Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Back from the depths of my bed

Ciao everyone, I hope you've been well. I know it's been a bit longer than usual since my last update, but I got pretty sick Saturday night and had to really rough through that bit this week, getting about 11-14 hours of sleep a night and trying to just keep it from getting too settled in. It didn't, however, and I am feeling great, just in time to go to Cairo tomorrow!

Basically, I couldn't be more excited if I tried. It's been so busy here these past few days, between less hours in the day to do work because of sleep and the paper prompts, travel prep, etc, it's been a whirlwind. I am at school right now updating actually, since we had a really terrible lightning storm last night that was among the best I've ever been a part of, and it knocked out power all over the city for a lot of the day, and I know internet all over the city has been messy, so I wanted to make sure I at least got a little post in, and who's to say I won't update after class tonight again with more insanity.

This week hasn't had too much to report outside of the sickness until today. This week has had a brewing storm about public school funding here in Roma (see? It is similar to the U.S!) and we've been hearing bits and pieces about it getting bad, but yesterday the Italian Congress stepped up with a new proposal that really messes with the funding and some are passing around making the Sapienza, Roma's university of over 100,000 people, a private school instead of public, and people blew their lid. Massive strikes, protests of tens of thousands of people, it's been really intense around these parts. The Military police stopped me today on site visit as I was wearing a red shirt (communist color, you know) and asked in Italian if I was going to the rally.

I was not. Sono Americano, and if I go, unfortunately, I get kicked out of the program. It's the rules and they stink, as I'd love to see it just to witness it. But the Carabinieri, or military police, were in full riot gear and had automatic rifles and looked really intimidating. Apparently, in 2001, similar protests occurred and they turned violent. Very violent.

Here's to hoping that doesn't happen!

Today is my last day in Roma, as tomorrow I'm going to Cairo to see the Tellams, and no offense to Brad and Sue, I can't wait to see Kirsten. It's been over three weeks now, and we get to meet up in Egypt? Wooooohoo! I can't wait! Egypt is somewhere I've wanted to go my entire life, and if you know me, you know that's true. I will take millions of pictures, worry not, and I will have the time of my lifetime, fear not at all. I'm there until Saturday night after getting in Thursday evening, then to Athens until Wednesday, where I'll report back fully!

Enjoy your week folks, off to class! Ciao!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"It's fascinating, seeing people!"

Ciao everyone. I am on my weekend relaxation day, which tends to be Saturday or Sunday. I plan on getting quite a bit of work done today, but planning and ability to do so are very, very different things. I am bound and determined to try and get ahead in my work, at least a little bit, but that is always easier said than done. I believe this week, with Kirsten in Egypt (which is making me more and more jealous by the second, but more on that later), midterms over, and rain on the way (yes, it's raining a bit today and more to come this week), I figure I should really just buckle down and try to get ahead.

There is, however, a major problem with that ideology: I actually have to do work and do it ahead of time in a foreign country where all I want to do is just go and explore, using my free time to really see everything I can. It's not easy, you know.

But yes, Thursday after I got out of class, I napped and took it a bit easy; it was such an intense string of days with classes, papers, visitors, limited sleep, studying, and I was really just ready to kick back and relax for a night, which is what I did. Chad, Bert, and I watched Burn After Reading, which someone had on their computer. It was really funny, very twisty and odd, enjoyed it thoroughly. We started streaming Eagle Eye too, but we got about 20 minutes in and it died. Contrary to what the movie execs think, I would not have seen it before I saw this part, but now that I have had such a taste of it, I may end up seeing it when it comes out over here. We had a bunch of people over from the apartments around us and just all relaxed, hung out, and went to Art Cafe, which a really nice club here in Roma. We got in for free, and the group I went with was probably one of my favorites to date, just as it was all really good people I've known for a while and feel pretty comfortable around. I laughed pretty hard that night just at the sheer ridiculousness that Euro clubs evoke out of people. Dancing, hysterical music, and way too much unintentional comedy for one man to handle.

I got back and crashed, but it was pretty late, and we had to get up early to go to Celano, or this little town to the East of Roma in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Now, my professor is an Oxford alum Sociologist and Anthropologist, and he lives in this little village known for its very communist outskirts and rather outlandish people (side note: people in Italy think of the Celanese people as very backward and kind of hick-like, as they once beat the living tar out of a ref in a soccer match years back and got banned from their league for a while. Pretty much cemented this ideal).

Now, our professor is as Oxford as they come, complete with accent that is so easy to mock and completely loveable in an "I am so enthralled by these people that you can't possibly help but be too" kind of way. We got into the central town square and got a grand tour of different churches in the region that are patronized by people who probably wouldn't be classified as good Catholics, but still care about religion. It was really a pretty Hermiston-esque place in terms of country locations, and the scenery reminded me heavily of the gorge. Really, really nice.

There was also this beautiful castle, a mixture of Medieval and Renaissance work, and we spent a good while in there getting a local history lesson from a man who couldn't look more out of place if he tried, but he speaks flawless Celanese dialect and the people all seem to know him and look at us as if we were some sort of oddity. We are, though, I suppose. The only people that ever come through there are Italian and very, very few tourists ever venture out to that region, although everyone was very nice and I had a great time people watching. I tried out some Italian with a group of kids from a class, about 8-9 years old, trying to ask them where they were from and what they were doing there. They understood and talked to me for a minute, and besides one kid who I was informed didn't speak Italian, they were fun to talk to.

I like Italian. Especially when I'm doing ok with it.

There was a market set up, and this shop was there that sold supposedly the best biscotti (in Italy, biscotti is cookie) in all of Italy. I had to see this, as if you know anything about me, I am a cookie fan to the absolute limit. A few of us went into this shop and two old Celanese women helped us out. I spoke as much Italian as I could and they were very confused as to how I was an American who spoke Italian, for two months, no less. They were impressed and complimented us several times over, but I know they had an agenda.

The biscotti were amazing, by the way. Amaretto, or almond, biscotti are their specialty, and they were really very good. A+. And I understood what the people were saying, and once again: I like Italian. Especially when I'm doing ok with it.

From there, we went over to the middle of the drained lake, about 10 miles away from Celano the village, to this dust bowl style town, shanty-buildings and filled with nothing but about 5 native Italian, 20 migrant Moroccan and Tunisian workers, and us. My class has about 5 guys and 25 girls, who were all stared at frequently. They had never seen Americans before, apparently. They spoke broken Italian and African French, and I tried to talk with some of them for a while, but it was not easy.

Vincenzio, the proprietor of a bar / general store in that town (if that's what you can call it) set up a feast for us of sandwiches, wine, beer, coke, and Italian twinkie-like desserts. We feasted, attempted to talk with the migrant workers, and laughed hysterically about our professor's talking with the people and looking so out of place yet fit in so well. They had a soccer videogame there, which Phil (a guy who lives next door to us) and I played for about half an hour against each other with the migrant workers watching us curiously. I offered them to play, but they looked very intimidated.

We eventually left and I can't really convey to you how odd the day continued to get from here. We went out to as far from civilization is seems you can get in Italy to this farmhouse of a communist news publishing group who wants to have the freedom of the press here in Italy, something that currently doesn't exist. He showed us this movie he and his friend had made (an Iraqi expatriot) and it was so campy and corny in its attempt to be in English and appear American, but an "admirable" effort on their part. I'm all about freedom of the press, and the people were very earnest in their efforts, but it was an hour long about something we don't really understand being foreigners.

After it was over, there was an equally painful Q&A portion that I wish we could've avoided like the plague, not going to lie. After that though, there was a snack spread and I talked with Kirsten for a minute. In Cairo. It was amazing to hear about her first day in Cairo, but man, I'm so jealous. It's crazy. I mean, I'd had such an interesting day that I will remember for quite a long time, but the fact that she was in Cairo, seeing all of these amazing things, I was just blown away. It sound amazing, and in just a few days, I'll be there too; I just wish I could be there right now! It sounds so cool!

But yes, we rode the bus back after that, and Amber, Cara, and I discussed what we would do if we won a million Euro and had to spend it in a week over here. The answers were fun, and the rolling countryside out the window with a sunset was very fitting as an ending to our day. We rolled back in and many people wanted to go out, but Amber, myself, and a few others were a little over being up and about, so we made our way back to Candia.

