Dice “buonasera” non “arrivederci”

I always knew that this was going to be the hardest post to write.  Most people put off writing their final blog post or journal entry or scrapbook page for as long as possible because putting the words down on paper makes the experience officially over; but that’s not what’s kept me from writing this.  I know that Italy is just the beginning for me.  I know that this particular trip is over, but I also know that it has awakened in my a zeal for life that will always now be a part of me.  The hard part, for me, isn’t saying goodbye.  It’s trying to explain, trying to put into words what Italy has meant to me.  I don’t know how to begin to tell you the ways that Italy has changed me, but this is the blog post where I try to do just that.  I started this blog with a list; it only seems appropriate that I end it the same way.

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Top Ten Things that I Learned from Study Abroad:

  1. I am brave.  I don’t have to be the timid, homesick little girl that I used to be.  I can travel to foreign countries, talk to strangers in a foreign language, and try new foods.  I can run to catch trains in Naples, try octopus, and venture Paris at night.
  2. I am strong.  I can take care of myself.  I can wait on a train platform late at night.  I can go four months without seeing my family.  I can overcome the day-to-day struggles of interacting with other people with very different ideas, habits, and viewpoints than my own.
  3. I am capable.  I can navigate a map of Rome, and Paris without one.  I can book trips and plan excursions.  I can translate from English to Italian and back.
  4. I am mature.  I can let the immature people that sometimes populate my life scoff, roll their eyes, slam doors in my face, and whisper as I walk past without retaliating.  I can acknowledge that such people do not need the reality check I’d like to give them, but instead my sympathy for whatever in life has influenced them to be so weak that they feel the need to lash out at others in order to justify their own emotions and actions.
  5. I am confident.  I know that I am a worthwhile human being, and anyone who treats me otherwise is not worth my time.  I am no more or less important than anyone else in this world, and I recognize that for the most part people are far more concerned with their own lives than scrutinizing mine; yet even if they did, I’m proud of who I am.
  6. I am worthwhile.  My friend who I met in Italy, who also attended my program, Morgan, told me one afternoon as we sat in the shadow of Vesuvius that I deserve to have friends who are nice to me.  Truly, completely kind.  I am worth that much.  I finally believe her.
  7. I am talented.  I’m not great at everything; I have just as many, if not more, faults as the average person.  But I can speak Italian.  I can function in the Italian workplace, travel safely and successfully, and score a goal in an unofficial soccer match.
  8. I am happy.  This is a big one.  I tend to always be looking for something to worry about.  Italy taught me that I’m allowed to be happy; to be truly, ridiculously joyful.  To run into the salty water of the Bay of Naples, laughing the whole way, the sun glistening off my wet, blonde hair, and know that I am blessed.
  9. I am I am spontaneous.  I bought a flight at the last minute to a place I’d never researched where they speak a language I don’t know on a whim after missing my flight home.  Lisbon pulled a spontaneity out of me that I didn’t know existed.
  10. I have so much still to learn.

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Of course I learned about the history of the area.  Obviously I improved my Italian.  There’s no doubt that I became more comfortable in airports and on public transportation.  These were the things that I expected to learn abroad.  What I didn’t expect was to feel so at home, to feel so free, and to grow so much.  I didn’t expect to meet people that would change the way I viewed myself, life, and the world.  I didn’t expect to find so much of myself in a place that I’d never knew I’d go.  But I did.

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People kept asking me, as May 10th approached, when I would return to Sorrento.  This is my response:

Prima di venire in Italia, ho pensato che la mia vita era completa.  Ma, in questo momento, dopo quattro mese in questo bellissimo posto, con queste bravissime persone, con il mare, con il sole, e con tutte le cose che imparavo, non posso immaginare di non ritornare.

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So, in this final blog post, as I close the book (or perhaps the webpage) on this great adventure, I’d like to thank a few people:

Mom and Dad, for their financial and emotional support.

Will for picking up my FaceTime calls, and talking about nothing, like everything was the same when I needed a bit of normalcy.

Kyle for being the friend that I needed to desperately in this time of great change.

Morgan for teaching me to love myself and the world and that there’s beauty in every moment of every day.

Haley for teaching me that no matter what decision I make, it will be the right one.

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Melissa, for listening and understanding when I didn’t think I could handle the world around me.

Nick for being my big brother and bringing a bit of home to Italy.

Doug for your infectious laugh and spirit.

Giacomo for inspiring in me a zeal for life and making me try new things.

Mama Teresa for all of the coffee, cookies, and five course dinners I could handle.

Viviana, for showing me that who you were born doesn’t have to be who you are.

Domenico, for showing me how to incorporate the lessons that the great writers can teach us into real life.

Serena, for being my Italian big sister, and always knowing when all I needed was un abbraccio.

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All the staff at seven hostel, all of my friend in Sorrento, and all of the other study abroad students for teaching me that age is but a number, people are genuinely good, and family can extend beyond blood.

Ciao, Sorrento.  Ci vediamo ancora.
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Seeing Italy as the Italians Do

One of the biggest Italian cliches (that’s totally actually true) is that everyone rides around on scooters EVERYWHERE.  There are about as many, if not more, scooters on the road as cars at any given time, especially if it’s sunny.  Scooters are a part of Italian life; they’re compact and perfect for navigating the slow-paced narrow streets of southern Italy.  Given this, me, Haley, Nick, and Doug decided to take our last Sunday of the semester and rent scooters to drive across the peninsula to the Amalfi Coast.

The group!  From left: Haley, Nick, me, and Doug.

The group! From left: Haley, Nick, me, and Doug.

