Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Thanksgiving Feast

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 27, 2008

What I have to be thankful for

Ciao everyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not many.

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

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

Having one.

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

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

Until next time,


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Almost through the madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Turkey Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Up, up, and away

Ciao everyone, happy weekend to you all. Oh, wait, that's just me I suppose. It's Thursday, but I am finished with class and now coasting on into my weekend with a little bit of work mixed with a little bit of relaxing. I had all three classes yesterday and stayed at the Study Center, reading up on some materials for my papers I'm writing for a while, came back to my apartment, put some books away and got my other ones, went to class and came back home again. It was quite busy, but I worked on my paper a bit and now I'm almost done, although I've really made pretty minimal progress on my second paper . . . tonight / today that should be done a bit.

Today in Italian I had a tandem session with an Italian student, as twice a quarter we get to have La Sapienza students come in (the University here in Rome) who study varying amounts of English, and chat with them for two hours. Every other class gets really terrible turnout, like 1 or 2 students, but for some reason our class always gets about 10-12 students, meaning often you have someone there to speak to one-on-one.

I had a partner all to myself today, and it was pretty cool to just chat and let my Italian fly off the handle, simply trying to speak it and not trying to think about it too much. They wanted to practice their English too, so it worked out a lot where they'd speak to me in English and I'd try and return it in Italian. My partner, however, had taken several years of English and was relatively proficient, about 75% of the way there anyway, meaning I had a few more struggles than they did, but I held my own. I was complimented several times on my vocabulary, which is probably the strongest part of my Italian, just the number of words I know. The hardest part is probably the agreements and making sure my subject agrees with the conjugation, tense, and gender. But I'm getting much better, and the tandem today made me feel pretty confident in my ability to speak some Italian. I can say I'm at least conversational if nothing else, since that's what I had today: a conversation.

And after all, that is the definition of conversational.

After that, I came back here to work on my papers, do a little laundry, and pack for Istanbul, Turkey tomorrow. I'm really, really excited for this weekend, and finally I can focus on it a bit more! I'm just excited to see a new, different country, one that I've only heard awesome things about. Kirsten and I will both be there through Sunday, although I have 8 hours at the airport due to very different travel schedules and me not wanting Kirsten to travel alone to the airport and my flight leaving 6 hours after hers. Oh well, I'll bring some necessary literature for my classes and get caught up / study for my classes finals, which are in less than 3 weeks now. How is this possible, that I am thisclose to finishing this program?

Today is the 20th, and my finals are on the 8th and 9th of December. That means that 3 weeks from today, I'm finished with finals and on my last whole day of the program. Just unbelievable how fast time has been moving.

Next week at this time we've got a Candia Thanksgiving Super Big Party Boom, put on by some of the girls downstairs and facilitated by myself. I'm making lots of pasta and whatnot for the huge potluck, and we're all going to bring something in large quantities so we can have quite the time. I know there'll be at least ten of us there, and they're all people I genuinely enjoy spending time with, which is a total plus. Food, drink, and good company, not a whole lot more you can ask for. Gianni, our landlord / owner of this apartment complex who very well may be il Padrino (the Godfather), or at least be a high member of the mafia, offered us to use the Candia covered courtyard for our festivities, and I gotta say, I think it'll be fun.

I really wish I could be in Portland for Turkey Day, obviously. I mean, so much family is going to be in Portland at the new house and everything; it'd be great to be there and share stories and feel close to family again. But it's 33 days til Portland bound now, and every day it inches closer, I feel like they're moving faster.

Anyway, I'm off to work on papers and pack for Istanbul. I know some people have had reservations about Turkey or visiting, but I promise, I'll take good care of myself (and Kirsten, worry not Tellams) and keep my wits about me; I'm pretty confident in the research I've done about getting around and handling yourself there. It'll be a memorable experience undoubtably, and I'll report back to you all again soon.

Have an excellent weekend my friends, and until next time,


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Really? That's it?

Ciao everyone, and good afternoon from Roma. I have emerged from under my mound of work these past few days to really get to feeling like I'm doing pretty well with the papers, tests, and research I've been needing to do. It was not an easy process, nor would I want to repeat it, but at least I'm ahead again, which is dandy.

I really got to thinking about it this weekend, and today's a fitting day to discuss it since it's such a round number: 5 weeks from today, December 23rd, I'll be returning to the States from my European adventure. Kirsten and I will surely be jet lagged, traveled-out, and our brains a little addled, but I know we're both pretty excited to see home again. It's been a long time coming, and I think it feels even longer for me than you back home, just because I've seen so many places, buildings, foods, cultures, and traditions that I just have a hard time categorizing it. I mean, I've been to Italy, The Vatican, Greece, Switzerland, Germany, and Egypt, and I've got Turkey, France, and Spain on the horizon. That's a lot of countries, considering I'd been to two of them prior to coming to Europe.

I've been to Florence, Milan, Anagni, Casamari, Celano, Bracciano, and Roma in Italy, seeing all the sights and taking in Italian culture after studying it in class for so long. I've been to countless churches, seen innumerable frescoes, paintings, arches, apses, and excavations, and that's all just here in Italy. I've been to one of the cleanest places in the world in Interlaken, Switzerland, and one of the dirtiest, most crowded in Cairo, Egypt. I've seen the pyramids of Giza, the Acropolis in Athens, and the Colosseum in Rome--all within the course of a week at one point.

Long story short: I'm seeing amazing things, meeting great people, and having a blast in the process, and I am coming home in just 5 weeks. That's it and that's all folks. I left home on the 19th of August, and that's 13 weeks ago. 91 days ago, and I've got 35 left.