Meg and Kelly came over again after I took a quick nap; they had just arrived back from Florence and came over for a simple dinner. It was really nice to see them again, and Phil (the same one from earlier) came over with us and went out to this fantastic donut shop with 30 cent donuts that will blow your mind; I only wish I could show you. On top of that, we went over to a gelato shop and chatted for over an hour outside about politics, the election, and people from high school. It was a really nice evening that ended pretty abruptly after Kelly and Meg left, as I had to get some sleep. Some people went to the chocolate festival today; I needed to get some work done so I passed on it and saved some money.

If you're wondering why I was short on pictures, I concede that I took hardly any since my battery in my camera was dead from almost the get-go. Heartbreak. I have permission from friends to use theirs at a later date, and I believe I'll post them when that occurs. Today it's off to go write and Ethnography, but I'm doing it with my eyes on Cairo, where I'll be in less than a week, Munich in 2 from right now, and Istanbul in 4. Awwww yeah.

Until next time,

Ciao.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Whew, it's the weekend

Ciao everyone!

The internet has returned, and Craig feels like a million bucks. My midterms are over now (and thank God they are), I'm going to Egypt in a week, Munich in two, and Istanbul in a month, and I am going to have a really great weekend I have the feeling. How do I know?

One: I have internet and in theory, it's totally fixed. They had the guy come out twice and it's been totally rectified. The internet really is my main connection to home, and without it, I feel almost naked. I've really wanted to blog these past few days, but it's been really tough to do so. I have a few pictures to upload, but I just want to make sure the internet holds out for long enough to blog before I go that crazy.

Two: I have a lot of really cool things I can do this weekend, and I have so many invitations of places to go and people to hang out with it's crazy. I'm not used to having to pick between three invitations, and feeling like the two groups I'm having to say no to are really going to be disappointed. It's really cool to feel like I'm making friends in several groups, and that I feel like I could hang out with any number of people and have a really great time.

Three: Midterms are finished and although I have a lot of work to do this weekend, the in-class pieces are finished. Woohoo.

And finally, four: I'm going to Celano tomorrow, this really supposedly awesome and cute town in the middle of nowhere, Italy. I can't wait. I've really enjoyed seeing the not-touristy places of Italy, and supposedly (according to my professor), one of the areas we visit tomorrow as a class gets only two groups of visitors per year, and they're from this program when our professor brings them. Cool stuff. Plus, there's all you can eat food and desserts and whatnot, and I'm really just excited in general for that.

This week was so crazy that I wouldn't have had too much time to blog, even if I had internet. I had about 20 pages worth of writing for my two midterms yesterday, and they were really, really long and trying to finish. However, that being said, I feel like I probably did a pretty fair job all things considered, and so far I know I'm doing ok in my classes as I got my first Italian Midterm back today and I got a 92%, which was 9 percent above the average, which makes me feel pretty good.

Yesterday was all midterms in general, with a site visit in the morning. We saw two really interesting churches, but we really didn't get much time at the second one due to having to be back for our midterm at 11:30, or 30 minutes after. Santa Maria Prassede was beautiful, simply awesome inside, and you would never know it from the street. I love when that happens, it's like you have to be looking for it. The Apse was beautiful and intricately designed in mosaic fashion, complete with ridiculously intricate Biblical imagery of the 6 lambs from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, the phoenix as the symbol of the resurrection, Peter and Paul, etc. It was pretty beautiful, as everything tends to be here, and considering it's about 1200 years old, not really sure how it's possible that it could be this amazingly old and inspiring in it's intricacy and portrayals, pretty cool stuff.

In this church, to the right of the picture above, there is a chapel, also mosaic worked, with a roundel of Jesus being lifted by four angels and if you can see each individual tile piece in the work, it's amazing to think of just how accurate all of this stuff is, you know? I wish there were ways of showing it to you, but I hope these pictures do it some justice of showing just how cool it looks.

I went back to class with about 4 other people who needed to be back for Culture and Identity's midterm, and we were really far away. We took a taxi and it was like 7 Euro total to get back, so it was less than 2 euro a piece and it took hardly any time at all. I hadn't been in a car in over a month, and THAT was a little bit weird to think about. When in Rome, do as the Romans do: don't drive. I guess.

My midterm wasn't too bad, all things considered. Tough? Sure. Horrible? Not at all. After it was over, I went and got this really awesome salad with Marcela, Emily, and Phil (a guy who lives next door to us in the program and is in Science and Religion with me) all studied over lunch for the next midterm just a few hours later. The salad was the first at a restaurant I'd eaten since I've been here, and it wasn't toooooo expensive, like 8 euro for water and the salad and bread. And 8 euro is no longer like 12 bucks, it's more like 10.25. Why, you ask? Because the exchange rate is at its best point in over 2 years. Woohoo!

We went back to the study center and I had a little more study time, and it was off to the test. It was really, really long; in fact, it may have been one of the longest tests I've ever taken in a 2 hour period and DEFINITELY the longest midterm ever. It took everyone the full two hours, and my hand was dead. I never really write on paper anymore, it's so often on computer when I do write that my hand just goes kaput after a while.

I came back here and chatted with everyone for a while, taking it easy and just relaxing. It's been a busy, stressful week. My mind liked the slight break. I had a bunch of Italian homework, which I did finish, and got some good rest before class this morning. Today was all tandem exchange with Italian students from the Sapienza, or the University here in Roma. It's about 500 years old or so, and it makes me laugh to think it's been around 10 times longer than UCSD. Weird.

The students were great, and my Italian has improved, I know so. They wanted to speak English, too, so I tried to speak in Italian as much as I could while they spoke a lot of English. But when they spoke Italian, I felt pretty confident I was understanding what they were saying, which signifies MAJOR progress on my part.

But yup, that's about it. I am trying not to think about Kirsten being gone to Egypt, as she and her family are at the airport heading for Cairo as we speak. I am really, really jealous, but I just have to wait about a week from right now and I'll be there too. I'll have her in my thoughts a lot as I just worry about her in such a foreign place, but she'll be in good hands. I can't wait to experience Africa (whoa!) in just a few days! YIKES!

But that's about it, everyone. I hope your Thursday goes well and do email or check in, and until next time,

Ciao.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Part two?

Ciao everyone, and welcome to part two.

I think I'm going to get this in, but understand if I get limited pictures, video, something along those lines. But yes, Saturday was beautiful and we went up to the Papal residency as a class. We took a charter bus from Piazza Repubblica, and we got on our way about 9 in the morning (after catching a bus home from that same stop just over 6 hours earlier).

We got on the bus and rolled out of Roma, which I always enjoy. Rome has very little in the way of nature, and when you get out of it, it's such a rewarding and calming feeling to see nature in play again. After about half an hour on the bus, we arrived, and Father Larrey gave us a brief rundown and we ascended this little staircase and came out into an open area, which is shown here. The papal residence is right behind me in this picture, which we'll get to in a minute or so.

It was an adorable little town, set on the volcanic lake Albano. I really could get used to living here, and after I ascended into the Castel Gandolfo, I am not the least surprised the Pope would like to have his summer digs here.

There were many guards around the doors, which we large in their own right, and a little portal opened in the center, revealing a Wizard-of-Oz style window which a guard asked who we were there to see, and Father Larrey responded "Padre Matteo."

Now, Padre Matteo is pretty much the most awesome guy ever. He's in his mid 70's, Italian through and through, and speaks pretty good second-hand English. He's an Astronomer, and has lived most of his life there at Castel Gandolfo, which has 5 telescopes set up for observing the stars. We actually came to visit this Castel because it was set up after the Galileo affair in the 17th century and the Vatican realized it'd probably be a good idea to see what Galileo was talking about, albeit a little too late to save much face.

Anyway, Father Matteo was adorable. He was very sweet and cracked incredibly corny yet hysterical jokes, and was so excited to show off his home to a bunch of Californian students and try and make them laugh and get the importance of the place across to us students who may not otherwise get it. He really is quite nice. He showed off all of his "toys" and such, his telescopes, and gave quite long speeches in his decent English, all the while telling us terrible jokes that I just enjoyed thoroughly. He pointed the telescope at the sun and held up a piece of wood, and it was literally 4 inches thick and it burned through almost immediately. It was pretty darn cool, I gotta say.