I know for a fact that four months ago in January, I wouldn’t have gone through with it.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t have entertained the idea in any serious way.  But after four months abroad, I’m not the same person I used to be.  So is it dangerous?  Probably.  Is it difficult to navigate sharp turns on steep cliffs?  Definitely.  Is it one of the best decisions I’ve made yet?  Absolutely.

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A few notes about driving in Italy:

  1. There’s probably rules, but no one seems to know them.
  2. Scooters can kind of do whatever they want, including driving in the wrong lane to weave in and out of traffic.  As long as you’re wearing a helmet, no one really cares about anything else.
  3. Speed limit signs are few and far between.
  4. A rolling stop will almost always suffice.
  5. There are no “passing” and “no passing” zones.  Everywhere can and will be used as a passing zone.
  6. The roads are curvy, winding, and your choices are to either slow down on the curves or rocket off a cliff into the water.

We headed out in the early afternoon and rented three scooters, one for Doug, one for Nick, and one for me and Haley.  I was a bit apprehensive at first, but once I got on I realized everything would be fine.  When my friend Morgan told me about her experience, and how driving the scooter could take some getting used to, I mentioned being nervous about changing gears, as that had always been my biggest problem on my brother’s dirtbike.  When she told me that the scooter was automatic, I looked at her, confused, and said “Then what’s the hard part?”

Driving the scooter.

Driving the scooter.

After acquiring our scooters for the day, we took off towards Positano with no plans other than to follow the signs and hope for the best.  We shouted and yelled and sang and honked our horns.  We were probably about the most annoying people in the world right about then, but we were so gleeful, we didn’t even care.

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We made it to Positano, stopping along the way to take a few photos of the panoramic views.  It’s insane to me how accustomed to the beauty of Italy I’ve become.  It’s sad that I can now look at the aqua blue water and the white cliffs, the green mountains with the colorful houses built into them, and not be dumbfounded at how gorgeous it all is.

Positano is beautiful.

Positano is beautiful.

After a quick stop in Positano, we continued on through the town of Amalfi and up the the smaller town of Ravello.  Ravello is a bit less touristy than Positano and Amalfi, but equally as beautiful.  We were able to find an amazing view of the mountains and the sea and took a break before heading back towards Sorrento.

Looking over Ravello

Looking over Ravello

On the way back across the peninsula, the sun set against the Bay of Naples, and we watched it go, taking with it a near perfect day.  And as we twisted around the winding seaside roads, we marveled at the fact that the day hadn’t been about getting anywhere at all, but rather the act of getting there itself.   It sounds cliche.  It sounds cheesy.  But it’s  true.  The second I felt the cool air rush against my cheeks as I set off on the road, I was already exactly where I needed to be.

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Discovering Vesuvio

Throughout the Archaeology course that I’m taking this semester, our professor, Ilaria Tartiglia, has said the word “vesuvius” more times than I can or care to count.  When people think about the Vesuvius erupting, they think about the enormous, catastrophic event of 79 A.D. that destroyed Pompeii, along with the lesser known city of Herculaneum.  However, the Vesuvio is still an active volcano, having erupted most recently in 1944.

Standing in front of the crater of the Vesuvio

Standing in front of the crater of the Vesuvio

First some preliminary information about Vesuvio:

  • The part of the volcano that is nowadays referred to as “Vesuvio” or “Vesuvius” is actually one of two mountains.  The other part, called the “Somma” is shorter and was created during an explosive eruption at some point during history that permanently altered the shape of volcano.
  • Between Vesuvio and Somma there is a valley that is full of different types of minerals that resulted from the different eruptions and the materials released.
  • At the moment, the crater of Vesuvio is completely obstructed, allowing massive amounts of pressure to build.  This means that the next eruption will be a large-scale, catastrophic event.
  • Luckily, volcanologists believe that they can predict the next eruptions at least  6 months prior to the event, which should give surrounding cities time to evacuate.  Vesuvio is constantly monitored for seismic activity and any gasses released.
  • Pompeii being hit by the eruption of 79 A.D. was a total fluke.  The air currents generally push the eruption in the opposite direction, but on the day of the eruption the conditions were such that Pompeii got the full force of the first wave of the eruption.
The view of the clouds from the top.

The view of the clouds from the top.

Seeing Vesuvio up close was truly an unbelievable experience, especially after an entire semester learning about the volcano.  We were lucky enough to hike the “hell valley” between Vesuvio and Somma, and explore the way in which the shape of the volcano changed during the years.  The hell valley was untouched by the 1944 eruption, and therefore has many trees and plants growing.  The parts of the valley that were affected by that eruption have only pioneer species, such as lichon, that prepare the environment for other plants and animals to inhabit the area.

The Hell valley, with shrubbery and outcroppings of solidified lava.

The Hell valley, with shrubbery and outcroppings of solidified lava.

After our tour of the hell valley, we headed to our main destination: the summit of Vesuvio.  After stopping for a much-needed water break, we steeled ourselves for the walk ahead and began to climb the enormous peak.  The path up to the crater is quite steep, but the views along the way are beautiful.  We happened to go to the Vesuvio on a rather cloudy day, against the advice of many people.  In my opinion, however, it only made it all the more amazing.  We were literally walking into the clouds as they billowed across the Somma.  The air was cold, but oddly sticky and humid.

The path to the top!

The path to the top!

Halfway there!

Halfway there!

 

Panting and out of breath, we reached the peak and were rewarded with indescribable views of the enormous crater.  It was beautiful, yes, but the most amazing part was knowing that somewhere beneath that magma plug, beneath our very feet, pressure was growing.  As we stood there in the clouds, Vesuvio was already preparing for its next eruption.

