The pasta and pizza in Italy are the best I’ve ever had. Sorry Barilla, handmade beats boxed any day.
2. Everything is much slower in Europe, which isn’t a bad thing. Unlike in America you have to ask for the check and the time between you asking for it and it getting to your table can take an eternity.
3. Cigarettes and coffee are a way of life here. Cigarette butts litter the cobblestones and espresso runs in the veins of every Italian.
4. Don’t be afraid to get lost! I’ve gotten lost a few times, but that’s when I find places that I wouldn’t otherwise have found!
5. Get that gelato! On my way back from class I pass at least 4 gelato places and they call my name each time. Most of the time I resist, but sometimes it’s just too hard not to! It’s only 2 euros. Is there much more I could ask for?
6. I’m a lot stronger, mentally and emotionally, than I thought I was. Moving to a new country for 4 months is a major change that I didn’t fully appreciate before I got here, but a rough first couple of weeks showed me that I can now take anything that living abroad throws at me.
7. Don’t take things for granted. I’ve now realized that I really take seeing my friends and family back at home everyday for granted. I’m so lucky to have great friends that make college awesome and am very lucky to have a family that is with me every step of the way.
8. Everyone is different. I’ve always known this, but I am seeing it in action. I’ve met people from all over the country and world and everyone has their own story.
9. Don’t let the little things bother you. Things happen that you can’t control and if you let them bother you you won’t be as happy as you should be.
10. Also, don’t let others ruin your experience. I’ve learned that everyone wants something different out of their time abroad and that’s ok. Just stay true to what you want to do and don’t let anyone get in the way of that. This is your experience, and no one else’s.
My journey to Oktoberfest began at 3am on Thursday the 17th. I hadn’t really slept the night before because I was so excited to get this adventure started. I walked downstairs with my friend Colleen around 3:45 to meet Becca and Kat and the taxi that was going to take us to the airport. We arrived there at about 4:30 because there was no traffic at all, which is a rare thing in Rome. Going through security was a breeze and we found our gate and camped out there for the two hours before our flight. The flight was only 90 minutes long which wasn’t bad at all! We landed in Munich around 9:15 and figured out the subway system so we could get to our hotel. Kat has been to Munich before and without her I don’t think this weekend would have been a success without her there to guide us. It was so weird to be in a country where I wasn’t able to read any of the signs or speak the language. I can read and speak Italian and if I can’t fully understand something I usually use context clues to figure it out. We got on the subway to get to our hotel and when we got there we were informed that we couldn’t check in until 2:00, but they were able to hold our luggage for us. After we changed into fresh clothes, we decided to head to the Englischer Garten which is a huge park in Munich and it also has the 2nd largest biergarten in the world, which of course we checked out. Before we got on the subway, there was a bit of a mishap which could have been much worse than it was. The subway system in Munich is similar to that of New York, but some of the trains are older and have old fashion doors. On some you have to physically pull a handle and open the door, unlike in New York where they open automatically, regardless if people get on or off. The train pulled up and we couldn’t figure out why the doors didn’t automatically open and we looked down to the next car and watched a women open the door so we did the same. Thinking we had more than 15 seconds to get on the train, we took our time to open the door. Suddenly the door started to close and two of us were on the train, but two of us were still on the platform. Logically, I stuck my foot in the door thinking that there was sensor that would force the doors back open, but boy was I wrong… My foot was now caught in the door of a train that was seconds from pulling out of the station. I can’t even clearly remember what happened but, I do remember that I twisted my foot a bit in the door and somehow it came out. No more than 2 seconds later the subway pulled away with Becca and Kat on it and Colleen and I standing on the platform. We couldn’t help but laugh at what had happened and how it all happened in slow motion. I remembered that the station we had to get off at began with a G so I was sort of confident in my sense of direction and our destination. Colleen and I got on the next train and lucky for us Becca and Kat were waiting at the next stop.
We got to the garden and walked around to try and find the biergarten. Around 11:30 we were all hungry so we made our way over there and grabbed some lunch. It was a big outdoor buffet and you could pick whatever you wanted to eat. They had many different kinds of wursts, potatoes, salads, snacks, and drinks. I got a bratwurst and potatoes wedges. It was more expensive that I had expected, but it was really good. There weren’t a lot of people there which was surprising to me for lunch time, but my friend Kat told me that Germans don’t usually eat lunch until about 2:00.