My internet has been so terrible the past few days and I'm really not sure if I'll get this all posted, but know that you should check out my pictures, which all are now online with the exception of just a few, at:

http://picasaweb.google.com/NoMomentWasted

I'm captioning them too, and they're making it on there very gradually, so let's hope the internet keeps up and I can keep blogging!

Anyway, that break aside, we just soaked in the views and enjoyed the lovely time with such a nice old man, filled with stories about how John Paul II (yes, the Pope) liked having people around all the time, and Benedict is more of a recluse, it's really interesting. For sure, it was excellent for the day.
video

Buy yes, just enjoy the view. It's quite the place, and yes, as the girls do say in the video, it's GORGEOUS hahaha.

We hung out in the town for a little while longer, just exploring and taking some pictures. There was a wedding in the nearby church that they hurled bags of rice as the bride and groom left which looked more painful than anything, but it was pretty cute to see them dash even more quickly into the car to speed away.

I like little Italian towns. Bracciano, Gandolfo, Saronno, they're all just so picaresque and beautiful, plus, the food always smells nice. But all good things come to an end, and I headed home to get some work done and to just relax. I napped and just relaxed, doing some studying, and later, Meg and Kelly arrived from Finland, bearing gifts of chocolate and good cheer, even though it was near midnight when they arrived. We went on a really nice walking tour of the city over to Gioletti's Gelato, aka the best ice cream in the world, and they were definitely in accordance with me and the general consensus on that front. Just excellent. It's really nice to see some more familiar faces, that's for sure.

We hopped the very last Metro back here, and they headed out and I got to sleep, and sleep I did. I slept in and got up, did some work and grocery shopping, and Meg and Kelly came over for dinner on Sunday. We wanted to watch Roma/Inter on TV, but it wasn't shown as it's on a cable network or something, but good thing we didn't: Roma lost 4-0.

Ouch.

I made my now famous Prosciutto and Cream Garlic Pasta, which was pretty nice, and we had some good wine and bread before they headed out for the evening, but not before a little Flight of the Conchords and the newest episode of the Office. Good times all around.

Yesterday, Monday, was just busy as all get out: studying, 6 hours of class, 2 hours of commuting, and eventually, sleep. Today is all about hoping the internet has been fixed for good, which maybe it has been, maybe it hasn't, but for now it's working and that's what counts. Remember to check out the picture site, as there are seriously over 500 pictures on there with most of them captioned, so seriously, if you want to see all of what I'm taking, that's the place to be.

Tomorrow I have two midterms, so I guess I should get back to studying for those . . . oh joy. But after tomorrow, the weekend is almost here again, and it just felt like the weekend ended. Funny how that works.

Until next time,

Ciao.

Maybe, maybe not

Ciao everyone, I hope your weekend is going splendidly, I am having a terrible bout of non-internet-itus, which has symptoms of no blog, limited homework ability when resources are only available online, and high levels of frustration. There's nothing like faulty internet to really mess with your day; it's almost worse than just not having the ability to access it, since at least that way you know it's not there and you don't depend on it.

But yes, internet struggles aside, this has been quite the eventful weekend here in Roma. Friday was great fun; I went out for our friend Vicki's birthday, and she was turning 21, and in true American fashion, you must celebrate that birthday as it allows you to go to drink legally in the states (although it really doesn't matter over here and Italians really don't understand the fuss). But yes, she wanted to go to Hard Rock Cafe, and I am not the biggest Hard Rock Cafe fan in the world, since I always feel like it's just ok and a little overpriced, but that's when burgers, fries, onion rings, ribs, etc, can be accessed easily.

This is not the case in Italy.

And they were very, very good.

We were a group of 13, and we couldn't all fit at one table, so we split into two groups. The group pictures will hopefully ok, but I know the internet's so bad that I'm not expecting much. If they do though, I'll be quite excited.

I've got one! These lovely people are, from left to right, are Jaime, Alysha, A.J, Kalis, and Shayna. A.J, as you may remember, lives with me and is one of my 4 roommates, and goes to UCSD. Another Triton is Jaime, who I have Medieval Rome with. I know Shana, Kalis, and Alysha just through A.J. and some other mutual friends, but it was a good time.

Group 2! That's me on the left, along with Sarah, Natalie, Marcela, and Alex. Alex is another roommate of mine, and Marcela and I have a few classes together and have hung out a few more time. We've got Science and Religion together, along with Emily, who's taking the picture. Bert refused to be pictured, for reasons unknown, but he was there too.

The food was really pretty tasty. I made Carbonara that night and so I wasn't intensely hungry, so I split the starter plate and a bottle of wine with the table, and the starter plate had lots of Chicken Tenders, Barbequed Wings, Onion Rings, Spring Rolls, honey mustard / barbeque / sour cream, which I've missed horribly, and even a bit of fresh vegetables.

Yum.

Everyone else ordered dinner but I was so full I restrained and just sung along with the music coming through the speakers. It really felt like America in there, and I don't know if that's an awesome thing or not, but it really felt pretty nice to just be able to relish in the kitschy and familar music, food, and language.

It was Vicki's 21, so we all covered her drinks and food, but between the 12 of us, it was only a few extra Euro. I got no such treatment on my birthday, but then again, I woke up in Athens and had too much fun there, and I've got no complaints in that department.

From there, we went over to go to a club, but we met up with these Italian girls on the Metro who spoke no English, only Italian and a little French. They invited us to this student club, which was in Garbatella, or a slightly-sketchy neighborhood, as it's lower-income student housing for the Sapienza, or the Roman University. We wandered through this kind of industrial looking area and wondered if we were about to have our kidneys harvested, but we got to this club, and it was really, really popular with the young Italian crowd. We waited in line, but our Italian friends got us inside quicker. My hunch is that they were promoters and we were roped in, but hey, it was a good time.

It cost 15 euro to get in, and yikes. Whoa. Expensive. For guys, anyway. Girls it's a Euro. Reeeeeeeeal fair. But it came with a drink, which are otherwise expensive, so once we got inside, it was all fun from there. We were there for a few hours until the early morning hours, which is too late for my blood, but it was a party and we all had some good fun before returning home and crashing out.

I had to get up for the Papal summer residence tour, which was AWESOME. I'll post pictures later as I can't right now, but I'll come back to this, I promise promise. Maybe even tonight my time if it picks up.

But yes, I think I'll stop there for the moment. Next blog will contain Papacy excitement and visitors too, but until then (maybe soon),

Ciao.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A post about little

Ciao everyone, I know it's a common refrain, but it's not always easy to start a post. It's Friday morning, about 10:10 at the start of this, and I am just up after having a little breakfast and listening to some music. It's raining heavily and smells fresh with a mix of garlic from my dinner last night. Some of my roommates are at a site visit this morning, and I am just by myself in here with the cleaning people swarming the apartment right now. It's always a little awkward when they come in, but I really don't have anywhere to go this morning while they're here, so I'll just blog and keep listening to my music and it'll be over soon enough.

This week went by in a blink. I had two midterms and a paper prompt due. It was a whirlwind of excitement from Tuesday afternoon to today, but not the kind that makes for all that amazing storytelling or picture taking, but there are some nice things I can update about a bit more of my cultural discoveries and the people I've met since I've been living here for almost 2 whole months now. In fact, it will have been 2 months since I left Portland on Sunday, and that's a bit nuts to think about to be honest.

I have been making impressive strides I believe when it comes to Italian. I really feel like I'm turning a corner. Some days I feel more confident than others, but Wednesday afternoon I felt like I was at a watershed moment that made me smile. We went to Mimi e Coco's Panini shop here, which is a series of 4 shops that are cafes, gelato shops, etc. I had about half an hour between classes, so I went to snag some lunch and a few of my friends came along, Anne and Alyte. They live one floor down from our apartment, 2 of 4 girls in one of the 3 apartments just below us. Anne is in a long-term relationship too, as in several years, and it's been nice to have someone else to talk about the distance and whatnot with. Alyte goes to UCSD too, and she's studying abroad for a year, with her second semester being Semester at Sea, which the Vieiras connection has been explain to her and I think it's really cool to be able to do that. She's got a huge Lithuanian family, and we've also talked SEVERAL times about the awesomeness of the greatest basketball player of my time, Arvydas Sabonis, who you may remember on Portland a few years back, was also Lithuanian.