The crater of the Vesuvio

The crater of the Vesuvio

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Buona Pasqua a Tutti

Pasqua is upon us and with it comes a whole slew of traditions and cultural norms that are far different than those that I’m used to.  In America, Easter has transformed from a sacred holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christ to a day of chocolate and eggs and the giant bunny who hides them.  Don’t get me wrong–I love the Easter that I know and love.  I love a hollow milk chocolate Easter bunny and Cadburry eggs.  In fact, it doesn’t really feel like Easter without these comforts from home.  In Italy, however, the religious tradition remains strongly in  the way in which Pasqua is celebrated.

Standing on the main street in Sorrento in the chilly 3 a.m. air, I hear a solemn song begin to waft from the side street a few meters away.  Around the corner comes a full band, solemnly marching in time to their music.  They slowly pass by within inches of the crowd on either side, and goosebumps run up my arms.  I know that this is only the beginning.

The band continues down the street, and around the corner come hooded figures, dressed in white, carrying torches on long gilded poles.  I finally understand what the Italians have been talking about: the hoods cover the face, save for the eyes, and are pointed at the top, just like the KKK.  It occurs to me how sad it is that I cannot look at this procession, so holy and solemn, without feeling uncomfortable.

Photo Credit: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

The figures pass by, shuffling their feet as they follow one another down the long stretch of street.  Behind them come more, one after another. Many are holding items that hold religious significance.  Some, such as the crown of thorns, I understand.  Others, such as the rooster, I do not.  The music fades away as the band disappears into the night air and their is an eerie silence, broken only by the footsteps of hundreds of hooded individuals.

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Someone laughs.  I’m immediately angry.  I may not be Catholic, or even highly religious, but even I know that this is an important, sacred moment.  It should be treated with respect.

The mass of people seems to never end.  I wonder where they’re coming from; are they lined up down the side street? Are they coming from the main cathedral?  Men with crosses slung across their shoulders, men with incense that burns my nose; men with books and flags and men with lanterns, endless men with lanterns.  The glow from the fire in these lanterns illuminates the eyes of these men, visible through the holes cut in their hoods.

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Then the children come, all dressed in white.  They follow a hooded adult, clustered together and holding baskets of flowers. I wonder if they’re confused.  I wonder if they’re scared.  After them comes the choir, chanting a haunting recitation.  I don’t understand it fully; perhaps it’s latin.

The last men fall into line from around the corner and follow the enormous procession down the street lined with sleepy-eyed people.  As the last man passes, the lookers-on are suddenly in motion, crossing the street and heading home.  I look down at my watch.  It’s 3:30 a.m.

This type of procession happens the Thursday before Easter at 9 p.m., the next morning at 3 a.m., and the following evening at 9 p.m. again.  The first procession is a mixture of both black and white, the 3 a.m. one is all white, and the Friday procession is all black.  This procession is a part of the Easter celebration that all Italians expect.

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Pasqua also means food, as with any holiday in Italy.  People eat massive lunches in the early afternoon and exchange enormous chocolate eggs.  There is, of course, Catholic mass.  The day after Pasqua is also a holiday, called Pasquetta.  As it’s been explained to me, Pasquetta is a day for families to take a picnic to the beach or to the mountains and enjoy each other’s company.

Seeing such an important holiday through the culture of another country was something that I’m so glad to have been able to experience.  So while I didn’t get to have my Easter bunny, I got to see another interpretation of a major holiday, which seems like a pretty good trade-off to me.

Buona Pasqua a tutti, e anche una buona Pasquetta!

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La bellezza delle cose esiste nella mente di chi le osserva

Before the stress and studying of the last few weeks of the semester set in, my friend Nitsa and I decided to take one last trip out of Sorrento to Catania, Sicilia.  We both wanted to see Sicilia and decided that while we were in Italy, it only made sense to visit.

Upon arriving in Sicilia, we found the bus to take us close to our B&B, and the driver gave us vague directions before letting us off.  While walking down the street at 10:30 p.m. looking for “a bridge” where we were to “turn left” and “ask someone else” (no, seriously, those were the bus driver’s directions), we turned into a large piazza to ask for directions.  We approached a group of fifteen-year-olds who told us we were “lontano” (far away) from the B&B.

It was Paris all over again, as we asked for directions from about fifteen Sicilians in all.  Luckily for us, thought Sicilians sense of direction and navigational skills leave something to be desired, everyone was friendly and willing to help.

Eventually, after many wrong turns, we stumbled upon two twenty-something girls, named Angela and Martina, who were kind enough to help us.  They pulled out their iPhones (because some things are exactly the same no matter where you are) and put our address into google maps.  These girls had no idea where we were going, but it was close, so they told us to come with them and we’d find it together.

After finding our B&B, we all took a picture together and traded Instagram and Facebook account names.  Throughout the rest of the weekend Angela and Martina continually “liked” our photos and commented on our statuses, asking if we were enjoying their hometown.  We were stunned and touched by how friendly and kind they were.

The Instagram that one of our new friends uploaded with the hashtags #american and #california

The Instagram that one of our new friends uploaded with the hashtags #american and #california

We went out for dinner, starving, at around 11:30 p.m. and found a restaurant that we chose solely based on the fact that the portion sizes looked large.  We went up to the door, but it was locked.  One of the employees inside opened the door and let us in, leading us to a table near the back. We ordered seafood pasta (mine with clams, Nitsa’s with shrimp and mussels) and ate the entire basket of bread they brought to us.  We topped off the evening with a plate of fried calamari.  It was only as we were leaving that we realized that the door had not been stuck; the door had been locked as they were closing for the evening, but the owner had seen we were hungry and tired and stayed open so that we could have some dinner.  Sicilians really are unbelievably kind.

