Accidentally Au Naturel

Sadly, class has come to an end. My professors were wonderful and played a major role in making this experience so unforgettable. For our last weekend in Italy, two other girls and I made arrangements to go to Cinque Terre, a chain of beautiful towns along the north western coast of Italy. We heard that Monterosso was the best town in Cinque Terre for young people to go and visit the beach. We envisioned staying in a quaint little room in one of the colorful buildings rising up over the bright blue water. The three of us pictured a weekend of leisure on the beach with maybe a little bit of luxury. When we arrived at the train station we called the “hotel” that we had booked over the much trusted website, which we had used to book all of our other rooms. Online there were pictures of nice sized beds in decent rooms, but most of the pictures were of the “scenic view” the rooms offered. When we called for directions from the train station to the hotel, the cheerful concierge offered to pick us up in his car. So thankful for his eagerness to assist us in beginning our fun-filled weekend, we helped load all of our luggage into his car for what we expected to be a short drive to the hotel. The concierge drove, and he drove, and he passed through the little town, and he drove some more, and he kept driving, and then drove a little bit more, until finally at the top of the mountains, deep in the woods we stopped. All of us, besides the driver, were a little confused. Being much further away from the beach (and civilization in general), we were still hopeful that at least the hotel would be nice. We followed with our luggage hoping to be led to a lovely oasis. We had another thing coming. Along the way to the hotel, our guide stopped at a little 6′ x 12′ peanut shell-shaped trailer. Excitedly he told us that we could cook whatever food we had brought with us on an outdoor grill nearby the camper, that we could put our nonexistent sheets that we were supposed to have brought with us on the beds, or that we could rent sheets if we forgot to bring them, and that the outdoor shower and outdoor restrooms were just up the hill, and that he hoped we had a wonderful time camping.

CAMPING. Three girly girls hoping for a glamorous weekend at the beach were accidentally camping. With wide eyes and forced smiles we thanked the concierge for his help and entered our trailer. Once the door closed we died laughing at ourselves. The language barrier had created quite the mix up. I guess it goes to prove that reading the fine print is imperative. Always. It wasn’t anything close to what we were expecting, but we made the most of it nonetheless. We had a quiet girls’ night and used the downtime to complete our final garden papers. Luckily there was wifi so were were able to change our reservations for the next night. We booked a room at an actual hotel in the next town over, Bonassola. However, there was only room for two people in the room. There were three of us, so I took one for the team and told a little white lie that I wasn’t staying at that hotel. We spent the day on the beach. It was spectacular and exactly what we were hoping for. I think after the camping experience we appreciated being there all the more. The next day when it came time to check out, I had to pay for my little stretch of the truth by defenestrating myself. Yes, I jumped from the window of our room on the second floor so that the concierge would not see me. It ended up working out well, i.e. no broken bones, and we didn’t get caught or have to pay extra. We stored our luggage and spent one last day basking in the sunlight and playing in the waves. While Cinque Terre, particularly Monterosso and Vernazza, were incredibly beautiful, they were also especially exhausting. Located in the sides of the mountains along the coast, there are few cars and steep paths to climb. Used to walking all over Italy, I somehow was not prepared for the mountain climbing necessary to get around in Cinque Terre. The beauty came with a price. There seems to be a rule in Italy that what goes down must come up, which turned out to be more difficult that usual in Cinque Terre. In the evening after our day on the beach, the three of us caught a train to Florence where all of our friends from class were staying for the very last night, and where Katie and I were scheduled to fly from the next morning at 9:30 to Zürich. We all met up and went out for a fun time – maybe too much fun. We had a cab scheduled to pick Katie and I up at 7:00 AM to take us to the airport and have plenty of time to check in and make our flight. We woke up at 8:20. We had paid $135.00 for our flights, and I panicked thinking of missing it. Check-in closes 30 minutes prior to departure. The airport was twenty minutes away, and the only way to get a cab was to have one scheduled over the phone. The concierge of our hostel wouldn’t arrive until 9:00, and I was completely lost as far as who to call and how to communicate in Italian my location. But somehow I did. There was a number for a cab service saved on my phone from the last time we visited Florence. It had not worked for me the last time because I didn’t speak Italian, and the operator hung up on my every time I tried to use English. I decided it was my only hope and to give it a shot. I was hung up on three times. Somehow I found the Italian words that I didn’t know and finally got the operator to listen to me and to send a cab to my location. The chances of making the flight were slim, but I figured it was better to have tried everything than to have given up because the odds weren’t in our favor. We arrived with not a moment to spare. The check-in was about to close as we ran through the airport. But we made it. It seemed so impossible, but we did indeed make it to Zürich. Updates will soon come on that beautiful city. For now I am in France, preparing for the USA World Cup game!