Anyway, Panini. We went in there and we ordered these great looking and relatively cheap panini, and by the time they were done, I had about 12 minutes before class started, and she started to wrap them up to go, but I asked if we could eat there (possiamo mangiare ecco?) and she said "oh, I thought you had class" and I responded "Si, io ho, ma voglio mangiare ecco" (Yes, I do, but I want to eat here) and she laughed, saying you'll have to eat quickly in Italian, and I laughed back saying "si, sono Americano, io posso fare" (I am American, I can do it) and she laughed heavily, as did Anne and Alyte. I made a joke in Italian and an Italian person found it funny. I felt very proud of myself.

Anyway, class went a long for the day and I came back here Wednesday evening after Science and Religion and I had to study for my Italian midterm yesterday. I went downstairs to a different apartment, the Alicia/Amber/Cara/Laura (in alphabetical order) and spent about an hour and a half not studying and laughing hysterically, telling roommate stories about Freshman year (cough cough Sean!) and looking at my new favorite website, stuffwhitepeoplelike.com.

If you haven't heard of it, it's the funniest thing I've seen in quite a long time. White people are not made fun of often enough, I think it's why so many people don't like us. Make fun of me. It's really funny if it's true, and I love Chappelle for that.

Anyway, Amber, Laura, Alicia and I talked about potential travels and excitement the rest of this year, including my journeys to Perugia for the Chocolate Fest soon (which they too will probably attend), Egypt in two weeks, Munich in three, and Istanbul in 5. It's pretty intense, I've gotta say. Theirs are even more intense; Amber and Laura are in Madrid this weekend, Perugia next, and all over Eastern Europe for the second break, Interlaken in November (at my behest!) and who knows where else. Cara's in Belgium this weekend, where Alicia was last weekend, and has gone to 4 countries since she's been here, and is going to Poland, Romania, Hungary, etc, this year still. Intense.

Anyway, quick rundown of the people, since I've got the time: Laura and Cara both go to UCLA. They're both really good people. Laura is probably one of my favorite people to hear "get tough" on an issue, like over-zealous religious people, ignorant people, and people who talk way too much without realizing no one cares (it's pretty hysterical. She gets revved up and matter-of-factly states things that coming from anyone else may be considered slightly offensive, but she says it with so much conviction and hysteria that it's priceless). Cara and I have had Italian since the beginning, and we both share the terror of learning French first. She travels everywhere and has been to Europe several times before, and she's already graduated, this is her last Semester, and she's considering moving here when the program's finished. Crazy stuff.

Amber goes to Santa Cruz and is the one I sat next to on the plane to Athens through the turbulance of death. She's a senior, and when you get her and Laura together for a conversation section, it pretty much makes my day every time, which is probably why I find myself hanging out down there pretty often. Amber reminds me a lot of a few of my friends from high school, and is really laid back in terms of life, which is always nice. Life here is so busy, it's nice to find a group you can just relax with.

Alicia goes to Irvine, and her and I and some other people went to go get the best gelato in the world (their title, not ours) from Giolitti. It's an artisan Gelateria and they make some awesome gelato, no doubt. I got a mint chocolate chip, nutella, and fudge one for 2 euro and it was so, sooooo good. One problem: a 40 minute walk each way. Kirsten: you would have died. 40 choices, made there, and they were awesome. Delicious.

Anyway, if you're thinking there's a lot of girls here, it's because there are. I mean, us guys are outnumbered grossly by women. Like 4 to 1. It's pretty nuts. The guys I live with are great, and I couldn't be happier with my roommates, Bert, Chad and I play Risk online all the time and since I've won all three games so far, I'm convinced I'm the next Napoleon and destined for world domination. Of course, they're not so convinced.

I made dinner last night, and I decided to make that Prosciutto and Cream Spaghetti, and while I was at the store, I was trying to discover what would accent it well. It needed something else, and Chad and I leveled that fresh garlic cloves, minced up into really small pieces would probably be nice. I mean, a little more texture and a nice new flavor. The garlic was so fresh and it was perfect. The pasta was the best thing I have ever made, no doubt. We split a bottle of red and made about a pound and a half of this pasta almost a whole garlic clove minced in the cream, parmeggiano, and prosciutto, and it was awesome. Mmmmmm I have a dish now, I'm really excited! It just takes one to start, and I can build from here. Now I have a great, cheaper dish that can feed quite a few people. Get a soup / salad and a dessert, I can host a party and be set!

I'm sooooo cool, right? (Imagine me saying this dripping with sarcasm).

Anyway, I believe today is going to be pretty quiet. I am going to do a little work and relax, the Tellams come over to Athens today, so that's fun for Kirsten. Next week they go to Cairo, and I'll join them soon, but I can't that long! Cairo! Egypt! Ahh!

That's really all there is to report from here, sorry if it wasn't the most interesting post ever but hey, maybe you see a bit more of what my life is like here. I hope you have a great day today, enjoy your Friday, and until next time,

Ciao.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

St. Giovanni in Laterano

Ciao everyone, I know I didn't update yesterday, but I have midterms all this week and I'm feeling a little sluggish, so I decided to take it easier and just study, although I wanted to blog about Monday, but today's the day for that I suppose. Hopefully pictures will go a bit quicker today, one can always hope.

Sunday was where I left off last time I guess: we went to Lago di Bracciano, and it was really a pretty sweet little town, very much what I expected in some ways and had dreamed about in terms of little Italian towns, which is fun. I took a little video, so if you want, give it a whirl. Keep an eye on the olive groves down next to the lake and the skyline of the town; I found those to be especially nice.
video

We made it back here mid-eveningish and I made some pasta, studied, read, and turned in early since we had a site visit Monday morning that we needed to get up for, and by we, I mean my Medieval Roman Art and Architecture course, which Bert is also a member of. We went to San Giovanni in Laterano, or St. John Lateran, which was the first Christian Church here in Roma, established by Constantine, who is widely considered to be the first Christian Roman Emperor. It was built on the outskirts of the city on purpose, just inside the walls, as it wasn't designed to be in the heart of the city. That expansion didn't come until a few centuries later. As some of you know, Constantine never succeeded in making Rome a Christian city, and about 10 years after the Edict of Milan which allowed for the free practice of Christianity, he up and moved to Constantinople, or modern Istanbul, to create a new Christian capital.

Anyway, we took the metro over and it's got a facade from the 17th century, but the actual Basilica is from the 4th century. Old old old. It's the last major basilica I had yet to see, so I've now been to the big ones. Only took two months, but they're not in the middle of everything so it takes some time.

We started out by going inside, through the center of the picture to the right. But before we did, we kept seeing literally hundreds of Indian people coming by bus and flocking into the church, and we couldn't really figure out why. Then when we went inside, there were over a thousand Indian women and men in traditional garb and I was scratching my head as to why they were there. Apparently, the Pope sainted an Indian woman and this is a huge development as she is among the first if not the first sainted person from India, so they all came to mass and to celebrate that morning. It's so ritualistic, these masses, it's mesmerizing to see everyone chanting and speaking all at once, watching the priests and bishop speak. Really really cool, I was glad we got to be treated to that as well as the sites, which were worthy of being called a major basilica.

The modern day head of Catholicism is the Vatican, which is pretty common knowledge, but in Medieval times, it was not the case. St. Peter's is now, St. John Lateran was then. It's not a funerary church like St. Paul's or St. Peter's, as it's intention is to be to Christ, who ascended to the heavens and left no remains behind. It's enormous, only smaller than St. Peter's and that's by a nose. Just huge. We spilled out into the garden enclave and if you saw my pictures from St. Paul's, it's really similar: Cosmetesque, tranquil, and green, filled with artifacts that show that this indeed used to be the center of all of Christianity in Roma and thereby the world as a whole. Pretty cool stuff.

We went back out and walked just a block across the street to the Sancta Scala and Sancta Sanctorum. Now, the Sancta Scala are the marble steps Christ ascended (yes, supposedly the very ones) on his way to meet Pontius Pilate. They were transported here to Roma and set up on the way up to the Pope's private chapel of old, the Sancta Sactorum, or the Holy Sanctuary. The steps may only be climbed on one's knees, as to show humility to Christ, as man is not worthy to walk the same steps as God. Pretty amazing stuff to see people on their knees, slowly ascending the stairs, taking about 2 minutes a stair, praying on each stair.