After lunch, we walked over to the lake in the park. It was so nice to just sit there for a bit and admire the beauty of the park and the quiet. The water was so clear and we could even see huge fish swimming around. It was such a change from Rome and once again I was happy to see grass and not have constant city noise in the background. Let’s just say I felt like I fit in more in Munich than I do in Rome. Munich is more my speed; it is very clean, the fashion is similar to American fashion, and it just seemed quieter. There were people on bikes everywhere and they have designated lanes for bike riders and if you don’t get out of their way they get angry. While walking around the lake I watched a German Shepherd jump into the lake for a swim, and I couldn’t help but think about my own dog and what he would have done with such a big body of water in front of him. It was finally 2:00, so we decided to head back to the hotel and take a quick nap nap, which turned into us passing out for two hours. Thursday was Colleen’s birthday so we let her pick where we went to eat that night and we ended up at a Mexican restaurant (yes a Mexican restaurant in Munich). It was a very dark and loud place, but it was really good. After, we decided to wander around to try and find a bar where there would be other students, but we didn’t end up finding it and went back to the hotel because we were all exhausted.
On Friday we all slept in and then headed back into Marienplatz to do some shopping and to walk around a bit. Marienplatz or Mary’s Square is in the heart of Munich and that’s also where the Glockenspiel is. It was drizzling and a little chilly, but we didn’t care. It was a nice change from the heat of Rome. We stopped at a little cafe for lunch and the waitress was very helpful in translating the menu for us. After lunch, we went shopping and there was an H&M every 500 feet and they were all different. I ended up buying a sweater because I hadn’t really packed anything heavy enough for the cool Munich evenings. I decided that I should reward myself with a famous German pretzel and it did not disappoint!
Soon it was 5:00 and we just happened to walk through Marienplatz on our way to an ATM and the Glockenspiel was chiming and the figures were dancing at the top. All of the tourists had their selfie sticks and GoPros out in an attempt to get a cool picture. That evening, we went had some halal food for dinner, which was cheap, but really good! We then headed over to the Hofbrauhaus which is a very famous, 3-story beer hall. The atmosphere inside was amazing! There were people seated at every table enjoying each others company and of course the liter of beer that was in front of them. Traditional German songs were being sung by anyone who knew the words and even if you didn’t know the words you tried to sing along. Some nice men saw us walking around trying to find seat and they waved us over and we sat with them for a few hours and then made our way outside to the outdoor seating. My friend Colleen started talking to an man out there and he mentioned that he was from New Jersey so of course I had to ask him where and he said Lodi! Who would have thought I would meet someone that lived so close to me back at home during Oktoberfest in Munich?! I honestly can’t believe that I finished a whole liter of beer by myself. My dad would always let me try his and I never liked it, but the beer in Germany tastes a bit different. Soon it was late and we headed back to the hotel. The whole subway ride back we were trying to decide whether or not we should leave really early to get a spot in a tent or leave a bit later and just got with the flow. After a little back and forth we decided to leave later and see what would happen.
Saturday was the big day! The first day of Oktoberfest! Once again we got on the subway and arrived at the festival grounds at around 10:15. We went into a few of the tents just to see what they were like and a few of them were already full of revelers, even though the first beer wasn’t to be poured until noon. There were also a bunch of rides and games, which was something I didn’t expect to see at all. And of course there were food vendors everywhere. To enter some of the tents you needed a reservation and we discovered later that people or companies pay upwards of $1,000 dollars two years in advance just to get a table. There was a tent owners and breweries parade set to kick off at 10:45 so we decided to watch. Each brewery had a very nicely decorated cart full of wooden kegs that was pulled by four or six horses. The carts would then turn into their designated tents and wait for the mayor to tap the first keg at noon. There were also a few carts that had people on them, some of them were probably important people in Munich, but of course I had no idea who they were. At noon the mayor tapped the first keg and Oktoberfest was off and running. When we first got there we noticed a nice looking biergarten so we walked back there to grab a beer and mingle a bit.
It was nice to be able to do whatever we wanted without being tied down to a table in one of the tents. Throughout the day we went to three different biergartens, ate too much food, and then around 5 tried to get a seats in the Paulaner Brewery tent and we were surprisingly very successful! After walking around in the tent for about 10 minutes we noticed two benches that had a few spots open and we rushed over to take them. When I say this tent was huge, I mean it was HUGE and filled with people from all over the world. I have never experienced anything like it in my life.
