will have plenty to share in the coming days and relatively little space in which to do it I think, but I'll give it a shot with some running updates on what's been happening.

So two days ago now, I left Rome. It was really tough, saying goodbye to everyone was just painful. I mean, some people want to be more along the lines of nonchalant and kind of avoid it, knowing it's hard, while other people will cry and make it even harder to say goodbye. Being the one who was leaving, I gotta say I to leave on my terms, which I think made everything a little bit easier, but seeing everyone's Facebook statuses as home and readjusting makes me feel a bit weirded out, if that makes any sense. Some people are talking about traffic and American TV and Radio, while others are going on about the food and the company, and I just can't wait.

I mean, Rome is quite an amazing place that will always have a place in my heart, and the people I've met are going to be my friends for a quite a long time, but home is home, and I can't wait to be in my own bed, eating good foods, and being with people I've missed a lot. That being said, I miss the air in Rome a bit already in the metaphorical sense.

Anyway, Rome is flooding if you haven't seen, and I am pretty glad I'm out of that scenario. And in Paris, it's great. I've already been to the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Sacre Couer, Notre Dame, and seen it all, but I've had no chance to get pictures up. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow when I have a great chance to do it since I have way too much time with a lot of bags that I have to kill, so let's see if we can do it.

I'll update you more on this all soon, but I'm pretty excited to be going home. Paris has been great, and I'll continue to enjoy it, but I wish Kirsten was here with me too and not dealing with riots and canceled flights. But I'm going to enjoy it today and tomorrow, and we'll talk again soon folks.

Until next time,


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Arriverderci Roma

Ciao everyone.

And welcome, finally, to my last Roman blog.

It's a seminal moment in this study abroad experience, and over the past 113 days, I've updated 83 times including this one. It's really something to think about, how much I've seen and done, wrote and posted, and lived and learned, and now, my home is coming to a close. In about three hours, I'm heading to the train station and hitting up the night train from here to Paris.

And here it comes to an end.

I cannot really express how I'm feeling right now beyond just saying I've grown a lot as a person and seen so many amazing and awesome sights that so many people never even get a whiff of, let alone see them all in a four-month period. . . it just reminds how lucky I am to live such a life. I talked to a few of my professors last night at the farewell dinner at the Wine Bar (more on that in a minute) and just chatted with them about subjects and materials that four months ago I hadn't the foggiest about and found myself totally enjoying it from a learning standpoint. In San Diego, next quarter is all Political Science, and I didn't take any over here at all, but I was engaged and interested all the way through.

I want this last Italian blog to be something special and represent something more than just an entry, but the fact remains that this blog has always been a place for me to put my thoughts up and say what I've been feeling, and right now I feel a bit indescribable. Maybe time will give a bit better perspective. I am so excited about going home and part of me wishes KK and I were loading up right now and just heading home today, but the other part of me is so excited to see Paris and Barcelona and continue this journey and sharing with everyone what I'm seeing and doing.

Home is going to be so excellent though, no doubt about it.

Last night we went to the wine bar Crudo over off Ponte Sisto and it was one of these "am I really old enough to be here?" moments that I've had a few of over the course of my life. We roll in, and it's a candle-lit place with appetizers galore on the bar and we are given a wine glass and two drink tickets to fill up, and all of us in the program, our professors, the front-desk people, and even the tech staff was there. We were there for over 2 and a half hours, and it was just a goodbye session filled with laughter, stories, and sentimental so longs.

I've made some really excellent friends in this program, and it's going ot be a tad weird not being able to talk about G.O. Smith, Padre Larrey, or Rita's "wow!" moments with anyone, but back in San Diego, I've got another great brace of friends to make more memories with and pick up where we left off.

Right now I'm just a grab-bag of emotion, but I just want to say this:

I have really, really enjoyed my time here, and it couldn't end at a better time, and at the same time, part of me feels like some portions never would have a good time to end. I miss home, I miss my family, I miss being able to talk on the phone whenever I want for not a jackpot's worth, and I miss seeing Kirsten and just eating Mexican food and being lazy. It's all going to be back soon, and I know I'll miss some parts of Rome the same way, like the beauty and splendor of the momuments and churches, the always-something-new-to-see feeling, etc.

But home is on the way. I'm off to Paris soon, and I'll probably update there, but I hope you all enjoy your rest of your week. I promise a more organized entry at some point, but maybe this gives a bit of insight into what I'm feeling.

Until next time, arriverderci Roma and bonjour Paris,


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Finale in the making

Ciao everyone, and buona mercoledi a tutti. I hope you're all doing well today, I'm going through the motions of my last full day in Roma, and it's really, really surreal. It's so weird to think that I have just over 24 hours left here after spending the bulk of the last 16 (yes, 16) weeks here. That's 112 days folks, and with all my travels, I've been here for roughly 100 nights. Man.

And it all ends tonight with a final goodbye to the city, the people, and really, my home for the last 4 months. But what ends finally tomorrow started yesterday, and I'll explain my exploits from here on out.

Last time I updated, I had finals going on, and now, they're over. Whew! I got all four in the books, and I'm hoping I can A my way through them all, and if not, A- and A's if I can. I feel pretty good about them all, and here's to hoping that it'll be my parting gift from Roma: a good set of grades to go home to.

Yesterday, I had my Science and Religion final from 3-6, and it took most of the time he gave us. I shook his hand as I turned in my 19 pages of work and thanked him for everything I'd learned. This class gave me so much perspective on the Catholic faith from a dogmatic and a historical perspective, and when coupled with my knowledge from my Medieval Art and Architecture course, I feel like an expert on the subject. I'm far from it, but damn, I've sure learned a lot, that's for sure.

On my way home, I passed by St. Peter's and the big Christmas tree, which I took quite a few pictures of a few days ago and I'll post here now. But yes, it was quite the scene, and it felt really Christmas-like, but also kind of emotional. I was walking through here on this wet evening, finished with all of the work I have, and now it was just me and the city, no other obligations to work or study.

I got home and a few other people had finished their exams as well, and we decided that after the Champions League game between Roma and Bordeaux, we'd go see Trevi fountain at night, a quintessential act in Roma that I really hadn't done yet. Roma ended up winning (ROMA HA VINTO! VIOLA ! VIOLA! The fans let you know it too) and we rolled out a little after 10:30 to go and see Trevi and really anything else we saw along the way. Rome is filled with so many things, you are always shocked by something new every time you venture out, and last night was no exception.