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Giostra

Arezzo’s main event, occurring twice a year, is a Saracen joust. Two riders from each quartieri compete for the golden lance. The object of the joust was not to collide with another rider, but instead there is dummy with a score card (similar to a target), which each rider tries to hit the center in order to get a high score of five points. There are four quartieri in Arezzo: Porta Crucifera (red and green),
Porta Sant Andrea (green and white),
Porta del Foro (pink and yellow), and
Porta Santo Spirito (yellow and blue).

The quartiero, or neighborhood, that has won the most is Porta Crucifera, which has a big time rivalry with Sant Andrea. The underdog who everyone was secretly rooting for is Porta del Foro, which hasn’t won in the past eight years. My hotel where I’ve been staying the past few weeks is located in the Santo Spirito neighborhood. However, the OU Arezzo campus is located in the Crucifera neighborhood, so on Saturday my friends and I chose to don the red and green. Each night leading up to the big giostra the different neighborhoods would sponsor live music and little block parties. One of the nights there was a Coldplay cover band that was actually really good. The next night there was a disco cover band whose singers all had thick Italian accents. Somehow I still sang along as they played “Disco Inferno” and all the classics. The Friday night before the joust was the biggest night of all. Each quartiero hosted lavish celebratory dinners. My friends and I attended the Crucifera dinner where we were served cheeses and cold cuts, bruschetta, lasagna, and, well, there’s still some discrepancy about what the main course was. It was a dark meat served with what I thought were hush puppies or meatballs. Somewhere lost in translation it was reported that we might have eaten goat testicles. Out of disbelief I asked an Italian girl if she could verify what was being consumed. She seemed to think it was the liver or the heart of a duck, which was only a mild relief. Everyone was also served lots of red wine. There was a live band, and everyone danced and celebrated hoping for a big win to come the following night. Everyone was in high spirits despite the Italian loss to Costa Rica in the World Cup earlier in the evening. We hid our red and green flags and stopped by the Sant Andrea dinner, which was pretty rowdy in comparison to Crucifera. There was a very animated DJ was maybe the biggest guy I’ve seen in Italy. He played Italian pop mashups and American one-hit wonders, and his face would light up as he yelled things in Italian. He would grin and shout “Amorrrrrre” or “Sant Andreaaa.” He was very entertaining to watch, and the crowd was full of energy.

The next evening was the actual joust. Everywhere buzzed with excitement. There was huge parade with everyone dressed in authentic renaissance costumes. There were skilled flag throwers and a marching band of drummers. It was almost like an OU football game. The riders charged at the dummy with their lances, and the crowd would go wild. Poor Porta del Foro got only three points with its first rider, and then its second rider’s horse was spooked, and it took off before the rider had a firm grasp on the lance. The horse went out of bounds disqualifying the rider and leaving the pink and yellow team with only three points total. Santo Spirito made a perfect five on the first run, sending everyone into a frenzy. Sant Andrea followed up with another perfect five turning the place into even more of a mad house. The red and green team that the OU students were supporting turned out to not have as much luck as they had in previous years. The first rider scored only two points. It’s was outrageously pathetic and left us no hope of winning. The moment of truth came down to Sant Andrea and Santo Spirito. Santo Spirito choked, and Sant Andrea pulled away with a score of four, making nine points total and taking the victory! The neighborhood stormed the field. Jumping over barriers, everyone stampeded toward the golden lance. The OU kids quickly hid our red and green flags and jumped ship on Crucifera. We were suddenly all about the green and white as we clapped and followed the town to the main cathedral to get the lance blessed. The joust is a civic event, so it was interesting to see it intersect with the church. After the blessing, we all went to the Sant Andrea neighborhood to help celebrate that district’s thirty-fourth win. We saw the funny DJ again. We didn’t end the night until a big group of us went to the OU Organic Chemistry students’ apartment and made breakfast pasta. We all ate it on the roof and watched the sun rise up over Arezzo. It was a long week, but it gave me a good look into the traditions of Arezzo. My professor several times has referenced the ideas of ethnocentrism that thrived among the Romans and still exists in Italians today. At an event like the joust it was very obvious to see the deep pride everyone had in his or her neighborhood and a sense of superiority, win or lose.

