Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Things I miss about home + things I will miss about Rome

my time abroad is quickly coming to a close. final papers are being turned in (...eventually), I'm scrambling to cross off bucket-list items, and Christmas music rings through the halls. people ask me a lot if I will be sad to leave or if I'm ready to get outta here, and the truth is it's a combination of both. I will be heartbroken to leave Rome. it's been an incredible semester and I still can't wrap my mind around how lucky I have been to see all the things I've seen. I've gotten to travel to so many cool places I never thought I'd ever make it to, I've seen ancient monuments and spectacular art, eaten SO much good food and made some great friends. I don't know when the next time in my life will be that I will get to travel so much in Europe.

that being said, I miss home terribly and I expect that by the time I need to pack up my little single room and head home, I will be ready to leave. here's a short list of some things I miss about home followed by a list of what I will miss the most about Rome.

- my family, especially my smelly dog tinkerdink
- being able to drive anywhere I want
- having a functional phone
- basically every ethnic food there is but especially Mexican
- my full wardrobe, I'm sick of wearing the same four sweaters every day
- on that note, my jewelry and makeup. why did I only bring one color eye shadow?
- craft beer (blue moon I am coming for you)
- having a refrigerator
- free laundry
- being skinny...well, skinnier
- Oxy!! I miss my friends so much and I miss campus life so much I am so excited to be back!

- the FOOD! pasta, pizza, cappuccini, GELATO, the cheeses and the cold cuts (back to vegeterianism once I'm in the States!), suppli and arancini, the cookies (I will possibly miss the cookies the most)
- having the freedom to travel and sightsee and explore Rome
- proximity to other cool countries
- the three story Zara
- Borghese Gardens, the museums, the piazzas
- jaywalking
- being legal to order a drink with dinner
- and of course, my program - the people, the friends, the faculty and the nice man at the front desk of the hotel that orders my takeout food, kills bugs for me, and fixes my broken umbrellas.

things I won't miss about Rome include the fact that nothing is open on sundays or mondays and the national propensity for running over pedestrians. vehicles 3, Madi 0. also the portion of the European community that doesn't accept body odor as a real thing and won't wear deodorant. and the buses at rush hour.

to do: eat at restaurants I STILL haven't made it to yet, pick up presents for friends and family at home, and finish this darn paper about Michelangelo. sidenote: thanks readers for getting this little bloggy to 1,200 views! my mind is boggled (bloggled?) that that many people have read my rambles. love you all.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving... Roma style

yesterday was Thanksgiving, and while families all over the States (mine included) cooked all day and watched the game and enjoye each others' company, our group of American expats in Rome watched our Facebook newsfeeds fill with Instagrammed pictures of reunions with dogs and tables full of food. feeling a bit homesick, we headed to our formal dinner party at the convent...

...which turned out to be really fun! the convent dining hall had been transformed, with flattering lighting and long covered tables. it was definitely an Italian Thanksgiving, with antipasti including bruschetta and a meat & cheese plate, then our first course (primi) was ravioli followed by penne arrabbiata. second course was the TURKEY with spinach as a side vegetable, and dessert was an apple cake, presumably an interpretation of apple pie.

our table

our program director cutting the turkey

it was a lovely dinner. people gave nice speeches and most of our professors even came, which was so fun! I wish it could have lasted longer, but all that wine was making me sleepy. if you have time, try the sparkling wine called Fior d'Arancia, which means orange blossom. it's sweet and sparkly and the best ever. 

happy Thanksgiving to all in the states! I'm thankful for a lot this year. don't all kill yourselves Black Friday shopping. 


last weekend, I had a class trip to Brussels, Belgium! I went with my European Union class and the Public Finance kids came too. the purpose of the trip was to see first-hand the legislative bodies of the EU: the Commission and the Parliament.

our first night in Brussels, the night we arrived, we got Asian food! such a nice change from Italian. I had Vietnamese pho, and while it wasn't quite as good as some I've had at home it more than satisfied the lack of Vietnamese food in my life lately.

the second day, we headed to the European Commission in the morning for a talk about the CAP and just some general discussion about the EU and the Commission. we had lunch at the Commission cafeteria, then were free to explore Brussels.