We stopped off at Old Bridge for gelato and it started to rain, but it wasn't too bad just yet, and we made it over to Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps first, which are always such at hot spot off Via del Corso, with all the designers (Fendi, Versace, Gucci, Prada, Armani, etc) lining the street windows with the Christmas fare. The steps looked awesome too, and we just hung out as it began to rain a bit harder, but taking pictures all the way. Beautiful at night, that's for sure.

From Spagna, we headed towards where we thought Trevi was, but we got a little turned around and hung out in and around Via del Corso a bit, taking photos of everything. There was this Fendi shop that had a huge Christmas belt around it, and it was really pretty funny to see, but the girls didn't think funny was the word, but awesome. I think I know someone who would've really appreciated it too . . .

Anyway, from there, we eventually made our way past the column of Marcus Aurelius, something I had managed not to see yet, which was a nice little addition to our journey, but the best parts were still to come, as we had Trevi dead ahead, and we rounded a corner and there she was, in all her night-time glory.

There's a reason it's called the most beautiful fountain in the world: because it is.

The night light set up was gorgeous, and even better, we were the only people there, due to a combination of rain, time, and date. We spent at least half an hour there, and Bert even had a celebratory cigar as we took pictures and took it in all by ourselves. One benefit of living in a city for a long period of time: eventually, you'll get something to yourself, and you can appreciate it anew and in a new light, and Trevi last night was exactly like that.

We tossed the coins over the shoulder, and I took it in: last time here for a while? Absolutely. But was it memorable? Yes, yes it was. I took a ton of pictures, but just one more and I'll move on, I promise.

From there, we walked over towards Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, and both were just awesome. All by ourselves again, and taking it all in with no rush and no company in the least other than our own. The Pantheon is always so impressive as it's about 2,000 years old and the writing is still so impressive, and the mystery around it and its original intent makes it even cooler. We hung out underneath for a while and enjoyed the sights before picking up stakes and heading towards Navona and the direction of home.

Another goodbye to make, another fantastic sight at hand. Pretty awesome stuff once again, and another great parting memory.

Piazza Navona is huge and I've been there numerous times, but the most famous fountain there (yes, featured in Angels and Demons) is the Quatto Fiumi, or the Four Rivers fountain, and it's had scaffolding on it for the past four months to the extent that we couldn't even see it. But just yesterday, they took it off, and we were able to see it in all of its glory for the first time, and it's pretty awesome too. My camera battery was on the low, but I got a few pictures, and I highly suggest looking at it if you can't get a picture of it from mine, as it's pretty cool in its own right.

From there, it was towards home. Another 30 minute walk in the rain, but it took us by the study center, Castel Sant'Angelo, and the always impressive St. Peter's, and we made it back to our street, Via Candia, lit with Christmas lights and tons of splendor all the merrier. Being damp, cold, and having sore feet melted away pretty quickly, and I crashed hard, but it was really just a beautiful night. Loved it all, and I will remember it for many, many years to come.

Today's activities will be discussed later, and the sentimental one is yet to come, but know that I am going through a bit of the sorrows of realizing I'm saying goodbye, but I'm seeing it in a totally different way than I thought I would. Am I sad about leaving? Yeah, a bit. I've loved my time here for many reasons. But this, while it has been my home, is not home, and I am looking forward to being with friends, family, and those I care about in the place that has always been home in just a few more days.

I leave you with a few more pictures of me and the night, and while they're blurry, I always get requests for me in them, so enjoy.

Until next time,


Monday, December 8, 2008

2 and 2

Ciao everyone, I hope you all had a great weekend, I know mine was filled with studying and tedium for most of the days I had, with limited breaks to enjoy some company . . . and study some more. I don't think the next one I have in 3 hours is going to be all that horrible, but it has potential to be vicious if it wanted to be. My professor isn't like that though, and I doubt he'd accent things that really weren't that special, but it's worth some more studying.

I planned on updating all weekend, and then I just decided it'd be a bit of uninteresting tidbits about how bored I was studying and how ready I am for it to be over. I just got back from my second final, first of my three core classes. It wasn't too bad and I feel like I got an A in that class . . . at least I hope I got an A. I worked a lot in there, a lot more than most did, and I hope it pays off in the end. It'd be nice to get that straight-up A and float the GPA a bit.

Next I have a final from 3-6, and then another tomorrow at the same time, and I imagine that one being the most difficult, so wish me luck between now and then I guess.

In other news, a week from today I'll have said goodbye to all my friends here in Rome and the city itself, which will be a little difficult, not going to lie, but that post comes in a few days, now is not the time for that. And I'll say bonjour Paris, et au revoir aussi, parce que je vais aller au Barcelona. Woohoo. 8 days til I'm home . . . whoa.

Also, Kirsten has been in riot central in Athens, and I can't say that makes me feel all that comfortable, and her program's inept handling of this (and really every other situation) is beyond inane and ridiculously stupid. Glad she'll be out of there soon, for sure. And then it's off to home, where we don't have to worry about riots all the time. At least she won't, it's something I don't tend have to worry here.

I'll post some pictures of seeing the Vatican Christmas tree, which I must say was cool in its place, but ultimately looked a bit sparse. I'm sorry this update is a little rushed and uneventful, but I'm back to studying for now. I'll chat again soon and let you know what else is going on, but until then,


Friday, December 5, 2008

Final Friday

Ciao tutti, and good morning to you all. I hope Friday is more exciting there for you than it is here for me. I am really just sitting around and studying, and I realized that for the first time in quite a while, I have a few day streak of blogging, so I thought I'd toss in some recent developments in my life.

Just a forewarning, I doubt this is going to be all that exciting, but we'll see where it takes us.

Today is Friday, December 5th. Yes, that's 5 days into the last month of the year. I am floored by this every time I think about it. How is it DECEMBER? It's pretty shocking to think about 2009 being really less than 4 weeks away. It's also tough to believe that this time next week, I will have said Ciao Roma for real, and not just for a few days. But for good.

I'm really starting to feel like it's upon me, my time of departure, and I know I am going to miss it here. The other day, walking by St. Peter's, I remembered the first time I saw it, how mesmerized I was by its grandeur, size, and splendor. I've seen it now almost every single day for 16 weeks, and I can walk by it without much more than a passing gaze.

4 months ago, I'd never seen anything like it. Now I've seen about a dozen churches in Rome alone that blow everything I'd ever seen prior out of the water, plus the Pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt, the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in Turkey, the Parthenon and Temple of the Olympiad Zeus in Greece, and the Rathaus in Munich. I mean, it's really something to remark on, the fact that these places have dulled my amazement.