Have no fear, despite the big celebrations this week, my academic learning has not faltered! I visited the church of San Francesco in Arezzo where Piero della Fransesca’s frescoes of the True Cross decorate the chapel. The legend of the True Cross was a story I had never before heard. It was widely known during the Renaissance, and priests began telling the story in the 1200s. Supposedly when Adam died an angel told his son to plant a tree with his body. Along with a series of other events and prophecies the wood from that tree was to be used to make the cross upon which the Christ was crucified. After the Crucifixion the cross was lost until Constantine’s mother, Queen Helen sent people in search of it. Upon being found, a war or two was fought for ownership of the True Cross. Supposedly the nails used in the Crucifixion were also discovered. One was placed in Constantine’s crown; one was used as the bit in the bridle of Constantine’s horse; and the other was housed in a reliquary in a church somewhere. It was an interesting story, and it seemed preserved only because of Piero’s frescoes.

I also had the good fortune to visit La Foce, Villa Costella, and Villa Petraia, which were not originally on the syllabus. All were beautiful, especially La Foce. The most beautiful views of Tuscany are at La Foce. You can see tall cypress trees lining the winding roads, rolling, golden fields, and striated green patches where the vineyards are. I had the most lovely time in Tuscany. I already miss it. I’ve had many adventures since leaving there, I will post an update soon. Ciao!

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Fun in Florence and Sailing in Sorrento

My group didn’t stay long after arriving in Arezzo. The class had day trips planned by train back and forth from Arezzo to Florence for three days. However, my group of friends wanted the full taste of Florence, so we booked a hostel and stayed the night while the rest of the class returned to Arezzo. Not only did we get to see Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Venus, and the Duomo, we also got to celebrate my roommate, Katie, turning 21. There was so much to be happy about! My class had the good fortune of visiting the Accademia shortly after the long standing “no foto” rule had been done away with. We were free to take as many photos of Michelangelo’s marble masterpiece as our hearts desired. David was splendid, a true Renaissance classic. The unfinished statues that lined the hall leading to David were equally impressive. They gave an insight to Michelangelo’s creative process and put into perspective the talent required to transform marble into an anatomically ideal human figure. Among the unfinished statues is Michelangelo’s St. Matthew. Being commissioned during a very busy time in Michelangelo’s life, and the commission having been returned (one of only two commissions returned by miserly Michelangelo), my professor, an expert on Michelangelo, has a theory Michelangelo never touched St. Matthew. It’s interesting that such a piece is still valued enough to be displayed along with Michelangelo’s more authentic works.

After the class returned to Arezzo for the evening it was time to explore the Florentine nightlife. Two of my friends from OU happened to be living in an apartment right near the Duomo, so we met up with them for aperitivo. At the restaurants that host aperitivo there are large tables set up in front of the bar with heaps of hors d’oerves and delicious appetizers. One simply has to buy a cocktail and can then enjoy the spread at no extra cost. Eventually we made our way to Club Twenty-One, where, ironically, the birthday girl enjoyed the privileges of joining club 21 in the US. The next day we met up with our class at the Piazza Della Repubblica before setting out for the Uffizi gallery. The Uffizi was so full of outstanding art that we did not even have time to cover all of the major superstars of the Renaissance. Naturally, we saw Botecelli’s Birth of Venus and his Primavera. We saw the Duke and Dutchess of Urbino, the Venus of Urbino, Bacchus, and many other priceless works. I could have stayed all day. We visited the Boboli gardens, Villa Medici, and Villa Gamberaia. All were breathtaking examples of Renaissance and Mannerist gardens. I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I’m enjoying the landscape architecture portion of the class. It was a completely foreign subject to me, but now I have a wonderful, new appreciation for the design of outdoor spaces.