You can look at that as only 35 to go, or you could look at it as I've got 35 more to make some more incredible memories, and that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Anyway, just got pensive during these past few days of insanity and thought I'd ramble away with my musings for a minute. It's pretty cool to think about, what I've seen, and that flight back home at the end of all of this will be a more appropriate time to really decompress everything, but until then, I've got some more things to do and places to go!

My papers this week are on comparing two medieval apses in Santa Prassede and SS Cosma and Damiano and how this connection is linked to Pope Paschal I and the Carolingian Renaissance, and the other on Papal Infallibility and the process of how it was derived, what it means, and how it affects Catholicism in general. They're both of interest to me in a few ways, but together they total over 20 pages, and I'm just a bit tired of working on them now. Plus, they're both due so close together, it's just a bit of a drag. This time next week I'll pretty much be out of the woods though, and that's definitely a good thing.

Yesterday I went on a site visit for class to three churches in Trastevere, or an area to the South of St. Peter's and where I rarely ever go. It's a really nice area, and the churches were all really cool; my camera battery is charging right now or I'd post the pictures. They'll probably make it up tonight onto Picasa or something, or maybe a blog soon. I'll let you know, though; they're definitely worth seeing.

I started planning my life post-program here in Europe today, and it's a bit stressful, figuring out what to do. It's just so expensive to take the train several times instead of at once. From Rome to Venice, it's 56 Euro, and Venice to Paris it's 102 Euro, so it's something like 200 bucks. However, Rome to Paris is 140 dollars, and Venice is another 60, even though it's the same route. Venice is one of the most expensive places in the world to get a bed, and I have to if I go, since I have to have a place to put all of my luggage down. I think I may just spend the night here in Rome from the 12th-14th, then the night of the 15th take the train from here to Paris, and it's a night train, so that saves me a night. From there, I'm in Paris the 16th all day til the day of the 19th, when I'll take a night train to Barcelona to meet Kirsten on the 20th. Good times! Then from there, it's Barcelona til the early, early morning of the 23rd and it's coming home day.


I'm really looking forward to this weekend in Istanbul; I've only heard really cool stories about it, and I can't wait to go and see the Bazaars, the churches, maybe the baths, who knows? It should be very cool. I hope you're all having a nice week, and until next time,


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Anagni and Casamari

Ciao everyone, and good weekend to you all. I've been back from my site visit for almost a day now and have wanted to blog about it for the entire time, but there were some extenuating circumstances (i.e. sleepiness and paper-writing) that needed to be attended to. I have so much I could say about yesterday, but if this turns out to not be the longest post ever, I hope you don't hold it against me; I've already typed 6 pages of papers and read off my computer for about 8 hours today, so know I'll do my best.

Yesterday I had to get up at 2:40 am to schedule for classes, only to go back to bed after doing so for another 3 hours. I got 4 classes picked and they were the ones I wanted, although the pickings were slim for some things, but I'm taking all PoliSci, and they're all on MWF. So I'll have no class on Tu/Th, and this was by design: I'm going to try and get a job or something on Tuesdays and Thursdays (hopefully not the weekend so I can breathe a bit and be able to enjoy some time with my friends / KK without any worries) and earn some money to contribute to my life. I'm adding a bit more every quarter, trying to build up a work tolerance for law school, so we'll see how that all works out. Jobs are not easy to come by right about now.

But yes, at 6:45 on Friday I had to get up to go to a site visit. Friday is my weekend, and I was a little bummed about having to get up that early, but it was alright. Bert and I rolled out to Piazza Repubblica and got on our bus with our class and rolled out to Anagni, or a town to the south of Roma, but still in Lazio. It was about 75 minutes away, and most everyone slept on the bus, but I chatted with some people and our professor as the scenary rolled on by. It was really beautiful, I love seeing Italian countryside.

We arrived in Anagni and got out to see the Crypts there, a medieval site where the Popes used to meet foreign dignitaries and so this little town gets a big time budget for its church and crypts. We had some time to kill beforehand, so I wandered around and took a few pictures and got some local cookies. Yes! I love cookies, and these ones were pretty good. Alicia (one of the girls who lives near me) and I tried our luck at a slot machine style game in the Coffee shop and it was completely in Italian and therefore confusing, but somehow we won money, then proceeded to lose some, all in confusion. It was all in good fun, only about 2 euro lost after 2 gained, but I'm still confused how it was supposed to work.

But Anagni was beautiful, with nice views and old medieval architecture. The church compound was all brick and old; I really like seeing old stuff in good condition (go figure). I hung out with my class as we walked around and into the church itself, which was pretty immaculate, but not nearly as old as some of the other things I've seen recently as far as churches go. I liked the outside better, as it was the original.

The Crypt, however, was a completely different story: it was completely the way it used to be and partially underground, and the restoration effort was in full swing for some of it, but the humidity really took its toll on the second of the two crypt rooms. The first room was beautiful, and you can only be in there for 15 minutes before you're kicked out, and a guide stands there vigilantly making sure you don't take any pictures.

But I did anyway, since I'm a horrible person.

The Crypt has the remains of a Saint inside, named Magnus, or Saint Magni, and the frescoes were completely surrounding you, all over the ceilings, walls, arches, pillars, everything. It was one of the most impressive fresco collections I've ever seen, and man, it was cool to see. Please, click on these pictures and enlarge them, I implore you! They look excellent and they are so amazing to see, they're over 700 years old people. 700 year old paintings in this condition? They're really almost unheard of. The second of the fresco pictures, or the one on the right, shows just how frescoed the place is, it's surreal.