They say it's tough to see things as you see them the first time ever again, and boy is that ever true. I never thought I'd care more about an SUV (which passed by me yesterday at St. Peter's) than the most amazing church in the world, but I did. SUVs are much more rare here than churches. I spent a good 5 minutes looking around, doing nothing but taking it all in yesterday, and I felt like it was amazing, but I didn't lose my breath or feel awestruck like I used to, but rather a sense of familiarity and standard practice.

It's anything but standard, and I realize and recognize this fully. My mind has a hard time wrapping itself around this idea that while I see it every day here, I may go decades without seeing it again.

It's really something, this world. Let me tell you.

Last night, I just made some dinner, had some wine, and took it pretty easy. It's been freezing here recently, only really warming up to the 50s today, which was a welcome event. They put up a ton of Christmas lights yesterday on our street in a stunning effort from the Italian laziness (their words, not mine, but I could definitely say that), but then they didn't light them. Go figure, I guess.

Finally, last night I got a message from Travis, who I have lived with the past two years at school and am living with when I get back, saying he was probably going to get his own place and move out. I was really saddened by this, since the group seemed so ready for a good time and to be happy and yet there were problems I had no idea really even existed. I talked to Travis for a long while last night (costing me a fortune, but hey, you do what you gotta do) about what was happening and if I could help. The house group messaged back and forth, and I tried my best to offer anything I could do to keep us as a unit and work out the issues, but it sounds pretty solemnly declared at this point. Nobody's happy about it I don't think, but if it's what needs to happen, it's what needs to happen I guess. I'm still holding out hope that this can all work itself out though; maybe, just maybe something will change.

One can always hope, right?

I am getting really excited about the prospect of coming home, regardless of what's going on down at school. I really enjoy my friends there, and I think we'll have a good time. Portland sounds excellent right now too, just being with friends and family and relaxing, I can't wait. Studying and I are not getting along at the moment either, and I can't wait for next Tuesday when it'll all be over.

But with that comes Rome being all over, and we're back to where this post started.

I hope you're all doing well and that you have an excellent Friday, and it's my last one here. Get those requests in if you need or want anything! I hope you all have a great Friday, and until next time,


Thursday, December 4, 2008

A week to roam Rome

Ciao ragazzi, e buongiorno. I hope all of you are doing well today; I had my Italian final this morning which I am glad to say is over. It wasn't tooooo bad, just a little tricky in some parts, asking some questions that had no business being a test about what we studied (i.e. questions about sports that we didn't study. . . hmmmm). But it went pretty well I feel like, and either way, it is now the weekend.


But it's not just any weekend, it's my last one in Rome. Unfortunately, it's going to be spent entirely doing studying and work I believe. I have my three finals on Monday and Tuesday next week and now is the prime time to get on that, so I believe I will. The only other interesting thing going on around here today was the cutting of our internet to repair it, and so after my final, I had internet for about 30 seconds and then no more. How sad. But it's now back and so my studying can continue . . . but I also have this whole weekend to worry about that, so not too stressed.

Yesterday was a busy day with my last classes and such, and that's after my big St. Peter's and Pope seeing tour. Some people really want to go see the Pope again next Wednesday, and I'll probably go, I can't see why not. While seeing the Pope in back to back weeks when he does very little different may in one way seem very boring, uh, it's the Pope. The leader of the most followed faith in the world. I think I can make room for that one.

A week from today is my last day in Rome, and I'll be leaving for Paris I do believe. I need to go book my train, but they say tickets can be bought at the station the day of too. So while I have that option, I really should get them bought soon. Paris, Paris. Kelly and Meg will be there too, so I should have some people to hang out with (I hope) but I'll have so many bags, I don't really want to stay in a hostel with 9 other people. We'll see how this all pans out, that's for sure.

I guess now's never too early to talk about how my last few weeks in Europe are going to shape up. Today, tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday are study days, no doubt about it. I'll probably go somewhere and do something fun (and by go somewhere, probably like the Forum or something along those lines, not like another city) to interrupt my studying monotony.

Monday is Assumption day, or a national holiday here in Italy. Everyone's off from work, and the Pope loads up in his Popemobile and goes around waving at everyone as he takes an Icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary around and eventually ends up at Piazza di Spagna, where there is an obelisk to Mary there. Bunch of significance there. Do I wish I could go? Very badly. But can I? Nope, not a possibility. I've got finals at 10-1 and 3-6, and the main event happens at 4:30. Drag.

Tuesday is my last final, for Science and Religion. I got my paper back yesterday and got an A on it, which made me quite happy. Only problem there is that the final is worth a whopping 40% of your grade . . . yeah. So even though I have an A in there right now, if I don't do well on the final for one reason or another, that A quickly turns to a much lower grade. Not a big fan of that, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

There's a soccer game on Tuesday night after my final, Roma vs. Bordeaux in Champion's League, or the most prestigious All-European championship league. If Roma wins this game, they win their group and move on to the round of 16 out of the round of 64, a big deal. It's a bit expensive to go, and I don't know if anyone else would go with me, but I'm checking around for that possibility.

Wednesday I have all free until 7pm with the farewell dinner party, which apparently all of our professors come to and all of the students are there and we just eat and laugh and make some parting memories. Which is appropriate, since Thursday I leave at 6:30pm I believe for Paris. I may yet leave Friday, which leaves less time in Paris but it also saves me money. We shall see.

The I'll be in Paris from the 12 (night train, woohoo) for two nights, the 12th and 13th, and then another night train to Barcelona, and I'll arrive in Barcelona on the 15th, and meet up with Kirsten that night, get all of our stuff collectively organized and properly stowed, and the morning of the 16th (like 4am early) we head to the airport for home, and we'll arrive something like 14 hours later in Portland, as we go Barcelona-Frankfurt-home.

And that's all she wrote. The story is quickly ending, folks. It's not over til it's over though, and I haven't had my final say in this whole ordeal. I hope you all are doing well, and really, if you want anything from Rome, speak now or hold your peace for quite a while. I won't be back here for a long while.

Until next time,


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Il Papa

Ciao ragazzi, I hope you're all doing well today. Today marks the less-than-two-week portion of my journey, which is really just insane to think about. I mean, two weeks from now I'll be in my own bed back in Portland, how weird! But I can't say I'm not actually pretty excited about coming home and seeing everyone, since I most certainly am, and I have seen so much already that no matter what, I'll go home with more experiences and stories than you could shake a stick at.

