Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Trotting along

Ciao everyone, I hope Tuesday morning is going well for you all; I know that financial Armageddon has occurred back home as it's all the talk of the world today, as I am sure it is back home. If it makes anyone feel better, the dollar is getting stronger by the minute versus the Euro, the Swiss Franc, and the Yen, as all markets around the world are tumbling. I was getting really nervous for a minute that all of my life was about to get more and more expensive with a tumbling dollar, but everyone is getting hit hard now, not just the U.S. Don't know if that should make anyone feel any better, but it's interesting to note, that's for sure.

But yes, the talk around here has been very political as of late. Who won the debate? What'd you think of how Obama did overall / McCain started vs. finished, and do you think the bailout will pass? We all thought it would, and when it didn't, I gotta say, I was universally disappointed in the finger pointing that went on between parties. We need unity right now, and seeing the vote distribution, it was astonishing to see the split really had little to do with party lines, which made me happy in a way, but sad in another, as Republicans blamed Democrats, Democrats defend and turn the tables and it's just like "ack, stop already, we've got a problem and both sides apparently didn't think this was the answer. Let's find a solution, be it bankrupt protection or bankruptcy, or something else I don't really know about, but it's not working so let's move on."

It's unsettling to see it going on and I don't even earn any money anymore. It makes me wonder what the landscape is going to look like in a week, a month, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. How will this pan out? Will everyone look towards our American resolve and move ahead or panic and crash? I sure hope we can move on together and find a solution.

Anyway, I'm sure media saturation is at an all time high, I mean, it's an incredibly important time in American history, at the crossroads of about a billion things, and the next president is going to have a lot on his plate, but man, it's something else to not be there during a time like this. I can't decide if I'm away or a little homesick so I could be there and just feel it outside of CNN and BBC.com.

But yes, on to more exciting things. Yesterday was crazy busy and hence no blog, but I had 6 hours of class and all went well; I'm simultaneously studying the Byzantine Empire and ideas of Icon worship and the Iconoclasm movement and how it played into Roman Christianity, the culture of the Tyrol people in Northern Italy who are ethnically German in St. Felix, and the Thomas Aquinas and his baptizing of the Aristotelian philosophian of the ancient Greeks, all while still learning Italian and living in Roma. It's quite the smattering of areas to study, and none of them have I ever spent much (if any) time on, so it's really quite cool. The studying here is not quite as challenging (yet, anyway) as UCSD, but maybe because I haven't had to start paper research yet and maybe because I am used to doing this much reading as a PoliSci major, whereas many people here simply are not used to reading this much.

Last night I got back around 7ish and did some homework, studied a bit, and had to make dinner, but then after that it was off to bed for today, since I had to get up and go to class again, but now my classes for today are over and it's just studying and seeing how the world reacts to the U.S. financial crisis and how the dollar keeps doing, since I have near 3 months left over here and I need it to stay ok.

Oh, and I saw the Sarah Palin / Tina Fey SNL skit and it was so spot on, it's comical and terrifying at the same time. Man, what a country we live in, eh? Or rather where I tend to live. I'm in Roma and going to Milan and Switzerland this weekend, that's right. That's going to be awesome. Glad all of that stuff's been booked already. But I'm going to go get some groceries later and get everything ready for tomorrow's classes, as I have a visit to the Roman Forum (woohoo!) at 9 and then classes at 11:30 and 4:30 for two hours a piece and about 150 pages between now and then, so that'll be fun. I hope all of you have a peaceful Tuesday and that the sky doesn't fall between now and next time I blog; I have faith that we'll see this whole thing through.

Until next time.

Ciao.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Roming Roma

Man, 3.5 day weekends are long and very, very welcome.

I really enjoy being able to just take it easy and dictate what the pace of my life is going to be again, it's something this summer I really didn't have a huge say over, with the Gap and needing to prepare and living at home. Being at school is a different type of freedom since you really do everything on your own: cook, clean, and work all on your own schedule.

Over here, it's one step more intense, as there's a language barrier and no dining hall, so every meal I am solely responsible, and along with that language barrier, you have to be able to figure things out independently. It's a trip figuring out in basic Italian how to use a complicated Italian laundromat, but I'm proud of my skills being put to the test, that's for sure.

Anyway, back to the independence thing again. I just hung around here yesterday morning into the afternoon, and I ran to the store just to get some food for the day, very basic necessities. But after I got back, I didn't want to just be inside anymore, so I asked if anyone wanted to explore our neighborhood anymore than we already had and see what's around in other directions that we'd yet to really have to travel to. Bert came along, and we set out with only the goal of canvassing the area in mind.

We made it over to where we'd turn to go to the Vatican and instead of going right, like always, we went left for a few blocks. Upon doing so, we ran into a small Desi Indian neighborhood, and little, little shops that had nothing more than a few things in them each, but each having a few different of those little things. For example, we found out a few that had pretty good deals on Coca-Cola, certain fruits, breads, cookies, and even alcohol. It's funny that over here, Corona and Budweiser are like the fine beers, costing like 6 euro a bottle at a restaurant and like 2 euro for a bottle in a store, whereas in the U.S. they're really the lower-end. Like we have to import their beers, we have to import theirs. Likewise, Jack Daniels is big for being the American Liquor, and Europeans always think we want it when we go out. Just little things that follow you around.

But we found an old theater house out that direction along with my first real neighborhood Chinese restaurant. I learned in my Culture and Identity class that Chinese food and Kebabs are like the lowest of the low end cheap food movement here in Italy, and kind of scoffed on by the upper crust of Italian society. But man, it's cheap! The Chinese food is like 4 euro for a plate, which is roughly U.S. prices. Quality I'm not sure of, but they look good enough, that's for sure. From there, it's Pizzerias on the scale, which only dodge that bullet because it's actually Italian in nature, then it goes up from there.

Speaking of Pizza, I went and got some more from my friends at the Pizza e Birra shop. Mike (my favorite of the guys) was working then and he and I talked for almost 5 minutes in almost solely Italian; he was very patient and tried to speak his English too sometimes, and we both laughed at trying to say a few things to one another. He gave me a pretty generous discount afterward and shook my hand again, and Bert laughed on our way out how much the guys in there like me. He told me he went on Thursday and when he walked by and got food, they asked where Craig was. They remember my name and call me by it when I walk by, and they don't give those discounts to everyone, let me tell you. Bert? Nope. Me? You bet.

It pays to be polite and try to work it out. They're apparently not used to that, since Italians turn their noses up at them a bit. Rich families would never let their kids work in a Pizzeria, but they could buss tables at a nice restaurant, just never a Kebab shop or a Pizzeria, it's just unheard of. This class-type system is interesting, and the Fascist, classist ideals a lot of upper-class Romans hold trickle down a bit. I don't mean that in a mean way, either; Fascism is a Political force over here. They crack down heavy on crime and really clean up the streets, but it fosters a large monetary and class gap between the rich and the less wealthy, to put it kindly. I don't discuss politics with Italians, but having been here over a month now and seeing a bit of what goes on in individual neighborhoods, both nicer and not so nice, it's just really interesting. Anyway, I digress.

So I had my big old slice of pizza and came back here to read, and I got the new Office episode on my computer; Kirsten is going to love it, I just know it. A bunch of people last night were watching it after I got it, and all of them were so happy I bought it on iTunes for 2 bucks that they offered to pay me if I'd buy the whole season and they could come over on the weekends and we could all watch it together over a few drinks or something. No joke, there were like 10 people in here last night watching it, and it's just funny to see everyone come together and share in some good old fashioned Americana. You do miss some things a bit, and comedy (along with really anything in English) is much harder to come by over here (obviously).

But yes, today has just been studying and reading up for next weeks classes, Exciting, I know. I hope your weekend finishes nicely, and until next time,

Ciao.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Weekends in Roma

Ciao everyone, I hope you're all having an excellent start to your weekend and that Friday was excellent, I realized last night after about 7 oclock that I hadn't updated. Really it was the first time not doing so that I was in Roma that I didn't do so. Whoops, time just gets away sometimes I guess. Then again, yesterday involved a lot of reading, some sleeping in a little, a trip to the grocery store and not much else before around say 3. It was pretty quiet; everyone has a bunch of reading from class that just needed to get done and so we just hung around quietly, all breaking our readings from time to time with something of minimal importance, but you need it sometimes to break through the boredom.