We were in the crypt for the 15 minutes and then escorted out. I really went underground for these photos and I'm pretty satisfied with how they turned out, so please, do look at them up close, it's worth it. Or if nothing else, make my effort feel a little more worth it.

We exited the Crypt after our little excursion up into the main church, which had an old papal throne in it, decorated in a rich fashion. That was kind of cool to see too. We crossed the street and went into Boniface VII (Pope during the first Jubilee in 1300) castle there, which had a lot of old artifacts to see and admire, along with a bunch of old Papal robes and such. Cool to see.

We had a lunch break after that, and Anagni isn't very big, so there weren't many places to eat. We wandered down this really winding road and got to a Trattoria, and as we went in, we saw our professor in there eating by herself. She was so excited we'd come in she ordered all of us food at a good rate and we had some great pasta and chatted with her. She's a mid-50's Italian woman with pretty good English, she can be downright adorable when she starts talking about anything American and wanting to know something about it. Really funny.

We all left later on our bus towards the second place on our trip, but not before I got a video. It's not fantastic, but it shows what it looks like a bit better.

The second place on our excursion was a Monastery another 30 kms away, at a place called Casamari. The monastary is still in use, but you can tour it and check it out, which we certainly did. I really like getting to see things I know I wouldn't see if I was here later in life, and I know this was one of those things. I had no reason to go there, but I'm very glad we did.

The first thing about the Monastery you notice is how awesome the landscaping is. Nice views, lots of trees; I enjoy a good forest setting, and that's what it felt like. There was a cloister with a cistern there as well, which was decorated with tons of little red flowers and a few orange trees in pots around the perimeter; I wanted one of the oranges really bad. They looked to still be quite ripe.

From there, we went into the church, which was austere and beautiful. Very sparse, as we learned, since Bernard Clairvaux's apology called for. He believed monks shouldn't get distracted by the beautiful artwork in a church, and he believed that people were prone to do so. He also believed that highly decorated churches make people donate since they liked the setting, not the actual message.

There were some nice stained glass windows, though, and I FINALLY got a good picture of one. NOT an easy thing to do people, so please, go ahead and appreciate it.

The church was hard to photograph, but very large inside. I'll spare sparse, not-so-clear pictures and instead show some from the outside that were more interesting, at least in my opinion. The outside of the monastery also had a shop, which I went inside, and they brewed their own alcohols, made their own chocolate, collected their own honey, and made their own trappist monk beers (!!!). I had to buy one. I've always wanted to try trappist beer, and it's authentic. I looked online when I got back too on some beer rating websites and apparently this stuff is amongst the best in the world. Lucky me! Haven't had it yet, but I'll report back to you when I do (if you care).

A couple of the people got the chocolate and liquors their, as they were really pretty inexpensive for the most part (my one beer, for 12 ounces, was 4 Euro, but the bottles sell for about 11 bucks online, so I got a bargain if you think about it) and looked pretty good. The chocolate? Awesome. I had a piece.

On the way back to Rome, I didn't feel very good in my stomach, really at all. I started to feel pretty sick and almost got sick on the bus, it must have been so mething I ate. I really don't know what caused it, but it was passing after I got off the bus and got home, so that was a good thing. Then today I've just papered all day long, nothing too exciting there. I made some excellent carbonara that smelled so good I had the whole floor coming by, no joke. It tastes and smells great when it's made right, and I think I must be doing it well. Everyone who had a taste asked me for the recipe, and really I'm just living the dream, as they say. Tomorrow is more papers, but until next time, I'll leave you with a picture I took from the bus that I particularly like. I hope you enjoy it too.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Site Visits and rain, rain, rain

Ciao everyone, and welcome to a Thursday edition of the Blog. I am feeling really tired today, but I attribute it to the monsoon we've been sitting in for the past 24 hours or so. Just when it looks like the weather has broken (this is twice now) and it's going to be clear, it rains 5 minutes later, and I should know: it's now happened to me twice in a row on my walks to / from class.

Anyway, yesterday was a pretty interesting day in general; I had a site visit to San Clemente, which is this old church, built on the foundations of an old church, which took over an old Pagan church. Whew, talk about history. The Pagan church dates back to the 1st century, so about 2000 years, and the church that took it over was in use for mainly the 5th-11th centuries, with repairs and remodels in between. How do we know this? The foundation has been excavated, and with some arrangement, you can head under there and see the old church as it was back in its use over 1,000 years ago, with frescoes at least that old, alters, monuments, and everything in between.

One preface to this, however: pictures are dim since cameras were not allowed, but I still managed. No harm with no flash, I mean, it harms no more than eyesight does, right? But they're not the greatest, so for that, I apologize.

Anyway, we met up and went through the modern church (more on that later) to reach the stairs underground to the musty, humid excavations. It was awesome to go down to the Pagan area, which had been flooded after a while, but later drained by building an underground canal to the Colosseum (yes, that one). We went down to the natural spring in there and saw all the old walls, and it's pretty amazing to think about 2,000 year old worship sites (even if I've seen twice as old, thanks Egypt).

From there, we went back up a different flight of stairs to arrive into the main chamber of excavations, which were of the original St. Clemente church. The church's patron saint, St. Clement, was one of the first Popes, and his coronation as Pope is displayed in the excavations prominently. He was believed to be the first Pope after Peter for a long time, but they eventually accepted there were a few in between. He was very popular in Roma, however, and his martyrdom is part of his mystique, as he was thrown into the ocean with an anchor around his neck by Emperor Trajan in Rome at the end of the 1st century. He had anchor symbols dedicated to him everywhere in the church too, which upon further review had a lot of symbolic impact.

