Sunday, June 17, 2012

Naples Another Day

Well, we were supposed to do a day trip to Naples today, but that didn't really come together as planned! First, we were looking at the train times last night and realized that the trip was going to be a little pricier than we had anticipated, which is never a fun surprise. Then, Janece had been feeling a little bit off yesterday afternoon/evening, and I started to feel not so great last night, leading to a pretty restless sleep. So when Janece's alarm went off at 6:30 and neither of us were feeling all that fantastic, we decided it would be better to just hang out in Rome just in case!

So, we went and explored the Trastevere area of Rome! The weather was really warm again, with a high of 91. We went to a pizzeria in the area since I had been planning on the Naples pizza, and it was so yummy! I chose a pizza with pesto, mozzarella, potatoes and salami. It was so big, and I definitely didn't think I would be able to finish it, but finish it I did! No problemo!

After that we just walked around the area, making our way from Ponte Sisto over to the Ponte Cestio and the Isola Tiberina, an island in the middle of the Tiber river which has historically been a place for medicine and the sick. During the plague, they put every infected person onto the island to try to isolate them from the rest of the population. My cousin Bo had given Janece some ginger lemon creme cookies, and we enjoyed eating them on the island, in an appropriate location seeing as he's studying medicine!

A little later I wasn't feeling too fantastic, so we headed back to the hotel and had some time for me to rest a bit and for Janece to get some packing in since she's leaving tomorrow morning. So sad!

Then we headed back to the area we now refer to as our "hood", near the Trevi Fountain where our other two favorite restaurants are. We opted to try a new place, and Janece had their Prosciutto and melon, while I had some grilled vegetables.

Then we walked back so Janece could tackle her packing, and watched American TV dubbed in Italian! I'm so sad that Janece is leaving seems way too soon for our Italian vacation to be over! But I guess all good things have to come to an end, and this has definitely been a good thing. We have made lots of good memories, eaten a lot of delicious food, and seen a lot of amazing art and history!

She leaves early in the morning, so I think I will probably just walk around and revisit the places I liked the most! Then I will be on my way home! I'm sad for this whole adventure to be coming to a close, but I am also so excited to be home again with family and friends!

But first, another day in Rome awaits!


Saturday, June 16, 2012

La Dolce Vita

Another fun day in Rome! We had a high of 90, and it was still 86 at 6 PM, which got a little bit warm at times, but no complaints! As Janece just said, much better than 50 degrees and raining!

On our itinerary today was a visit to some Roman baths and a crypt. We got kind of a later start because we took a well deserved morning to sleep in, so we headed to the baths at around 11:30. Turns out that the baths actually don't exist anymore, because a church was built on top of them! So that was a bit of a let down to me, because let's be honest, a church is a church is a church after a while, and especially after you've just been to St. Peter's Basilica! But it was still very pretty, and we got to listen to an organist playing wedding marches since a wedding ceremony had just finished when we got there!

After the church, we meandered back to a restaurant we had walked by on our first day for lunch. I tried risotto with ham, pecorino, and a mushroom sauce, and any guesses as to what Janece had? That's right! Prosciutto and melon! I don't think a day has passed that she hasn't eaten that for at least one meal! It's so funny!

We took a very long lunch to escape the heat, and then went back to the leather store where Janece had bought her little blue purse and got matching leather bracelets to remember our trip by! We had originally wanted the bracelets to say "L'Italia a piedi 2012", which means "Italy by foot 2012" or "Walking Italy 2012", but he said that was too long, so we just cut it down to "A piedi 2012". They're so adorable! And if they're special to us now, I know the bracelets are going to mean so much more in the future.

It's so funny that we got so turned around our first day here, because it turns out everything is actually relatively close to each other! So, a hop skip and a jump later we were enjoying our third granita outside the pantheon! They are really really incredible, and everyone has gotten the memo apparently, because it seems like every third person walking in the pantheon neighborhood has one in hand!

We took ours over to Piazza Navona and perused the street artists' work. I love all of the oil paintings, but there is really no room at all in my luggage to be able to get one home safely! They're also pretty pricey. Rightfully so, but still.

It was 5 PM by the time we were leaving the square, so we decided to take our time and just walk in the direction of the hotel (the correct way this time) and take a little break before dinner. So we were only walking around for about three hours today since we took a pretty long break for lunch! I think we're losing a little bit of steam here near the end, especially when the heat is added to the equation. Traveling is exhausting!

For dinner we went back to one of our favorite restaurants in Rome, Nana! Janece got a caprese salad, and I got filet mignon and amazing grilled vegetables with olive oil and garlic. Delicious! I had been majorly craving red meat for a while, so that really hit the spot.

Tomorrow we take a day trip to Naples! I'm excited to see the water, and besides trying Gusta pizza in Florence, we've been waiting to try the pizza in Napoli! I'm sure we'll have an awesome time!