Today was another day which made me realize, once again, just where I live and the cultural and historical significance of my home for the past 3 months and change. Bert and I got up this morning and got ready earlier than we needed to by far, about two hours so, and headed to the Vatican to hear the Pope speak. Usually (note this, now), the pope speaks from the steps of St. Peter's.

Not today, apparently.

We waltzed right into St. Peter's Square and then into the Basilica itself, spending about an hour in there, almost completely alone in there. It was 37 degrees this morning, which apparently deterred some people from coming, and it was early enough that we didn't have to struggle through crowds. We expected to, however, since Wednesday is Papal speech day, and there are (supposedly, I never am there to see them due to class) loads of people waiting to hear him speak at 10:30. Bert and I just saw the Pieta once again, checked out all of St. Peter's, and just spent as long as we wanted touring the grounds, never once feeling rushed in the least. Awesome how that works.

If you squint, you can see that that's me in this picture. How cool, I know. It's tough to show how large it really is, so Bert had to step way, way back to take this picture of me. But I'm there, on the very steps Swiss Guards died trying to defend the Pope in times past. Weird to think about. Supposedly Michaelangelo climbed them most mornings before the Sistine Chapel work, which is also crazy.

Anyway, I really got to take some pictures and see the place without feeling rushed, which was really pleasant. It's free, too, which means it's always crowded and people are not too kind about personal space. All around, today was great.

One really odd thing in the Basilica which I think I've yet to mention are the bodies left in status in some of the tombs, supposedly left intact and unspoiled from God's will and such. But these bodies are just out and on display in these glass tombs, I mean, what?! That's a dead body, sometimes several centuries old, and still have skin on their face and everything? Creepy but kinda interesting. I'll post a picture, and know that that is, indeed, Pope Paul VI, and yes, he's been dead a while now. It's the picture on the left, not the other one. That's the Pieta people. Just making sure we're keeping it straight (laugh here).

From there, Bert and I checked out the bookstore and Post Office of the Vatican, which is really cool to see. There were books in tons of different languages and subjects, but Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI, or Benedetto, as the Italians call him) had about 10 books in tons of languages in there. Not as pope, but as Cardinal. I don't know why, but sometimes it's weird to think of the Pope as someone before they are Pope, it just seems like such a high office that you are just it forever. I know that's probably stupid, but it got me thinking about it anyway.

But we then tried to find out where the Pope was, and the police assured us he was speaking (although this was all in Italian, and they really did not seem very interested in helping us), but as to where, it was unsure. They said we needed a ticket and had to go somewhere for that, but as it turns out, you don't. We weren't the only ones confused, as some people were asking me (in English, they were American) what was going on and telling me to ask questions for them. Not asking me, telling me. As if I was some fluent speaker or something and it was my job to help them. It wasn't, but I still did. And the guards sure appreciated that I would translate for them.

I guess my Italian is ok. At least I can ask some necessary questions, some too difficult to gesture. Made me feel kinda cool.

But we got in just in time to this hall where the Pope was to speak. There were thousands of people in there already, with Cardinals, Bishops, and eventually, yes, the Pope, St. Peter's heir, Benedict XVI. He got a rousing ovation, and then we were all bored to sleep as Cardinals and Bishops from all around the world read an introductory statement in about 7 languages. I understood most of the Italian and French ones too, which was nice, and the English one was very welcomed. But if you enlarge this picture, you can see him in between two guards, in full Swiss Garb, and some Cardinals and Bishops off to the side. It was pretty cool to see such a powerful and influential person in person, so to speak.

I also took a video of the Pope speaking, so enjoy that. It's really him, he has a mic and everything. Il Papa, right there, speaking to this huge hoard of people, but only in Italian. Sad for me, who did not understand anything but really just "Violenza" and "Gesu Christo." He wasn't the most annunciated speaker, and spoke much like an Italian would. Go figure, for a German.

Bert had to bail to go to a site visit a bit early, but I stayed until the last possible minute and left to get to my last 11:30 class. But what an experience, the Pope! Besides being a little boring (which hearing anything in languages you can't understand for an hour can be), it was really pretty darn cool to think about. Another story for the life's history.

I made it to class on time and when it was over, it was kind of a sentimental moment, as our professor is such a goofy and loveable guy (who we all talk about all the time as being hysterical, because he is) and it was our last class with him. We asked if we could take a picture with him too, and he quickly replied (in his Oxford speak mixed with a bit of "hipness" to it): "ahh yes! Of course! But what shall we have for a backdrop? How about we all squeeze together on this couch, it would be quite lovely, really"

So we squeezed, so much so I put my arm around him to avoid really getting all that close, but we're still friendly (laughing is occuring right now on my end, so feel free to join in. Picture is below. Enjoy Gregory O. Smith with (from the left) Phil, myself, G.O. himself, Cara and Amber.

Until next time,


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

One down, Four to go

Ciao everyone, happy Tuesday morning to you all. I am a little inactive today, but I've already been productive, so I guess it's legitimate. I had my Italian oral final today, and I feel like it went really well. I hope I can get an A in the class; I feel like I am definitely in the top 3 or 4 of my class, and everyone comes to me for help it seems like; doesn't that mean I deserve an A? I sure hope so, it'd be nice to help out the GPA.

Anyway, the oral went well, I just talked about my trips and my adventures so far here in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and my professor asked me a few questions and complimented me a few times, which was nice. That part's over, now it's on to the more-challenging written final. Oh joy. That's not until Thursday morning, however, leaving all of today off, plus Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to study for my other finals. I have two on Monday (10-1 and 3-6) and then my last one of Tuesday, 3-6. After it's all said and done, I'll be done with all of my work, and boy that'll be nice. Only sad part there is that that is the 9th, a week from today, and I'll have two days in Rome after that. Whoa! Where'd all the time go?

I guess with all the travels I talked about today, plus living in the Eternal City. Time always passes, and here, it seems to really move along sometimes, without you even knowing it's really occurring.

I feel like Rome has this effect on you, more so than many other cities in Europe, just because everyone here seems to do things the way they've always done them; the United States is so new as a country that even the East Coast (where they consider themselves old school and old society) has been around for less time than the building all of my classes take place in. My school was built around the time of Jamestown, for heaven's sake. I mean, really.

There's so much tradition and history here that the people just do things the way they've always done them, and are not going to change anytime soon. The same people beg at the Vatican every day, the same people work the same jobs for their whole life, the same food shops exist for generations, and it's tough to really shake that foundation. When everyone does the same things for their whole life, there really is a rhythm and a cadence to life unlike anything I ever felt or saw in the states. It's something that makes every day feel like it's removed from time and just in the midst of everything else, if that makes any sense. The churches, the monuments, the streets, the walls . . . their age is shown, and yet are still here amongst the present.