There was also a fresco of a Roman man who came from a rich family, gave it all up, moved away, and came back home and asked his father--concealing his identity--if he could be spared a place to stay as a beggar. The father said yes, and his son lived in poverty under a staircase in his father's house, and after his death, his family saw a letter revealing his identity and they were heartbroken, but the fresco detailed all of this. Pretty cool for about 1,000 year old painting without any preservation for 800 years.

After hearing about several frescoes, we popped back up into the current St. Clement church, which was really interesting to see. Huge mosaic apse, much like others I've posted about, and a very ornate ceiling that actually is so big it covers a bit of the top part of the apse if viewed from the congregation's seating. Quite the cool church, and it's weird to really see the similarities and know what a lot of the styles symbolized having studied this for a few months now. I feel like I actually know something about art history now, what a concept!

From there I just had to rush back to class, but I passed by the Colosseum, the Forum, The Arch of Constantine, and Piazza Venezia, which just made me laugh. I mean, I'm in a rush and hurrying by some of the most famous monuments in all the world, literally just feet from me, actually walking through part of them to get back. Just cool to think about.

I made it back to class in time and during my 3 hour gap, I came home and made lunch, but I regret it slightly, as it started to rain slightly and I needed to walk half an hour or so to make it to class. It looked like it was going to be pretty light, so I just got a hooded sweatshirt and walked to class. Mistake #1, that was. I got soaked on the walk as it got worse and worse, and the crappy umbrellas that the street vendors sold (and they come out of the woodwork on rainy days, like instantly) were so terrible I wasn't about to pay for them, but I got soaked. Just drenched, through my clothes, and I had 2 hours of class to sit through after that.

Luckily, however, it subsided on my walk home and I only got mildly wet. But today on our walk to class and my walk back home, it rained both times, though I was more prepared today for its insanity, equipped with jacket and two people who had umbrellas, so we were set. It reminded me a lot of home, with the rain and all, and I still have my Northwest blood, so I was never cold and I never complained, as rain's a part of life. I was slightly irritated though, as I don't want to be wet in class.

I took a few pictures though of my walk, just because it's always beautiful, but with the dark skies I thought it looked especially looming and beautiful. So I'll post a few on here like the one to the left, and the one you'll see below.

That's really about it though. Terrible lightning and thunder aside, it's been pretty uninteresting today. I have a site visit tomorrow, which takes up all day, but beyond that, just work this weekend. Have a great one everybody, and until next time,


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Daily life continues

Ciao everyone, happy Tuesday to you all.

I just want to say something before I talk much more about my times here in Rome and all the amazing things I'm seeing and enjoying, and yes, it's going to be political, although it's something to me that should never, ever be politicized in the first place.

I have been so ecstatic about the election of President-elect Obama for the past week now, and it's been something that's brought such happiness to me and smiles to my face since the election. There was, however, something so disappointing from my perspective from my schooling state, California. Prop 8's passing, or rescinding the right of marriage from gay and lesbian couples, has been something that has really irked me, and I've tried to ignore it, I've tried to just stay happy in the realm of Obama, but I just can't. It's a grave, sad, and despicable injustice to take the rights away from anyone on a number of issues, but this to me is something that we'll be ashamed of a few years down the road as a country. I'm ashamed right now.

I won't spend too long on this, but instead of reading my blog today, if you only have 5 minutes of time, then spend it watching this video from Keith Olbermann. It's about 6 minutes long, and I could not agree more with the sentiment.

We're all people, and we deserve a chance at love all, do we not?

So please, please, just watch it and let me know what you think. I'm not going to think any less of anyone who disagrees with me or doesn't approve of gay marriage, trust me, it's something everyone has their own opinion on and I will never try to take that away from you, but seriously: shouldn't everyone have an equal chance at love?

I'm sorry if you don't want to read about that. I know it's a heated issue, I know it's a hard subject, but life is full of hard subjects, and denying their existence doesn't mean it's not happening. It is. And you don't have to campaign for it (I'm not right now), but you can ask yourself: what do I really think and how do I really feel, and why do I feel this way? Is this fair? Is this right? What if this were me, or if not me, my child? My parent? My best friend?

I'll move on now, and I thank you greatly for bearing with me. I love you all, and I never want to make you feel uncomfortable, and I don't want to grandstand with my platform and turn it into a soapbox, but this is my site, so I'll say what I want.

On to issues of much greater happiness!

Yesterday, I had my site visit to Sancta Sopra Minerva and the libraries next door. Galileo Galilei, or the first real, vocal advocate of the Heliocentric model of the universe, was tried and convicted by the Catholic Church there for heresy, teaching that the world was not the center of the universe and that it rotated around the sun. This was considered to be contrary to sacred scripture, and he was condemned to life imprisonment for his beliefs and teachings. It's hard to imagine a world where your studies and beliefs could get you thrown in jail, but it still happens in some corners of the world. Galileo was a genius, unquestionably, and his conviction marks quite the low point in Catholic history.

Anyway, the library was huge, and we didn't even go to the wing where I went before and posted about before my break. It had hundreds of thousands of volumes, many of which were over 400 years old. Whoa old!

We had a nice guide named Gloria who showed us around, and our professor, Father Larrey, helped us along as well, throwing in some facts and such along the way. We also went into the last home of Saint Catherine of Siena, which is near the cloister in the Sopra Minerva. It was cool to think about the history of some of those rooms, and we were in the actual cell Galileo was kept in during his trial, which is pretty cool to think about. Such history, such is life here in Roma, I suppose.

On my walk back yesterday, I was chatting with some people, and we were joking about how we have 4 weeks and 3 days left in the program. That's 31 days, people. Man. Today is the 6 week mark left for me, and I've been here for 12, which is crazy to imagine. My time is over 2/3rds of the way up for Europe, and over 75% done in Roma. Ahh!