It's weird having to study and go to school really over here; it's such a foreign and different environment with so much to do and see and yet you can't always be going out to see and do things, there's work to be done. I read about 200 pages these past few days along with doing the dishes (very, very necessary . . . some people don't know to clean up after themselves it seems) and getting occasional updates from KK in Crete. I'll let her tell you all about that excitement in her blog and you can all read it over on hers if you really wanted, but it's been eventful for her for sure.

Around 3, Chad, Alex, and I ventured out to try and find a guitar for Chad and Alex because they both play quite a bit and neither had the space to bring one. So, Chad decided to buy a cheap one, and the ACCENT Center offered to pay him up to (but no more than) 50 Euro for anyone he bought at the end of the program so they could pass it on to one of the next groups of kids here in Rome. We went to a few different places, and one place was really nice, but was only a repair shop. On our way towards another one, we kind of doubled back and I saw a shop that really just disappeared into the walls, nothing too noticeable, and I stopped us really quick and went inside.

I am very, very glad we did.

We found a shop that sold Refried Beans, Black Beans, Tortillas, Mexican rice, and really just an assortment of Mexican foodstuffs and supplies, which we all fawned over, since it sounded so good. In the back of the store, they also had a lot of Soy Sauce, Noodles, and other Asiatic cuisine supplies, which was cool as well. It's pretty reasonably priced too, all things considered, and we are definitely going to have a Mexican Potluck here in the near future, no doubt about it.

From there we went to a book and music store where I happened to find a 40 Euro guitar for Chad, and it was actually pretty nice, and even better, Chad gets paid 50 euro for it at the end of the semester, meaning he earns ten bucks for playing the guitar. Not too shabby if you ask me. And I gotta say, it's been funny hearing guitar again, since Trav always plays back home and hearing it in the background brought back some found memories of home and made me think about how the guys are all living together now down at 6163 Lakewood in La Jolla. I'll be back there before I blink twice, I know, but it's weird to kind of remember that life toils on without thee.

We went back home and I was hungry around 4ish, but we decided that at 7 we'd go to the Mexican food restaurant around here and pig out on it. So, I read a bit and snacked just enough to get by until we went to La Cucaracha at 6:30.

Now, Mexican food over here is an imitation of Mexican food in the United States, so I coined the term that really it's like third-person Mexican food. Don't get me wrong, it was very good, but it wasn't anything like Mexican food back home. The nachos I got were supposedly meant for 2 people, but I could've eaten two of them, so go figure. We all had some Tequila too, since hey, I'm 21, it's a Mexican restaurant, and why not go all out?

After it was all said and done, we needed to pad our stomachs a bit more, so we went to see my good friends at Pizza e Birra for some pizza to layer over the food, and it too was excellently placed, no doubt. We came back and although there was talk of trying to stay up til 3am to watch the debates, we soon realized none of us would be able to make that jump. Bert and I chatted with some of our neighbors downstairs until around 10:30 when we trekked over to get some authentic homemade and very large Gelati. Yum. I had a Crema / Caramella / Nutella huge cone and I was, to say the least, full when this evening was over.

I had a little trouble going to sleep last night although I was very, very tired, but I eventually got there and before I read any reactions to the debates, I watched them on CNN, all hour and a half of them, and I know I am biased, but I really think Obama held his own and looked pretty solid in the debate he was supposed to be the weaker of the two candidates, on Foreign Policy. He really made McCain look uncomfortable at the beginning with the Economy problems, and I think that's going to go a long way in helping some swing voters. But a good, rousing morning of Political observation, and I am always a big fan of watching both men having to respond to one another.

Biden / Palin should be really fun too. Can't wait for that one.

But yes, today is more reading and everything, and then maybe tonight going out to get some food, who knows? Tomorrow there's a match between AS Roma and Atalanta, and AS Roma is the HUGE club here in Roma for Serie A, or the Italian Soccer. It's a big deal. Totti is a God here. It's played out at Stadio Olympico, and I know a few people want to go see it; it's something that'd be really awesome to go see at some point when I'm here, that's for sure.

Anyway, that's about it for me. I hope you have an excellent Saturday and this time next week, KK and I will be chilling in Interlaken, Switzerland. Can't wait for that! I hope you all have a good one, and until next time,

Ciao.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

America Abroad

Ciao everyone, I hope you're doing well on this Thursday, it is officially my weekend now and I'm feeling glad it's here, for certain. Not much has occurred since I posted last night here; I had to go to bed pretty quickly after that and I slept for over 9 hours, I was really, really tired. I got up and made some breakfast, went to Italian, and got out around 11 for the day. It's pretty awesome my class schedule lined up like this, I've gotta say. I get from 11am Thursday til 9am Monday off, and that's a hefty break.

I can focus on that more, but I am really focusing on something else at the moment, and I want to just share with you what it appears to me as occurring back home. It's a nice topic to really touch on, how I keep up with American Politics, Sports, News, Weather, People, etc.

For the past month, I have used my usual resource--the internet--profusely and no television whatsoever. I haven't gone this long without watching at least something in quite a long time. Not a bad thing, for sure, but still, it's strange. Am I bummed I'm going to miss the premier of the Office tonight? Sure, but I'll try and catch it online. The internet really can make up for an information gap, no doubt about it.

But that's the thing: it makes up for that gap, but not the atmospheric nature of what's going on back home. I really would like to see how as a country the U.S.A. is reacting to the bailout and the economic struggles. I mean, reading the rhetoric of the President yesterday and seeing CNN's coverage of it, it sounds pretty bad. Over here, you can't talk about this stuff with anyone. No one really covers it, they've got problems of their own. My roommates and I discuss it a little, but we're not a part of it anymore, so it's tough to really feel how significant and immediate the problems really are.

I awoke this morning to this headline of President Bush saying "our entire economy is in danger" and "Without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic." I mean, wow. What a thing to read, you know? Really look into that rhetoric for a minute and imagine being a foreigner, reading these translations and see what you feel afterward. "Our entire economy is in danger" is a huge statement; our economy is part of the American Dream, and allows you to make something out of yourself, and if it's in danger, that means our very way of life, our entire moralistic and idealistic way of life is in jeopardy. Really? That's pretty bad. Not to mention, if the taxpayers don't dole out essentially 10,000 dollars PER HOUSEHOLD, we're screwed and we may never recover.

Now, I don't want to be one of those people who says "I told you so" and feels some sick sense of satisfaction, but there were a lot of people in this country, and I number myself as one of them, who feared four more years of the Bush Doctrine and Politics, with tax breaks and increased war spending, going into the deficit more and more every year, and with no end in sight, I can only shake my head. It makes me want to cry for our once great nation, suffering such pain that really could have been largely averted, simply by not going to war or withdrawing sooner and not committing for a decade of overseas spending.

Seven Hundred BILLION dollars, imagine, that's two thousand, three hundred and thirty four dollars per person in the United States. Wow. I mean, think about that. Just digest the fact that as a family of four, you're essentially contributing over 10,000 dollars to bailout the economy.

Now, McCain and Palin are saying that they're ashamed that our wasteful government is having to right the economy with taxpayer dollars. Hey, so am I! But let's think for a minute about how we got here people: Bush Politics, which you want to continue in office. Well, obviously it's worked so well for the past eight years, going from a surplus to the largest deficit ever recorded by a single country in the history of humankind and an economic debacle the likes of which haven't been seen since the Great Depression.

All in eight years. Just remember that.

Our way of life and our economy is in grave danger (since to quote A Few Good Men, is there any other kind?) and we have a real problem on our hands. You're right, Mr. President, and you created it. Your policies, wars, and spending have done this, and we're all paying for it.

It makes me so sad. I honestly can say I expected things to be bad with four more years of President Bush in 2004, but I can honestly say that I didn't think it'd get this bad. And it's bad. McCain has suspended his campaign and wants to suspend the debate ON THE ECONOMY for God's sake until after this crisis is over. When has there ever been a more crucial time to see our candidates positions on the economy than at this very moment?

I am saddened deeply by the state of affairs, and I hope we can figure this out somehow. We need to change a few things in Washington and in our lives in general or we're in even deeper trouble than we're already in. I mean, I spend every day over here in Rome now, spending the Euro, and the dollar pails in buying power to the Euro. 8 years ago, the Euro was introduced, and the dollar and Euro were equal. Now? The Euro is 45 percent stronger, meaning we are 45% weaker than we were 8 years ago in terms of international buying power, a sobering thought, to say the least. All that in just 8 years.

I really hope you're all doing well, and I know this may have seemed a little opinionated, but honestly, I really don't think there's much partisan or evil in what I'm saying. It's an honest observation reading information I can get and formulating an opinion.