Friday, June 15, 2012

Voyages To The Vatican

Today we went and visited the priests in Vatican City! We had an appointment for the Vatican Museum at 9:30, so were there by 8:30 to grab a cappuccino and make sure we were on time. Our hotel only does a croissant for breakfast, which is not enough protein for us, so we went on a hunt for something a little more substantial. It seems that Italians don't really do breakfast besides pastries, because every time we've been able to find something, it has been called "American breakfast". So, we searched high and low for something with eggs, and finally found an omelet and yogurt (which turned out to be frozen yogurt, much to my dismay) at a slightly sketchy place near the museum. Then we bypassed the long line (yay!) and within a few minutes were staring up at another of Michaelangelo's masterpieces - the Sistine Chapel. So beautiful. We read that when he was asked to paint it, he responded that he was a sculptor, not a painter, and in the end only did it because he was threatened! Regardless of how it came to be though, it's an amazing place. We sat for a few minutes, craning our necks to look at his interpretation of biblical events including the famous "Creation of Adam" painting, gazing to our right to reflect on his "Final Judgement", and dodging elbows from other visitors.

After the chapel, we walked around the block to St. Peter's Basilica. The line looked long but moved pretty fast, so we we had just enough time to stand in the sun and take in the awesome square. Then we were covering our shoulders again, passing the Swiss Guard, and were inside arguably the most incredible church in the world! This place is sensory overload! You go from incomprehensibly gorgeous place to incomprehensibly gorgeous place, separated only by incredible food! It's enough to exhaust you without all the walking in between!

The church is about two football fields long, excluding the nave, and about one football field high. Approximately huge. We stood where Charlemagne was crowned. We stood before St. Peter's supposed burial spot. And then my shirt slipped and I accidentally exposed myself for a few seconds in front of the alter of the most prestigious Catholic church. Major oops. But my shoulders and knees were covered the whole time! (Very important, as those of you who have visited Italy know).

After marveling at that wonderful place, we grabbed a cab back to the Pantheon neighborhood and grabbed some lunch (more prosciutto and melon for Janece and a salad with tuna, eggs and olives for me). It was so funny, when I asked Janece where the bathrooms were in the restaurant, she said "Take a left at the man in the black beret", completely serious. This led to another laughing fit, thankfully shorter than the one two days ago since our abs and smile muscles in our faces have not yet recovered from that experience. Our waiters were very entertained. Whether they thought we were really funny or really stupid we're not quite sure, but oh well. I'm pretty convinced we're hilarious. Lunch was followed by our favorite granitas from the cafe on the corner of the pantheon, which we enjoyed on the walk back to the hotel (or the first five minutes, let's be honest, those things don't last long!). Once we got home, we discussed how it wouldn't be very smart to take a nap, and within 15 minutes were both snoozing away. When we woke up it was 6:45 and time to eat again! So much eating!

We decided to try a place we had walked by the night before, because it has been totally packed full with Italians. When in Rome, do as the Romans right? Well they were there for a reason! I tried their orange ravioli, and it was so fantastic! Then we kind of just spent the evening strolling around, stopping for a piece of chocolate cake for me and a glass of wine for Janece, went over and sat at the Trevi Fountain...just enjoying Rome!

So we were out and about until around 11 PM, and I for one am ready for bed despite the nap! Tomorrow is another "Around Rome" day, so we're going to let it be a relaxing see what we see and take it easy day I think. Then the next day is a day trip to Naples, with Janece leaving on the 18th :( So I will have one more day in Rome, but then I'm on my way back too. It's still very mixed emotions. Scotland doesn't really feel like home would feel weird to go back there I think, but it also feels weird to think about going back to the US. Actually, I think going back to the US is a stranger concept than going back to Scotland. It just feels like a completely different life; in a way, it was! I'm still SO excited to see family and friends obviously, and I'm sure it will just take a few days and I'll be back to my regular routine. For now, there is a major disconnect.

But, I just looked out the window and saw the pizzeria across the street where locals are sipping glasses of wine, waving their hands expressively as they talk and laugh. I'm in Rome!

Catch Up: June 14, We Fought Through The Crowds Like Gladiators

Yesterday was the Colosseum and Roman Forum! Such cool stuff! We decided to join a tour group for a few euros more instead of standing in the three hour line outside, and within ten minutes were standing inside one of the most amazing pieces of real estate in the world. The Colosseum is so amazing. I'm always a little bit worried that I'll be underwhelmed by things I've heard so much about, but that certainly didn't happen here! We spent two hours just walking around and trying to take it all in. I'm still pinching myself, trying to realize where I'm standing!

The Roman Forum was next, which was a little bit less impressive just because it's really hard to picture what each set of ruins was. So even though we were standing in the center of the old Roman city, looking around you really wouldn't have known that. I really would like to see a recreation of the area, because I think that would bring to life all the pieces of stone.

Realizing that it was 4 PM and we hadn't eaten since breakfast at 9, we sat down to a very late lunch of caprese for Janece and gnocchi with tomato sauce for me (Italians make gnocchi on Thursdays, so that's the day they're the freshest!) The gnocchi were so much lighter than ones I've had in the US or Scotland. Even though I finished them, I still didn't feel full of weighted down by the meal. Awesome!

After lunch we went to see San Clemente church, which was really cool. You walk in off the street into a church which, like all other churches in Italy, is beautifully decorated with gorgeous mosaic floors, golden fixtures, and intricately painted walls and ceilings. But this is one of those places where there is definitely more than what meets the eye. If you follow the stairs down one level, you find yourself in a church from the 4th century. The "modern" (12th century, 1108) church at street level was built literally right on top of the older one! The Norman sack of Rome had left the old church badly damaged, and five meters below street level.