This made me simultaneously very sad and kind of homesick. It's hard to imagine being home so soon to an extent, and I'm a little homesick as of late, which I think is just due to the fact that I've traveled so much and am so sick of dealing with money that I just want to be done with it for a minute and relax. I know the adult world doesn't have those breaks, yeah yeah, but I'm just excited to relax at home with everyone a bit.

I am, however, really weirded out by leaving Roma for good. Not to just fly somewhere and be done and come back, but really leave. As in not come back for a long time. As excited as I am to think about coming home, I am leaving my current home.

And that's tough.

I was trying to imagine what I'll do on my last days here in Roma, and I think it involves a final run through the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine hill; the tour of Trevi / Pantheon / Piazza di Spagna; and finally St. Peter's one last time. I think that will be Wednesday the 10th and Thursday the 11th, and the 12th may be the hardest yet, saying goodbye to all these people I've met and have enjoyed so many great experiences with.

Can't focus on that too much though, I've got too much life to live between now and then.

I hope you all have an excellent Tuesday and enjoy your midweek blues, it's fall cold outside finally and I can't help but think of home a bit with the low-hanging sun, breath hanging in the air, and coats and pants every day. But it's here, and I'm sure it's where you are too.

Until next time,


Monday, November 10, 2008

Under St. Peter's

Ciao everyone, happy Monday to you all.

Today's excitement comes not from a popular tourist destination--although if it was to be opened to the public, I'm sure it would be--but instead, from a place where only 75 people (guide included) are allowed to enter every day: the ancient necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City.

Cool, right?

Yes, in fact. Very cool.

No pictures were allowed, but Bert and I rumbled over to the Vatican this morning and waited at the Obelisk for our professor and our class. After everyone arrived, we got all our bags checked and went through a bunch of metal detectors, eventually leading to a coat-check room for all of our bags. We stowed them, split into two groups of about 12 and were whisked over the main steps of the Basilica to the left side entrance, one guarded by 3 Swiss guards in full regalia. We were deposed, if you will, and after several documents proving we could go, the guards took us through the gate and back to the more private area of the Vatican--very cool.

Our guide was a heavily-accented German woman (which was excellent, since having just returned from Germany, I still had the ear for it and it wasn't a problem), who was a little overbearing and a little know-it-all-ish, but she meant well I think. German is a tough language to translate directly from to English and sound friendly, I guess.

Anyway, we were escorted through several coded and guarded glass doors, each with a timer on them to keep you in / out / whatever suits the purpose. We all squeezed into the separate hallways and got through the doors to a steep decline, but not before one more Mission: Impossible style entryways. Stooping over, we entered into the high-ceiling area, almost like a street, lined with several mausoleums and tombs of ancient Roman pagans and rich families, all still richly decorated and mosaic designed. All of this, however, had been filled in to make the original St. Peter's in 320, and this really irritated the rich Roman families, as you could well imagine. The dirt crushed some of the floors in a bit, but richly preserved the walls and decorations of the tombs, which for the most part were from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Whoa.

We were able to look into several, all the while being told about those who lived there, etc, and we turned up another ramp uphill (St. Peter's is built into the side of an old hill of Rome, and to make the Basilica, they had to fill in the hillside, which is why the tombs were filled with dirt, to make it level. When you go uphill, you're going towards Peter's grave) and the tombs began to have hidden Christian meanings and markers, in Greek or with stories that were ambiguously detailed on the walls, but to the modern eye can be discerned quite easily as Christian. They wanted to be close to Peter's burial site, and it was cool to see the transition and the early paintings, all of which were near 2000 years old.

We headed up a little more, and we got to this oddly walled room, after passing through some more of the hermetically sealed doors, of course, and there marked one of the two walls--the left one--of the supposed tomb of St. Peter. The bones discovered there, however, were of 2nd and 3rd century remains, and Peter died in 64 A.D; plus, all of the remains were of various under-40 men and women, and Peter was in his 60s on death.

But from there we went upstairs through a chapel of the new St. Peters, underneath the current Basilica, but still there nonetheless. We went over a passageway and onto the right side of Peter's tomb, and there was some Latin graffiti, which took years to decipher, but eventually was found to mark St. Peter's tomb in obscure fashion. They looked in a niche and found remains of a 60-70 year old male with no feet. The Vatican declared unequivocally that this was Peter, as 60-70 year old people were very rare in that time, the bones dated back to the 1st century, and Peter was crucified upside down, as he didn't consider himself worthy to be martyred like Christ was. The easiest way to get someone off a cross? Chop their feet off, explaining the lack of feet.

St. Peter's Basilica's legitimacy is unique as the head of the Catholic Church, as Peter was the rock on which Jesus said to build his church: Peter was the first Pope, or the head of the church, and the most important church is actually built on St. Peter's remains, so it's a double-meaning. Cool in a way. Anyway, they had to put the bones back to be legitimate, but they're encased in plexiglass to keep them sealed. I reached out my hand and was within 10 feet of St. Peter's bones, which is crazy to think about. Hugely historically significant, in the Bible, man, it was a moving experience.

From there, we went out up into the other chapel and around a circular path, eventually getting to John Paul II's tomb, and that was also really cool. People were kneeling, praying, and crying looking at his grave, and it was pretty amazing to think about how much he impacted the world in his time as pope. I mean, people LOVED that man everywhere, but especially in Rome. He's like a rock star.