the Commission building

I really loved Brussels. it was chilly and a little windy, but the city itself was so clean and beautiful. I liked that it was a very international city (as the seat of the EU, go figure), and the local foods were right up my alley - sugary waffels, french fries, and beer! I tried a bunch of different beers while I was there, and I wish I'd written them down for later reference - next time. the waffels are delicious, they're baked with sugar crystal chunks in the batter so when you bite in there's a bit of a crunch. yum.

bonjour Bruxelles!

anyway, we did some shopping, some eating, and a lot of drinking, all of which was very fun.

the next day was similar. we headed to the European Parliament for a brief overview of the structure and workings of the Parliament, then we went to the Parliamentarium which is this pretty cool museum that helps you learn about the history of the EU and the Parliament. I played a fun game where you had to see how many Parliament members you could seat before time ran out. then we got lunch and then heard a brief talk from a member of a research team of a DG about what it was like to live and work in Brussels. afterwards, we went back to the hotel room, watched some MTV music videos, then headed out again for dinner and drinking. dinner was seafood at maybe the most random restaurant in the world, where the ladies got sugary sweet champagne and the men got beer. the sexism was not lost on me, but at least the food was good. if you go to brussels, you must eat mussels and chips!

it felt like a short weekend but it was a lot of fun to be with almost our whole program and eat lots of delicious things! I'll be back for you Brussels!

ps. it's so cool that everybody in Brussels speaks English, French, AND Dutch! wish I were that cool.

Monday, November 12, 2012

How My Rome Experience Is Like The Lizzie McGuire Movie... and How It Isn't

hopefully, you've seen the internationally acclaimed, saccharine sweet teen flick The Lizzie McGuire Movie. as the first Disney Channel Original Series to get a movie, and as a film set in Rome and therefore joining the ranks of films like Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita, The Lizzie McGuire Movie certainly had high expectations to live up to. as a pivotal movie of my childhood (to this day I can sing every song off the soundtrack), it set my own expectations for my study abroad trip very high. some of these expectations have been realized, others have not been. here is my evaluation of how close my Rome experience has been to Lizzie's.

Shared experience 1: I visited the Colosseum!

this would never happen.

Shared experience 2: I wandered in beautiful gardens!

not with an Italian pop star, however.

Shared experience 3: I magically got over my fear of stage fright and sang with my doppelganger/CGI double of myself on an international stage in front of thousands of fans who weren't confused when two of me showed up!

calm down ladies, I'll hang around for autographs after the show.

okay, that last one didn't happen.

"Lizzie got everything you're supposed to get when you go to Europe. Adventure, romance, total confidence..." - Kate Saunders

here's hoping I leave Rome with everything Kate Saunders thinks I should have gotten! if it's not Kate approved, I don't want it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Random photos

a lot of things I take photos of never quite make it to the blog because they don't really merit a big long post of their own, so here is an amalgamation of some photos I've taken that I want to share. 

for my Michelangelo class one day, we went to a marble workshop to get a feel for what it was really like to carve marble. and let me tell ya - it was hard! it's hard enough to make a dent in the stuff, much less turn it into a masterpiece. major props to Michelangelo. 

Carrera marble

nearby the famous Bramante Tempietto is the lookout spot on the Janiculum hill, not one of the 7 hills of Rome but still a tall hill nonetheless with a spectacular view. it's hard to see but you can see the Vatican from here!

Janiculum Hill

Rome has a lot of organized strikes and protests. we happened upon this one totally by chance, and at first I was scared by all the SWAT running around. it was an education reform protest, all from students. good for them. 

protest in front of the Il Vittoriano monument

we visited Bernini's Sant'Andrea al Quirinale church, which is a really spectacular Baroque church with a concave/convex exterior and a longitudinal interior. the ceiling and walls are inspired by the Pantheon. 

the altar

for my introduction to art of Rome class, we visited the Vatican Museums, definitely my favorite museum of the ones I've seen. I didn't get an image of Leonardo da Vinci's St. Jerome, but it's worth a look! he's pretty unrepresented in Rome, though not unsurprisingly.