Just remember that on November 4th, when you're asked to pick up a ballot, please, do so. And remember to think about where we were 8, or even 4, years ago, and think: can we really endure another four like the last 4?

I hope you all know this is just my opinion and I would love to discuss in in depth with any of you more if given the chance or if you really want to, but I couldn't let this go on without at least sounding off a bit on it.

It's my weekend, and I believe I'm going to go to Siena or something this weekend, but Venice looks a little expensive at this moment in time, so it may get pushed off to a bit later date. But, as always, until next time,

Ciao.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Site Visits and a busy day

Ciao everyone, I know today's blog is coming at a bit later time than normal as far as posting goes, but since I left here before 8am, I got back here around 7:30, so a good 12 hours away from home, living in Roma.

And what a life to lead, eh?

So this morning Bert and I had to make it over for a site visit to Santa Spirito, an old church from just after Constantine legalized the practice of Christianity in Rome in 313. No, that's not a typo. 313 as in about 1700 years ago. Yikes. The church is one of the most well preserved and unaltered in terms of structure in Roma, and it's really cool to think that the two-aisle, nave, apse designs, complete with mosaics and window adornment has been there for, oh, you know, 80 times longer than I've been alive, and depending on your age (say, 40), it's still 40 times older than you. Think about that for a minute. Even if you're 80, it's still 20 times older, so I mean, that's really, really old.

We figured out last night the best way to get over there would take the metro and switch lines and get off at Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus) and walk about a kilometer to the church. We did so, and the Metro was so crowded in the morning with commuters. Remember: cars here are limited, and so everyone takes public transportation. You think the MAX gets crowded? I mean, this is people stand on other people's shoes crowded, like you can't fall over since you're physically touching someone else. It's gnarly.

But Bert and I got off and checked out the Circo Massimo, Colosseum, and Palatine Hill, and just took in for a minute that man, we're passing by this on the way to something else historic, while everyone is just going to work. It's there, it always has been, and it's in the heart of everything. The picture shows the Palatine Hill former Emperor's Palace ruins, and the Circo Massimo is right beneath it, and since it's below ground, it's tough to really show.

But we walked over and got to Santa Spirito about 15 minutes early, checking out views of the city from within the walls of the garden nextdoor. I mean, the Church is in this really cool neighborhood and has a beautiful park next to it, filled with Orange trees, apparently from Spain, like some of the original genus of Orange trees, pretty cool stuff. But yes, and on the other side of that garden, there is a view of the whole city that was pretty cool, and below it ran the Tevere, or the Tiber, River. Really cool stuff.

We met up with our professoressa and our class got together and we all entered the church on our little private tour. It was really cool to have her guiding us through a lecture and actually BE in the site for a disucssion of the material. Now that is a major reason for coming to Rome for school. I mean, you can't have an art history lecture in San Diego, Boston, New York, you name it, and actually be in the churches of the lesson and talk about history that goes back over 1500 years. You just can't.

We went inside and it's really, really well preserved. I mean, it's been restored in many artistic senses, but as far as the structure, it's been this way since the early 5th Century. Man. That is old. The structure was like many Roman Basilicas used to be, and Basilicas used to be used for courts, markets, etc, and we not religious institutions, really. But the Christians picked up on this, and made it their own places of worship.

The basic layout, if I can show it, is to have a large, high-ceilinged Nave in between two large collumns, which seperate the two lower areas of aisles, and in the front was the Apse, where the alter was placed, usually with a domed area that was frescoed to decorate with Christian symbology. The picture to the left shows an aisle of collumns, and outside it with a larger area, the Nave. It was a little dark and no flash was allowed, but I did my best to show it all in there and the collumns, especially. Cool stuff.

In the church, we saw this wooden door that may be the the first public inscriptions depicting the story of Christ and the Christian doctrine. It's in perfect condition, and if you can see it, it has iconography from the Bible all over it. I mean, it's wood! And it's still preserved! What a beautiful thing to behold, I mean, wow. Wood.

We spent about 40 minutes in there with the lecture before leaving for a seperate area for the visit, the Domus under Santo Giovanni e Santo Paulo, or the House under St. Joseph and St. Paul. And during this walk, we walk right by the Colosseo, yes, the Colosseum. Woohoo, it was pretty awesome. It was excavated only a few decades ago, and opened only a few years ago, and it's really, really cool to see a house that was used as a place of worship before the Edict of Milan, both for some Pagan religions and Christianity as well. There were NO pictures allowed here, but, in usual fashion, I had to at least try, right? I mean, this place is 1,800 years old, it needs to be shared with all of you, right?

The fresco on the wall here is of Pagan origin, and just remember that this is completely unedited and for nearly two millenia. Whoa. I really dug going underground into these monuments; it's tough to believe that these places used to be houses over 1800 years ago, the history just blows you away every day, and today was really like that.

We really spent only about 20 minutes in there since our two hours were almost up for class, and Bert and I had to absolutely BOOK back to class that we had at 11:30, and we got out at 11. I mean, we were over 4 kms away from class and we literally ran past the Arch of Constantine, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Piazza Venezia. I mean, it's a trip to go past all of these places on a daily basis, whew!

On a little side-note, today, I saw may have seen Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel. So how do I know this? As I was running, I had to tie my shoe a little after the Arch, and we stopped for a second as I did this. Now, as I was doing so, there were tons of people going into the Colosseum, as always. But I thought I might have seen him, and part of me thought well, no way.

Turns out he was there. So was Jessica Biel. I mean, whoa, small world, eh?

But I made it back to class with 2 minutes to spare, and I just enjoyed my day and made it back. A little bit of a quick let-down, but hey, that's what the day was. I am just reading now and readying for bed too, I've got to get to sleep to go to class and then off to Italian tomorrow morning, and it's over for the weekend, how cool is that?

Not as cool as Kirsten in Crete this week, but still cool. I want to go to Crete someday! It sounds amazing, for sure, but I'll be seeing some new things soon, more on that to come.

Until next time,

Ciao.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The perks of living in Roma

Buongiorno ragazzi, it's Tuesday afternoon here now and I'm back from my Italian class and over with my day, which is great. I had class at 9 and it went til 11, meaning I have all day to read (which I have a lot of, surprisingly), cook (which I will), and blog. 

I guess I'll update about yesterday after I blogged. I had Science and Religion, which I was pretty excited about, and I walked over around 4 with it still being pretty nice, hovering around 70 and clear skies. I got to class and settled down, and our professor walks in, and he is a man of the cloth, complete in his entire fatherly wardrobe of all black and the white collar. He makes light of his profession here and there, and proceeds to ask each and every one of us in class where we go to school, what we're majoring in, and where we're from, with a few other questions sprinkled in there. Each time, he made a witty comment or made a joke and any tensions people had started to kind of ease away, you could feel it.

He went on to describe how we can call him really about anything, father, professor, padre, Mr. Larrey, as long as we were comfortable. Now, being in Roma for over a month now, I can tell you what you probably already know: Rome is highly Roman Catholic, and it really is everywhere here. He is a Roman Catholic Priest and he teaches at the Pontificate university here in Rome during the day and teaches us in the evenings twice a week. He seems like a really nice guy, and the class is totally structured around debate and argumentation, and as long as you have an opinion and can support it, you are going to do well he says. 

I like his rules because I like to argue. 

He admits readily that he is very biased, as any good Priest should be, but retorts that everyone is in one direction or another, his just is much more apparent and obvious. But he says he will consider anything and everything, and expects us to do the same. I really think I am going to learn a lot in this class, and I feel pretty ready for someone to take the gloves off and really get into some good, academic debate over the heated issues regarding the clashes of science and religion.

But after that, the few people in my class who were heading back to the Residence too pooled up and we walked on back together. It was around 6:45 when we got to Ponte Sant'Angelo, which I 
have posted about in here before, and has excellent views of the Vatican. Well, last night it was almost sunset, and the sky had become slightly cloudy since we entered class a few h
ours before, and the colors were the most jaw
dropping backdrop for St. Pietro's Basilica. I mean, man. 
I had my camera, and I took a few pictures, and even though they're not great, they do remind me of the chills I got last night walking home. I mean, man, it was something else. I may post a few pictures just to give you a feel for it; it truly was something. I lingered for a minute, just taking it all in. Living in Rome, it's tough to beat in some ways. If anything canmake something already amazing even more beautiful, it's a sunset, that's for sure.

I really enjoyed that walk back.