Something tells me that this place is changing, and rapidly. The world is getting so much smaller so quickly, and Italy is such a prime destination to visit, the culture is turning more global every day. I really have begun to see a country, a city, and a culture stuck between these two states of being, which is simultaneously a positive thing (as people are getting the chance to see the world, etc), but also a negative thing, as part of their culture is eroding with it. We've talked a lot in my culture class about how there is a huge contrast between the old and young here in Rome, and a few generations ago, there was hardly any distinction. The young people spurn Italian for English. They don't want to live at home as every generation has done until marriage (not that I blame them, but that's the way it's always been). They want to be part of the world, not just part of Italy, and it causes friction.

I'm really lucky I've been privileged enough to see such a place in such a transition. I mean, really look at some of these pictures of my walk every day. I mean, it's just beautiful, and yet, as you walk, you can tell that amongst all this history, the times, they are a-changin'. But they'll stay the same in a way too, just like they have been for centuries upon centuries now.

I've got some finals to be done, a few things I still want to see, and who knows what else in daily life can pop up, but I know that if nothing else, I have had a fantastic time that has forever changed me as a person, and in a good way.

I'll update again soon, but Roma is getting closer to over. If you have anything you want, speak now or hold your peace for quite a while folks.

Until next time,


Monday, December 1, 2008

A simple weekend

Ciao everyone, and I hope you all had a great weekend. Mine was quiet, easy, and nothing too stressful, which was much appreciated. My next few days are going to get stressful, as tomorrow is my oral final for Italian, which should be fun (ha) and then my reviews for my other two classes are on Wednesday, then my actual Italian final on Thursday. Should be fun, these next few should, that's for sure.

Yesterday I went to the basketball game between Roma and Bologna. We went to see Brandon Jennings, top NBA prospect playing for Roma, and we certainly did see him . . . warm up. That's it. His coach didn't play him at all, which was a bummer. We did, however, yell some things at him when he was warming up about being from the states and he pointed and nodded at us, which was kinda funny.

There was one surprise, and several pleasant ones after that: Earl Boykins, the 5 foot 6 inch guard who played for the Bucks, Nuggets, Golden State, etc for 10 seasons was Bologna's star player, and he is so darn short, it was hysterical to see him be so speedy and be booed mercilessly by the Roman crowd, and he made them pay, hitting the last second shot as time expired to give Bologna the win, deflating the crowd majorly.

It was awesome to be able to see some sports I'd watch in the states again, no joke. I miss basketball, especially with the Blazers doing so well this year, I'm really excited to be able to watch sports while eating Mexican food again . . . it took place last year quite often, and not at all in the past 4 months.

It will be happening sooner than planned, however; yes, that's right, Craig is coming home early. What, you say? No. I am leaving on the 16th now instead of the 23rd, having changed my ticket yesterday. It makes a lot more financial sense, for one, saving me a week's worth of food, hotels, and some travel out of that, which is a nice thing. I think I may yet make it to Paris, it will just be with 3 or 4 fewer days in Rome and 1 fewer in Barcelona. It will be nice to have an actual break back in Portland for another week and not feel so darned rushed all the time I'm home, that's for sure.

But yes, so my time in Europe is a week shorted than originally planned. Weird to think about a little, since now my time that was just 23 days has evaporated to 15, and where I had 14 days in Rome, I now have 10 left. What? 10 days? That's almost single digits. I know. It's crazy. With all these finals and studying to do yet as well, it's going to go by so fast, even faster now that I'm leaving sooner.

It's really weird to think about being home in just two weeks from tomorrow, but not in a bad way, either. I could certainly do another Study Abroad session, but this time in a place that spoke English, or not in Europe. Just see some more of the world. But not, and I repeat, not, without some time at home. I miss some parts of home (and by some, I mean quite a few after a few months) and it'll be nice to replenish for a bit longer than originally anticipated. I'll update travel plans soon though, fear not, and say how my last two weeks are going to look in Europe.

Man, two weeks. That's it. I've been over here for almost 15 weeks, and I have two left. Amazing. I've grown so much, learned a ton . . .

And that post is for another day. Off to study, but until next time (with pictures, I hope, of the past few days. My camera is charging right now and it takes so long to load, so they'll be up sooner than later),


Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Thanksgiving Feast

Ciao everyone, and buongiorno from Roma. I say that just because I am running out of instances to do so. It's insane to think that if I leave here on the 15th (which as of right now is my plan . . . need to hammer this out soon), I have just about 16 days left here. I have been here now 102 days, and Thanksgiving was my 100th, I guess. But 16 days? After 102 down? Man, that ain't much time left to take it all in!

Thanksgiving was on Thursday, and I must say, it was excellent to speak to those of you I was able to that night / afternoon, depending on which time zone you choose. I really wish I could've been there with everyone at the new house, but in just 24 days I'll be back, I think you all can probably wait a little longer. I had an excellent time around here that evening, and all afternoon we just listened to Christmas music, made food, and just had a good time. Some people made stuffing and Pumpkin Pie from scratch, and the smells were undeniably the smells of the seasons. I am so glad we could have something along those lines, as a Thanksgiving without it would have been strange.

Around 7:45, I finished my 3 pounds of pasta, covered it all up, and wandered down to the courtyard for our feast, complete with a huge table decorated with awesome Thanksgiving gear, plenty of wine, and of course, a huge feast worth of food. There were so many different dishes and types of potatoes, salad, dips, and pasta that when I went back for seconds (along with everyone else) we all had to take more than we could eat, since there was way too much to eat that evening, but we had to at least make a valiant effort.

All in all, it was around 18 people, most of whom I knew before the event. I gave the initial toast before the meal, which everyone had some wine to, we turned grace in an incredibly civilized fashion, and dug in to the enormous stores of food that had amassed on the table running parallel to the dining table.

Now, our Thanksgiving had a buffet-style set-up, with enough food to feed the Vatican, let alone us. I got the following, which some of can be seen on the table in the following picture:

*A scoop of Carbonara (made be me)
*A scoop of Garlic Prosciutto and Cream pasta (another Craig specialty)
*A twice-baked potato
*Mashed potatoes
*A Rosetta roll
*Turkey salad
*Candied potatoes (funny story there: Cara, one of the organizers of this lovely event, thought she'd bought sweet potatoes when in fact she had bought regular ones. Alas, the language barrier strikes again. So we made them anyway, and they were pretty good)
*Some seven-layer dip
*Green beans with bacon
*And lots of Parmiggiano to top it off.