St. Peter's basilica

Raphael room containing Madonna of Foligno, Transfiguration (there's a copy in New St Peter's too), and the Crowning of the Virgin

the next two are two of the Raphael Stanze frescos, the private rooms of the Pope, decorated to reinforce the power of the papacy. ironically, some 10 years later Rome was sacked and the pope was arrested. you can see German graffiti on the walls of the Stanze.  

School of Athens. can you spot Plato/Leonardo da Vinci, Aristotle, Euclid, Raphael, Michelangelo, Perugino/Sodoma, Socrates and Pythagoras? Bramante and Donatello might be in there too!

Fire in the Borgo

the next two photos are from New St Peter's.

Michelangelo's Pieta. it was amazing to see it in person after all the essays I've written about it... it's kept behind glass to protect it from crazy art defacers. 

the interior of St. Peter's. you can barely see the basilica, designed by Michelangelo

Olive picking in Velletri

last weekend we went olive picking in a nearby town called Velletri. it's an annual tradition for the program, and it was so fun even though it was rainy and cold the day of.

our day started with actual olive picking, which isn't so much picking as it is shaking the tree really hard and watching olives rain down on your heads.

an olive tree! 

can you spot the olives?

We spent an hour or so picking the olives, then we gathered them up and headed to the processing plant area. 

crates and crates...

...full of olives!

the olives are sorted from the branches and leaves, cleaned, then processed. first they are mashed up into a paste, then plastered onto these cylinders where then the cylinders are pressed, and the oil that comes out is the extra virgin olive oil. there is some water, but that is literally spun out of the oil. the oil/water mixture is put into a high speed spinning machine that separates the water from the oil!

the wheels that make paste

each cylinder takes an hour to fully press

the fresh olive oil was unlike anything I'd ever tasted, it was so delicious and full of flavor. and it was a bright green color! I sort of wish I'd bought some to take home... ugh, it was so good. 

after our day of picking olives it was time for lunch! lunch was a 5 course affair, starting with pasta, then potatoes and bbq chicken, then sausages and ribs, then salad and dessert. we had to skip salad because we were so full, but that's alright. and naturally everything was drizzled in olive oil. except dessert. cake was not oily. 

italian bbq!

we ate for three hours in true Italian style, then headed home. I did not need dinner that night! such a fun day and it was so cool to see how olive oil is made, and the fresh evoo tasted a hundred times more spectacular than anything you buy bottled at Whole Foods. 

Fall Break Part 3: London

finally, the last leg of my fall break trip!

we left Amsterdam at 5 in the morning and arrived in rainy, grey London around 8 after some delays. after dropping our bags off at the hostel we decided to get some sightseeing in, so we headed to the tube and got off at Piccadilly Circus! 

hi Piccadilly!

we were pretty darn relieved to be somewhere where everybody spoke English!! granted, everybody in Amsterdam spoke English, but you get what I'm saying. I kept forgetting that I couldn't swear loudly anymore because everybody knew what I was really saying. 

anyway, I immediately liked London. it was clean, very beautiful, the public transportation was easy, and we were staying in Kensington which is the nicest area of London! the weather also reminded me a lot of home, very blustery and rain at unexpected times and a definite chilly bite in the air. 

we were starving so we wandered a bit trying to find a place to eat, but once we saw a TGIF in Piccadilly Circus it was game over. we were really, really craving American food. 

my first meal in London... mozzarella sticks

after lunch we did some more sightseeing! first stop was Buckingham Palace. 

I couldn't get over what a hard job these guys have... they can't budge and it was freezing out!

Westminster Abbey

Big Ben

the London Eye from below

the view from the London Eye

The London Eye was really cool, even though when we got on it was FREEZING and so windy and rainy. 

we were really damp and cold, so we returned to the hostel where we watched some Hollyoaks, which is actually the most addictive soap opera in the world. consider me hooked. once we were suitably warmed up and had our fill of deliciously good looking and dramatic British men on the telly (haha), we headed out for dinner in Soho to this insanely cool restaurant called inamo. inamo is a pan-asian restaurant serving pretty darn good food but the real draw is that the menu is touch screen!! it projects onto the table and you can order and see what the food will look like on your plate before you get it. 