After enjoying the treasures of Florence, my class had a free weekend to explore Italy on our own. Some students went to Cinque Terre and Positano, but most of us went Sorrento. We took a train from Florence to Naples. Naples was not what I was expecting at all. It was very dirty and much more industrialized than the other places I had visited. Supposedly Naples has relatively more crime too. The train we took from Naples to Sorrento was called the “Pickpocket Express.” We didn’t have any problems, but it was awfully sketchy. We arrived pretty late in Sorrento, but the little town was still very much awake. It was gorgeous! There were colorful flowers everywhere, yellow and white buildings, and cute little cafés spilling into the streets. There were people of all ages, quite a few older people, and a ton of English tourist. My group of friends rented two apartments. They were massive in comparison to the hotels we’ve been occupying. My apartment was two stories tall with the living rooms and kitchen on the bottom level and the bedrooms overlooking them as a balcony on the upper floor. I had a canopy, queen size, ridiculously comfortable bed. The apartments cost no more to rent than an average hotel. I would go back and stay again in a heartbeat. In fact, I would love to live there in a little apartment. I loved everything about Sorrento. The next morning I grabbed a quick breakfast at the market, and a group of 18 of us OU students met at the Piazza Sant Antonino for the much anticipated “booze cruise.” My friends Katie and Nicole organized private boats to take our group around the island of Capri. A bus took us down to the dock were two boats were waiting for us. The captains were Mario and Luigi, just like the Nintendo characters. We set out into the most unbelievably crystal clear blue waters. The weather was perfectly sunny. As I mentioned, the trip was called a booze cruise, so naturally drinks as well as food were provided. It was the time of my life. The boats would stop in surreal, exquisitely beautiful grottoes for us to swim in the still, electric blue waters and switch from one boat to another. There were waterfalls and caves. Everyone had a ball as we sailed around the delightful green island emerging from the royal blue sea. After we stopped for lunch we went to a beautiful grotto where there were a few jellyfish incidents. I wasn’t stung, but my friend got attacked pretty badly. She had to be peed on, but she recovered! We landed around 6:30 or 7:00 and ate dinner at maybe the best kebab place yet. That night Italy played England in the World Cup. With all the English tourist and the native Italians, things got pretty wild. After Italy won, everyone took to the streets, nearly rioting, stopping traffic, jumping on cars, cheering madly. It was quite the scene. Football is my new favorite sport. I’ve devoted the past few weeks to researching the teams, reviewing stats, reading about players, and watching as many matches as possible. I’m getting a jersey before I come back home (if I have enough euros). The Italy game was an exciting end to a perfect day.

The next day we returned to Arezzo, where everyone was preparing for the greatest event in town. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the Saracen Joust is a tradition that is wildly celebrated in this town proud of its history. The week leading up to the Joust is full of jovial festivities. It deserves it own post. For now I must go, but expect to hear about the Joust soon!

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Tuscan Time

We’ve made it to Arezzo, home of Giorgio Vasari the first art historian. Arezzo is discretely exceptional. There is more history here than one would ever imagine. It was the first Christian town outside of Rome. It was once revered for its wealth from gold manufacturing. It is a beautiful medieval town with many churches and monasteries. The streets are all paved with sandstone. The shops all close for siesta. There is a surprising amount of local shops and boutiques lining all the streets. There’s an overwhelming amount of cafés and ristorantes. I ate at a delightful little mom-and-pop joint called Ciao just last night. They served me a delicious dish of gnocchi along with the best steak in town. My university has established a voucher system with many of the local restaurants, making it convenient to eat without spending extra money. The school that OU has set up here in our sister city of Arezzo is state of the art. The renovations OU is making to the old monastery are restricted and closely monitored by the Italian government. Everything from the color of wall paint to furniture has to first be approved by the finicky Italian government. Arezzo is bigger and busier than it sounds, but definitely much more slow paced than Rome and even Venice. However, it is very safe and beautifully situated in the heart of Tuscany.