If you thought that was cool though, read on. There is another flight of stairs that take you down even further into the ground. There you will find the remnants of a FIRST CENTURY Roman house and first floor of an apartment building, separated by a narrow Roman street. Totally amazing! They were built after a big fire in 64 AD. Let that date sink in for a moment. 64 AD. And the structure is still standing. The church from the 12th century had been built on top of these buildings, and that's probably the only reason why they were able to be preserved. Beyond incredible. I have to say though, the lowest level really gave me the creeps. If ghosts exist, that would be a likely place. I was pretty jumpy until we were able to get back up in the sunlight!

Speaking of jumpy, on our way back to the hotel we had to cross the big busy street in front of the Colosseum. Getting across streets in Rome is quite the scary experience, let me tell you! Most of the intersections don't have crossing signals, so you kind of just have to launch yourself out there or no one will ever stop and you will be stuck forever. But, even though it's kind of terrifying, they stop. We were crossing the street behind this family of four, and the bus coming at us looked like it was just barely going to miss us. As I turned to watch it, a guy on a motorcycle came from behind the bus, passing it on the wrong side of the street. He obviously hadn't known that we were crossing the street since the bus hadn't bothered to slow down for us anyway, but that didn't seem to stop him since he sped up to pass the bus, coming so close to hitting us that Janece and I had to push the people in front of us to avoid getting hit. I can't really describe how close a call that was, but Janece and I both felt him pass. It was inches. Luckily that stupidity did not go unnoticed by the police who went zooming after him. I hope they got him good! I'm fairly certain that experience took at least a year off of my life! I'm still counting myself lucky though...we were so close to losing more than just a year! Drivers in Italy are crazy!!!

We opted to an early dinner since the next day was going to be an early morning in the Vatican, so we wandered through the streets of Rome until we came to the restaurant "Nana", recommended by our favorite hotel guy. Since it wasn't quite seven yet though, we poked our head into the nearby leather shop. And then magic happened. Janece has been picking up every blue purse since we got to Italy, but they just haven't been quite right, and in this little shop she found the perfect one! The old man who made all of the leather products had a little tool bench in the back of the store, and he and his wife ran this adorable place! He looked so proud that Janece loved his purse so much, and made her a leather charm to go on it with her initials stamped into it. We watched him work on the charm, and when she asked him to hold it up so she could take a picture, he said "I take my glasses off...I look younger". SO CUTE!!

I tried carbonara again for dinner, and was kind of disappointed again! I think carbonara must vary a lot depending on the region or something, because the recipe I have is completely different from the two I've tried in Italy, and Janece's recipe is completely different from the two I've had in Italy and mine. So I think I'll stick to making my own!

After dinner we walked back to our hotel and were in our room by 10 PM, a totally reasonable hour for an early morning the next day. The only problem was that we proceeded to talk for two hours, and weren't in bed until midnight. Oops!

Catch Up: June 13, From Florence With Love

I have to play some major catch up now! We have been going so fast since we got to Rome, there has seriously been NO time to catch our breath, let alone blog! But here goes!

On the 13th, we ate our breakfast in sight of the Duomo in Florence, and said a little goodbye to our charming city. Then it was on to the train to Roma! Getting on the train was a little stressful since we had such huge bags and the gypsies (I'm sorry if that's not a pc term) were really in our face. But soon we were on our way, watching the gorgeous Tuscan countryside pass us by. And then we were in Rome!

We wasted no time in exploring the city. The bags got dropped off at our hotel and then whoosh! We were off! After eating a yummy lunch of beet and Gorgonzola risotto for Janece and eggplant and tomato sauce for me, we were off to see Rome via one of Rick Steves' self-guided Rome walks. That was easy enough, and we saw the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, sat in the Pantheon, ate a delicious granita, walked around Piazza Novella, and got to Campo De Fiori where the walk ended. We had started around 3, and by the time we reached the end of the walk around 5:30. We were feeling almost ready for dinner, and decided that we should walk on side streets in the direction of our hotel to find a more authentic place for dinner. Well, it wasn't until four hours later that we finally sat down! The walk there, which is now referred to as "the death march", was us using a map where the pictures of the monuments are not drawn in the right direction, so we got so turned around so many times, and were BEYOND exhausted. What was supposed to be no more than a three hour walk had turned into six and a half! By the end it's safe to say that our walk began to resemble more of a crawl. But, by about 10 PM our dinner of caprese salad and chicken and arrived, much to our stomachs' relief! We also managed to find a relatively good place to eat and didn't have to resort to the "Rockadile Cafe", which at one point seemed like it might be our only option!

The combination of just a long day (we had been up and going at that point for 14 hours), our death march, and hunger resulted in us getting a little bit silly, and we were doubled over laughing all throughout the last half of our meal! I had been so hungry, and was searching my chicken's carcass for any last remnants of food when Janece looked up to say something. Just the humor of that scene and the whole day sent us into intense fits of laughter that didn't stop until about half an hour after we got back to the hour later.