Spaghetti with clams

Spaghetti with clams

The next morning, we decided to spend the day at the beach.  After a long walk down a busy highway, we bought some canoli and found a large expanse of sandy beach to lay out our towel.  We spent the entire day watching Mount Etna from the warm sand and marveling at the beautiful sea.

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Several hours and a massive sunburn later, we went out for our second dinner at an inexpensive restaurant where we ate our weight in carbs.  We briefly contemplated staying out late, but quickly decided to get enormous gelatos and watch a movie in the room.

Saturday morning we spent another day in the sunshine, this time wandering through the open markets of Sicilia.  There is a fish market that’s open everyday except for Sunday, and we were lucky enough to stumble right into the middle of it.  We laughed and took pictures with many of the people running stands selling everything from eel to bread to toasted nuts to fresh fruit to fresh squeezed orange juice.

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After we had stuffed ourselves with fresh food, we took to wandering around Sicilia.  Apparently, Sicilia has quite the affinity for open-air markets, because we stumbled on one with everything from clothing to electronics to shoes.  We headed down this side street, anticipating a block or two of fairly inexpensive stands.  We were shocked and pleased that the market extended into a labyrinth of winding side streets that never seemed to end.  We wandered for hours, lost among three euro shoes and illegally downloaded CDs.

There were several street musicians who captured my heart on the cobblestone sidewalks of Sicilia.  One particular girl had a suitcase next to her with the title of this blog post written across it.  It translates to: “The beautiful things exist in the mind of those who see them.”

Our final dinner in Sicilia was, once again, seafood pasta, and afterwards we met some kind American Marines who were stationed in Sicilia before heading out somewhere else.  We showed them where the best granita (Italian Ice) was and they kindly bought ours for us.  We thanked them for the generosity and their service and headed home for the evening.

Pasta with salmon and cream sauce

Pasta with salmon and cream sauce

Sunday’s wandering led us to many churches and cathedrals, as it was Palm Sunday, and the sound of hymns echoing from the massive structures was indescribably beautiful.  After one more canolo, we caught the bus back to the airport, where I’m writing this post.

Palms for Palm Sunday

Palms for Palm Sunday

Sicilia was a wonderful last trip during my Italy experience, and I’m so glad to have visited such a beautiful place with such friendly and warm inhabitants.  I only hope I can return someday for another glass of fresh squeezed blood orange juice.

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In Lisbon

Starbucks.  11:40 a.m.  Orly International Airport, Paris, France.

Haley runs in, a giddy grin on her face as she stops and searches the packed coffee shop for me.  I can see her mouthing the word “blonde, blonde, blonde…”  I’m about to call her name when she spots me and yells in my general direction:
“DOYOUWANTTOGOTOLISBON?”

“Sure!” I respond.  I scramble to pack up my laptop, but Haley’s already gone, sprinting across the airport like a madwoman.  Everyone around her is staring as she disappears into the mass of travelers.  Barely a minute passes before Morgan sprints in, the same crazy smile spread across her face, and spots me, yelling: “I need our passports!”

OHMYGOODNESS WE'RE GOING TO LISBON!
OHMYGOODNESS WE’RE GOING TO LISBON!

I pull the passports from my bag and run after her as she sprints out of Starbucks.  I’m barely keeping up with her, as she runs ahead of me, her brunette curls whipping around behind her.  We’re both laughing hysterically, dragging suitcases, and attracting far too much attention to ourselves.  I skid to a stop behind Haley as Morgan joins her at a small ticket counter.  She thrusts the passports into the hands of the woman across the counter, and we all look at one another, still giggling.

“Okay, you’re all set.  Here are your boarding passes.  Make sure you check in at least an hour and a half early.  Enjoy your flight,” says the woman behind the counter.

“Have you ever had someone do this?” Morgan says, her eyes bright, “You know, just buy the first ticket out?”

“Yes, actually,” responds the woman.  Morgan’s face falls a bit.  “But usually they’re not as excited as you three.”  And with that, we glance at one another and burst into another fit of uncontrollable giggles.

About to to get on a plane to Lisbon!
About to to get on a plane to Lisbon!

In what seems like no time at all, we’re boarding a plane to Lisbon–a place none of us has any background knowledge of–and after what feels like a very short plane ride, we’re stepping off the plane in Lisbon.

All smiles (In Lisbon).
All smiles (In Lisbon).

Now I’m not totally sure whether it’s the excitement or the adrenaline or the spontaneity or if maybe we’re just sleep deprived, but suddenly everything about Portugal is hilarious.  We make the decision to add “In Lisbon” to the end of every sentence we utter.  We find this hilarious.  The rest of Lisbon is less than thrilled.

Silly, funny, happy times (In Lisbon).
Silly, funny, happy times (In Lisbon).

We find a bus (in Lisbon) and take blurry cell phone pictures out the window on the way to our hostel (in Lisbon).  Morgan points out that there’s a church (in Lisbon) and also some cool houses (in Lisbon).  After a half hour we reach our drop-off point (in Lisbon) and proceed to wander the streets for a bit (in Lisbon).  After getting lost for a few highly amusing moments, we manage to find our hostel (in Lisbon).  Luckily, the hostel owners are wonderful, the hostel is clean and beautiful, and one of the employees makes us sangria and sausage (in Lisbon).

Sangria at the hostel (In Lisbon).
Sangria at the hostel (In Lisbon).

We spend the evening booking our flight home.  We quickly discover that flying from Lisbon to Naples is not really an option, so we begin to search other ways of getting home with stopovers in other cities.  Morgan finds a flight from Paris to Naples that’s only 60 euro.  But are we really going to go back to Paris just to fly home?