About 15 minutes into dinner, we brought fork to glass and had some thanks turned while we finished up our seconds portion. Cara started it off in her family's style (which is a lot like many peoples, including my own, which was nice) and turned thanks in a serious manner. I was one of the first to go, and I recited a thanks similar to the one I turned on here, and you all were mentioned, no doubt. We all made our rounds and said our thanks, and continued on with the feasting with dessert, which was so superfluous as I'd already eaten so much, but it HAD to be the best part . . . ain't that the way of it?

That's not to say I didn't eat any. I did. I had two slices of chocolate and lemon cake, 4 cookies, some pie, and a bit of gelato. Times were good. Everyone had a lot of wine and was so happy, and Tyler (who I'll get to more in a minute), who lives next door, dressed like a trashy Italian guy you see at every club, bar, or really bus stop in the city. It was hysterical, and tons of pictures were taken, and will be posted in greater fashion later. Needless to say, it was quite the time.

After all the feasting, there were many thanks and turning in early, as the food coma had set in. I crashed out, got up the next morning, and just alternated between working and doing nothing all day. Quite a nice change from two weekends ago where all I did was work.

But today is more of yesterday, with work and rest. I am a bit congested, have been for a few days, but feeling pretty good otherwise. I am more than half done with my last paper, and after that, it's just finals. What a notion.

Tomorrow, Tyler, Phil, and I are going to a Virtus Roma game. If you don't know, this is Rome's professional basketball team, complete with Brandon Jennings (top pro prospect for the next draft) and up until 2 months ago, Shawn Kemp. He no longer plays for Virtus, however, as he was out of shape and too lazy, which any Portland fan could've told you a thousand times over. But it should be fun, a nice break from the studying, anyway.

Until next time, I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, and more to come soon,


Thursday, November 27, 2008

What I have to be thankful for

Ciao everyone.

First and foremost, happy Thanksgiving. I know it may seem kitschy or like a Hallmark Holiday, but out of all of those, Thanksgiving is my favorite. Why? No, not because you sit around and try to force obesity in a single day, nor try and send yourself into a diabetic coma while watching football, but rather because it actually means something.

To me, Thanksgiving represents a chance to really let people know how much they mean to you. Part of me is sad that it takes a specific day out of the year to remember to be thankful, but the other half of me really enjoys this concept. As a society, I feel like we put such a high price on pride that when someone does something you appreciate, as a society we just say "thanks" and don't really recognize what we're thanking them for. Expressing gratitude makes people on both sides uncomfortable sometimes. I know that if I were to be very, very grateful for something, I'd say thank you, but sometimes it's hard, since you don't want an awkward situation, if that makes any sense.

On Thanksgiving, you can say for once "to hell with what people think of expressing my gratitude! You mean something to me, and I am so glad for everything you do for me, everything you represent, and just thankful for your general existence." I know I was raised in a family that would cry at Thanksgiving quite often (you know who you are) and I never once felt uncomfortable seeing people brought to tears when realizing just how much in life we have to be thankful for.

There have been times in my life where I wasn't grateful for what I had in a manner I consider appropriate by my standards. It wasn't an entitlement by any means, but more of a reluctance to really let people know how much I appreciate them.

I've grown a lot since then I think, and I've received a lot of lessons from family and friends. It's part of growing up, to realize just how lucky you are to have what you have. I live a charmed life. Sure, times can be difficult, work can be stressful, I can have difficulties just in the day to day existence that may drive me up a wall, but I have a great life. Not even pretty great, just great. I have have a loving, supporting family who would do anything to see me happy. They send me election magazines from across the ocean, knowing that I'd want to see the result in America with my own eyes and to keep as a memory of this watershed moment in history. How many people can honestly say that?

I have great friends who I can have any number of experiences with, from discussing the merits of the Catholic faith and defining love to appreciating a good fart joke. How many people can say that?

I have a girlfriend who, through thick and thin, I have learned so much with and appreciated a whole other side to life. We've seen the world, from San Diego to Istanbul, Lake Oswego to Interlaken, and Claremont to Cairo. We've appreciated foods from Mexican (i.e. El Ranchito and Roberto's) to Turkish, Music from Islamic to the Killers, and the comforts of seeing someone you love from overseas. How many people can say that?

I live in Rome, Italy and have had a chance to visit Africa, Europe, and Asia. I've seen the Pyramids of Giza and the Hagia Sophia, the Hofbrauhaus, the Jungfrau and Eiger, and the Parthenon. How many people can say that?

And to top it all off, how many people can say all of those things as a whole?

Not many.

I know how blessed I am, and to all of you out there reading this, I am thankful for you. Sharing this experiences makes me remember that I am so blessed to have this opportunity, and I can't wait to see you all again and share anew how wonderful and amazing life is to lead.

I heard this really great quote the other day from Brendan Foster, an 11 year old who recently died of leukemia, but who's dying wish was to feed the homeless. In his death he accomplished this in cities around the country, and all while having less than a week left to live. When asked what the greatest part about life was, he answered simply the following:

Having one.

No doubt about it, I am blessed beyond expression. I not only have a life to live and health to accompany it, but a wonderful family, awesome friends, and a fantastic girlfriend. Not a day goes by I'm not thankful for it all, and today is just a day to set some time aside and express it.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, enjoy some fantastic food, great company, and share your thanks with those you care about. Our time here is limited, and letting the people we love know they're loved is one way of reminding yourself just how lucky you really are.

Until next time,


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Almost through the madness

Ciao everyone, and hello from Roma. It feels like forever since I blogged last, and that's probably just because I've been so crazy writing papers and whatnot. I mean, I've written 24 pages of papers in the past week and a half, plus reading and homework, it's been intense. I don't care if I over-comma here, but in my papers I need to. I like writing just as myself. It suits my brain much better.

Anyway, this week has been relatively uneventful outside of going to bed early and not being able to sleep in. It's really starting to bother me. I'm going to bed early every night, hoping to get like 9 or 10 hours of sleep, just because I feel tired and EVERYONE is sick. Unfortunately for me, I can't sleep past 6 am, so I guess I'm just supposed to be up.

I put all of my Turkey pictures on Picasa, too, so feel free to check them all out in their entirety. It was a great trip, no doubt about it, and my pictures reflect that I think. The only thing that's really bothering me is the Hotel we stayed at: they forgot to charge my card when we were checking out I guess (even though I specifically told them "we're checking out, is there anything we need to do?") and now they want me to pay using a different credit card or money order, and I'm just irritated. You should've done it then. I only have one card! I don't want to pay you via sketchy money order either. It's your fault at this point, now leave me alone (only half kidding . . . if they weren't so nice when we were there, I would be fed up over my head).