I got back and remembered I had to do some grocery shopping, so I went to do that and got a bottle of Prosecco on the way, it was on sale for a euro and a half and I bought the bottle and we all had some prosecco with dinner to celebrate a successful first day of classes and to really getting into the daily life we're living here in Roma.

I read for a bit last night and went to bed early, knowing I had to get up for Italian today. I got up and left for class and I have una nuova professoressa per Italiano, chi e chiama Rita. She's really nice and I am one of two males out of 17 people in the class, with my apartment-mate Chad being the other, and so when dealing with gender articles (like we did today), Chad and I were lumped together for everything because we're boys. It was amusing, for sure.

Also, today we began to learn about the past tense in Italian, and (for ONCE) it's exactly the same as French in its composition and structure, and it's awesome. I was able really coasting today in class and people were wondering why I was picking up on it so quick and I was just happy that for once learning French has really paid off for Italian, and that's a major good thing. French has been routinely killing my Italian, and my Italian has killed a lot of my French, so it's nice for it to really work in my favor sometimes, that's for sure.

But yeah, after that I came back and had some salami, pecorino, parmeggiano, and some crackers for lunch, and just read. Exciting, I know. Tomorrow I go on a site visit for class and have my 6 hour big day again, so I'm sure I'll have interesting things to post about then too. But today I leave you with one my sunset photo, and just remember: this is my walk every day to and from class.
Until next time,

Ciao.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mid-class break for posting

Ciao everyone, for you, just like me, today is Monday, meaning back to the grind. I know Megan started college today and congrats to her on that front, and in an oddly symmetrical happening, I started with my new classes today as well. I had to get up early today to get going, since we had to be there half an hour before normal, so if they started at nine, like mine do, then it's 8:30. With a 40 minute walk, we had to leave at 7:50, meaning I had to get up at 7. That may not sound early to a lot of you, but it's early for over here, especially since it's tough to go to bed anything before 11.

But yes, I got up with everyone else who had to go (aka 4 of my apartment mates) and we rolled out to class, taking in that beautiful and incredibly welcomed fall sunshine. You know the type: that faintly warm sunshine in the otherwise relatively brisk air of the morning; it really reminded me of Portland in many ways. The walk, as always, was gorgeous, and I will never feel bad about the scenery I pass by on the way, however long it may make my walk.

But yes, I got there and got all my books, but the fees were relatively high for the courses I was in, a few hundred euro, but that's ok. I got into my first class, which was Medieval Roman Art and Architecture. The professor is a mid-fiftees Italian woman with a pretty thick (yet understandable) accent who seemingly knows just about every piece of Middle Ages artwork in the whole country, let alone Roma. She seems very interesting and the class couldn't be more cool in terms of the perspective I'm going to get from it; we have site visits once a week to different churches and places, which our lab fees cover. But with this class, we get to see two things of a highly cool nature: one is the day-long trip we take in November to a city outside the walls of Rome to see a bunch of really antiquated art and architecture in their non-touristy setting. Awesome. But the best, most amazing part of this class is that through months of prior planning and arrangement, our class and our class alone gets to descend under the Vatican City to the ancient Mausoleum and see St. Peter's Tomb (yes, the Patron Saint of Rome and the 1st Pope).

This, my friends, is a highly difficult tour to obtain. It's not open for tourists, and the only way you can get in is to petition the Roman government and the Vatican for an education-oriented tour or be a Catholic priest of some rank. It takes MONTHS to plan this, and we get to go. And that is just among the reasons I am taking my art requirement over here; go ahead, try and tell me I can take a class like this in America. You just can't, and I am beyond excited to go there. That's Monday, the 10th of November, too, so mark that on your calendars I suppose.

My second class today was from 11:30 to 1:30 and was Culture and Identity in Italy. The professor is an American by birth, but has lived for only a few years ever in the U.S; he spent 10 years at Oxford and has lived in Rome for the past 20 years in a farm community outside of Rome, which we get to go visit at some point. It's really a pretty awesome class, and he sounds just intelligent like you wouldn't believe. Friendly, funny, and wicked smart, you can just tell the type, and I can't wait for this class to really get going.  Did you know that Italy only became a unified coutry 130 years ago? It was a bunch of little countries that were not affiliated really in the least before then, and so as a class we'll study how Italy functions as a whole and regional differences, conflicts, stereotypes, prejudices, and everything in between. We study Communism vs. Fascism here in Italy and all the way down the line to food and eating and fashion. I really think I'll learn more about Italy here than you ever could in America. You have to do an Ethnography project here for the class too where you map out a place around here and talk about it in relation to another place of different economic standing. Should be pretty cool to see the contrast.

Then, between 1:30 and 4:30, I have no class, but at 4:30 I do, and I have to leave here pretty soon for it. It's Science and Religion in Italian history. The professor is a priest, too, so I can't wait to see how that goes. I did some shopping over this break I just had (and it did not close today, thank goodness) and I am just prepped to head back to class. Woohoo. Wish me luck and have a great Monday, I'll post tomorrow about this coming class and my Italian class, and Wednesday I have a site visit already, so probably that will mean pictures (yay?)

And that's about it. I hope you all have a great Monday, and I'll talk to you all soon. Until next time,

Ciao. 

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Prepped for classes

Ciao everyone, I hope all is well with you and that Sunday comes just as it should. Today it is nice once again, and by nice I mean incredibly pleasant out. I just took a walk to get some groceries for the next few days and I walked out the front door to sunshine, which isn't always a welcomed thing with the heat, but in the hottest part of the day, it was only 68 out and perfectly comfortable and dry.

I love it when fall arrives and you can feel the cool, brisk air and having it just feel so peaceful, you can feel the seasons change here and it's really refreshing after spending the past two falls in San Diego where seasons are a figment of your imagination (not that I'm complaining, just saying).

Anyway, my yesterday after blogging wasn't that exciting, I just kind of took it easy, worked on my puzzle for a while, watched a little TV and read some news online. It's really cool with the internet, I can watch all of my ESPN and CNN online, and I can read the OregonLive reports for Portland stuff; it's all really nice. This, however, requires one thing: internet, which I am blessed to have.

My computer, on the other hand, decided recently that it was not going to be my friend and instead was going to take away my internet by automatically shutting off its wireless adapter and refusing to allow me to get back on. Long story short, I thought I fixed it two days ago and I apparently did not, since last night it went away for good, like completely screwed. After 2 hours of tinkering and reinstalling and removing and just about everything I could do, I managed to get online for 5 minutes before it crapped out again. So, I repeated my steps and found a driver for my exact problem, got 5% away from having it all downloaded, and AGAIN it went away. But the 3rd time's a charm, and I got it and it's completely resolved. Thanks for making my life more difficult than it need to be Intel Wireless 3945abg card, but I got it back and so now I have my life back internet-wise.

Anyway, to celebrate, Bert and I went to go get a beer from a local bar, and when we got there, they asked if we wanted a little one or a big one. Now, I saw the little one and it was like a glass, and I was like, well, it's a Saturday and I'm celebrating my victory over Intel, hell, make it a big one, thinking it'd be like 24 ounces.

But no, oh no. We went and sat down outside and he brought us two 1.25 liter beers, which came in these HUGE glasses that were filled to the brim with Guinness. For those of you out there who are bad at conversions, that's like 4 bottles of beer, and Guinness no less. But we'd ordered it, and so over the next half hour we just joked about the mammoth beers and how suddenly it wasn't all that cold out anymore. It was delicious and a fitting celebration, but it was also 16 euro. Wait, what? The small was 4 euro, so we figured the large would be like 10, but 16? Well, it's cheaper than a new computer or wireless card, right?

But yes, I have just lounged today to finish my puzzle (yeah, I know, 1000 pieces gets me two days, I'm a nerd) and went to the store. Now, stores over here are open til 2 on Sundays if they're open at all; most are not. So I went and I was loading up my cart with groceries, and two rolled around, and instead of letting us trickle out of the store, they closed everything down and wouldn't even let us buy what we had in our carts, we had to put it all back and hurriedly and get rushed out of the store.

Lame, right? I mean, I couldn't even buy what I had in my cart and support your store? Silly if you ask me.

But yes, I am just back for the day and prepping to have class at 8:30 tomorrow morning; it's going to be a busy day here tomorrow with my 3 classes and not being out until 6:30, but I'll report back with results tomorrow. Until then, have a nice rest of your weekend, and until next time,

Ciao.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

And the life marches on

Ciao everyone.

Today is a very nice today. Yesterday, however, was rainy and nasty and as the Italians say "fa brutto," or it's ugly.

But I disagree it was beautiful.