Yes, yes we are, because there’s a flight to Orly tomorrow night and then we can take the flight from Charles De Gaulle Tuesday morning at 6 a.m.  That leaves us with about eight hours in the airport.  Are we really going to sleep in the airport?

Yes, yes we are, because we’re young and broke and stupid and who doesn’t want to say that they slept in the Paris airport when they were twenty?

After being responsible and booking our flights home, we headed out for the evening, and went to an outdoor bar.  Unfortunately, the owners were quite rude, but we got some dessert and walked around Lisbon a bit.  After about six hours in Lisbon, we finally realized that Lisbon is in a different time zone.  Who knew?  With that knowledge, we head back to the hostel for a good night’s sleep before our one and only day in Lisbon the next morning.

The next morning is rainy and dreary as we drink our coffee and plan our day.  We decide to catch the tram that runs through Lisbon and go see the castle that we spotted the night before.  We stuff ourselves full of bread and jam and then walk around the streets trying to find the tram.  After a good fifteen minutes of wandering around the main square in the rain, we find the stop and hop on the tram.

Displeased with the rain (In Lisbon).
Displeased with the rain (In Lisbon).

The woman at our hostel told us that it was a half hour tram ride to the castle.  She lied.  Apparently, it only takes about ten minutes, but lucky for us we are in Lisbon, not Paris, which is severely directionally challenged, and the tram driver calls out “Didn’t you girls want to go to the castle?”

We thank him profusely, and head up the street to the castle.  Despite the rain, despite the cold, despite the fact that my boots are broken so I’m wearing sandals, despite all this, the view of Lisbon from above is unbelievable.  We take far more selfies than is socially acceptable, because, after all, we’re IN LISBON.  We duck out of the rain into a museum and wander around until the rain lets up a bit, and then proceed to the castle.

The beautiful old castle (In Lisbon).
The beautiful old castle (In Lisbon).
On top of a castle (In Lisbon)!
On top of a castle (In Lisbon)!

 

This castle is unlike the cathedrals we’ve seen in Italy or Paris or Madrid or Barcelona.  It’s a true castle, stone with parapets and giant gates, and we wander around it in the rain, simultaneously joyous and miserable.  After we decide we can’t take the cold any longer, we pop into a cafe for some lunch.  Meanwhile, the sky clears, the sun comes out, and Lisbon becomes even more beautiful.

We walk around in the sunshine and buy some gelato, enjoying the sun and sea and the feeling of freedom.  Before long, we head back to our hostel to pack up and head out.  We literally spent less than 24 hours in the actual city of Lisbon, but nonetheless, we all fell in love.  Not only is it a beautiful, amazing city, but it holds for us special meaning. It was the place we went when we decided to be crazy, to be wild, to be twenty and happy and free.  It means independence and irresponsibility, joy and escape.  Lisbon will always be for us something more that just Lisbon.  Lisbon is everything we’ve ever wanted, we just never knew it.

A beautiful view (In Lisbon).
A beautiful view (In Lisbon).

A plane ride and a 115 euro cab ride, we were in the Charles de Gaulle airport, watching Frozen on an iPad, curled up together on plastic chairs. We ate cookie dough out of a just-add-water package, laughed about things we’ll never remember, and solidified a bond that we can’t really explain.  Taking off from Paris at 6 a.m., I watched the sunrise turn the clouds bright pink as Morgan and Haley slept beside me.  I looked out across the sky and realized that I didn’t recognize myself anymore; but I really like the girl that I saw staring back at me in the tiny airplane window. Her hair was greasy and unwashed, her shirt smelled from twelve days of travel.  Her eyes were shadowed from sleepless nights and endless adventures.  Her nails were ragged and her nail polish was chipped.  Her smile was tired, but she looked happy.  Really, truly, completely happy.  I don’t know if I know how to be that girl yet, but I know that I have to try.

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Cliches in Paris

Our arrival in Paris was less than smooth.  Catching our plane was in itself a rough task, as we arrived at the airport fifty-five minutes before take-off.  Once we arrived, we realized that the airport we flew into, Beauvais, is actually an hour and a half outside of the city of Paris.  Unfazed, we bought bus tickets from a rude frenchman who informed me that “Not everyone speaks English.  You need to learn French; you’re in France.”  I mumbled something about learning Italian, embarrassed and angry that I didn’t remember more French from my high school classes.  I slept on the bus ride in, and Haley was kind enough to gently wake me up as we entered the city so I could catch my first glimpse of Paris.

All smiles on the bus from the airport

All smiles on the bus from the airport

After our lengthy bus ride, we needed to locate the metro.  Luckily, I remembered enough French to ask “Ou est il metro?” and we were directed towards the nearest station.  From there, we were fairly confident that our journey was fairly close to over.  We were wrong.

We exited the metro station at the stop we had been told and immediately bought some crepes, because our Paris trip was fraught with cliches.  From there, we attempted to locate the correct street.  We were at an enormous roundabout, so we figured we’d just start walking in a circle and eventually we would find it.  We were wrong.

The first crepe in Paris!

The first crepe in Paris!

Once we made a full circle around the roundabout, we consulted a map and asked the crepe man, who told us to get back on the metro and get off at a different stop.  We followed his advice, switching trains twice, and exited the station. From there, we thought the street would be immediately obvious.  We were wrong.

After a few moments of all three of us staring confusedly at the map, a nice Parisian man came over to ask if we were lost.  We said yes, and told him the street that we were trying to find.  he told us to go back to the first metro stop we were at, and take a different line to a different stop, and from there we would see the street right away.  We all laughed at our pointless trip halfway across Paris, and got back on the metro, assuming that we were finally almost to our B&B.  We were wrong.