German music was played by a live band and everyone was singing along. Some of the songs and the German toast song “Ein Prosit” were the same ones that were played at Hofbrauhaus, so we had heard them before and did our best to sing along. By the end of the weekend the song was stuck in my head and still is! I was also amazed by the waitresses and their ability to carry 8 steins at once and not spill anything! Since we had an early flight we decided to head back to the hotel around 9:00, but we didn’t feel like we were missing out on anything because we had spent the whole day there and had a great time!
Exactly 2 months ago I bought my plane ticket to Munich to spend a weekend at Oktoberfest with three other girls I had only talked to on Facebook, but I’m so glad I did! They are some of the nicest, most down to earth people I have met here and I feel like we’ll be even better friends by the end of the semester. I know it’s a big thing to say, but this might just have been one of the best weekends of my life.
I SAW DIANE KEATON ON WEDNESDAY!!! After my on-site class I was standing talking to some of the girls in my class and I turned my head and there she was. Of course at the time I couldn’t remember her name for the life of me but it was her!
Remember when I said in my last post that the Amalfi Coast was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen? Well Tuscany is giving Amalfi a run for it’s money. On Friday, a group of us went to the small town of Montalcino in the hills of Tuscany. It was a school run trip so we didn’t have to worry about planning anything, which was nice. We got on the bus and sat through a sort of grueling 3 hour ride and finally arrived at Caparzo Vineyards, which was absolutely beautiful. I had forgotten what silence sounded like and it was nice to see some grass again. Julia, our tour guide and host, took us on a tour of the winery and it was really interesting to see all of the work that goes into making a single bottle of wine. All of the wine goes into huge wooden barrels and the wine will have certain flavors depending on the kind of wood the barrel was made out of. Julia is a member of the Caparzo family and she knows everything there is to know about wine.
After the short tour we were taken to another building where there was a light lunch and wine tasting set up for us. It was really nice! There was cheese, a selection of meats, tomato bruschetta and chicken pate bruschetta, bread, and small pieces of cake. I tried the pate because “I’m in Italy, why not!”, but I was not a fan. I’m sure if I got past the chicken liver part I might have enjoyed it, but I didn’t put that much effort into it. Over the course of the lunch we were served four different types of wine; one Brunello di Montalcino, one Rosso di Montalcino, a wine made at the winery, and one Moscadello Vendemmia Tardiva which was a white dessert wine. I liked the Rosso the best and the dessert wine the least because it almost tasted like perfume, that’s how sweet it was.
After the tasting was over we all headed outside to take pictures, because how could 20 year olds resist the urge to take pictures with glasses of wine in Tuscany?! It was a perfect day for photos and I sort of regret not bringing my camera with me because those would have been some great pictures. I love my iPhone camera, but it just doesn’t capture landscapes as well and the landscape was the best part of the trip.
At about 2:00, the bus took us to the town of Montalcino where we went on a guided tour and walked around the town. It was so quaint and quiet and I would have stayed there forever if I could’ve. Montalcino was an important place during the time of Napoleon because it had a fort and was positioned on the top of a hill. I actually went up into the fortress with a few others and we could see for miles. The soldiers in Montalcino would use the fort as a lookout to see if any uninvited visitors were coming. After the tour we walked around the town a bit more before boarding the bus back to Rome.
On Saturday my two new friends Alexa and Shubhi and I headed over to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. It’s amazing how many tour groups are out on any given Saturday! It only cost each of us 12 euros to get into both sites which is relatively cheap and a great deal because these are two places that I wanted to see during my time here. It’s amazing how old both the Forum and the Colosseum are. My friend Alexa mentioned how cool it was that we were walking on the same roads as Caesar did over 2,000 years ago. I was surprised at how small the Colosseum looked in comparison to all the pictures I’ve seen of it. In both of these places we were transported back in time, which is always a humbling experience and made me realize how small I am in the grand scheme of things.