I really enjoyed the break from the muggy, hot, sweaty weather to be honest. I wouldn't mind if the next week was all like that, but it's not going to be. It is, however, going to be only 70 or so for the coming days with a chance of precipitation, which I couldn't be more excited about. I can wear all of my clothes now, not just t-shirts, and they last soooooo much longer this way. I hate doing laundry, so more clothes and less sweaty-ness = less laundry, which is A+.

But yes, yesterday I just got up on my own accord, blogged my big post, and just watched it rain outside for a while. In the 15 minutes after I posted that blog, my view count went to 150 people, and apparently all of India read my blog since there was a huge explosion of views from New Dehli and Calcutta. It's funny, if you go up and push the "next blog" link in the upper corner, you can see blogs that were published chronologically on Blogger, and since I published it at 1am America time, it was perfect reading time in India, apparently.

Who knew?

But it stayed nasty all day yesterday, and Bert and I ventured out around 2:30 into the rainy madness and just took it all in. In seemingly a day, everyone switched to long sleeves and jackets, boots and long pants, and everything looked different, like they'd all been preparing for this inevitability for a while now, which they probably have been. They say Summer has broken, and it's now time for Fall, and I don't doubt it.

We went into a couple toy and book stores, looking at the English stock and trying to find something to read for such a rainy day, and we came across a few books, but they weren't really what I was looking for, and I saw a bunch of puzzles, but they were so outrageously expensive (see 30+ euro for some, like 45 bucks) so I had to abstain. Then we remembered they had some puzzles for relatively cheap at the Vatican, so we went there and I paid the Catholic Church 14 Euro for a panoramic puzzle of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, which is both very difficult and very entertaining.

It's going to look awesome when it's done. I've got it over a third of the way done just working on it in-and-out, but that was the perfect rainy day activity; I just worked away and enjoyed it all wet and smelling fresh, just like home. Kirsten and I also booked our trip to Munich for her birthday and I must say, this is going to be a hell of a stay over here. In 10 days of time, I'll see Cairo, Athens again, London, Munich, and Rome. WOOHOO! Break two is going to be awesome, I can't wait for November now! But after that excitement, I stayed in until last night and just went to bed early and slept in today, but it's much nicer out today.

Today I went to 5 different grocery stores looking at their prices on a variety of things, just seeing where was the cheapest to get certain things and the best value for others. Very worthwhile venture. Tomorrow my break ends and Monday I've got class, so gotta get ready for that excitement I suppose. I am really pretty excited for this to get underway and see it all, it's going to be great, no doubt. I mean, I get to see all of Rome for one class, learn about Roman Culture, and study Science vs. Religion and Politics in Italy. Am I excited? You bet.

And that's about it. Everyone gets back tonight / tomorrow, so that'll be nice to have some more company, and we're thinking about Venice / Cinque Terre on Friday, so I'll let you all know obviously about that, but until next time, as always,

Ciao.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Firenze

So yesterday I really started to get a taste of Italy outside of Rome for the first time since arriving. Living in Roma is amazing; it's a place with such immense cultural history and a rich tapestry of human stories, beautiful architecture, and antiquated scenery that it really is tough to describe it as anything other than Roma. It sometimes feels like its own country, if that makes sense. The Vatican in Roma is slightly like a microcosm of Roma in Italia in general: it's walled in, filled with history, and surrounded by the landscape that shaped its existence and yet operates on its own agenda.

That's Rome, really.

Florence (or Firenze in Italia) is similar and yet infinitely different from Rome: it was the capital of the Renaissance, with such intense art and architecture and cultural impact that it really is its own beast. Seeing it really did make me feel like I live in Italy, the country, more than just Roma, the city.

So it all began yesterday with a 5:20am alarm, a shower/shave/breakfast combo, and a quick day-pack organizing and train schedule check before Bert and I headed out to Termini, or the Central Station here in Rome. The Metro line runs directly to it from just about 200 metres or so from our apartment, so we walked over there around 6, got to Termini around 6:20, bought our tickets from there to Firenze and got ready to go.

A quick note on trains here in Italy: they have about 3 or 4 different types of trains, and they all cost a bit different amounts with their own perks and cons. The Eurostar (the fastest) doesn't stop anywhere but the destination and is obviously the fastest, complete with individual seats and tables. The IC trains stop a few times, cost about 2/3 as much as the Eurostar, but you just get a seat and no table in a compartment of 6 seats. The final trains are the cheapest, stop-at-every-stop trains, and they are about 1/3 the price of the Eurostar, but take about 3 times as long.

So really, you pay for speed and comfort, or wait for cheaper. Makes sense.

Bert and I took an IC train to Firenze for 27 Euro, which is around 40 bucks. Expensive? A little. But it was to see the capital of the Renaissance and totally worth it. We left around 7 and got to Florence around 9:30 after about 4 stops and 2.5 hours of train riding and sightseeing out the windows, which was fantastic. I really loved seeing the Italian countryside, complete with Villas and fields of green and sheep and hills and just general beauty. This picture is lame and really doesn't do it justice, but it was very beautiful to see slideshow out the window.

We got to Firenze and hopped off into the Santa Maria Novella Train Station and were immediately greeted with train hoppers, pay-to-use facilities, and a McDonalds that sold Grade A, Parmeggiano Reggiano cheeseburgers. No wonder foreigners think highly of Mickey D's: they're gorgeous and smell delicious over here (and by delicious I don't mean in the fries way, even though that always smells sooooo good).

So we had a rough plan in our head of what to see for the day, and as to what that was I'll keep it a surprise for reading. The first thing up we knew we were close to and had to hit was the Duomo di Firenze, or the insanely ornate and beautiful Catholic Church of Florence. We walked about a km or so and really just followed the signs, eventually turning a corner to be blindsided by this gargantuan church out of nowhere in a huge plaza, bell tower, and of course, the church itself. I'll post pictures here, but later I'll post them to the Picasa feed so you can see all of them, it's much more useful that way.

Basically, it's beautiful, and a perfect rendition of how amazing the Renaissance really was, and what a progressive leap forward from the ancient stylings of a city like Roma. It's so massive, just look at the people at the bottom of it and know that it's as big as you can possibly fathom, with tons of little sculptures and beautiful decorations adorning the entire walled side of the facade. Awesome.

We read about a way to take the 414 stairs of the bell tower next to the Duomo up to the top and see all of Florence, and since it was still early, we decided to do it then and now, both to kick off our day in Firenze and to avoid the warmest part of a relatively (read:82 degree) cool day. Look to the left and see the bell tower in relation to the Duomo itself: they're roughly the same size, the actual dome and the tower, with the facade being about 2/3rd the height of the tower.

It cost 6 Euro to head up the tower, we paid our way and proceeded to spindle our way up the ever-narrowing, Statue-of-Liberty esque staircase up the tower, and every 100 steps or so, there'd be a lookout where you could see views of Firenze from ever-increasing heights. I took pictures all the way up, and you're welcome to see the online album of them, but for the sake of the length of this post, I'll just mention when we finally, after about 15 minutes of climbing a bit of sweatiness later, reached the top.

The view? Breathtaking. I know I use that word a lot in this blog, but know when I say it that I am really meaning that your breath is ripped from your chest and you just go slack-jawed taking it all in. I really, really wish that I could show you just how high it is and how amazing it really is. Take from this picture that that is only about 1/8th of the total view, but it's tough to capture just how high and amazing the view really is.

But I took a video of the other side, since I'm cool like that and I feel like it gets you all thismuch closer to being here with me, even though know that while seeing these videos is a fun thing, please, please do not imagine it as a substitute: there really is nothing like breathing in the air over one of the Western world's most legendary cities.
video

We soaked that view in for about ten minutes, really just seeing the city before descending down the steep stairs to the bottom of the tower and touching ground once again and lining up to check out the inside of said Duomo. It's very impressive from the outside, and I'm going to try and post a few pictures in a row that will not give a panoramic effect but give you an idea of the door paneling alone at the entrance to the church itself.

Don't know if that will work like I hoped it would, but we shall see.

We went inside and it's beautiful, no doubt, but the ceilings, unlike in say, St. Ignacio or Sistina, were blank. No frescoes. No adornment. Just blank. Beautiful. There was one fresco over the actual alter, The Last Judgment, but that's to be expected. It was done to be a beautiful place to pray from the outside, but it was a simple place for worship on the inside. I liked that message. Plus the floorplan from the ceiling shapes out to be a cross. Also cool symbolism. Tough to take pictures inside of there however due to low-light conditions, so I'll spare that for now and move on to our next, incredible, awesome adventure.