Once we exited the metro, we consulted the map.  Unfortunately, it was quite confusing and we chose a direction and started walking.  After a block or two, there didn’t appear to be anything ahead, so we once again looked to our map.  Just then, Morgan realized that there were two streets with the same name that intersected each other, and we had chosen the wrong one.  We headed back in the opposite direction to get on the right street.  From there, we turned left, assuming we would arrive in a few blocks.  After eight blocks, we realized that, once again, we were wrong.

Morgan went into a cafe, got new directions, and we walked all the way back the way we had come, plus two blocks, before finally finding the right street.  We almost cried from relief.  We finally reached our B&B and the sweet owner, named Maria, greeted us.  She insisted on making us something to eat, as we hadn’t had dinner yet and it was ten o’clock at night.  After a good meal and a cup of tea we headed to bed, exhausted from our evening lost if Paris.

This is what our faces looked like after being lost in Paris for six hours.

This is what our faces looked like after being lost in Paris for six hours.

In the Louvre!

In the Louvre!

The next morning was drizzly and overcast as we ate an entire loaf of bread for breakfast.  We headed out and took the metro to the Louvre.  The best part of traveling with close friends with similar personalities is that you can spend equal amounts of time enjoying the actual cultural and artistic beauty and being silly.  We appreciated the Mona Lisa (cliche!) along with the thousands of other works of art as we wandered the enormous building.  We may have also reenacted some priceless pieces of artwork and laughed hysterically in the process.

Reenacting famous art.  We're definitely adults.

Reenacting famous art. We’re definitely adults.

Along the river Seine

Along the river Seine

 

After a long morning the Louvre, the sun was out and we wandered down the Seine to find a spot for lunch.  As we were walking we stumbled across the lock bridge and walked across it.  We found some to-go sandwiches and desserts and sat on a bridge over the river for a picnic lunch.  Sometimes the things that you dream of doing seem better in your mind than in actual practice.  This was not one of them.  It was absolutely wonderful to sit with two of my favorite travel buddies and enjoy our enormous sandwiches in the Paris sunshine.

On the lock bridge!

On the lock bridge!

A picnic on the river

A picnic on the river

 

After lunch, we walked back along the Seine and headed toward the Arc di Triumph.  Along the way, I bought a red beret (cliche!), which I immediately wore.  We saw the Arc, and then headed to the Eiffel Tower as the day waned towards a close.  We navigated our way over, and arrived just before sunset.  We watched the sun set on the Eiffel Tower, and took way more pictures than we should have (cliche!).

A red beret and the Arc di Triumph (cliche!)

A red beret and the Arc di Triumph (cliche!)

Three friends in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Three friends in front of the Eiffel Tower.

 

We bought some crepes (cliche!) and watched as the lights came on on the tower.  We, being the children that we are, rode a carousel in front of the Eiffel Tower.  We remembered as we got off the carousel, that the Eiffel Tower lights up every hour starting at eight p.m.  As it was 7:45, we stayed in front of the tower and watched it sparkle.  It was unbelievably beautiful to see.  Afterwards, we went under the tower and I bought Haley and Morgan a rose, and we danced in the cool Paris night.

Morgan and Haley on the carousel.

Morgan and Haley on the carousel.

We walked back towards the B&B as the night grew colder, stopping for a quick dinner in a cafe near the place we were staying.  We were exhausted and our feet hurt, but we were happy.

The next morning was drizzly again, as we ate another loaf of bread for breakfast.  After leaving Maria at the B&B, we went to the Notre Dame and admired the stained glass windows before dashing off to a free tour of the city.  There we met up with Becky and Nick, two of the other students from Sorrento who were also in Paris at the time, and followed the tour for a bit down the Seine.

The stained glass in the Notre Dame is unbelievable.

The stained glass in the Notre Dame is unbelievable.

Late in the afternoon, we bought some Madeleine cookies and sat in front of the Eiffel Tower eating them (cliche!).  We mustered our courage and got our walking feet ready and prepared the climb to the top.  The walk was long, but the view was unbelievable.  I almost cried when I saw Paris from above.  We watched the sunset from the top of the Eiffel Tower (cliche!) and made fun of the couples getting blown around in the wind, trying to make messy hair and tired feet romantic (not so cliche).  As we reached the bottom of the tower once again, it began to sparkle.  We ran out to see it one last time.

Hanging out in front of the Eiffel Tower (cliche!)

Hanging out in front of the Eiffel Tower (cliche!)

Admiring the city from above.

Admiring the city from above.

At dinner, I insisted on getting a Croque Madame because Paris (cliche!) while my friends all got ravioli.  I guess we were all staring to miss Italy, and were excited to head home the next day, even if we were sad to leave Paris.  After dinner, we all got crepes and headed home to get one last night’s sleep before our flight home.

The Eiffel Tower is beautiful when it sparkles at nighttime.

The Eiffel Tower is beautiful when it sparkles at nighttime.

During spring break, we had spent so much time at airports and getting on planes, that we weren’t overly worried about getting to the airport early.  Unfortunately, this left us on a train, headed to the airport forty minutes before take-off.  We ran straight to the desk when we arrived, twenty minutes prior to departure, only to be informed that we were too late to check in and we would not be able to make our flight.

At this point, pre-Italy Caroline would’ve freaked out.  However, present-day Caroline got on the free wi-fi and started looking for flights while Haley and Morgan ran around the airport asking every company how we could get home.  After a while, Morgan came back downstairs with a mischievous smile on her face, Haley trailing behind looking apprehensive.

“What?” I asked, concerned.