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Canal Queen

On top of the most fascinating lagoon in the world, sits Venice, my home for the past few nights. Since my last posting I’ve visited the gardens of Villa d’Este and Hadrian’s palace. The beauty was unreal! It’s so hard to believe that such grand places were made for a single person. Villa d’Este could easily be one of my favorite sites so far. However, Burano is in close competition for being the favorite. It was Venice with a paint job! Lining the canals, each little building was brightly colored, usually with a matching colorful awning and beautiful blossoms spilling out of the windows. Yesterday we chartered a private ferry boat that carried my class to Cemetery Island or Isola di San Michele, Murano, and Burano. At the cemetery we saw many graves of nuns and priests. The tombstones all had a picture of the deceased person buried below. It was somber and eerie. The graves are recycled about every 40 years. There are dates listed on each tombstone indicating the remaining time that a body has left to stay in that space before it will be replaced by someone else’s body. We had a fabulous glass blowing demonstration in Murano, followed by lunch on Burano. I ate Venice’s traditional cuttlefish. It was the most foreign thing I’ve ever eaten. It was similar to squid, except much less rubbery, and it had a very rich, creamy texture on the interior. It was exquisite!

Having very few permanent residents, Venice has almost no nightlife. There are very few places open after dark. However, the gang (my friends Katie, Brooke, Nicole, Rocco, Ryan, and Briek) and I sniffed out some fun. There is a piazza about 16 minutes from our hotel (Hotel Spagna, which is really decent by the way). It’s called Campo Santa Margherita, and it was crawling with Italian university students. There were many restaurants and a bar lining the piazza, and the locals lounged everywhere socializing over large bottles of vino. My friends and I went to the bar to sample the drinks, the spritz and the Bellini. They were very good; however, what was most impressive were the Mojitos. It was the best Mojito of my entire life. The bartender made it with such special care. She even hand crushed the ice (ice machines are not common here). We then made our way to the one and only night club in Venice. We read some strange reviews about it online earlier in the day. One review said “When you arrive, just ring the brass bell by the door. You may have to wait several minutes while the eccentric owner sizes you up through the peep hole, but lingering outside in the narrow alley just heightens Piccolo Mondo’s quirky mystique.” It ended up being no trouble to get in. People of all ages were crammed in the Piccolo Mondo. There were many people older than my parents as well as young college students, and every age in between. We’re still uncertain about whether or not it was a gay bar. We saw mostly male couples. It was such a great time. The music was fun, and the disco atmosphere livened up the dance floor.

The next day in Venice we visited the Frari and the San Rocco churches. We saw works by Bellini, Titian, and Tintoretto. We learned about the Franciscans and Dominicans and their movement to secularize and urbanize Christianity. We also learned about the scuoles (religious fraternities) who ruled Venice for centuries. While Venice called itself a republic, through these scuoles it operated as an oligarchy for many generations.

Overall Venice was splendid, and so different than Rome. Italy was not unified until 1861. Before unification individual city-states existed, each unique and independent from the others. Today it is still easy to see the difference in cultures from region to region.

Next on my agenda is Arezzo, Florence, and Capri. Lots of traveling to be done over the next few days. Wish me luck!