We got to go into the Sancta Sanctorum after that. Now, this would not have been possible if not for John Paul II, who is a rock star here in Roma and universally revered, much more so than I think Benedict XVI is here. Anyway, he opened it up to the people in the 90's, but you still have to arrange it in advance, and it's kept behind these HUGE, square-foot sized locks. It's really something to see.

We got in, and I'll let the pictures do some of the talking, and the video, and my writing will cover the rest.

It's small. Very tiny. A little chapel, if you will. The Pope was the only one really allowed in until a few years back, so imagine the exclusivity of being able to enter. The walls are frescoed beautifully, and the apse is very tiny, covered with a mosaic of Christ being raised by angels, in the picture above. The ovevrhead ceiling has the four signs of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which are represented by different animals, shown above. Also shown are the scenes of the Martyrs like Peter and Paul, Agnes, Lawrence, etc. Pretty powerful stuff. Take note of the floor in there as well, it's all designed in a continuous, snake-like pattern of circles and represent Christ and God's never-ending, universal, eternal power.
video

Also, see the jeweled portrait thing?

Yeah, it's called the Acheropita, or literally meaning "not by human hand" and is said to have been created by a miracle, and portrays Jesus Christ. Intense. It's since been painted (don't ask, it bothers me too much to think they used to just paint these things supposedly divine) and enshrined in its shiny case.

The writing on the walls says in Latin "there is no holier place in all the world."

And when you read something like that, it makes you feel a little small.

It was really, really awesome, and it's one of the more memorable things I've seen since I got here. It's something to think about for a while: people who were as devout as can be never got to see this, and yet here I am, just studying this for a few months and I get to go into there? I mean, this was the holiest place on earth according to Catholic doctrine. I mean, wow. It housed a piece of the true cross of Jesus, his foreskin and umbilicus (now lost) and many other priceless relics. Really, really something.

From there we went back into the Lateran and out to go back to classes and life. But a really cool visit none the less. I studied a lot yesterday and really did nothing of important note, and today I had a midterm for the class I have all these visits for, which went really well I think. I've gotta leave for class here soon, but hopefully I'll have many things to report back on again soon.

Until next time,

Ciao.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Back to the world

Ciao everyone, and Monday cometh.

It's crazy how long the weekends feel here and yet, when class comes, it feels like I was just there. I think I have figured out why this is the case: so many of my classes use Rome or Italy as a backdrop. Italian? Naturalmente. But my other ones too: Medieval Roman Art and Architecture, we're on site visits all the time, going every week at least once to a new place here in Roma, so the line between class and life is more blurred. Culture and Identity illustrates Italian life, so it's teaching about what's going on around me, and Science and Religion has really taught me just about everything I've wanted to know and filled in a ton of gaps in my knowledge about Catholicism.

But anyway, the weekend comes first. I realized I have taken to blogging every other day recently, but it's just been about being busy and lacking the time. But every blog now should be more jam packed with photos and excitement, and I probably will post close to daily for the next week or so.

Saturday was Chad's birthday, and he really wanted to go to the Bioparco, or the zoo, here in Roma. Don't ask, I don't know why either, but it was fun. The group of people who went was a bit different and not people I'd normally hang out with other than him, but that's ok. Meeting new people is a good thing. To meet up, we went to Piazza del Popolo, which is a major Piazza here in Roma that for some reason or another, I've just never been to. Go figure. But we got over there and had a bit of lunch at a cafe, and I ordered in Italian. The guy in there was like "oh! You speak Italian?" (in Italian of course) and asked me next if I was Tedesco, or German. I was like, um, no. Sono Americano. This confused him mightely, as Americans aren't supposed to speak Italian. Which got me thinking for a minute why U.S. schools offer French and German but not Italian. He spoke really rapidly but I got most of it and I was happy that my comprehension is hanging in there.

The Piazza is really cool, and there is a really old, slick marble staircase that leads to the Giardino Borghese, or the Borghese Gardens, here in Roma. They're pretty much like Central Park: huge and lots of trees. But from above you can see the Piazza and it's really cool. There's a really huge Obelisk in the middle from Egypt to an Emperor and it's got Hieroglyphics on it, and I thought to myself "wow, I'll be seeing a lot more of those soon!"

Because I will be. In EGYPT.

But back to the Zoo. We walked through the Borghese gardens and I was thoroughly impressed. I miss seeing grass. Or trees. Or nature in general. Roma is ALL buildings and apartments and history, a real demonstration of Mankind's power, which is great and all, but nature is so limited, it's a little sad in some ways. The gardens were beautiful, but I found it very fitting that the zoo, where wildlife is caged and on display, is located in the designated place for nature, which is walled in and feels a little unnatural. I don't know if that makes sense, but it did to me anyway.

The zoo was certainly pretty cool, but Portland's zoo isn't too shabby either. Over here they had much more of a global setup, including Austrailia and South America and lots more on Asia, which Portland does not do too much of really. I thought of Josh the entire time, since they had Tapirs and Capybara that I didn't recognize immediately and I knew he would've been Johnny-on-the-spot as far as names go.

We spent about two hours there, and probably my favorite things there were the Monkey exhibits (which they had seriously like 50 monkeys in a huge environment doing whatever it is that monkies do) and the giraffes, as they had two adolescents that were pretty darn adorable. They look so little and yet they're huge, it's a fun dichotomy. They had lemurs that were pretty funny too; they came up to the glass and interacted and it was funny to see the kids having a blast. Finally, they had Camels, and I had my second "holy cow I'm going to EGYPT this month!" (and for your information, EGYPT shall forever be capitalized since it is that darn cool).

Ok, I'm majorly frustrated since my pictures will not upload on here and it's making me upset, since I have so many pictures I want to share with you all over the course of this blog. Bear with me; I'll get them up in the future, hopefully tonight if the internet stops being mean to poor old me and my camera.

But yes, that really wrapped up Saturday. I came back and there was a free concert of John Legend and the Cure, but it was so crowded and smoky and terribly insane I heard that I'm not too sad I missed it. I slept well and got up at my own time on Sunday, and Chad, Bert and I decided to head to Lago di Bracciano, or the lake of strong arms, which is about 30km to the north of dear old Roma. It was a cheap train ride (like 5 euro round trip) and there was supposed to be a really awesome castle there, so we decided it was totally worth the few hour trip. So, we loaded up with readings and cameras and tried out a new station and headed up there.

It was great to see more of Roma. The outskirts are a bit rougher, and the locals are interesting to watch outside the walls. Bracciano is out of the city a ways into the country, and those of you who've spent any time in the Gorge or Eastern Oregon, it's really, really climate and scenic similar. Beautiful sweeping hills and water, greens and yellows mixed with fall reds, and just the feeling that you're away from the hustle and bustle of life. Plus, it was a bit like home in a weird way.

The town was adorable: old, rustic, and had a huge old castle there that looked straight out of Medieval times because. . . well, it is. Can't beat authentic! There was a weekend market going on, selling tons of things no one ever needs and other trinkets, but there were some really cool things there too, like wine glass holders built out of stumps and gnarled wood, which were really interesting and locally made. But the castle called. It said it was free to go in on our flyer from our study center.

It was not.

We were mad.

It was 7 euro. That is certainly not free. So what'd we do? Sneak in, of course. Or at least attempt to. There was the group of 60 and 70 year old Frenchies going in, so we just wandered in like we belonged (and we stuck out terribly, I'm sure, but imagine three early 20's guys trying to look casual in a big group of old French tourists. Go ahead, laugh, I did).

We got into the courtyard and the head of their group stopped us and told us it was a French group. I responded quickly that we spoke French (in French) and that we just thought we'd come along, and she responded in very rapid French saying it was ok, but needed our tickets, which, of course, we didn't have. I responded (now imagine: I've purged French accents and words from my diction in an attempt to speak better Italian, and I was rapidly trying to re-learn Francais) that we were told it was free for students and that we were just hoping to get on with them and Chad and Bert looking confused as all get out. Good times.

She told us we had to have tickets and shooed us away, but not before we took as many pictures as we could. An Italian guide, a worker for the castle, came up and yelled at us in Italian saying where we were wasn't on the way to the exit, and I quickly wheeled back to Italian as best I could, saying we thought it was free and we were going to leave now, and he muttered something about "stupid English" and I laughed since 1. I spoke good enough French to appear as if I was fluent 2. I covered for Chad and Bert who repeatedly asked me what I said and 3. we looked British in the act. Really a win-win-win.