So, overall, a pretty good day! We got in a LOT of walking, and an ab workout to boot!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Grazie Firenze!

Today has been another wonderful time in Florence!

We got an early start so we could hit the Central Market again, and were passing the Duomo when the clock struck 8 AM. Pretty good! Then we spent the next hour finding the market and then once there, trying to find the place we had been the day before. Then we stepped outside to look for a cafe for some breakfast, and were immediately DUMPED on! It was such an intense rain storm! We ran from cafe to cafe trying to find something that looked good, and finally found a place that had omelets on the menu! Yum! It was kind of funny because we had looked to see what Rick Steves recommended in the area, and he had mentioned a cafe za za, but said it opened at noon. Turns out their hours must have changed, because that's where we were for breakfast!

Then after our yummy omelets we found our favorite food stall within the market, and perused the rest of the market for scarves, purses, and other fun things. Unfortunately, the vendors are really awful! They don't even just accost you as you walk by, they are also extremely rude! Whenever you walk by their stalls, they always say something like "Hello, beautiful ladies, come look, I have a jacket for you" or whatever. So you just ignore them, because there's nothing else you can do! But we had people saying things to us like "Didn't you ever learn to say hello back when someone says hi to you? Didn't they teach you anything in school? Oh wait, I forgot, you never got to school". We just kept walking because responding was definitely not worth it, but I wanted to say "Right, because you obviously made it really far to be selling fake leather goods in a street market". Needless to say, we didn't look around too long because it was a really stressful and exhausting experience. Janece and I both felt like that was the only part of Italy so far that has really turned us off. But that's ok, we know just to avoid street markets in the future!

The Medici Chapels were nearby the market, so it was easy to just stick our heads in there after the market. We then spent about 20 minutes trying to find the bathroom. What an experience that was! The first lady we asked told us to go up the stairs and that it would be on our left, but we went up the stairs and didn't see anything. So we asked someone at the top of the stairs, and they told us the same place so we went to look again - nothing. I was starting to bounce, and we were getting so confused and frustrated! Then we finally found a man who walked us there, and guess what? It was a hidden door in the wall. Literally a hidden door. How in the world were we supposed to find that?? Kind of funny now though!

The next stop on our list was the Accademia, and first we consulted Rick to see what places he recommended for lunch in the area. We found what sounded best, then set off to find it. We didn't exactly find what we were looking for, but we liked what we came across! We discovered a little hole in the wall family-owned restaurant where Janece ordered a shrimp and fruit salad, and I ordered carbonara and then the most AMAZING chocolate souffle of my life for dessert. All served by extremely attractive men, I might add! We were already very pleased with this experience, but it was all made better when we got the bill! They had not charged Janece for her wine or me for my cappuccino, and when we asked about it, they said it was included in the meal price! Sweet!

So in high spirits, we walked down the cobble stone street to go see Michaelangelo's David. What an incredible experience that was! There is no way to describe how unbelievable that statue is! He stands 17 feet tall, and is so detailed! You can see the veins and tendons in his hands, and he is perfectly sculpted. He is so pleasing to the eye, it's crazy! I had never really given that statue much thought, but it is definitely one of my top favorites now! Michaelangelo believed that God used him as a tool to create divine images, and looking at this piece of art, it's hard to believe otherwise. I cannot describe it and photos can't do it justice. You truly have to see it to believe it.

After we had finished with David, we walked over to Ponte Vecchio to do some last night jewelry perusing. We found a cute little store that had really nice silver, so that was successful!

Then it was on to our favorite restaurant on Piazza Signiora for more melon and prosciutto for Janece, and a Nicoise salad for me, and soon we were back in the hotel trying to stuff all of our stuff into our luggage. How we'll get all that stuff to Rome let alone back to the US I have no idea!

Tomorrow we will be in Rome! This trip is going by way too fast!!

A Day Of Pure Italian Bliss

Wow. I thought that yesterday I loved Florence, but after today I love it even more! We did a cooking class today that was SO much fun, and such an awesome experience!

We had to be at the class at 9:45, so we went and had a breakfast of fruit and cappuccinos at a nearby café, and then the fun began! Our chefs names were Giovanni and Andrea, and they took us first to the central market in Florence. This was our first time looking around the market, and it was so amazing! There were so many amazing foods, and just the place was just humming with a fun energy. At the market we sampled foods from one food stall, and Janece and I both nearly fell into flavor induced comas! We tried pecorino romano, one served with pear jam, the second with truffle oil, and the third with sundried tomato. We tried three different types of olive oil, and three different types of balsamic vinegar. We tried delicious sundried tomato bruschetta. It was all so delicious! After making some completely necessary purchases, we made our way through the rest of the market and on to the cooking school!

 Over the next three hours, we made tiramisu, pasta from scratch, meat sauce, and ravioli from scratch served with a butter and sage sauce. It was such a cool experience to be able to take a cooking class in Italy! It was definitely worth the time and money, and I would recommend that anybody taking a trip to Italy considers this really memorable experience! The food was incredible of course, but mostly we just had a blast being there and hearing our chefs say “perfecto” over our shoulders. 