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Living Like Locals

The first day of class began Monday. I am studying Italian Renaissance art and Roman garden architecture. During the first two days in Rome most of the focus of the class is on the art. Monday I woke up bright and early around 6:00 am local time. I read a few chapters from the assigned book, had an espresso, and ate breakfast. The class gathered in the lobby of the hotel, and we departed on foot to the Vatican City (which happened to be way on the other side of town). The professor heading the Renaissance art class has an astounding wealth of knowledge and oozes information everywhere we go. Kirk Ducleaux is his name, and he has been absolutely remarkable so far. I followed him through the Vatican just like a puppy, smiling the whole time. If I had a tail it would have whacked everyone in all the crowded rooms just wagging away. There was an unbelievably long line to get into the city. Fortunately, my class didn’t have to wait in it. Kirk took us straight to the front of the line, and we started our lectures. We began by discussing how the renaissance came about, how it contrasted from the Middle Ages, and specific characteristics. We focused on the influence of Classical antiquity, particularly ancient Rome, the shift towards individualism, and the popularization of the vernacular. The first piece we looked at was the Stephaneschi Altarpiece by Giotto that was in the original St. Peter’s Basilica built by Constantine. We next saw Raphael’s Transfiguration, on which I wrote my formal analysis. It was very intriguing. Exhibiting a scene from Christianity, the work is gracefully and beautifully composed. The next painting on which we focused was Caravaggio’s Deposition. It was breathtakingly eerie. Unquestionably my favorite moment of the day was exploring the Raphael rooms and beholding my most dearly favored work of art, School of Athens. I was the happiest girl in the world. I have a four-foot, framed poster of this fresco in my room at home. Getting to absorb it in person was better than meeting a celebrity. I learned so much more about the work, and about Raphael as an artist. His other pieces in the same room were underratedly spectacular. Visiting a slew of other artworks along the way, we entered the Sistine Chapel. It was magnificent, a truly beautiful example of Michelangelo’s talent. St. Peter’s Basilica was next our next stop, where we beheld Michelangelo’s Pieta and Bernini’s famous bronze canopy over St. Peter’s tomb. The grandeur and opulence of the entire edifice seemed very fitting for the headquarters of Christianity. Unfortunately, I was not able to encounter Papa Francisco.

After all the academic ends had been reached, we were free to explore on our own. I went to lunch with some girl friends at a little cafe outside the Vatican and ate a pizza. After lunch, most of the girls went back to the hotel to nap and begin working on our first assignment. But Katie, the girl I’m traveling Europe with after the program ends, and I insisted on seeing the Spanish steps and shopping. There was only one problem. Neither of us had a map, and with our data plans, we were unable to use our phones. We had to navigate all the way there based on word of mouth directions from the locals. Somehow we were able to navigate the two and a half mile walk through the winding, confusing, foreign streets, and we stumbled right onto the Spanish steps in no time. And boy did we do some shopping! I made the most of the €25 that I had on me. Our next big challenge was finding the way back to the hotel. Not knowing the address was not a great start to that task, but fortunately there are some well known landmarks nearby that made getting directions easier. We made it back to the other side of town without getting lost once! We felt like locals. For dinner we had the best food in all of Rome. It’s not what one would expect at all. Near our hotel Katie came across a very small Indian fast food joint called Pizza & Kebab. The sweetest man works there, and we’ve made friends with him. We have been back to Pizza & Kebab three or four times now. We are his favorite customers, and he is so delighted when he sees us coming down the street to get our kebabs.

The second day of class we visited the Colosseum, or Flavian Amphitheater, the Forum, and the Pantheon. All of the site were just exquisite. The Forum was practically my Mecca. Making my pilgrimage to my favorite Latin-speaking place in the world was purely blissful. Getting to learn in depth the functions that each ruin performed was delightful. Seeing where my beloved Julius Caesar ruled and brought an end to the Roman Republic couldn’t have been any more splendid. Going to the Temple of Vesta, where the mother of Romulus and Remus immaculately conceived the twins was fascinating. I love, love, loved the Forum. The Colosseum was no less incredible. Standing through the ages preserving the lifestyles of antiquity, the Colosseum was home to horrific acts of sadistic, voyeuristic violence. Nubian archers shooting hippopotamuses, donkeys raping women, lions placed between women and their children, gladiators fighting to the death, the carnal desires of the ancient Romans were atrocious. The architecture of the Pantheon was enormously impressive. It is so well preserved and complexly simple. Day 2 went as wonderfully as day 1. I’m loving Rome so far. It almost feels like home!