I think I'm going to stop here due to my pictures being silly and not being able to post as many as I'd like; St. Giovanni in Laterno can come tonight / tomorrow, and trust me, those pictures are awesome.

I hope you all have a fantastic Monday, and until next time,
Ciao.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Another day in the life

So today marks Saturday, and I feel like I've been off for a while now, yet the weekend continues. I really do like that, not going to lie. It's a little tough to do work around here recently since I can't seem to focus on doing any reading and all of the readings are very long and dense without any really good stopping points or recapping moments. I know that that's how some readings go, but I'd really like to be captivated by something I'm reading rather than just interested because I find the general idea of knowing about it interesting, if that makes any sense.

But this weekend has been pretty exciting all things considered. Thursday I studied a bit before Chad, Bert, and I played a monster game of Risk, which I won the first one of and we're half way through another game that's spanned 2 days. We went to try and buy it and it cost 40 Euro, or roughly 56 bucks. Nooooo way. So we found a way to play online for free and we're doing that instead and it does everything for us.

I know, I'm a huge nerd. So sue me.

Around 6, we went to this AMAZING market around here, and by amazing, I mean it's like an Italian Fred Meyer: if it's on your list, you can find it there. It has a bakery in it, a meat market, a dairy section, several aisles of pasta and Vino as well. Lovely, eh? I needed Panna, or heavy cream, and I finally found it there and made a Spaghetti with Prosciutto and Cream and tons of fresh ground Parmeggiano. We bought three Rosette, pronounced "Rose-ett-eh" which are these little loaves of bread that are really only made here in Italy. And are delicious and cost about 20 cents a piece. Even better! We got a bottle of Merlot and a bottle of Chianti with the intent of learning the basic differences between them.

I came back here and made my dinner while Chad and Bert set the table and opened the wine. I think I liked the Merlot better than the Chianti for what we were eating as it has less of a bite at the beginning and was a bit smoother and finishes strong. I found the Chianti great, but it was probably better suited for a more red meat meal. But I kid you not, I think this may have been the best dinner I have ever made in terms of tasting excellent and not being overly basic either. Good flavor throughout and good wine, good bread, and good company. And it was plenty to feed us all, just awesome.

After that, I went downstairs and just chatted for a while due to internet death around here and I'm really enjoying meeting new people here; I feel like I have a few different groups I can hang out with depending on my energy level any day. Thursday I decided that it was time I went and checked out some Roman nightlife.

Now, Rome is not the biggest party city in Europe; that title belongs squarly to Barcelona or Madrid, followed probably Amsterdam and Berlin, but Roma is up there. There are several areas notorious for their beautiful people clubs, and so I was convinced to go out and see it, I've been here two months and I needed to check it out. Alcohol is very expensive here at bars, so everyone drinks beforehand and then just has one or two to keep the costs to a minimum. We got all dressed up (these are 4 girls from downstairs, Bert, and myself) and we went out to Art Club, which is an incredibly exclusive club here that somehow one of the girls knows the owner and could get us in. Unfortunately, it was closed on Thursday night so we resorted to going to Scholar's Pub, or the Irish Pub here near Piazza Venezia.

We took a night bus over there and got in about 12:45am, so it was already pretty late for my blood, but they were playing Tom Petty at top volume and playing U.S. sports, so I couldn't help but feel welcomed. We got a pitcher for a table we managed to snag amongst the very, very crowded area, I mean, like standing room only minus the tables. They played tons of famous sing along music, we laughed and were having quite the night; the girls were working it to try and get free drinks and actually doing a pretty good job. A few free drinks at 8 euro a pop is no easy task!

Let me just say something about being a man in a land of women: my program has 75 women and about 20 men total, so we're valuable commodities to an extent. Roman men can be a little, how do you say . . . aggressive? I mean, like they will try to do a little "innappropriate" touching and taking advantage of crowded situations, etc. Being a man in a group definitely cuts down on that, as it instills a little doubt in there head about whether not there could be a problem. And the girls really appreciate that. Then, when the girls want to get drinks, they just go about 10 feet away and schmooze, if they get uncomfortable, Bert and I got it handled.

We stayed until almost two just singing along and having a generally good time. I was tired and we headed back on the night bus, which is no joke, like Harry Potter insanity: fast drivers and taking corners at like 3 G's. It's an experience to say the least. We got back and I crashed hard, I was really tired.

Yesterday was mainly studying and hanging out, nothing too exciting to report. Today is Chad's birthday, and so we're having a birthday celebration for him with cake and friends, and The Cure have a free concert here today with John Legend and some Italian acts, we might go and check that out. I'm sure it's going to be INSANE in terms of crowds, but hey, it's part of life in Roma.

I hope your weekends are going splendidly, and until next time,

Ciao.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Back to the weekend!

Ciao everyone, and good Thursday to you all. It's now my weekend, isn't that lovely? I had an oral exam today and I feel like I did pretty well overall, I mean, it was awesome to feel like I could really speak Italian. She even gave me a bravissima, which means really good, which made me feel good about my current Italian. Chad and I definitely practiced pretty well yesterday and when I got to the exam, I was pretty ready and it showed. I love when that happens.

This also means it's my weekend. What a great feeling, to have a weekend starting on Thursday afternoon. Gotta love that.

Yesterday was pretty busy, with 6 hours of class and lots of reading to do, it was full of running around from class to class, reading, and eating, and finally having class again in the evening. I mean, I enjoy all of my classes over here for the most part and I feel like I am actually learning a few things in them since the subjects are all so different from what I'm used to studying. I mean, Medieval Art and Architecture in Rome, Culture and Identity in Italy, Science and Religion in the Catholic Church, and Italian. I mean, I wouldn't really be taking any of those classes back home, so I guess the diversity is what I'm enjoying most. It's nice to really learn about what's going on around you, too. In Medieval Rome, I learn about all of the churches and significance of the big monuments here in Roma, which I walk by every day. In Culture and Identity, I learn about how Italy functions as a country and all the little places here that make it whole. In Science and Religion, I learn a lot about Catholicism from the Catholic Priest who is our professor.

And Italian, too. I learn how to speak. Very helpful, trust me.

But yes, all in all, I can say I'm having loads of fun and learning about things that really enrich me as a human being in an international world, it's really pretty cool. Tonight I am going to make Spaghetti in Panna con Prosciutto, or Spaghetti in a ham and cream sauce. We got this book in Culture and Identity that has recipes and menus from tradition Tuscan families, which I am pretty much enthralled with at the moment. There are tons of recipes that don't look too tough in there and sound delicious, so I believe that I'll attempt to make something delicious and end up with something mediocre, but learn something from it, which is all I can really ask for I guess.

In semi-exiciting news, today I went to the open-air market near our place looking at some good meats and whatnot, and I've gotta say: food can really look different around the world. The butcher here doesn't just have chops, he's got Tripe and Liver and gall bladder, chickens that have been plucked everywhere but the head . . . it's definitely different to see. But some other things, like the cheeses and vegetables, look awesome and I could spend wayyyy too much money there if I wasn't careful. I just may have to at some point; I may be overwhelmed.

It's Chad's birthday this weekend, on Saturday, so I believe that we're going to have a big dinner celebration for him and maybe go somewhere cool for the day. He wants to go to the Zoo, so that may be it, but I gotta say: not too excited about going to the Zoo here, really. I can see animals back home too, and why spend money on that over here then?

On Sunday, I think we're going to go to Lago di Bracciano, or a lake up in Northern Lazio, or the area that includes Roma. Lazio is a pretty good sized area, and this is the biggest lake around. Supposedly there's a big castle there that you can have an awesome view of the lake from, and we were thinking it'd be pretty cool to see, especially since it's only a few euro to get to, as in potentially under ten. Gotta love that.

But yes, my weekend will also be filled with reading and studying, since I've got about 200 pages of reading to do and a paper to start, so I suppose that these days off are good times to get cracking. I hope you all have a great Tuesday and I'm sorry today's blog isn't all that riveting; sometimes life over here goes on without too much to report.

Until next time,

Ciao.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Back in Roma Roma Roma

Ciao tutti, I hope your week is starting off nicely; mine was a bit jarring to start off with. Yesterday was Monday and it came fast after such an amazing weekend. It was definitely difficult to transition back into school mode, but luckily we started off the wee with a site visit for my 9am class, and we went to go see two of the four major basilica in Roma for our studies of the early Medieval Roman art and architecture, which is predominately--if not totally--Christian.