We went to the Galleria dell'Academica, or an art museum that just houses the most amazing sculpture ever created ever, hands down, end of story: the David by Michelangelo. We had to wait about 45 minutes in line, but we met some people from Denver and talked beer and Wii for the while before getting inside to pay the 10 Euro to simply see really the one thing everyone comes to see: David. There was a sign in there that made me laugh at the terrible translation, and I've included it just to see if it makes you laugh like it did me.

The museum was awesome, for sure, housing some of the most important religious artwork from the 1300's to the 1800's. It was really cool to see a lot of musical instruments as well, had fun touring that. But we eventually got to the David Room, and it is fantastic beyond description. But they have a no picture policy that they enforce like their lives depended on it. I, however, am a rebel and refuse to be held down, so I took a few guerrilla pictures that I have since included for you. Hope this turns out well, but no matter how beautiful it looks, it will never be like seeing David firsthand. Undoubtably, the most beautiful piece of art I have ever seen, and the reasons for praising it aren't exaggerated in the least.
Yup, so that was amazing.

We dallied there for a while and then went over towards the Piazza Uffici and Ponte Vecchio to eat, considering it was about 1 and I last ate at 5:30, we were both starved. Piazza Uffici is gorgeous, and it was where the original David statue was that we just saw, but it is now replaced with a rendition to spare the original. We got there and pictured it up for a while, and it was filled with high-end shopping, so KK, just for you, here's a little shout-out:

We ate at a nearby nice restaurant while taking it all in, before coming out and taking a video and leaving for Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge. It used to be an jewelery selling juncture in the 1400s, and it still is today, with the shops lining the bridge literally built over the edge of the water over, still selling some of the nicest things imaginable in terms of jewelery, cutlery, dishes, and whatnot. Pretty cool.

Picture time!








We enjoyed the view there and wandered a bit more, seeing far too many things to name and the history of which I couldn't possibly do justice to, and so I leave it to you to imagine a day in Firenze, just seeing it all, taking it in, and being lost in the pages of history, seeing it all.

I had fun. Here's an additional video of my trip in Piazza Uffici:

video

We decided to take an earlier train back and to just get home around 6 instead of leaving around then and took the Eurostar superfast train back for about 38 euro, which cost a lot, but hey, I was in Firenze and I enjoyed every minute, and I will remember it for the rest of my life, I don't doubt it in the least. I saw Florence. In a day trip. From where I live: Roma, Italia.

Ah, it's just the life I lead, I guess.

In a final, parting note, I just want to say this, since this blog is about what's important to me: today is three years since Kirsten and I started dating. Yeah, it's a long, long time, and I couldn't be happier. I'm such a lucky guy, I've got an amazing girlfriend who I'm getting to see the world with and couldn't be any more crazy about, a supportive, loving, awesome family (who I am very proud of . . . Megan, this means you, you know! I'm a proud big brother and I hope college starts well for you!), and really just a fantastic group of people I am proud to be related to and who care about me very much.

Without a doubt, I'm a very lucky man, and I have reason to smile like I am above. I don't need reminding of just how lucky I am, but days like today do just that.

So this post took about an hour and ten minutes to do . . . hope it was fun to read and know that I don't hold it against you if you didn't make it this far . . . it was a lot. I'll be updating again soon with my other life happenings, but until then,

Ciao.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Roma: Home sweet home-a?

Ciao everyone, I hope you're all having a nice day after my birthday, I am enjoying taking it pretty easy today and just relaxing a bit, I've been really moving these past few weeks and today is nice to just take a break and breathe a bit.

I traveled last night from about 3 o'clock Rome time to about 10:30, and my journey was complicated and intricate, but I am really proud of myself for figuring out how to do everything, of course, with Kirsten's help in Athens. I rode the Metro in Athens to the Airport, which took about an hour and change, and then went through the check-in process, got through security, blogged at the airport, then flew the two-hour flight back to Roma.

The flight was at dusk, and it was at such a nice time to get out of town. It was a clear night with only a few clouds sprinkled in the sky, and as we took off, I could see all of the islands in the Mediterranean and the topography of Greece, complete with all of its hills, buildings, inlets, and islands. I wish I could've taken a few pictures, but at that time, no cameras allowed. It was beautiful to say the least, and I really want to go back there someday to do an island trekking adventure. It will occur someday, I know it.

But yes, I made it into Roma about 8:30, got off and made it to my train back to Tiburtina, the little train station, around 10:05, then took Metro line B to Termini Stazione Centrale, then finally to Cipro station of Linea A, which is about 100 metres from my apartment.

All in all, on my trip, the first thing I thought of when I got off my plane in Roma was "welcome home." Which made me double take a bit. Rome is home? I felt so comfortable going through the motions here in Rome on my way back to my apartment that I didn't even really think twice about them, and one time on the train I realized I asked somebody what time we got into the station and they responded, and it was all in Italian. And I understood it! Big progress moment if you ask me.

But yes, I made it home safe and sound and just admired my pictures from the trip along with KK's (some real nice ones in there, alright!) and really just needed to hit the sack. I gotta say, I am going to miss having the companionship of Kirsten for the second half of this break. Being in Athens and going around with her was awesome, since I know it's a big deal for me, but to see the look of wonder and excitement in someone else's eyes too makes it more real, if that makes any sense. I know the sight visits with her were awesome, but seeing them with her made them even more so.

My break is about half way done, and I have tomorrow, Friday, and the weekend before class starts on Monday. So I've got some time off. I'm going to head to Firenze tomorrow with Bert, my roommate who is here in Roma for the break, and we're going to see it all in a day. So, I don't think there'll be a blog tomorrow, sorry. But Friday will be a big one full of Florence's finest, including the Duomo, Michaelangelo's David, Ponte Vecchio, the tombs of Galileo, Dante, and Michaelangelo, along with countless other sights to be seen, it should be a blast. We're going to do it in a day, so leaving here early, like 6:00 am and coming back around 9ish on the train, and with the 2.5 hour train ride, it should be about 10 hours to see Florence. Enough time to see everything? Of course not. Enough time to see a ton? You bet.

Then, I believe next weekend (like 9 days from now), as a group we might head up to San Marino / Venice, or maybe Cinque Terre. It's supposed to be so beautiful and amazing in Cinque Terre, but 4 dudes really isn't the company I'd want there, either, so we'll have to see about that. Venice would be exciting! Canals! Gondolas! Sinking stuff! Yeah!

And yes, a week after that excitement comes Switzerland and Milan with KK. Schedule's filling up. The weather here has finally broken, I wore a long sleeve shirt today just because I could. It feels EXACTLY like Portland in October, which was lovely, and I really hope it holds at about this mid 60s, not raining but not too hot day. Oh, and they finally fixed the AC in here, so if it does get hot now, we'll be prepared.

Andddd that's pretty much it. I hope you all have an excellent Wednesday, thanks for the birthday wishes, and more pictures coming your way soon. Until next time, as always.

Ciao.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Acropolis, adventures, and Greece in general

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So today, Tuesday afternoon / evening here in Athens, is my birthday.

So first and foremost, I must thank everyone who sent an email, posted a comment, or in someone's case, hosted an adventure I'll remember always. Thank you all tons for caring about me and saying something nice; I know I'm getting to experience awesome things for a 21st birthday, but sometimes, hearing from the people you care about is as refreshing as seeing what I am seeing.

Ok, but with that aside, it's time to brag:

I got to see Athens up close and personal, both old and new, and I had a blast.

I know posted yesterday a bit about my travels up until Saturday night, so I guess that means I should continue with Sunday morning. We got up and got ready a bit later on Sunday than on Saturday, had some Nutella sandwiches (man, Nutella is so awesome. I have lit the fire in Kirsten for it now too and I couldn't be more proud), and made sure we knew how to get to where we were heading: the Acropolis.

Literally, the Acropolis is the hill that all of the awesome structures of old rest on, and going to the Acropolis gets you access to several of the city's more classic sights to be seen, like the Parthenon, the Temple of the Olympiad Zeus, the Theater of Dionysis, etc. But we went up to the Acropolis and immediately we remembered I didn't put on sunscreen, but we pressed on. I am now burned a little, but can't say it's all that bad.

We headed up to the Acropolis and walked by a large street filled with books and magazine stands, all selling just about anything they could to make a buck. We marched on up the hill towards the structure, passing monuments as we went, with views of escalating awesomeness, like the one to the right.

Then you reach the top of the hill and at that point, we were both already sweaty. Which is not cool, and at the top of the hill, meaning no shade. Also not cool. But you know what is cool?