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Roma, Roma, Roma

I made quite the royal entrance to the Eternal City yesterday. I had the great fortune of flying first class all the way from Oklahoma. Immediately after boarding, I was treated to a glass of champagne. There was an abundance of leg room, and my seat was a luxury recliner. To top it off I was sitting behind the much admired former governor of Oklahoma, Brad Henry, and his wife. I may as we’ll have been an A-list celebrity. Once in the air each passenger received his or her own personal tablet on which he or she could could select from a wide range of movies, games, and other features to stay entertained for the nine hour flight. I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel and Funny Face. The meals that were served were fabulous. For dinner I had a three course meal; salad and an assortment of melon with mozzarella, a beef filet with a Spanish red wine, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream sundae for dessert. The flight attendants took great care of me. My seat fully reclined into a bed, so I was able to get a little bit of sleep. When I woke up I received a coffee and scrambled eggs with a plate of fresh cut fruit. It goes without saying it was the best flying experience I’ve ever had. I’ll never be able to thank my dear uncle enough for treating me to such a generous gift. After I landed the dean of OU’s Education Abroad program greeted me and directed me to the train. I met a fellow American girl to ride the train with. She was from Pennsylvania and was going to stay in a Roman convent until she met up with her parents in Venice. We went our separate ways once we arrived at the Termini. I easily found my hotel which is conveniently located very nearby the station. The hotel check-in time was delayed, so some of the OU students and I explored the nearby area. I wanted nothing more than to wash my face and pop a couple of Advil. I knew I couldn’t go to sleep until night time if I wanted to get rid of the jet lag, but a nap would have been really nice. I didn’t get to do any of that, however. We went straight to sight-seeing. The professor showed us around the city and gave us an intro on what to expect. We got to see the Colosseum, the Jewish Ghetto, and some great piazzas. Afterwards we finally got to check-in! I got to wash my face and shower! And I got to take a nap! After my nap we had a great Italian dinner. At night fall a group of us went to explore the city and to see the Trevi Fountain. Navigating the city on our own was surprisingly successful. We ate gelato in front of the fountain. We found our way back to the hotel, and I cured my jet lag with some much needed sleep.

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It’s Time

My flight leaves today! I’ve packed my bag, made copies of my passport, and traded my nice, long, rectangular US dollars for some squatty euros. I’m hoping I’ve built up enough good karma to ward off the pickpockets and tourist scams. However, I’ll be wary of all strangers nonetheless.

After flying all night, I will arrive at 9:25 in Rome at the Fiumicino Airport, from which I will then have to navigate to my hotel. The Hotel Nord near the Roma Termini will be my first home in Italy. I will be spending about five days there. The reviews on TripAdvisor aren’t terribly frightening, so I’m satisfied already. I will post the rest of my itinerary soon, and I will give an update on all the fascinating things I find in Rome. Until then, ciao!

Getting Ready

My departure is approaching about as fast as finals week surprised me this semester. I’m not quite prepared yet — typical. I have about a week until I say ciao to the States for two months. So much adventure is sitting right around the corner. But first, I have a lot to do before I leave. Packing has proved to be somewhat stressful so far. It’s hard to reconcile light and efficient with trendy, potentially useful, and cute. I want to stick with the basics, but I also want to be prepared and somewhat stylish — even though I typically don’t go out of my way to be either of those. Before you can pack, you need something to put everything in. After deliberating for a month about what luggage to buy, I finally found one I think will work. I decided to go with the High Sierra 24″ Wheel-N-Go Duffel. I couldn’t resist how lightweight it is. It cost about $100.00 less than the other suitcase I was interested in. We’ll see how it holds up, and if I’m still satisfied at the end of my trip. As for content, right now I’m still deciding what clothing to pack. Two months is a considerable amount of time to be homeless. That being said, I’m also not interested in carrying a two ton closet across Europe. The compromise I’ve made with myself is as follows: one pair of jeans, two pairs of shorts, two t-shirts, two dressy shirts, one flirty dress, one swimsuit, sporty sandals, dressy (comfortable) sandals, Converse, and, obviously, underwear. Depending on space, I might have to add or subtract from this list. I’ll also need to fit my toiletries, chargers, a converter, and copies of important documents. I plan to purchase shampoo and conditioner after I have arrived in Italy, so I’m bringing only enough to get me by for a night or two until I can make it to the store. I don’t wear much make-up, so a tube of mascara and lipstick should do the trick. A product that might be unnecessary, but that I’m excited to bring nevertheless, is small travel size Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus spray. I’m trying to avoid packing easily wrinkled clothes, but being compacted into a duffle bag is sure to make a few creases here and there. I’ll be revising my list of things to pack until I leave. This will do for now.