After we had enough of the ruins we parted ways for the afternoon, but later in the evening we went out for a few drinks and dancing at a club called Shari Vari which is over by the Pantheon. But before my friend Maddy and I even made it inside we had to make a pit-stop for gelato. At this point it was almost 1am so most of the cheap gelato places were closed, but we found a place called Don Nino which was bit more on the “expensive” side. I only say expensive because I’ve been paying two euros for gelato and not 4.20. Regardless it was delicious. I had mint chocolate chip and Maddy got tiramisu. I couldn’t even finish mine because it was so much, and if you know me not finishing ice cream is a SIN. Now I want that gelato again… We talked to one of the servers and I asked him if he’d ever been to New York City and he said no but his “American dreams are there”. We then walked over to the club and danced for a few hours and called it a night around 2:30.
Even though I went to bed super late, I forced myself to get up for mass because it was my first time going to mass in English here. Two weeks ago I went to one in Italian, but I was lucky to find one in English. Santa Maria della Scala is a really ornate church and I am always surprised by the opulence of each and every church I walk into. There was an old, little, precious nun there who didn’t speak a word of English, but I was lucky enough to be able to understand her. She told me and the other girl I was with about the story behind the church and that every time you come to the church you should write a “grazia” to the blessed mother and of course we did. She then asked me if I wanted to read the first reading and responsorial psalm and she asked someone else to read the second reading, they couldn’t understand her so I just read that too. While I was up there reading it hit me that I was lectoring in a church in Italy. There were a few other John Cabot people there too, which was nice to see.
Now rain is falling in Rome and I should start my homework which I’ve been trying to do all day and it obviously hasn’t happened yet. I’ll leave you with a picture of my dinner from Saturday… Chicken parm from Tony’s in Trastevere which is considered the best in the city and we will be back
What a whirlwind first week of classes! I’m taking a Cinematic Rome class, Renaissance Art in Rome, Italian and a class called the Popes of Rome. After you get past some of my professors accents and broken english, they are all really nice and I can understand them. My classes should be interesting, but I’m hoping that they aren’t too challenging because concentrating in the Eternal City is pretty difficult! Even though I’m a junior, I felt like a freshman all week! From asking where certain classrooms are, to doing ice breakers in class, to introducing myself to the people sitting around me reminds me of my first few weeks at Marywood. But, since I came to Rome not knowing anyone it has been easier to make friends and open up to people because I’m essentially forced to, which isn’t a bad thing.
On to Amalfi…..
Last week my roommates and I were talking about how we wanted to go to the beach and one thing lead to another and all of the sudden we were renting a house on the Amalfi coast! At first it was only going to be my roommates and I, but some of our friends that we had met joined in. My roommate Ashley and I spent most of the day on Saturday looking at AirBnB and booking.com to find houses to rent on the coast for cheap. We found an amazing little place called Holiday in Amalfi and it was everything we wanted. A beautiful a view, near the beach, very cheap for a last minute booking, and wi-fi (what every college kid desires). We packed our bags and headed to Amalfi; not before some travel snafus though. We got up at 6:00 on Friday morning and got ready and let me tell you getting 4 girls ready and out there door early in the morning is a struggle. Our train was scheduled to leave at 7:26 and we all figured we had plenty of time to pull ourselves together and get there with enough time but we were wrong. 6:30 rolled around and 2 of the 4 roommates were ready to go and the other two weren’t and at this point I started to worry. The boys we went with were frantically texting us telling us to come downstairs and that we needed to call cabs. We made it downstairs at about 6:45 and then we proceeded to call cabs to pick us. The cabs in Rome are driven by Italians and their first language is obviously not English, so trying to communicate with them over the phone can be tough at times. We waited about 20 minutes and the cabs had yet to show up. It was early so there weren’t many cars driving around at the time. We were all staring down the street and every time a white car drove by there was a moment of excitement only to be crushed when it didn’t turn on down Vicolo della Penitenza. We saw a cab parked at the end of the street and figured it had to be for us. The eight of us ran down the street to see if two cabs were parked there and when there was only one a decision had to be made. The cab driver said he was waiting for a lady named Maria, but we convinced him to take half of the group to Roma Termini (money will sway anyone). My roommates and our friend went ahead and I stuck back with the boys. We stood there for a few minutes and just stared at each other and tried to figure out what to do to make the train on time. At this point it was almost 7:10 and our window of opportunity was slowly dwindling. I suggested we walk up to Piazza Trilussa where there was a