When we had finished with the cooking class, we ran over to the leather school at Santa Croce church before they closed for the day. That was another glorious experience! The quality of their products was out of the this world! The smell of leather was incredible, and the leather all felt like pure butter. I decided to go ahead and get myself a souvenir there J

Following our little shopping excursion, we went back to the Pitti Palace to be able to look around the Boboli Gardens. We lived on the wild side and decided to find our way there without looking at a map, and were successful! Yay! The gardens were gorgeous, but also huge, and we hardly even scratched the surface of that place! We were walking around, and tried to find where we were on one of the signs with a map there, and realized that we hadn’t even walked a third of the way up the middle of the gardens, let along all of the side paths. Since we got there a little later we didn’t have too much time, but we got to explore for about an hour which turned out to be probably a perfect amount of time.

After our hour walk, it was time for a dinner of yummy asparagus risotto! We had walked by an adorable place on our way to the market, so we found it again and ate on the terrace beside beautiful pink flowers. Then we went back to our favorite restaurant, which we now refer to as “our restaurant”, on palazzo de signitoria, where I ate a delicious chocolate hazelnut torte, and Janece drank Sambuca. Delicioso! We sat there and enjoyed people watching while Andrea Boccelli played in the background. Definitely a “pinch me, we’re in Italy” moment.

So, another wonderful day has come to a close. I’m so excited for all the fun we’ll have tomorrow, but at the same time I wish we could repeat today again! This place just keeps getting better and better!


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cappuccinos, Venus, and Pizza!

I am laying in our hotel room, sipping on a glass of smooth red wine as the bells of the Duomo ring in the distance. This is what heaven must be like. Florence is such a beautiful and peaceful place, and even though it's technically a larger city, it feels friendly and happy. I'm in love!

We decided last night that since we had both gotten such poor (or in Janece's case, no) sleep the previous night, we were going to just let ourselves wake up naturally this morning, which turned out to be around 8:30 or so. Then we took our time preparing for our day, and eating a fancy breakfast of random granola bars we had brought and the hotel's instant coffee!

Then, as we walked down the street, we decided that we needed to have a cappuccino so we stopped at a cute cafe on our way to the Uffizi gallery. We totally loved the place! The menu has pictures of the food, so you know exactly what you're ordering, and our waiter was such a sweet man and just made us smile! We ended up going back to the same place for a fantastic lunch of prosciutto and melon (which, by the way, was incredible!) and when we joked about coming to the same place again, he joked right back with us about how he was going to see us for breakfast. It was just a really fun interaction!

The Uffizi gallery was really good. I'll admit that after seeing twenty sculptures the amazement starts to wear off a bit, but the paintings were really incredible. Of course, one of the most celebrated paintings they have is the Venus, and I wanted to make sure that we saw that of course, but mostly just I felt it was necessary, not because I thought it was going to be spectacular. I was really wrong! Standing in front of the canvas, I was so struck by how amazing the artwork was, how pleasing the overall painting is, and also at how timelessly beautiful she is! I definitely found a new favorite piece of art today!

After our lunch stop, we made our way across the bridge to Pitti Palace. The journey from lunch to the palace took about four hours though, due to the seemingly endless shopping possibilities along the way! We found a place that makes ceramic dishes, and we spent an hour in there along just admiring all of the pieces! Some of these stores are like museums themselves!

But, we did eventually get to the palace, and were not disappointed once we got inside. We only had time to look through one gallery before they closed, and the rooms were so so fantastic! The ceilings were definitely the highlight. If you look at the picture below, only the four outside white lines are actually plaster, the rest of it is paint. All of the rooms were painted like that to add depth to them and make them appear larger, and wow did it work! We were so amazed at how small the rooms actually were compared to how enormous they seemed.

So we spent the next hour or so poking around, looking at the spectacular things the Medici family owned. Then Aunt Janece made a really good point. She just turned to me and said "but they still died." I didn't totally understand what she meant by that, but she explained that even though they had all of these crazy fancy possessions, they still died like everyone else, so we should focus on living instead of collecting things that are just going to be left behind. I thought that was a really interesting and good way of looking at things.

Gusta pizza, as recommended by a few different friends, was on the agenda for dinner, and it did not disappoint! The pizza here is so different from other pizzas I've had! It was really not greasy at all, wasn't smothered in cheese, and the crust was delicious but not very thick. So we didn't even feel guilty about eating it! Score! I think I may need to start making my own pizza from now on!

At the restaurant some girls who are studying abroad in Italy shared our table, and we started a little conversation with them. When one of the girls found out that I studied abroad in Scotland, she asked me if it was really hard to learn how to speak Scottish. I wasn't entirely sure how to respond to that, and just replied "They speak English in Scotland..." to which she looked confused and maybe a little disbelieving, so I informed her that Scotland is part of the UK. It was interesting, because I realized a little bit more how much I had learned about Scotland and how it had become my home despite only spending one semester there. Study abroad is worth it!

So overall, another very enjoyable day. We really had a nice time just enjoying the magical city of Florence and having fun together! I'm excited for more fun times tomorrow, and already dreading leaving! Can't I study abroad here too??

Until tomorrow!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Duomo, Gelato, Pasta Pasta Pasta!