In Roma, there are as I said 4 major Basilica: Basilica di San Pietro (or St. Peter's, located in the Vatican City, you know, the place with the huge dome that I post pictures of all the time? Yeah, that one), Basilica di San Giovani Lateran (or St. John the Lateran's, located to the East of Termini station), Santa Maria Maggiore (or Saint Mary's Major Basilica, dedicated to the blessed virgin Mary), and San Paulo fuori le Mure (Saint Paul's outside the walls, located, as the name would suggest, just outside the walls of Rome, but still on the Metro line, thank goodness). I have now seen three of the four, and St. John the Lateran is next week, so I will have seen them all. Woohoo.

We had to take the Linea B Metro (aka the Metro of Death due to its incredibly crowded morning commuters) to get to Saint Paul's outside the walls. St. Paul was, as many of you know, the apostle who went to Rome, as described in the Bible. St. Peter never was officially stated in the Bible that he came, but I digress. Paul, a Roman Citizen, was condemned to death for being a Christian in Rome before the Edict of Milan made it legal to be Christian in Roma. His church is a funerary one, and you were not allowed to be buried within the walls of the city unless you were incredibly powerful and/or important, both of which Paul was not at his death.

So, he was buried just outside the walls, and they built a church around his tomb, which was done in the exact same way as the original St. Peter's, or the Vatican Church, in the 5th Century. St. Peter's was knocked down to build the current Basilica in the 1500s, but St. Paul's was the same until the 19th century when a fire burned it mostly to the ground, but they reconstructed it with the same diminsions and with many of the same materials salvaged from the wreckage, so it's still mostly accurate in its diminsions.

We arrived and came through a few collumns to get into the courtyard, which has you can see above, is pristine and beautiful with a Statue of St. Paul in the center, right in front of the door to the Basilica's interior. He's holding a sword, signifying he was beheaded for his beliefs, and if this statue looks familiar to you at all (it did to me, but I live here, so no worries if it doesn't), it's because a very similar statue is just outside St. Peter's, where I visited on my first days here in Rome. Cool story.

We went inside and the decoration was resplendent, as usual. There were roundels, or round portraits, to every pope ever on the interior, even including John Paul II and the current Benedict XVI. It's funny to see them all up there, starting with the unofficial first Pope, St. Peter (I say unofficial since he wasn't referred to as "Pope," that term wasn't invented for centuries, but I digress).

The most striking things about the Basilica are 3: the Byzantine Door, the Alter, and finally, the Apse. The Byzantine Door was donated by the Amalfi family in the 11th century, and has carvings of several really important Christian scenes in it, and it's hanging inside now for preservation's sake. I don't know which picture to post on here, a close up one of detail, or the entire thing, but if there is demand, I'll post them both.

The alter was also very interesting. There is a (not kidding) 17 foot candle on one side that is only lit on Easter, but it's pretty cool. It's so dark there as there is limited lighting and difficult to take pictures, but it looks a lot like the alter in St. Peter's (if you need refreshing, go and check out my album on the Vatican on my Picasaweb. Or don't, it's up to you, just trying to give a little context). The alter is literally just over

The apse, however, was the coolest I've seen to date. Brilliant with gold and intricate with detail, it really was something that inspires awe. You see it from the entrance, looming over the alter, far from you but still imposingly large. The picture is dark and not really showing the size, but just imagine Christ being about 20 feet tall and you'll see just how impressively large the apse is. There are several important Christian characters, like Mary and Paul, along with others more obscure. But it's cool, and I think I may be writing a research paper on the Apses I'm seeing as for some reason, I find them riveting, and I really want to see more of them and mark their progression, and I have to write a paper on something along those lines anyway, so hey, why not right?

But yes, from there we went out into this little monk garden as it's also a Monastery, although not a Trappist Monk one like in Northern Europe. Supposedly they make some really awesome beer . . . anyway, I am getting off the point. There is this adorable little garden where the monks can go and converse and discuss monk-things, and it's very peaceful, I could've stayed for a quite a while, but we had to make it over to Santa Maria Maggiore still, so we booked on out of there to the Metro.

From the Metro, we went to S.M.M, which is dedicated to Mary and is the largest church in Roma for her and is the central focus of the parade of the Icon of Jesus to his mother during the Jubilee. It's huge and resplendent, as it is wont to be, and the interior has mosaics and another awesome apse. The exterior first, however, was just like you'd expect: marble and gargantuan. The picture enlarged shows it a bit better, and it's tough to explain just how huge it is.

Then, the interior.

It was huge as well, and I really wanted to get some good photos, but it's just a little too dark for it, which is a shame. I got a few good ones though, and I'll post them for your viewing pleasure. The mosaics, like this one over here, is really pretty cool, but hard to see just how little each little piece of it is, it's really pretty fantastic to see such intricacy in them, from facial expressions to awesome scenes laid out in colorful detail, they really are a wonder at over, yes, 1500 years old, I mean, wow.

The apse, again, was gold and intricate, and it's not original, but it was 12th century. By then, artists had begun using size and space for increased effect, and the apse was designed in a way that apparently gives it away as 12th century. I wouldn't know that by myself, but my professor did and now I do too. And I guess you do as well, so now we're all awesome and knowledgeable about Roman Art and Architecture! You're welcome!

I had class for most of the rest of the day, including walks to and from home again for Science and Religion, but after I got back, I started feeling not so hot, and ended up with a migraine, but I went to bed early and got about 9.5 hours of sleep, so that made me feel pretty chipper early on, I must say. Italian went by fast and I felt really alert, but I'm tired once again now and just going to take it easy and do some reading I do believe. I hope you have a great week and I'll update more soon. Let me know if you like the history or not, since I'll do more of it or avoid it.

Until next time,

Ciao

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A weekend away

Ciao everyone.

Or Gutentag.

Or Bonjour.

Or hello.

I mean, really. All of these were applicable this weekend, all in a span of 48 hours. It was a real whirlwind of cultural experiences, travel, expenses, laughs, back-aches, and instant falling asleep.

I am back from Milan and Interlaken with Kirsten, and I had an absolute blast. The time of a lifetime, really. Was it stressful at t
imes? Absolutely. But all experiences have those moments. I have more memories from this weekend than I do really of any other 48 hours span in my life, really, and I don't think that's really an overstatement. If anything, it's right up there with any other span like it.

Friday, I got up pretty early as I couldn't really sleep all that well. Too excited, I guess. I got up and watched the Vice Presidential debates and thought that Biden looked really strong and Palin looked outclassed a bit, especially when she just kept talking about energy and not the questions she was asked, but whatever. Besides the point. I got out and got to the airport pretty quickly and made it on my flight without a single hiccup; the plane was 40 minutes late getting in, but I didn't care since I had several hours to wait for Kirsten to get in anyway.

Whilst waiting for KK to arrive, I asked for directions in Italian and the lady responded without a second thought with a complicated set that I managed to follow enough to ask a followup question and she just kept on talking, and I was so excited that I'd done a decent enough job to get
exactly the information I needed; it was pretty cool.

While I was waiting at Terminal 2 in Milan, I was just waiting at the arrivals area and it kept getting more and more crowde
d, and I didn't really know why. Terminal 2 is a discount airline hanger. . . but also a private, chartered jet terminal as well. And who arrived after that but AC Milan, or one of the most illustrious and famous soccer clubs in the world. I mean, Ronaldino, one of the most recognizable players in the world, got off and the people went CRAZY. Schevchenko, Dida, Kaka; girls shreiked, men cheered, and it was really, really cool. The paparazzi was swarming too and I was just in the right place at the right time I guess. The picture of the guy with the glasses is Ronaldino. Google him, he's really, really famous.

Kirsten got in about an hour or so after that and
we just got a snack and worked our way on the trains into Milan, then on the Metro to the Duomo, or main church. It took us about an hour or so to get there, and we just scrambled around, doing our best to get to where we needed to be and working our way around. We made it there and just started to pour right as we ascended the staircase, and the stop came RIGHT up to the Galleria and the Duomo. It was raining really, really hard for a few minutes, but we snapped a few shots of the Duomo and heard a bunch of shrill yells from across the huge piazza, but didn't really think too much about it at that moment, and continued into the piazza as the rain moved along.