“What if we didn’t go home?” Morgan asked, “We’re single.  We’re twenty.  We’re in Europe.  We’re taking pass-fail classes.  What if we just…go somewhere else?”

I closed my laptop.  “YES.”

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At Home in Madrid

After a quick nap on the short plane ride from Barcelona to Madrid, my Dad’s friend from college, Elena, picked us up at the airport to take us to her house where we were staying.  On the way, we stopped at an enormous art museum called the Prado.  After a whirlwind tour of the majority of the enormous building, led by the ever-moving Elena, we gratefully followed her to a bar near the museum where we enjoyed a beer and some tapas.

Haley, Morgan, and I in a bar in central Madrid.

Haley, Morgan, and I in a bar in central Madrid.

Finally, we reached our destination, and were greeted by Pedro (Elena’s husband, and another friend of my Dad’s), and their children.  Jaime, the eldest, had come to America years ago and stayed with my family for two weeks.  Alex, the second oldest, did the same a few years later.  Elena, the youngest and only girl, hasn’t come to the U.S. yet.  She’s named after her mother and it’s actually pretty confusing to figure out which person they’re referring to when they say “Elena.”

Me with our host family for the week (from left) Me, Elena, Jaime, Alex, and Pedro, with Mocha, the dog

Me with our host family for the week (from left) Me, Elena, Jaime, Alex, and Pedro, with Mocha, the dog

After a delicious tortilla espanola (a type of quiche made with eggs and potatoes) we went to the park with Alex and his dog, Mocha, to meet some of his friends.  It was rather entertaining attempting to communicate between their broken English, Morgan and Haley’s broken spanish, and my Italian.  After a long day, we returned home to rest up before a full day in Madrid.

In the morning, after a big breakfast, Elena took us to the big park in Madrid so that we could work our way back across the city.  We all commented on what a luxury it was to be driven around in a car. At this point, we’re so used to getting to a city and having to figure out the bus or metro system to get anywhere.

The pond in front the Crystal Palace was amazing in the sunshine.

The pond in front the Crystal Palace was amazing in the sunshine.

In the park, there was a crystal palace that was absolutely amazing.  There were a lot of elderly people sitting in rocking chairs and reading in the bright Madrid sunshine inside the palace, which looks out on a pond that’s full of turtles.  The turtles pull themselves up on to the sides and sun themselves. showing off for the tourists.

Haley and I in front of the Crystal Palace.

Haley and I in front of the Crystal Palace.

As we walked across the city, we stopped for coffees and enjoyed the external beauty of the buildings all around old Madrid.  After some confusion and getting a bit off course, I finally relinquished my map to Morgan, and promised to actually enjoy the city instead of navigating constantly.  We eventually found our way to the market (with a few stops in the local shops for a bit of shopping) and wandered around all the different stalls to find some lunch.  We all ate a delicious hodge-podge of sweets and tapas along with fresh juice.

Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

As the day ended, we went to see the Royal Palace and the Cathedral, before heading back to Elena’s brother’s bar to be picked up.   Elena made a delicious potato salad for dinner, along with bread and sausage, and we were extremely grateful to have food to eat at home.  After a quick rest, Alex’s friends came over, and we joined them in watching the soccer match between Madrid and Germany.  We all laughed as Alex heated up a frozen pizza and brought out beers.  It felt just like hanging out with college boys in America.

The Royal Palace in Madrid.

The Royal Palace in Madrid.

The next day, we wanted to see something a bit different, so Elena helped us plan a trip to Toledo, a small town outside Madrid.  Toledo is known for its vast array of religions, and we were able to see a synagogue, a mosque, and a monastery, all of which were beautiful, before racing back to the train station to avoid missing our train home.

The view from the Mosque in Toledo

The view from the Mosque in Toledo.

The courtyard of the monastery in Toledo was beautiful.

The courtyard of the monastery in Toledo was beautiful.

That night, Pedro and Elena prepared an enormous dinner of two different kinds of Paella, chicken and seafood, along with guacamole and salad.  We all stuffed ourselves with delicious food and contentedly discussed our plans for the rest of the semester.  Alex announced that he was going to meet his friends, and invited us along.  We went with him for a bit, but it got quite cold.  Morgan, between her broken Spanish and Italian, tried to say that she was cold, but somehow ended up announcing that she “fried too many eggs.”  On that note, we headed home for one last good night’s rest before our flight to Paris.

The morning was hectic as Elena gave us one last tour of the city before we caught our flight.  We exchanged hugs and farewells at the airport, with a promise to return some time, and headed off to our final destination: Paris!

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Buenos Dias, Barcelona

For spring break, I decided to travel to Barcelona, Madrid and Paris with two of my friends from Italy, Morgan and Haley.  It’s funny how once you travel around a bit, everything about it seems far easier and way less intimidating.  As we packed to leave, we were massively excited but not at all nervous.  We caught the bus from Sorrento to the Napoli airport, and managed to get on our flight to Barcelona with no problems.  A few hours later, we landed in Barcelona, ready to relax and enjoy the sunshine.

At the beach in Barcelona with Morgan and Haley.

At the beach in Barcelona with Morgan and Haley.

One of the things we were most excited for was exploring two different sides of Spain.  We learned from Haley’s friend, Hailey, who’s studying abroad this semester in Barcelona, and Morgan’s friend, Queralt, who lives just outside Barcelona, about the tension between the Catalonia region and the rest of Spain.  The Catalonian region has a different culture from the rest of Spain, with its own holidays, traditions, foods, and even a different language.  I’ve never taken Spanish, but Haley and Morgan, who had, couldn’t understand most of the signs around Barcelona.  Hailey explained to us that most of the signs are written in Catalan, which, while similar to Spanish, is a separate language.  This is similar to Italy, in that the people living in and around Napoli speak Napoletan, which has many similarities to Italian, but is its own language.