cab stand, and sure enough there were cabs waiting. We all piled in, backpacks and all and made our way though the streets of Rome. Rome is really beautiful in the soft morning light and the cool air added some magic to the drive. Our cab driver got us there in 10 minutes, we jumped out of the cab, flung our backpacks on our backs and ran into the station. I felt like I was in a movie. Unfortunately we were four minutes late. *Cue the tears* Watching a train that you’re supposed to be on pull out of the station is one of the saddest things in the world. Shamefully, we walked to the nearest ticket counter to change our tickets to a later train. We finally got on the 9:30 train and were on our way to Salerno. We got to Salerno at 12:15 and hopped on a bus at 1:15 to Amalfi. WORST BUS RIDE OF MY LIFE. IT FELT LIKE I WAS ON A ROLLER COASTER THAT WAS NEVER GONNA END. THE END. That’s all I want to say about that. We got off the bus in Amalfi and got a cab to our house in the cliffs. We were greeted by Francesco who was the sweetest Italian man ever. He checked us in to the house and let us settle in. We asked him where the nearest beach was and he said it was only a short walk. He failed to mention that we had to hop a curb/wall and climb down hundreds of stairs…BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful beach in my entire life. The water was a gorgeous blue and you could see the rocks below your feet. We had the entire beach to ourselves. The water was so warm, but very salty and at some point we all screamed out about how much our eyes burned. It was amazing to experience this with people I had practically just met, but at the same time I wished my friends were there to see it too. After a few hours we made the treacherous journey back up the stairs back to our house. These weren’t just any kind of stairs, they were steep and crumbly at times. I don’t think I’ve ever been so out of breath my entire life. It was really funny because we were all struggling at the same time which made us all even closer. Everyone showered and we went down to the restaurant that was right on the road below our house. It was called Pesce d’ Oro and it was the cutest place ever.
The early bird catches the worm! We woke up early and made the mile and a half trek down to the center of town to catch the ferry to Positano. The streets on the coast are very windy and pretty unsafe. There aren’t any sidewalks and there is very little room to walk. Tour buses travel up and down the road everyday and there is very little clearance between them and the side of the road and us. There were many close calls this weekend, but we all came out unscathed. We got on the packed ferry to Positano and within 30 minutes were transported to the prettiest place on Earth even though it was a bit cloudy. We walked around the town for a bit and marveled at the little shops and the architecture of the place. There was something to look at at every corner. Lunch was calling our name so we stopped and all had sandwiches with tomato and mozzarella. Best mozzarella I’ve ever had, by the way. Then we walked back down the hill and went to the beach and paid 5 euros to get on the beach, but it was so worth it. Once again the water was clear and beautiful. Before we knew it hours had passed and we didn’t want to leave. Most of us went for a swim and took a nap because the water was kind of rough and we were all exhausted. Unfortunately, the time came for us to leave and hop back on the ferry to Amalfi. This time we made the uphill trek back to the house and ate at the same place for dinner as we did the night before, only this time we got a bunch of free food (We called a cab to take us to the center of Amalfi but that never came; another transportation fail). One of the owners brought out a flatbread for the table and gave us bottle after bottle of wine. I shared a plate of gnocchi with my roommate Alexa, which was delicious of course. At the end of the meal the owner brought us shots of limoncello and we made him take one with us. It was the icing on the top of a perfect weekend.
Up early again… but this time it was because we had to leave… *sad face* Again made the mile and a half walk to the center of town and I couldn’t stop staring at the water. Multiple times along the way we all just stopped and stared. We couldn’t believe that we were there and had spent one of the most amazing weekends all together. I had to keep reminding myself that I was in Italy and would never experience the same moments again. We had a couple of hours to kill before the ferry so some of us explored Amalfi and others spent the last precious hours at the beach. I went with the guys and we walked around the most interesting streets. We turned down tunnel after tunnel and ended up at the center market, which was bustling with locals and tourists. It was a great place to soak in the local culture and we saw places that most tourists don’t. The saddest moment of the weekend was probably when the ferry was pulling out of the port and I watched Amalfi fade into the distance. We made it to Salerno and walked to the train station, but then sadly realized that we were walking in the opposite direction. Back we went the way we came, made it to the station, and stopped for a snack before boarding the train.
Even though there were a few travel issues and my calves are sore from all those stairs, it was a great weekend and as I write this I can’t stop thinking about the beauty of the Amalfi coast and how much I want to go back. Pictures don’t do this weekend justice at all!