It seems (knock on wood) that Kolbjorn was right, and that my bad travel luck was all used up on my first day in Norway! The strike ended late last night so Oslo airport was much easier and less stressful to navigate. Torill also took me in and helped me with my luggage and talking to the various people about where I was supposed to be and stuff, which helped. Then my luggage was a little bit overweight but they didn’t even say anything about it! Score! We had gotten to the airport three hours early just in case there were still effects from the strike, so I just wandered around the airport until my gate was assigned, took a seat, and relaxed until my flight! Nice to have such an easy time for a change!

Soon I was with Aunt Janece in Munich and we were on our way to Florence! When we landed, the luck turned around a little bit when we realized that her luggage had been lost. I don't know what is wrong with this trip! I have never lost a bag before, and now all of a sudden it's a common occurrence! But, once we had sorted that, we were on our way into the center of Florence and our Italy adventures!

We were both starving since we had been trying to save our appetites for Italy and not eat airport food, so our first stop was for lunch! I got grilled vegetables which were so delicious, and Janece got crostini! And we of course also had to try some wine :)

After our lunch break we toured the Duomo and the Duomo Museum! We got quite lucky, it started to rain so everyone ran away from the line to the Duomo to the cafes, so Janece and I just walked right in, no problem! It was really awesome! There was also no line at all to the Duomo museum, so we spent no time waiting for any of today's attractions except for our next stop - gelato!

We enjoyed our gelato in front of the Duomo, and Janece pointed out how you could watch the birds flying around the dome to be able to get a feeling for how huge it was. Really huge!

We decided to spend the time before dinner walking around and getting a feel for the city. We were so surprised at how close everything was...we actually overshot multiple times! So we stopped by the palazzo de la republica, palazzo vecchio, ponte vecchio were we oohed and ahhed over the gorgeous jewelry! And then we slowly made our way to dinner!

I felt it was important to order some sort of pasta dish, and it was really good! The noodles tasted so fresh, and it made a huge difference!

Janece ordered pork which she was also very pleased with, and her potatoes were to die for! SO flavorful! I think maybe our favorite part of the dinner was the wine though...we got their house red, and it was really smooth. I think the most used words in Italy are going to be "gorgeous" and "delicious". That could have summed up our day right there!

Tomorrow we will be going to the Uffizi gallery, back to Ponte Vecchio to do some more window (or real) shopping, and over to the leather school to continue the raid on our wallets. Then after that, we will go to Pitti Palace, and end at the highly recommended Gusta Pizza nearby. I can't wait for another wonderful day in Italy! I am so lucky to be in this beautiful place with such a fun aunt!

Ciao Ciao!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Oslo, Take Two!

Today was a much calmer day, but still going going going!

We started by going to Mortin's school, where I spoke a little bit to his English class about the US, and they were able to tell me some things about Norway! I was informed that their favorite Norwegian food was tacos, and that there is a Norwegian food made of a sheep's head where you eat everything, including the eyes! And I though lutefisk and haggis were bad! Blech!

After that, we went to Holmenkollen ski jump, which was really cool. It was so steep, which you can see in the picture. I can't imagine going down that on skis, especially not with a jump at the bottom! Sounds like a sure way to die if you ask me! They had some videos of the professionals though, and it looked awesome. I really want to come to Norway sometime in the winter so that I can see it in person. I would be terrified half of the time that I was about to witness someone's death, but as long as everyone survives it would be a very cool experience :)

After that, we were off to meet my pen pal Erling at the sculpture park! That was very cool. He and I have been writing to each other since I was 11 years old, so for 11 years! Obviously we wrote a lot more often when we were younger and had more time, but Facebook has made staying in contact easier and it was very nice to finally be able to meet him! I hope that we can stay in contact and meet again, hopefully sooner than 11 more years!

Then it was a quick coffee with Lisa, and we were off to meet Torill! We drove up to her parents' cottage about 50 minutes outside of Oslo and had a very nice dinner together. The restaurant we went to used to be a lighthouse, and looking around you could hardly tell we were still in Norway! I felt like I was in Greece and had somehow bypassed customs! The food was really tasty...lots of salads and interesting meats and fresh fruit and figs for dessert! It is so funny, because I think the only "Norwegian" food I have eaten here was the meatballs in Trondheim! But as everyone (including the child whose favorite Norwegian food is Tacos) has told me, traditional Norwegian food is not a very common thing anymore.

After a very nice dinner we headed back home, where Torill made me a hot drink, freia solbærtoddy, a hot blackcurrant drink, and some Norwegian chocolate since she said both of these things were traditional Norwegian foods :)

So, a little bit slower paced, but still a busy day! Now I am soon going to bed, because I have to be at the airport at 4 AM to fly to Florence! Woohoo! Six days in Norway is definitely not enough, and I really wish that I could have had at least twice as much time in every place I visited. The people here have all been so warm and friendly, and have made me feel very at home and part of the family. I definitely need to come back!

But, all good things must come to an end, and luckily my adventures are not quite finished yet. Next stop: Firenze!

Blitz Tour of Oslo!

Ok! I have a LOT to catch up on! The last two days have been an awesome whirlwind experience of Oslo!