We exited that area, and the exit comes out RIGHT next to the alter at St. Peter's. Crazy design, touche Catholic Church. I was still kind of in awe about the whole thing, I mean, things like that just can't be seen every day, and it's one of the more memorable moments I've had since I arrived in Rome. I mean, today I was as close to the remains of St. Peter as almost anyone alive, and within mere feet, no less. Pretty cool. I mean, I'm not Catholic, but I can still appreciate the significance.

The rest of today has gone off without a hitch. I'm off in a few minutes to go see where Galileo was tried by the Church at a much later date than earlier, but still really historically important. I mean, anyone who read the Bible, you know Peter? I saw his bones today. Ok, more modern reference for some of you: Angels and Demons? I was there, underground, today, at the main source of action for the final scene. Whoa.

But that's about it. Hope your Monday is as cool as mine, and until next time,


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Back from Bavaria

Hallo everyone, I hope your weekend has been great and that you've enjoyed some fall weather, Kirsten and I sure did. As you know, we packed up and met in Munich on Friday morning for a little birthday-for-her celebration. Today happens to be that day, and I am really bummed we couldn't spend it together all day today, but at least we started it together. It's really funny how both of our birthdays were travel days for each other; I went home from her on my birthday and she has the longer trip today back home. I'm sorry KK if it wasn't the most exciting birthday ever, but at least we could spend some time together.

But yes, Munchen. I had to get up at 4am to get to the airport, and I had to take a taxi to get there since my flight was too early for public transportation. BOO. The taxi was 50 euro due to the night tariff (yes, so early my fare was a night fare. Sigh). But that's ok, as I got on my flight just dandy and wound up in Munich a little early, and I had about an hour and forty five minutes to wait until Kirsten got in, so I just read some free newspapers Lufthansa supplies for its passengers and read all about Obama and his victory in the papers. It was nice to read something in English in the papers for once, I never get that anymore.

But yes, the time eventually did pass, and I waited for Kirsten at her gate. Even though it'd only been a few days, it was still great to see her again. Immediately, we both discussed how immaculate the airport in Munich was: so clean, so orderly, and so . . . awesome? I mean, I really liked how easy it was to figure out inside, and how clean it was too. Definitely a nice place to stop-over. We wandered our way down to the S-Bahn, or the underground system, to try and get to the center of the city and get to our hotel. Unfortunately for us, the S-Bahn is not nearly as easy to figure out as the station. No indications of anything, just totally in German. Luckily, we figured it out and got our tickets and hopped on the train, laughing at the German pronunciations of everything, it was quite comical.

German, if you don't know, isn't horrible to try and figure out when it's written and you have a chance to think about it; in fact, it's much easier than some of the other places we've been. Some things, however, are just way too different to figure out. English is a Germanic language, so it makes sense, but whew, just don't ask me to speak any.

We made our way to Goethestrasse (except the double-s was that funny German letter that makes the s-sound) and got into our hotel, which was slightly misleading about its size and whatnot, but ended up working out just dandy. We couldn't check in until about an hour and change later, so we just put down our bags and made sure we were bundled up and walked around to get some food and a sense of where we were.

First impressions of Munich: clean, cold, and odd. It was very orderly, no trash anywhere, and lots of nicer cars. Good to see some BMWs, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus again. Been a while. Fall was in full effect there, too, and it was really cold out compared to Roma/Athens. Kirsten really was hit hard, and she bundled up heavy and still was cold. But the last thing that was odd was the number of gambling / strip clubs / sex shops in the area. I mean, everywhere in some places. It never really felt sleazy, just excessive and numerous.

Anyway, we wandered down into the Karlsplatz / Marienplatz area, which has tons of shopping, food, and jewelery shops. Really was a fun time there. Kirsten and I went into the Augustiner Brauhaus to get a bite to eat, and we had a really nice Persian waiter who was very eager to talk about America and see what we thought of Munich so far. And it was there that we had some delicious pretzels and German beer that we've been waiting on for oh-so-long now. Yum.

I had an awesome sausage and sauerkraut plate, and before I say anymore, yes, sauerkraut. It sounds, looks, and smells not so good, but man, can your senses deceive you sometimes. I mean, I was all over the sauerkraut. Plus, they had an awesome mustard too that was just strong and delicious. . . man, I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

From there, we finished off our half-liters and went back to the hotel, got checked in, and rested a bit before heading back out around dusk. We wandered back towards the Marienplatz area from before, and we found a shop called the Oberpollinger, which had Prada, Fendi, Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and a billion more designers I couldn't name off the top of my head, but Kirsten sure could. We had to wander around in there for a bit. It was pretty amazing to see such designer stuff all in one place, it felt like Pasadena or Beverly Hills for a minute.

We continued on after that and walked past the Rathaus and the Glockenspiel area, which was this really cool Gothic structure in the heart of Marienplatz. We stood in awe for a minute checking it out, and vowed to come back during the daytime the next day. We kept on wandering until we got to our desitnation for the evening, the Hofbrauhausen, or the State Beer Hall. It's really famous in Munich, and the hall is huge, and we knew we had to go check it out during our time there, as it's huge and famous. Like Nazi history happened here too, with Hitler really starting the Nazi party with his theses there. It was pretty crazy to think about being in the same place as Hitler once was and having an excellent time, but the atmosphere was irresistable.

It took a long time to get a seat, as it's every man for himself in there, no joke. I mean, you just find a table, sit down next to a bunch of people you don't know (yet) and wait for your waiter to wander by and order some beer and snacks and hang out. Chat. Do whatever you want to do, really.

So we did. We ordered some beers, and I went with the Dunkel, at Travis's behest, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I had a liter and Kirsten got a half of the Weiss bier, or the Hefeweizen. We got our frothy brews and some pretzels and celebrated away, with pictures, laughter, and good times all around.