 

The Wild Life by Vacationer

New York, New York

Last summer I went on a whirlwind of a trip to visit my friend Zach Story. After a few short months of flirting, I decided that I had an undeniable crush on this gentleman. I met him at my university, and he invited me to visit him in his hometown, New York City. I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I spontaneously booked a flight and spent a fun week exploring a land of bright lights and big buildings with my own personal tour guide. He was so courteous to me, and he showed me a world completely foreign to my hometown in Oklahoma.

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The first evening I arrived, my host treated me to a romantic dinner at P.J. Clarke’s, where the legendary Frank Sinatra used to frequent. Later we went to a movie. I was entirely wrapped up in the charm of being in a big city with someone special.

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Raised by an art professor, I’ve always felt uncommonly connected to art. When Zach took me the Museum of Modern Art, a place I had dreamt about for years, I was elated at every corner we turned. Having finally seen Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon I was certain the day could not get any better — until, of course, I went to my first major league baseball game!

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With the Yankees being out of town, we got to see the Mets play instead! Despite some delays in the game due to weather, I had a delightful time. That night I was introduced to Shake Shack. Later that night my host and I strolled along the Hudson and met up with his friends. I was very nervous about being such an alien. However, I received a warm welcome and couldn’t have met a better group of fun-loving New Yorkers.

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If the MoMA was the Garden of Eden, then the Metropolitan Museum of Art was undoubtedly Heaven. Following a lovely walk through Central Park, a place so iconic and uplifting, a sanctuary among the steel and the concrete, we arrived at the base of an impressive stairway. Absolutely fascinating to the Classicist in me, the collections in the Met charmed me like nothing I had ever seen before. The day we visited marked the 237th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Coincidentally, I have an unexplainable affinity for Thomas Jefferson. I have read nearly every word the man has ever written. I have an unusually deep admiration for his world view and thoughts on constitutionalism. At the Met, held within an enormous gilded frame is the famous painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware. Viewing this piece on the day that memorializes a very profound point in not only American, but also world history was very special for me. As I stood before the painting, I thought of the sweet significance of Washington, Jefferson, and all the framers defending the principles of representative government and liberty. Nothing can speak to all the beauty I absorbed this day. It was a 4th of July well spent.

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After exploring inside, we ventured up to the rooftop of the Met, where I found my favorite view in the entire city. We went on a walk along the High Line, which offered several other great views. We ended the night by meeting up with Zach’s friends again and watching fireworks from the top of his friend’s apartment building. We baked cookies decorated with American flags to enjoy with the fireworks.

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The next morning was the day of my departure. Before my flight took off, I was lucky enough to see Times Square. An active center of commotion, my senses were overloaded with flashing, vivid colors from enormous advertisements and the movement of thousands of swarming bodies. As I was feeling more and more comfortable in the unfamiliar places, my return home approached evermore swiftly. It was such a dejecting feeling to leave the place I had just fallen in love with. However, the excitement of telling my friends and family at home about all of my New York adventures made up for it. As I parted with the young man whom I had grown unquestionably fonder of during my stay, I could not have been more grateful for his hospitality and more eager to have his company when he returned to school for the fall semester.

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I would like to give and honorable mention to Max, the yorkie, for always providing entertainment on his morning and evening walks with his bizarre antics. Featured below are some miscellaneous photographs.

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