My train from Hamar to Oslo got in at around 8:00, but I phrased my email to Tore in a bit of an ambiguous tone, so he didn't know I was going to be there! Soo I wandered around the train station for a while, looking for someone with a Norwegian flag (since he said he would be carrying one), and then after about half an hour I decided that I should probably call! I got a hold of his sister Torill, who called him, and in a little bit everything was solved and we were leaving the station to start our blitz tour of Oslo!

The first stop was to see the opera house and walk around! Tore told me that the building was so bright that when people stay up there for too long they can get blinded for a while! That's pretty intense!

After seeing that we went and visited Akershus fortress, and then made our way into the other section of Oslo, called Aker Brygge which is really nice! That was maybe one of my favorite places in Oslo - very chic!

Then the next few stops were the parliament building, Karl Johans (the main street in Oslo) and then up to the palace where I got a picture with a nice guard!

These things all took a few hours, but we weren't finished yet! The next two things on our list were the Viking and folk museums!

The Viking museum was rather small, but the ships were more than impressive! It is so amazing to think that these men took those ships all over in the sea! I would hardly trust myself in the harbor! They were also so amazingly beautiful. It's so fantastic that they were able to be so well preserved.

Then the folk museum! I loved seeing the houses with the grass on top and the stave church was so cool. It's such a shame that so many of them were destroyed, but I feel so lucky that I was able to see one that still exists!

After a few hours looking around the museum we were exhausted from a very busy day! We crossed off almost everything on Tore's Oslo list, and I was feeling pretty accomplished! In about eight hours I had covered a city! The next stop was home for some fajitas :) I met Amanda and Mortin, and we had fun bouncing around on the trampoline and getting to know each other a little bit better. Before I knew it, it was time for bed, so off to sleep we went! I slept so hard after the long day! Normally I wake up a few times during the night, but definitely not yesterday! I slept like a rock, and it was awesome!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Trondheim to Hamar!

Time for a little catch up! Yesterday morning we woke up, had breakfast, and then were on our way out the door to explore Trondheim! We got off the bus and went through the city, stopping in some stores along the way, and walked through the Bakklandet area. That was really beautiful, with lots of cool buildings along the river. It looks like what I imagined Norwegian towns to be like!

We then made our way to Nidaros cathedral, and took some time to explore it. Even though I have been to a lot of cathedrals in the last few months, I'm still amazed at how they could have been built so long ago with the limited technological abilities they had. Saying these cathedrals are huge is an understatement, and the stonework and stained glass windows and everything are so beautiful and made so intricately! It's really very impressive.

After the cathedral we walked back through the town, poking our heads into a few stores as we went, and caught the bus back to the house for some lunch before I got on the train to Hamar! I can't believe that my time in Trondheim went by so quickly. I knew that I didn't even have two full days, but this means that one third of my time in Norway is already finished. That's crazy!

When the conductor came around to look at the tickets, I had a moment of panic because he couldn't find the record of the ticket purchase. I just sat there thinking "there is no way I can have this bad of luck again!" but he found it eventually and everything was ok. Whew! Then all I had to do was sit back for the five hour train ride to Hamar!

On the train I had internet, so I was able to chat with my mom. That was really nice, and it was definitely one of those moments where you realize what technology makes possible. I was watching the lovely scenery pass by, and able to be talking with my mom about my Norway experiences at the same time, making it almost feel like she was there even though she was on the other side of the world!

I got into Hamar around 7:30 PM, and was met by Oddbjorn and Nina. Then we went home and had some dinner with the family, and the little girls were so cute! I think maybe they couldn't understand that I didn't speak Norwegian, because especially the younger one kept repeating the same thing over and over to me. It was so cute, but I wish I had been able to talk with them more! When Robert came home from his football game he brought with him a cake with marzipan in it! Yummy! Not long after our kake break I went to bed because I was so tired! Traveling really can be exhausting!

Today, the 6th, was spent driving around Hamar with Oddbjorn as my tour guide. He speaks a little bit of English, so that was good; he was able to explain to me what I was seeing around the town. The first stop was on top of a hill so that I could see a view of the area, and then we Hamardomen, the ruins of a cathedral. It's under glass, because otherwise it would have been long destroyed by the rain and snow.  The next stops were to see where all of his children live in their various homes, and then we had a nice lunch with his daughter Nina! Following lunch, we  saw the Viking Ship Olympic arena from the ’94 games. It's designed like an upside down ship, and Oddbjorn and I sat inside and he told me all about the interior and how it was built. It's a really cool design and made me really want to see some Viking ships!

After our day around Hamar we came home and had a bit of a nap before everyone came over for dinner! I was laying outside on their patio for a while in the sun, and actually got a little bit too hot and had to go inside! What a nice change! Then everyone came for dinner and we had a barbeque in their grill house. That was really fun and very tasty. I especially liked the grilled onions and apples! And of course, after dinner we had some more coffee and cake!

This has been a very fast trip to Norway! I will be getting on the train early tomorrow morning to Oslo where I will spend the next two days, and then very very early on the 9th I fly to Italy! I don’t think the strike will be over by the time I fly out, and since my flight leaves at 7:40 AM for Florence, I think I will have to be at the airport at 4 AM at the very latest. It would be a real disaster if I missed my flight out of Oslo this time!