Speaking of Turkey, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and although I am bummed about not being able to watch football like usual, I am most bummed about not seeing everyone back home. Yes, even more than the football, I'm going to miss my family (how strange, I know). It's going to be weird not being together, but last year, at my Uncle's house in San Diego, I remember talking about coming to Rome and specifically remarking on how next Thanksgiving, I was probably going to be in Rome, where they certainly do not celebrate Thanksgiving.

And I was right. They don't. In the least. No turkey, no pumpkin pie (alas, not that I care, just it's part of it), but we got a pot luck of some of my favorite people in the program together and we're going to have cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green beans, and other Thanksgiving fare, just no turkey. I am making about 3 pounds of pasta, but with around 12-14 people there, that really isn't that much. I am excited since it'll be a fun time I think, and we can at least relax together, have some wine and beer and spread that American Thanksgiving cheer around here in Roma.

But seriously, I am going to miss being up on Council Crest this year; our first Thanksgiving back in the house and I'm not there. Weird. But I know everyone will have a great time and enjoy that awesome food. I know my mom always does good, but it sounds like she's about to really outdo herself this year.

Today was just my last Medieval site visit, which was odd to think about. She gave us all next week off, so I only have class at 11:30 and 4:30 instead of 9 as well on Monday and Wednesday, so that's sleep in all next week! All rightttt. But Tu/Th I've got my oral Italian final and my written actual one on Thursday; it's weird to think in a week from tomorrow, I will have learned all the Italian I'm going to get over here.

You know what else I've been thinking about that's weird? In 2 weeks from Friday, I'll never see most of these people again. In two weeks, my semester in Rome is over. I'll be here until two weeks from Sunday, and then just 9 days after that until I'm home again. So if you're counting at home, that means 27 days from today til I'm back.


I know, it's crazy, isn't it? I arrived 14 weeks ago and I've got less than 4 left. Still have Barcelona and Paris left (maybe another stop in there, but we'll see how that goes), but really, my journey is winding down rapidly. I'm out from all these papers, but the finals game starts in just a few days, so I'll buckle down and get through it as best and as quickly as possible.

Anyway, I hope you're all well and enjoy your Wednesday, I know I'll be on my game for the next few weeks (hopefully, anyway) and I have a couple fun picture taking ops coming up potentially, so I'll let you know how that goes, but until next time,


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Turkey Time

Ciao everyone, and good Monday morning to you all. It's Monday morning about 6 am here, I just can't sleep anymore now matter how hard I try or how badly I'd like to, so I figured I'd get up and blog about the trip I was too tired to write about last night.

Basically, if I'd have to sum it up in one word, I think fantastic would be pretty fitting. Or spectacular. Maybe even unforgettable. I like all of them. Luckily, I don't have to use just one word, I can use thousands if I wanted, and I can use pictures and video too. And what do you know? I will do all of the above I do believe.

So on Friday, I made my way to the airport and got on my plane for Istanbul, Turkey. Alitalia was recently in talks to be bought out by another airline company, which made me feel slightly better about the chances of my flight being canceled. It was not. It was late, however, by about 40 minutes, which meant I was later getting to Kirsten in Istanbul, but we made it there not toooo behind schedule, and I got my visa (so now I have even more cool stuff in my passport!) and through control and to Kirsten. She very nearly had a bag scare, and I am glad to say it made it to Istanbul, although just barely.

We (or rather I) decided in light of the scary situation to take a taxi instead of the metro to our hotel, and I am glad we did. It was really a beautiful taxi ride to Sultanahmet, our district we stayed in, right between the Blue Mosque and the Sea. The taxi took us along the water on the way there, which was really excellent to see, along with a beautiful view of the Blue Mosque as we approached our hotel.

First impressions as we rolled in: whoa, what a clean and really beautiful city. I mean, it was infinitely cleaner than Cairo, which I can't say I was expecting entirely. I mean, I expected it to be cleaner, but not say like Portland-clean in many cases. And it was. Our taxi tour may have been through a nicer area, and I'm sure that's part of it, but it was very, very scenic and lovely, touring along the port and then up to the Blue Mosque. Nice entrance!

Our hotel was really pretty cute. We were greeted by a friendly staff who got us all checked in and up to our room. It was a little room, but nothing too small, and for what we were paying, I was more than satisfied. Surprised, almost. We put our bags down and got ready to go out and get some food, but not before we went to go check out the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, which were both so close to our hotel.

We got our bearings a bit and headed up towards the Mosque, which when we got there, they had plastic bags for your shoes (as most do), and so we de-shoed and went inside for a glimpse into the still-functioning prayer center. It was really, really intricately designed and immaculately maintained for its age, and the windows were indeed very blue. The ceiling was also decorated with a beautiful spiraling of geometric blues and reds, which made the cream-backdropped walls look alive in a way. We both were glad we'd been to Egypt before we'd come, since then we know just what to expect a bit more in terms of what to look for inside a Mosque.

We spent a good while wandering about in the Mosque, looking around and taking in the whole beauty of it all. This video is probably the least effective of the few I took on this trip, but it still shows the interior a bit better than some of my pictures do. It's difficult with just a digital camera and no tripod and no lighting to really work with, but it was very beautiful to take in just as it was and not have to worry about the pictures as much.

We took some more views of the interior before exiting out the opposite door we'd come in, re-shoed and got ready to walk to the Hagia Sophia, which is literally just about 2 blocks away facing the Mosque directly. The Mosque was built to compete with the ancient Christian, later Muslim-but-still-Christian Hagia Sophia, so their proximity and similarity in shape is very cool. We took a ton of pictures, I'm sure about 100 of which will make it to my Picasa in the coming days when I have a bit more time, hey, maybe even today, who knows?

Anyway, Hagia Sophia! We trekked past some really well decorated gardens with a huge fountain on our way over towards the next church, but the Hagia is now a museum, and closes at 5:30, and you have to pay to get in. Our time would've left us just about an hour, and we decided to just hit it Saturday morning and check out some other things that night, but we took loads of pictures to show off the area. Really cool area with lots of cool shops, and of course, the two phenominal prayer centers. The picture to the left is the Hagia Sophia, compare than with the Blue Mosque from earlier and you can definitely see the similarities between the two pretty quickly, just the coloration is really what seems all that different at first look. That and the age difference between the two.