By the way, I couldn't possibly put all my pictures on here, so if you want to see them, head on over to my picasa site at:

There we go. Anyway, we enjoyed our beers for a while and chatted with our neighboring beer drinkers, a group from Mexico City who spoke English and we chatted away, enjoying our the festive atmosphere and everything. It was cool to see how many people were there, I mean, literally, hundreds of swarming beer drinkers. Plus, some German guys in the traditional garb. I kid you not. That was really fun (and funny) to see.

After that (and my helping Kirsten finish her beer), we went back to the hotel and just took it easy before heading to bed early. Kirsten was starting to not feel well, and so we wanted to make sure to get rested up.

We got up after quite a long sleep, but Kirsten was feeling pretty terrible, which was not good news at all. We got some pretty good breakfast from our hotel for free and ate all we wanted, but went back up to our room to rest some more. I went out and got some German meds for her, and we medicated her up and got back out on the trail. She was a really gamer this weekend, and I'm just sorry she wasn't feeling well.

We got on the Metro and took it over to the English Gardens, or these huge, landscaped gardens in the center of Munich, designed in the late 18th century with building designs from all over the world. They were perfectly fall-seasoned, and we just oohed and ahhed for a few hours, just enjoying the beauty of the bridges over the cool water, the really cool buildings, and the awesome scenery.

We both have the same issue: no fall in our cities. In California, either. I really, really miss jumping in leaves, seeing all the colors, enjoying the seasonal changes, but I haven't really been able to enjoy a fall in a long, long while.

It was lovely, to say the least, and I really felt like I could live in a city like Munich. Good food and drink? Check. Good public transportation? Check. Good natural areas as well? Check. Seasons? Check. It really did have it all. Kirsten would add really good shopping too, and it had that as well.

The gardens I could go on all day about, I'll just stop and say to check out my pictures on Picasa and know that I loved them dearly. There's a few more pictures I'll post, and a video, but it's awesome, just trust me.

One part of particular awesomeness? The view from this little Greek tower. Maybe it was better since I haven't had any fall recently. Maybe because it was with someone I was so glad to be experiencing it with. Maybe it was the view itself, or maybe it was the candied nuts we'd just ate that were fantastic, but I really just wanted to hang out there for hours, relaxing, taking in the cool air and beautiful scenery.

I'll move on now, but know I could linger much, much longer.

We went back to the hotel for a little while after that, relaxed, and later went back to the Augustiner for some lunch / dinner, since it was so good before. It was equally good this time, and Kirsten and I both got two seperate dishes from before and enjoyed them again. Love good hearty food. Just awesome. We also checked out the Rathaus and everything again during the day, like we said we would, and we took lots of pictures, some of which are on here, the rest of which are on Picasa.

The Gothic Architecture and everything is such a departure from Rome, and the feeling of the place was straight out of Disneyland in a way, since it felt just so stereotypically Bavarian, but it's not stereotypical: it's the way the place actually looks. I really was pretty excited about it personally. Kirsten did an excellent job hanging in there, and we stopped and checked out the real German H&M shops, which was interesting to see up close and compare to those in L.A. and such.

It was getting darker, and Kirsten and I got some McFlurries from McDonalds (go ahead and hate, but they were delicious and we both thought they'd make and excellent dessert / birthday cake type deal. We got two and I sung her happy birthday in the crowded German McDonalds and we ate until we were both so stuffed we could burst.

Mmmm, good stuff.

From there it was time to head back home, and we crashed watching terrible MTV trash television as it was in English and hysterically painful to watch, but really kind of funny in a degrading-to-humanity kind of way. We both thoroughly enjoyed it, watched a few music videos, and just relaxed and went to bed, and when we got up, it was 11/9, or Kirsten's birthday, which also meant leaving, which was really sad and hard to do on her birthday, since she had a few hours to wait after I left. Still feel bad about that one.

But I got through security and home pretty easily, even though we were delayed on the runway, which burned me since I wanted to be with my girlfriend, but I got home soon enough and here I am. I hope you all had a great weekend and if you have any questions, as always, ask away.

Tomorrow is back to school, but also excavations under St. Peters! Woohoo! I hope you have a great remainder of your weekend, HAPPY BIRTHDAY KIRSTEN, and until next time,


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Enough travel for you?

Ciao everyone,

I am back in Roma after my week-long excursion to Cairo and Athens. I got in just dandy yesterday night, but the trains and such were disagreeable and I got home a little later than I had wanted, but other than that, not a whole lot to discuss in that department. I had a really great time in Athens, and it was nice to be able to spend enough time with Kirsten to feel like we could both relax and not stress about making sure we do enough fun things to make our visits memorable, as we had already spent lots of time doing that in Egypt. We watched Wall-E, which if you haven't seen it, you should, it's really pretty sweet. I think we both enjoyed it quite thoroughly.

In other news, Family Guy still has it from time to time, The Office takes a strange turn, and I miss television. Could you tell? But anyway, in real other news, it's quiet as can be back here at Candia, my residence, and it's strange. It's never quiet or empty here. I mean, I've seen near no one since I got in. And if anyone were to be here, I don't think I'd know since so many doors are closed.

But I got in last night and did a little unpacking, but today is all about packing once again to get everything set up for tomorrow. What's tomorrow? I leave for Munich. These few weeks are the busiest of my entire trip in terms of travel and sight-seeing, as come Sunday, I will have taken 6 flights in 10 days. Whew! That's an itinerary! I mean, I flew 4 in 6 days, but with Munich added on, it's pretty busy. I've really enjoyed seeing what's out there, and this weekend adds to that experience.