The Duomo was breathtaking. Massive, expansive, and imposing, to say the least. I thought it kind of looked like a really intense sand castle, personally. Pictures fail to describe, really, but they do give an idea of just how big if you look at how small the people are. I've now seen two of the Duomo with Florence and this one as well as several churches here in Roma, and every one is just as impressive as the last. It's difficult to say which is the most amazing, because they're all so unique and amazing. Really enjoyed comparing this one to the other ones.

As we got closer, we saw what that yells were from ea
rlier: MTV Italia films it's TRL in Milan between the Galleria and RIGHT next to the Duomo, and the Jonas Brothers were there to promote somthing or other, I don't really follow them and they were infinitely less cool than the Duomo. Girls were literally looking as if they were about to faint and Kirsten and I both just rolled our eyes. You're right next to the Duomo and you faint because of the Jonas Brothers? Get your life in some sort of perspective, people.

But we watched for them anyway. They're famous, after all. I took a picture of them on the huge screen, and it'll be online soon in my pictures area, which is picasaweb.google.com/nomomentwasted, just in case you've forgotten. Expect all of my pictures up soon.

With
that, we went into the Duomo and had to have our bags checked, which was annoying since they were so full of stuff that it was difficult to really unpack and pack quickly, but the guards were pretty nice about it, so whatever, I suppose. Inside, there were tons and tons of stained glass windows and we just were in awe the entire time of the candles, windows, and huge interior. Stained glass like you wouldn't believe. It really reminded me of Notre Dame, and Kirsten said it may have been even more impressive; I have to take her at her word (which is of very high value in my book) since I've never been, but it was impressive, no doubt. There were several aisles, huge in scope, that were all positioned together to make a large cross, much like the Duomo in Florence, but different, as well. There were tunnels underneath the central alter as well, and Kirsten and I ventured underneath. All in all, very, very cool but also very dark, so diffcult for pictures, but feel free to browse later to see if it makes it any more real.

We left about half an hour later out into the Galleria, with people starting to dissapate after the departure of the Jonai. We made our way outside and snapped a few more photos before heading off to the Galleria, which had high end designer fashion, shoes, etc, and was underneath a really big arch into a covered area of architectural coolness. We wandered around for a little while, but were both starting to get pretty hungry and, although it took us a while, we went to a crepe place and had a pretty good dinner before heading out on the Metro again over towards Stazione Centrale for the Train to Interlaken, which left at 6:25.

The station was insanely busy and we just pushed our way around to get our tickets and after a little confusion, we found ou
r train and hopped on, got our seats and got a coke and a water to settle in for the few hours to Spiez, where we'd have a break for about half an hour before Interlaken.

The train left around dusk and we really just camped out looking out the
window until it got too dark to see, but during that time we saw Lake Como, which was brilliant. So beautiful. And huge, too! I never knew it was that large. We passed on by it after dark and we watched the Office together on my computer before arriving in Spiez (pronounced something like "spay-zuh") and the first thing we noticed was how cold it was: very. Kirsten was coming from mid-80s heat and I from mid 70s down to low 40s or upper 30s and we really felt it getting off. Spiez is officially in Switzerland too, so we kind of celebrated that fact of a new country together, and bought our remaining 15 minute tickets and got some Swiss Francs back in change, as they are not on the Euro.

Cool thing about Swit
zerland (and this is one of hundreds): they have two official languages: German and French. But they also tend to speak Italian and English as well, so it was really cool to just flow between languages and try to say what you wanted to say. German, however, is the most prominent, and neither of us speaking any made it quite a funny scenario a few times. German is hard, for sure, and the signs made me laugh as they were really pretty indecipherable if they didn't have another language on them.

At the station, we met an Argentine who was traveling too and very chatty, but it was fun to talk to someone else who was going along. It passed the time, anyway, and we got on the train and proceeded to be excited yet tired as we rolled into Interlaken West at 9:45. We saw a taxi and just hopped in after asking if the driver took Euro, and he (thankfully) did. We hopped in and about 5 minutes later we were in Wilderswil, at our hotel, and we checked in and loved our little chalet-style room immediately, both because it was adorable and because it meant we could clean up and sleep, which we did, but not until after I discovered Star Wars in German on TV while Kirsten cleaned up. Cool story
, I know.

Next morning, we awoke and
looked out our windows (which were pitch black the night before in a town with no lights, really) and saw an AWESOME view of the Yungfrau. Yup, we had arrived, and we both were so excited, pretty darn amazing.

Let me just say this in advance: I love Switzerland. I mean, I love it there. It was the most naturally beautif
ul and peaceful looking place I've ever been, hands down, no questions asked. Just looking at it all makes you feel a little emotional, it's just brilliant. Absolutely fantastic.

We got ready and headed d
ownstairs to our included (i.e. free) breakfast, expecting just a little something and instead were presented with full service and huge bounty of breakfast foods at our disposal. Breads, croissants, jams, honey, cereal, milk, yogurt, oatmeal, eggs, meats, and cheeses were all laid our with fresh tea and juice and we ate several platefuls, wishing we could squeeze in more and more. I could have, but decided three trips back was enough for then.

We got together and checked out around 9:45 and set off to explore Wilderswil for a while, and man, what a place. Just beautiful and natural and fresh air, unbelieveable. Places like that shouldn't exist. I mean really, they're unreal. We wandered down the winding streets, 7000 feet up, looking at the gigatic mountains that rose up seemingly instantly and with the changing tree colors and greens of the grass mosses, accented with the snowcapped upper mountains, it was spectacular like I've never seen.

Man oh man did I wish we could stay forever.

We just walked around, taking in the utter silence
and perfect views, feeling like we were seeing something out of a movie, not our lives. It was too perfect for reality, just amazing. I wish I could have brought you all with me to show you just how crisp and fresh the air is, how moving the sights are, and how beauitful the little town was, but all I can do is post pictures and a video, hoping it gives you a glimpse, if nothing else, of what we were feeling.


video


We took tons of pictures and wished we could stay, but we had to go to Interlaken to see it too, so we took the bus and about ten minutes later we made it into Interlaken again, this time in the day, very excited to wander around and check it all out. The mountains are so amazing, I run out of words to describe it all, but know that if I am speechless, it really is something. The town, however, was just like out of a little Swiss village because, oh wait, it was one. The roofs were decorated in some fun designs in some instances, while others were painted funny colors. I could go on all day about this, but for brevity's sake, I'll just say it was amazing, because it truly was exactly that.


I think here I'll just say that I cannot describe it any more than I already have, and to just look at my pictures later after I get them posted, since I promise it'll be worth it.

We got some food at a local pub and a few pints of local lager and just warmed up both physically from the heat and from the warming meal and brew befored heading back out into the words again. We got some Swiss chocolate (because how could you not, right?) and wandered a bit more through the village, so happy to be having such an experience together.


All good things, however, come to an end. Unfortunately, they do. But we still have Milan ahead after the train ride a scenic venture at that, so we made our way back to th
e station, got our tickets and booked our way back towards Milan, seeing Switzerland pass us by out the window as we reluctantly bid her farewell. We will return though, just not for some years time, but I know I haven't been there for the last time. No way.

We got into Milan and realized we had no small bills for our Metro ticket, so we had to scrape every last cent we had and even collect a few pennies off the ground to make due, but we did it and had a good laugh about it afterwards, as we only needed to go one stop and that one stop ended up being literally within view of the station. Oh well, we made it and got checked in, relaxed for a minute and headed out to get some food and see Via Buenos Aires, or the super-shopping area in Milan.

Tons of fashion, what can you really say? Milan didn't knock my socks off, but it's still really cool. We got really good gelato and later Pizza and another good brew with dinner before walking back and retiring for the evening a little early. We were exhausted and slept hard, as we had more than earned that rest.

We had to get up though and make it to
the station to get to the planes so we could go back to our homes and take more trains and busses and transportation to get home, and that really just sums up today. I won't see Kirsten again until Cairo, but we have so much going on between the two of us between now and then I know it'll go by so fast, just like the past 7 weeks have.

And that's about it, really. I mean, there's so much more, but this post is a mo
nster already. I couldn't have asked for a better travel partner and had a fantastic time, and although we both spent hefty sums to go, there is not an ounce of regret you'll ever purge out of me.

I hope your weekends were great as well, here are two parting pictures to reward your making it through this blog!















Until next time,

Ciao.