The issue, in a very simplified summary, is that Catalonia feels that it is separate from Spain, and wishes to be its own country.  It was interesting to listen to the perspective of both a native Catalonian and an American student abroad in Barcelona for the semester.  I, for one, am very excited to hear the perspective of the people in Madrid, and see how it differs (as I’m sure it will) from the people of Barcelona.

Getting a fish pedicure in Barcelona.

Getting a fish pedicure in Barcelona.

While we were in Barcelona, in between beach days lazing on the sand and strolling along the open market by the port, we visited a beautiful art museum that we refurbished for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.  There was an amazing light and fountain show as the sun set that we were able to catch.  Barcelona is beautiful in the evening, and we were lucky enough to look over the whole of the massive city from up on the hill as the lights began to come on for the evening.

On top of the city!

On top of the city!

We were not so lucky, however, when it came to seeing the Sagrada Familia.  It’s a cathedral that’s still under construction that was designed by the architect Gaudi.  It has a unique design and is very beautiful.  Unfortunately, the day we went there was a special mass and we were unable to enter.  After our many thwarted attempts to see the Sistine chapel and this bad luck with the Sagrada Familia, Morgan and I are starting to think we’re cursed!

One of the best parts of any trip is the food, and Barcelona did not disappoint.  While we did break down and get a Starbucks coffee one morning (a girl can only drink so much espresso), we also experienced the classic Spanish foods.  The first night, we had massive pans of paella at a local restaurant.  The second night, we stuck with sandwiches, because broke college girls can only eat out so many nights without breaking the bank.  Luckily, Hailey pointed us in the direction of good Catalonian options, and we enjoyed fresh crusty bread spread with tomatoes and topped with fresh ham.  The last night had to be my favorite, though, as we shared a bunch of different tapas between the three of us.  Croquettes, potatoes, chicken wings, calamari, shrimp, tortilla Espanola, and eggs and potatoes; I can’t decide which was my favorite, but they were all delicious.

Beef paella at dinner.

Beef paella at dinner.

As I write this, we’re hanging around the airport waiting for a flight to Madrid where we’ll visit my dad’s friends from college, Pedro and Elena, and their kids, Jaime, Alex, and Elena.  I’m excited to see what the rest of spring break will bring, but if nothing else, Barcelona was a dream come true.

Looking over the water in Barcelona.

Looking over the water in Barcelona.

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Napoli, Carnevale, e Molti Compiti

Surprise, surprise, I’m sick again, but I won’t let that stop me from recounting my last week here in Italy.  A few days ago, we had to go to Napoli as a giant group to get our Permesso di Soggiorno (Permit to Stay).  In Italy, in addition to a passport and a visa, you have to complete a Permesso di Soggiorno for any stay longer than three months.  Another early morning on the 7:30 a.m. train took us to Napoli where we were lead by one of our program coordinators, Serena, to the immigration office.

The immigration office is a small building in the worst part of Napoli with broken chairs and rude clerks that many of the students likened to the DMV.  After our 6:30 a.m. wake-up call, we were all falling asleep on the dirty plastic seats, the worn floors, and each other as we waited for our names to be called.  I was lucky to be one of the first, but the clerk was very upset by the fact that my passport spells my name with a space between the two Cs in the middle.  I tried to explain to him in my less-than-perfect Italian that my name is Scotch-Irish and the second C is a capital letter, but that the passport inserted a space instead.  He was not having it, insisting that I was instead attempting to impersonate someone with the last name Mc carry.  After much negotiation, he agreed to allow me to get a Permesso di Soggiorno under the requirement that for all official Italian documents, my name would have a space and no capital letters.

After this complicated process, we went off to explore Napoli’s food and shopping selection.  Along with a couple of friends, I navigated to a popular (and cheap!) pizzeria near the University of Naples named “Sorbillo.”  Though it was a hike, and we were all starving by the time we reached it, the pizza was unbelievable. I don’t have the adjectives to describe how amazing this pizza was.  Suffice it to say I ate an entire pizza by myself; but don’t worry, that’s totally normal in Italy.  They look at you oddly if you try to split a pizza.

Afterwards we headed out for some cheap shopping, and all managed to find something we liked.  After seeing the prices in Napoli, it will be hard to buy anything in Sorrento without scoffing at the high prices.

This picture is blurry because we just had confetti dumped all over us

This picture is blurry because we just had confetti dumped all over us

A few days after our Napoli trip, Carnevale kicked into full swing here in Sorrento.  We were treated Tuesday afternoon with children in costumes, loud music, men on stilts, and the air full of confetti and balloons.  Later, we went to an American-themed party at one of the local Hostels.  It was supposedly “Wild West” themed, but there were American flags everywhere, and everyone was in denim and plaid.  My friend Morgan and I laughed as we walked in and heard Shania Twain blasting from the speakers.

American themed party in Sorrento!

American themed party in Sorrento!

As with any holiday in Italy, Carnevale has some pretty amazing sweets.  Fabio, a local restaurant owner, offered me a star-shaped pastry filled with cream and honey, and later we gorged ourselves on Chiacchiere, a light, deep-fried pastry with powdered sugar on top.

Star-shaped Carnevale treats.

Star-shaped Carnevale treats.

As for now, the party is over for this week, and we’re headed straight into midterm exams.  But fear not!  Next weekend marks the beginning of spring break, and a whole slew of new adventures.  Here’s a preview, for those of you that are interested: Barcelona, Madrid, and Paris.  It’s a hard life, huh?

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