We decided to hit up the area around the churches to see about some food and check out the local sights, but we wandered more towards our hotel since we'd seen a bunch of restaurants in that region. Looking at the menus everywhere, it made me so excited, since the Turkish Lira is about 45 Euro cents, or 2.1 Lira per Euro. It is excellent. Everything there is so cheap, it's insane. We decided on this really adorable little restaurant and we were nearly the only people in there. It was so cheap we ordered tea, water, and drinks all before dinner. We got great service, and the Turkish waiter spoke pretty good English, something else that really surprised me: so many people spoke English.

The waiter talked to us about the United States for quite a while, and then came to the subject of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which I knew (and hoped) would come up at some point. The reverence he (and everyone who mentioned him) showed was something like we'd show a mixture of Abe Lincoln and George Washington. He could do no wrong. And if his plans weren't working, the Turks weren't executing them properly. It was very interesting. The man's picture is everywhere, and in the restaurant, he watched me eat from his spot on the wall. Cool cultural moment for sure.

But the food! The food was so, so awesome. I got the Meatballs and Baked potato with a bunch of bread and spices, and Kirsten got the Saffron Chicken that smelled, looked, and tasted fantastic. We were both so thoroughly satisfied, and it was so cheap, like 50 Turkish Lira, or like 23 Euro, for the both of us, with drinks. Unbelieveably cheap.

We wandered out into the night after our meal and got some snacks for the evening, and after watching the Office in our hotel, decided to just crash and get an early jump the next day. I'm very glad we did, since we got up around 8, got breakfast on our roof-top terrace of our hotel (which had such an awesome view of the Blue Mosque!) and we rolled out to Hagia Sophia, with plans for the Grand Bazaar afterwards.

We got to the Hagia Sophia as it was opening, and we were among the first people in for the day. And it was awesome.

It's really hard to explain just how huge it is in there, and I compared it a few times to like being inside a stadium or something along those lines. Everyone who has been to a Blazers game or something along those lines, think the Rose Garden, but for God, and really, really, REALLY old. Like well over a thousand years old. It was a mixture of Byzantine, Roman, and later Islamic traditions, with the architecture reminding me sometimes of the churches in Rome, but it's so difficult to compare this church to any in Rome, as it is decidedly Eastern and Byzantine in style. So cool to see after all of my studies of Roman churches though. It's crazy to think about how much I've learned about Medieval architecture just in 3 months, and I could appreciate this church so much more having studied it now.

Anyway, it was huge, breath-taking, and as awesome as I could possibly describe a Medieval chruch to be. The Arabic signs on the walls remind you of its transitions, and the scaffolding in the center to repair the ceiling reminds you just how old it is. The mosaics are deteriorating at a rapid rate, and their repair efforts are very admirable, but sad to see them in disrepair after years of neglect, but it happened everywhere in Medieval times.

This video is from the upper level of the church, and it shows a bit, but again, it's dark. Crank the brightness on your screen and check it our, it'll be worth it (I hope). I took a load of pictures too, so if you wanna see those, Picasa later. I'll put a few more on here so you get the idea.

We hung out on the ground for a while, then decided to check out the Upper Gallery, which was more than worth the hike up this old spiraling hallway up to the top. Great stuff from up there. The views down were excellent, and they got you closer to the old mosaics and artwork, which I fawned over so much you would've thought me an Art History major. It's just cool to be able to figure things out through studies of other things and know what they really signify and represent.

I wish I could post all my pictures on here, but that would be slight overload I would imagine, but I'll squeeze a few more in before I move along; I have to at least get a few more of the interior and of the mosaics so that you know what I am raving about. I mean, these mosaics are Byzantine and so old . . . just really cool.

We walked around inside for over an hour, making sure we'd seen everything on every level in there, and finally decided to leave and head on over to the Grand Bazaar, or really the largest indoor market you could ever imagine with no posted prices, people who will do anything to get you to buy their products instead of someone elses, and more things than you could ever put in your bags home, but wish you could since they're so amazing and awesomely cool. I know that makes near no-sense, but trust me, maybe with a few pictures it will.

The walk was about 10-15 minutes long, and we made it over there pretty quickly after a Coke Light caffination break and a good long view at all of the Churches and people we'd just passed through. The Bazaar beckoned, and we'd resisted long enough. Now, Kirsten was really, really, REALLY excited for the Bazaar, and why not? It was worth the fuss, let's just put it that way. We had to make sure to not spend too much though, and we made a very complex system to try and tell each other if you really liked something or didn't, since in haggling, poker faces are essential.

We went inside and immediately, you're overwhelmed with the people, the colors, the covered ceilings, and just the sheer unique feeling you get, as it's unlike anything I'd ever seen before. We spent the first half hour or so just wandering the streets, taking in some of the FOUR THOUSAND shops that are inside, all selling different clothes, pottery, scarves, pashminas, spices, tea, magic lamps, you name it. They had it all. I took about 5 pictures since I was always on sensory overload, but man was it cool.

We were apparently on our honeymoon, according to some Turkish vendors, who were so friendly and charming but you can't buy everything. No way. It was so amazing to take a step back and just look at the sheer amount of stuff there, I mean, wow. We got some shopping done and I can't say for who, but it's pretty awesome, no doubt about it. The colors, the sounds, everything; I will never forget our time in there.

Mom, you would've died to see some of the pottery in there. I included a picture for you to fawn over the insane amount of dishes and pottery, but that's just one shops front, with about 500 others selling similar things, with the bigger plates inside. I wish I could buy it all, I know so many people who'd get so much enjoyment out of it!

We haggled. We left people trailing us giving us as low offers as you could imagine. We straight up laughed at some of the things people would try to get us to buy, but it was so much fun. We spent over 3 hours inside, and could've spent longer, but decided to bail after 3 hours inside, with a tea break, and power-shopping galore.

We crashed back at the hotel for a while and left all of our stuff there, including the duffel bag we'd got to replace Kirsten's broken one that I toted back to Rome later the next day for her. I'm a good guy.

There are more to our adventures, like an underground Cistern built in the 6th Century, another fantastic meal and a power outage that night at our hotel, but we crashed after that and had to get up early to come home. I have to get ready for school today now, but I can blog more later for sure, no worries. Just know that I always have more to share, and that I hope this gives you a taste of one thing if nothing else:

I loved Istanbul. It felt so safe, they were so hospitable and friendly, and I'd love to go back today if I could. I'd recommend it as highly as I could. But until next time my friends,