I'm looking at the cocktail that I have just ordered on the menu and seeing it in person!!

another example of how the sick menu works

Anyway, inamo was good food and really fun, a bit noisy but the service was fast and I totally recommend it even if just for the kitsch appeal of playing around on a desktop while eating dinner. you can change the tabletop design and even play games or stream a live feed of their kitchen. 

on our way home, a guy in a pirate hat (it was Halloween) told me that I didn't know what was Gucci. if I wasn't so cold I probably would have told him that I AM Gucci, but in that moment I was too offended (and frozen) to come up with a proper response to such an insult. 

the next day we got an early start to our day to go to HARROD'S!! I was devastated to find out that we were missing the unveiling of their Christmas windows and decorations by 3 days, but even so Harrod's was magnificent. totally life changing, I may move to London one day just so I can to Harrod's every day. they really do sell just about everything you would ever need or want. 

first floor: food halls! 

cheese, enough said

the dog collars. the pet section was our favorite by far, luxury pet goods? a pet spa? 300 pound collars?all of these things spoke to me. 

a funny anecdote about the excellent customer service at Harrod's: in the pet department they sell actual pedigree dogs, and for business hours they are kept in these pens behind glass walls where shoppers/tourists can rap on the glass and harass them and in general make these poor dogs wish they were on the other side of the glass. anyway it looked really depressing and sad in there and I said I felt sad in the vicinity of a sales associate, who came over to me immediately and asked if I was alright and if I needed anything. 

the disney princess department. seriously. 

anyway, Harrod's was amazing. I loved the toy department, the luxury home furnishings department, the women's shoe hall, the food halls (obviously), the book department, and the designer baby clothes for no reason other than they were the definition of over the top. gaultier for baby? really?

after Harrod's we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. the V&A was hosting a fashion exhibition, displaying the progression and development of fashions and style from the 17th century to now, and it was so cool! shoes from F/W 2012 collections were displayed alongside vintage dresses, which I thought was great. it's nice when museums appreciate the vintage and the new together.

some vintage dresses

the V&A also hosts a large sculpture collection and a medieval art collection, among other things that I didn't get to see. I also almost peed myself because I didn't realize that the V&A was home to the Raphael cartoons of his tapestries, but they were all there! the room they were kept in was totally empty too, which was sad but great for me since I got to enjoy it without tourists asking stupid questions. no joke, one time in the Sistine Chapel I heard some really hick people asking each other "where them prophets were in this place." I mean, each prophet is labeled with his name under him, so... ugh, anyway.

Bernini's Neptune and Triton

after all this culture we really needed lunch, so we stopped in for some fish n chips with mushy peas! I didn't really enjoy the peas but I very very much enjoyed the fish and the fries. mm, now I'm craving fish n chips...

fish n chips!

last stop for the day was the Topshop on Oxford Street. it's huge, I think four stories? it was totally overwhelming and overcrowded but I would have loved to take out a whole day to really shop Topshop. the clothes are so cute, why isn't there one in Rome? or Seattle, for that matter.

later that night we went to a Halloween party at Imperial College, which is a math and sciences school and one of the best universities in the entire world. so, totally my scene. I had a lot of fun even though my costume was a pitiful pair of cat ears. the cute bartender did tell me he liked my ears though, so I guess it's alright.

we headed home to Rome in the morning, totally wiped out after a long week of traveling and living out of bags that were much heavier from souvenirs, and I actually found myself missing Rome! who would have thought? I really did like London though, I absolutely will be back.

traveling so much to very different places made me appreciate how comfortable I've gotten here in Rome, and I really liked seeing how life goes in different places. public transportation says a lot about the city, I think; in places where it's well-organized, timely, and clean you'll probably find living there to share those characteristics. it also made me realize how hard it is to have a language barrier where you live. in Rome, there's always the chance that somebody won't understand you, which is a definite stressor because every time you leave school there's the fear that you'll end up in a situation where you won't be able to communicate! finally, as a general travel tip: always check tipping policies of a place before you get there, because it's the last thing you think about before you leave and the first thing that makes you say "oh, s#!t" once you arrive.