The Parthenon.

Which I saw.

It's tough to really describe such an ancient and famous monument in a manner that justifies it's breathtaking beauty, but I'll give it a shot. It's about 2,500 years old, or you know, about 140 generations ago to put that in any perspective. It's really amazing to see the stonework and arrangement of such huge rocks in such a precise and beautiful order; everything is so symmetrical, aesthetically pleasing, and obviously really well built, since the damn thing has made it over 2,500 years.

We marched around and just went slack-jawed for a while. I mean, what do you really do in the presence of such an awesome sight, one that is known world-wide? We took pictures like tourists (and KK and I have both updated our picture sites, and with her permission, I'll link you through to hers too so you can see them all.)

picasaweb.google.com/kkgoestogreece
picasaweb.google.com/nomomentwasted

The plethora of languages spoken there alone was mindblowing, and let me just say: I have never had a more difficult time finding someone to take a picture of me than we had at the Parthenon. We finally tracked someone down who would, and they proceeded to take a picture WITHOUT THE MONUMENT BEHIND US! I mean, what were they thinking? "Oh these people want a picture taken that they're in but what they're seeing isn't, of course!"

So we had to find another person, and we did. And, touristy as we may look, we have now a really awesome picture next to the Parthenon, proving we were there. Mission accomplished!

There are other buildings on the Acropolis, too, and I shall post more pictures of them too. Apparently, you can't pose for pictures with Athena (the Goddess) statues, since it's offensive to the Gods. Although Greece is Greek Orthodox Catholic, which has one God. So, if they don't believe in these faiths, why can't you take pictures? I am culturally sensative and did not pose with them, but you can still take them, which I did.

It was soooo hot up there though, and we were both starting to overheat, so we took it all in for a few more minutes and decided to head down the hill.

Woohoo. What a sight-seeing day. But it's not over yet, oh far from it, in fact. We then decided to get some lunch at a cafe, and we got some Souvlaki, or a Greek Kebab, essentially, which took forever and a day to come, but it did eventually and was delicious. We then decided to go back towards The Temple of the Olympiad Zeus, which we could now enter with our Acropolis tickets. It's right near the National Gardens and the Olympic Stadium, which are on the way back to Kirsten's apartment, so it was very convenient.

The Temple is very much in shambles now, but that's not to say it wasn't beautiful and indicative of what used to be there, because it certainly was. We took some pictures, but it too was directly in the sun, so we didn't linger long. Too hot.

We went back and got cooled down, siesta'd for a while, and then just went out to get some pizza for dinner at a local restaurant, and had a few beers and some great pizza before heading back for the night to just relax. It was a hot day, and Kirsten had class early the next day, leaving me time to post to the blog yesterday. We did a little shopping, too, and I made some Pesto Pasta and turkey melts for meals, encouraging KK to use her little, under-equipped kitchen a bit more.

That was yesterday, though, and today I went (sans camera, unfortunately) to the Theater of Dionysis and got a nutella and Bailey's Crepe, which was awesome. The Theater was the birthplace of Greek Comedy and Tradgedy performances, and the ampitheater there definitely worth seeing, I'm glad I went back.

But that really wraps my Athens Trip. I took the Metro to the Airport and here I am, about to board. I hope that showed a few cool things off, and I'm sure I'll have more to say about this trip later, just thought I'd give a quick post.

Oh, and happy birthday to me.

As always, until next time.

Ciao.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Oh, you know, just seein' the world

Ciao everyone,

Or should I say, Yiasas.

So basically I'm chilling in Kirsten's apartment in Athens. It's 1:45 pm here, or 3:45am back home, and she's in class where I am not. This gives me quite the opportunity to give an update for everyone back home.

I guess the best place to start would be at the beginning of this trip, which would be my journey over. It in its own right deserves a post just to itself, but I'll condense here and maybe write about airports next time around. But I left on Friday afternoon for the Fiumicino Airport in Rome around 4pm and took the metro to Stazione Termini Centrale and then went on Metro line B to Tiburtina Stazione, a smaller yet accessible station, and then took an Amtrak style train to the Airport with about 7 girls from my program who were also heading to Athens, although for different reasons.

We made it Fiumicino with zero problems, and we made it through security, etc, with little hassle. I know my Italian is getting better since it is getting infinitly more useful by the day. We made it to the gate about 30 minutes before boarding, and then delays hit. I guess we just had to pick the day to travel on that huge thunderstorms rolled in off the Mediterranean, and I should've known: visability on the way was drastically reduced, and it was more humid than any other day I can ever remember.

We eventually got on the plane about half an hour late: not too bad all things considered. The worst out of the way?

Far from it.

We sat on the runway for about half an hour after leaving the gate, watching HUGE bolts of lightning strike all around, and lighting up the city to our West. It absolutely poured buckets, and we were just all in awe over its omnipotent crashing thunder and radiant strikes. But we eventually got in the air, and all seemed well for about 5 minutes or so.

Then turbulance. I can pretty safely say that none of you have ever felt it like this in a jetliner, and I say that since even the pilot himself said he'd never felt any like that, which says something. The girls from my program (we were all seated together by the attendant, how nice) all looked absolutely ghastly. It was like being in the spin cycle or in a high-impact dryer. I mean, overhead compartments opened, people were crying and vomiting, it was gnarly. Amber, who was sitting next to me, turned white as a sheet and started absolutely shaking. For some reason, and I don't know why for the life of me, I just wasn't nervous at all and I kept trying to calm everyone down, and after about 5 minutes, it all subsided and we were in the clear again. WOOHOO. I was universally thanked and I felt proud of myself for keeping a cool head. It took about half the flight for everyone's color to return, and when they brought the drinks around, they offered wine and beer for free.

And they ran out. Because they were treated like shots, not beverages.

But we landed about an hour late, and I ran off to catch a cab, which I promptly hopped in and told my driver where to go. It's 11pm at this point, and he nods that he knows where we're going, and then pulls over to get gas, lights up a cigarette, and puffs it down before we leave.

I was not amused, but still in great spirits.

I was in Athens, Greece, about to see my girfriend, and nothing was dampering that.

I got in and Kirsten met me and it was very happy. Yay. We then promptly went to bed and got up the next morning, and we decided to check out Lykavittos Hill, or a HUGE hill that juts up right into the middle of the city. We got ready and headed out into Greece.

Now Greece is beautiful, no doubt about it. It's fantastic, amazing, and wonderous beyond description. Is it very clean? Not really. Is it very organized? Not in the least. Is it hot? Beyond belief. I mean, 95, full humidity, and smoggy as all get out during the peak part of the day, which is only when we decided to go out, of course. But we brought water and stayed hydrated, seeing awesome sights such as the Olympic Stadium, seen left. It was really cool and you can tell it's important, since it's kept clean. We walked by and I took obligatory pictures, although you can't go in it, so it makes it difficult.

From there, we headed past the National Gardens towards the Lykavittos Hill, going through the shopping district, where it was a bit more clean and organized. We kept walking and kept getting sweaty, but that's to be expected, I suppose. We kept going up stairs, hills, and old streets, moving towards pretty much the highest point in the city, other than the Acropolis. But we eventually got to the hill and headed on up through the very much like Central-Oregon style park and both of us started to get a littleeeee overheated, but Kirsten especially. It was ridiculously hot and muggy, but we took appropriate breaks and kept on trekking.

When we got to the top, you could tell it was worth it. I'll try and post as much as I can from here, but the internet is a bit slow, so I'll get up what I can. Know this, however:

It was, for a lack of better words, pretty badass.

I mean, you can see if you enlarge this picture (which I highly suggest), the span of the view, it was just incredible. Athens is a HUGE city, which has existed for millenia, about twice as many as Rome, to be exact. And Rome is old! But man, it was insanely breathtaking (not that we had much breath to begin with after the hike). Still, it ranks in the top five views of my life without question. I took a video and it's not amazing, but it shows a bit more of how this all looked. So I hope I can upload it, fingers are crossed.

video

There is a little church at the top of the hill, which we only looked in since both of us were so hot and underdressed we didn't think it appropriate, but it was cool to see. I'll put up more pictures later, I promise. In addition to this church, there was a cafe at the top, which was insanely cool to see, but also, as expected when one has a corner on the market, very expensive. But we had some water and sandwiches for pretty respectable prices, cooled down in their air conditioning, and very narrowly avoided ordering one of the 13 euro Mojitos. But just barely.