German efficiency has long been a favorite of mine. BMWs, Lufthansa, on-time trains, good beer, I mean, it's really got it all. I'm flying Lufthansa too, and it is bar none my favorite airline to fly. Germany for a couple days, check the sights, and roll. Should be interesting, as neither Kirsten or I speak any German, beyond maybe "das beer es gud!" and that's not even all that German. Or is it? I shall find out. I know I'm just excited for the pretzels and beer, which are supposed to both be fantastic. Hofbrauhausen, here we come! Our hotel looks pretty excellent too, so that should be fun times as well. Plus, unlike Switzerland, we don't have to carry our bags around the entire time we're there. But like Switzerland, it's going to be really, really cold. Hovering around freezing. Time to break out the Portland skin I guess!

In other, other news: I am still incredibly pleased with the Obama victory. Good times. I am disappointed about prop 8 in California, as it's a reminder that even the most liberal state in California, while overwhelmingly voting for a black president, wouldn't even all for Gay marriages to continue. I know it's a touchy issue, but the principle of the matter was that a right was there, and people voted to take them away. You can't tell me that's fair. Whether or not you approve, these people are citizens, just like you and me, and deserve to be treated fairly. I mean, I feel terrible for Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi. Try and tell me they don't deserve the same rights as the drunken idiot who gets married in Vegas.

Sorry, rant over.

Anyway, internet is spotty, and I'm hoping I can get this post off with it still intact. I hope you all have a great weekend, and I'll be back with tons of exciting pictures and stories, just like always. Any requests? You know where to find me. Any donations? You know my mother (only half kidding ha ha).

Until next time,


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Just a quick note or two

Ciao everyone,

As you may know (it'd be hard not to at this point I'd believe), as a country we've elected a new president, and I couldn't be more proud of the outcome of this election. In the past, I've waded through 2 elections where I believe I had an interest, and both ended with much bitterness and sour defeat. Gore / Bush was painful just because of how close it was and the popular vote issue, and regardless of which of the two you supported, your candidate should have won, as one won the popular vote, one one the electoral. In 2004, my political interests were fully formed and I followed with a gusto that comes with enchantment with the political process. Again, I was sourly disappointed once again, and the way everyone piled on a reasonable candidate in John Kerry was just sad, even in the face of the terrible leadership we received from the executive over that time frame.

Today marks a new era in American politics, one where there is a consensus victor, and one who is offering change over the failed policies of the last decade, really. I know some who say Barack Obama is a socialist, an Arab, a Muslim, crazy, you name it, I've heard it, but before you write him off, give him a chance. Living abroad and having followed this election for well over a year now, I have been entirely impressed with his steadiness, his poise, his demeanor, and his solutions he has presented. These next few years are going to be tough, there's no two ways about it, but when you're down and hurting, when you feel like the walls are closing in, there's always one thing to keep you moving, and it cannot be understated in its value, nor achieved easily:


Barack Obama has helped heal my wounds over the past few years as I got to know him as a politician (highly skilled and charismatic, which in International Relations is hugely important. Plus, the rest of the world already likes him, you can take me at my word on that one through life experience), as a person and family man (unlike John and Cindy McCain, the Obamas actually look happy when they look at each other, and they seem as real as you next door neighbor) and as a leader (steady no matter the odds). I could not give a more emphatic endorsement for Obama as our 44th President, and I cannot wait to return home to a country where I know I'll be on his watch. The past 8 years, I've had very little to be proud of in terms of government, and now's my chance to see the other side of the coin, to see just what the other side can do.

I know not everyone agrees with me, already with 84% of the votes counted, McCain has 51 million votes, Obama near 57 million, but still, if you look at it, McCain won over 45% of this country's votes, and while 55% of America is a large share, it's not a consensus. I know some are disappointed, but I ask you to give him a good chance. You don't have a choice anymore about the President, he's going to be it, so what do you have to lose to really hope it works for this guy? Our country needs a leader right now who's competent and can do the job, and I couldn't be more assured that we've got our man.

Thanks for bearing with me on this historic evening. I know some of you are elated too, and for that, I can only say "Yes we did," and our work is not done yet. We are a nation of brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, friends, individuals and collectives, families and neighbors, but most of all, we are the United States of America. We can stand firm together and make this world a better place than it has been, and not just for the few, but for all of us. Say I'm naive. Go ahead. I'm only 21. Say we're too different or divided, and that we're too partisan. Well, maybe we have been, but this country has been a lot of things: a country of slaves and slave-holders, a country that denied women the right to vote, a country where civil equality in race, gender, and sexuality are still major issues, but we've always done one thing: stand strong in the face of adversity.

Obama won Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, Ohio, Florida, and New Mexico, all states that voted for President Bush 4 years ago. He's ahead, or at least got almost exactly half the vote in North Carolina, Indiana, and Missouri, and made the strongest Democrat showing in Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee's modern electoral history. We are looking for unity right now I think, and don't be afraid to back Obama and to give him this chance to try and make things better. I know dissent is part of the political process, a necessary one at that, and you are free to disagree with me and literally despise Obama, but I encourage you with all my heart to give hope a chance.

Allow yourself to be "naive". Be young again. Believe in the promise of our country as a whole, not in a party or a opinion, but as a collective. United we stand, divided we fall. Where some are weak, many are strong. Our country is something so worthy of being proud of, and this man is resolved to show me its' promise anew. I couldn't be more proud of the result, of our next President, and most of all, our country. May we all work towards getting along and working together to create a more perfect union, one where we can all be proud to say we are America, and we support all of our people through thick and thin.

Happy Election Day America, and I'll see you anew in December.