We continued to take in the view, but then headed back towards home, checking out the President's House by the National Gardens and oohing and ahhing over the Acropolis, which really does loom over everything else in the city. But that was for the next day, and we were sweaty and nasty, so much so that I was soaked through two shirts and neither of us showed signs of stopping, so we decided to clean up and siesta to go out to dinner later at a Taberna, or Greek Tavern.

I am very glad we did. It was great, awesome, and so cool. The one we checked out online didn't open until 8, which saddened us after we walked over there at 6 because we were hungry, but we went to the one next door and ate outside in the much more pleasant evening-time garden of the Taberna. It was really cool, there were only Greek people there and limited English was spoken, so we just worked around a much steeper language barrier than exists in Italy. It's more Eastern Europe in Greece, and the language problems are more numerous, but everyone is polite and you just do your best. Which we did. Admirably, if I could say so myself.

We had some really awesome food here. We got some bread and water, and then had some delicious Tzatziki, which I'd never had but was delicious. If you are like me and haven't ever heard of it, it's yogurt, cucumber, and garlic dip-type substance, and we liberally applied it to all our food, and it was delicious. I ordered some Village Sausage, which was excellent, along with an Amstel. Kirsten had a beer too, and we both remarked over how weird it is to be drinking over here and not have anyone question it in the least, actually encouraging it.

On a hot day, there really is nay better drink than an ice cold beer. And sausage? Cold Tzatziki? Or Kebab (like Kirsten had . . . it was very good also). But whew, eating good in the neighborhood, no joke. We ate for about 2 hours, which is really the minimum you can take to eat a meal here, no joke. We got our bill and an absolutely delicious lemon-sorbet-shot thing that was the perfect digestif for an excellent meal.

That wrapped up Saturday.

Sunday was Acropolis and Temple of the Olympiad Zeus day, which cannot be accurately described, only shown. I hope my pictures will load a bit quicker so I can show a few off, but know that I have already taken 100 and I plan on taking a few more before I leave, but I have taken many that capture the essence of what it's like to be here. Only an essence, however. Some things just have to been felt. I say it's amazing, and I show you what I see, what I feel, what I smell, and it makes a composite picture, but when it's a reality, staring you in the face, it's a feeling that can only be recreated by those who've shared in such experiences with you. I'm so glad to be seeing this with someone I care so much about, and all of you who are reading this, know that I truly wish you were here.

My connection is very poor, which I can't get too discouraged with since it is being pirated at the moment, but know that I am really looking forward to updating you all with pictures and excitement when I have the chance . I think my stories about the Acropolis must wait, but I can leave you with a picture (hopefully) that can give you a glimpse.

Until later (probably tomorrow), know that I am here and thinking of you all, but enjoying my visit while I can. It's a hell of a place to see, and I can't wait to share all my stories with you in the future.

Until next time,

Ciao.

Friday, September 12, 2008

And away!

Ciao everyone! I am back and freshly showered, all prepared for my first of several trips this semester, and I leave in just about an hour for Athens, Greece. It's one of the cradles of western civilization, housing some of the worlds oldest and most wonderful man-made buildings, and not to mention where Kirsten Kay is. All very good things!

I am beyond excited to get going, part of me just wants to skip town this instant and just get to the airport obscenely early (my flight is in about 4.5 hours), but I'll leave in an hour with a group of people who are all on the same flight and we'll all make our way and make our mistakes collectively, leaving the only part I have to really be responsible for solely is my taxi from the airport to where I'll be crashing.

So, let me know if there's anything you particularly want me to look for or if there's any elaborations you'll want, I'll be taking tons of pictures an my computer as well so I'll be potentially able to upload, but that all depends on a multitude of things, namely if I find the time in seeing some of the world's wonders to do so.

I am now three weeks deep in Italian and I had my exams today, which I believe went pretty splendidly. I got an A on my composition, but that was only worth 5 percent of my grade, so here's to hoping I got an A on the Final and therefore an A in the class. I feel like I should, I mean, I can speak some Italian now, and I feel really awesome doing so. I did with my Pizza e Birra friends (the people who work at a Pizzarria near here). They know I spoke no Italian, as I couldn't just a few weeks ago. But today I spoke it with them as I passed by and got a snack to break a 50 Euro Bill and they were applauding my progress and I felt special. It's cool to be really learning a language and immediately putting it to use (unlike say, my French, which has been lying dormant for oh, forever?)

With that, I am going to get everything else I have together and get ready to get going I suppose. I hope you all have a great Friday and I'll send away to give you a hint of what I'm doing, but know I'll be having fun and taking pictures for everyone the whole trip.

And as always, until next time,

Ciao.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Oh, you speak English?

So today made me very happy for a litany of reasons. Firstly, today is only a day until I leave to go be with KK in Athens. I am far too excited, and I can't wait to be in such a historic place, one of the few in the world that makes even Roma look young. Secondly, Matt Damon's comments on Sarah Palin were fantastical in every way. If you haven't seen them, please, do yourself a favor and do. It's a very intelligent, honest, and eerily funny (not actually funny, since it's too honest-to-God true it does make me scared).

But really, I had a pretty awesome experience today after I got out of class around 1. We studied ALL class period for the exam tomorrow, worth only 40 percent of my final grade, no big deal. Our class was absolutely put through the ringer, and I felt at the end of it like I was sitting pretty nicely for the exam tomorrow. That is not to say that all night after I blog (and make dinner) I won't be studying, since I will be. Until I go to bed. How grand!

After that monsterous 3.5 hours of review, I just went for a walk to take a break. I walked over towards Piazza Navona, a rather famous Piazza which is home to the Fontana dei Quattro Fiume, or the Four Rivers Fountain, one of the alters of science in Angels and Demons, for those of you who have read that. I just walked over there about 5 minutes after I got out and just wandered around, taking a few pictures and checking out the arcitecture of the buildings surround the Piazza (they're Baroque and apparently a focal point of Baroque architecture, no big deal, right?). It was really cool to know that it's just right there, a few blocks away.

There are several fountains in the Piazza, but the biggest Quattro Fiume is under construction. Lameeee. But I still got the Obelisk in there, it's the center of the picture to the right. And I just like how all the fountains here are user-friendly as far as drinking out of, how awesome is that? Not to mention refreshing.

But from there, I browsed some of the artwork for no one in particular, and there were literally 2 dozen or so stands around vending their artwork, and I decided to ask about the cost, and of course, in Italian. I asked, he responded, and I told him what I was looking for, and he showed me a few things that I might like, and I mentioned how hot it was today and he laughed, saying he'd been out there all day. I only had a 50, and he went in to break it but gave me my purchase as leverage, came back, and I was getting ready to leave the stand when these two tourists did exactly what tourists do: speak in their native tongue, in this case, English. But they were talking a few feet away, and I overheard their conversation about how they wanted to have someone take their picture, and one of them gestured to me, but I was speaking Italian and they didn't know how to ask. So, they came up and asked if I could, and I said "ok"

They did not know I knew English at that point, and I was curious if they did or not. So, I counted to three in Italian and took the picture of them, smiled, and handed them their camera back and I told them (in English) to have a nice day, and they both looked surprised I spoke English, and affirmed that by saying:

"Oh, you speak English! How many of you over here do? It's impressive!"

Yup. So I fooled some tourists. Pretty awesome. Now for fooling the people who actually live here. That's much more difficult. I told them I wasn't from here, just lived here, and they were impressed. So cool for me, I suppose.

I wandered back here and got some money from the Bancomat (or the ATM) I took out 100 Euro, which before cost me 149 bucks a few weeks ago. Now it cost only 141. Or 8 fewer bucks. SCORE! Here's to hoping the Dollar keeps going up and the Euro falls a bit more! Anyway, I made my away, dealing with the insanity of heat today: 32 Celsius with 100% Humidity. Whew. I'm really going through laundry quickly, that's for sure. I always feel like a shower is a good idea, but I joked with the vendor about how hot it was and asked when it cooled down and the tourists leave, as if they were connected. Maybe they are, who knows?

That was sarcasm, by the way. I really like tourists (so was that).

I got back here around 2:15 and had to fix the internet for the whole floor by telling the front desk they needed to give us the new codes, which I then had to help everyone figure out how to enter. I really am just doing it all today I guess.

But yup, that's really about it for today. I think I'll include another picture of my walk home since hey, why not? I am leaving for Athens tomorrow and I'll probably get a quick update in before I go, but I'm not sure how plentiful the updates will be while I'm over there, so just know that much. I'll post my infinite number of pictures when I get the chance, fear not! But as always, until next time,

Ciao.