I am looking forward to the time in Oslo, but I wish I could have spent more time in each of the places. Six days is just not long enough! So I suppose this means I will just have to come back :)


Monday, June 4, 2012

Norway: First Day In Trondheim!

The effort it took to get from Oslo to Trondheim was definitely worth it! Kolbjorn and Grethe have been so friendly and yesterday took me to see where my Norwegian ancestors on my father's side are from!

In the morning, first I woke to this fantastic sight:

Delicious! We ate salmon and I tried the cow's milk version of geitost since I'm not very fond of the goat's milk version and it was very tasty! Especially when Grethe suggested trying it with some jam! I also ate some muesli which was really yummy. It may not seem like much to some people, but I love trying new foods and experiencing the food of the place I'm visiting, so it was really fun.

After breakfast, we piled into the car and headed off to see the place where my dad's family comes from! Kolbjorn joked that I was seeing more of the inside of Norway than the outside because of all the long tunnels we had to pass through to get there, but the scenery we did see was beautiful!

We got to the old farm after about an hour and a half, and it was so nice to be able to look at the houses and the old things inside and be able to make the connection between the people I have seen in photographs and where they came from. I'm so glad I got the opportunity to come see it!

Grethe and I in front of the farm:

After the farm we went and visited Kolbjorn's father's grave, and my great great grandfather's grave, and then we went and saw Kolbjorn's mother for a little bit. That was really nice; even though she doesn't speak English she was so friendly and sweet. She said that I resembled one of her aunts which made me feel like a part of something even though the family connection is removed. She also gave me a table runner she had stitched and some Norwegian socks she had knitted, which was a very nice gift.

His mother insisted on buying us lunch at a nearby restaurant, and being in Norway, I had to try something traditional so I went for the meatballs! The stuff on the right is mushy peas for concerned viewers :)

Later that night Karin and Mari, one of Kolbjorn's daughters and granddaughters, came over for dinner and then we went to see the musical "Hair" in Trondheim. Most of it was in Norwegian which made comprehension obviously difficult, but the dancing and singing were still fun!

Overall, a very fun day and I'm excited to see more! Today we will go down into downtown Trondheim and see the cathedral and look around the shops and then I am off on the train to Hamar to visit relatives on my mother's side! So much fun!

Travel Luck

Yesterday was a day of travel issues. It began pretty early.

I’m not sure what was going through my mind when I decided that in order to make my 9 AM flight to London this morning I should leave my hotel at 7 to start the 30-45 minute walk to the bus station and then catch the 30 minute bus ride to the airport. At best, I would have been only an hour early for my flight but more likely I would have had about 45 minutes. As I was checking out of the hotel I realized my miscalculation, caught a taxi to the airport, and got through security about half an hour before they started boarding. When I entered the main terminal I was thinking “Ahh, ok. Now time to get some coffee before my flight. How nice to have gotten rid of my suitcases!” Oops, I was only supposed to have gotten rid of one. So I ran back to the security checkpoint, where of course my carry-on was waiting for me along with a very angry security lady who was convinced I must have left it there on purpose in order to make her life more difficult. Naturally. I have never completely forgotten a bag behind before, and that combined with my timing confusion earlier had me a little bit worried about how I was going to get through the rest of the day of traveling. Oh if I only knew.

The flights from Edinburgh to London and from London to Oslo were fairly uneventful, but the London/Oslo flight was about ten minutes late. Then, apparently Norway has different customs laws, so even though Oslo was not my final destination, I was supposed to exit to the terminal, go collect my luggage, go through security again and then find my gate. Well, I waited for my bag for about 30 minutes before realizing that it wasn’t going to come, and then went to speak to someone about what I should do as I watched the minutes before my flight to Trondheim tick away. When I spoke to the man at the British Airways counter, he just smiled and said “Oh no, you will not be making that flight”. Very matter of fact. I was then sent upstairs to the British Airways counter. The sight that met me eyes at the top of the escalator was enough to send anyone into an anxiety attack. Hundreds of people were crowded into the main entry area, all in a queue so huge it was impossible to tell if it was all one line or a million different small ones. I waited for 30 minutes after figuring out which of these groups would take me to the British Airways counter, and finally spoke to that lady about my situation. She said she was really sorry, but British Airways and SAS no longer had an agreement, so even though I missed my flight because British Airways lost my bag, SAS would not be able to get me onto the next flight. When I asked what I was supposed to do then, she told me that I would have to buy another ticket. My response to this was quite simple—I just started to cry in the middle of the airport and between sobs, managed to say “I just finished studying abroad; I have no money!”. She must have taken pity on me at this point, and helped me find the line to the SAS counter. After another 30 minute wait, I was able to convince the SAS lady that this situation was not my fault, and she put me on the 9 PM flight to Trondheim. It’s pretty impossible to convey the sheer stress of the situation, but everyone knows how stressful traveling by itself can be, then add in the foreign language, then add in my bag going missing, consider the fact that the line to get through security was taking two hours (as they kept announcing every 20 minutes or so), and THEN I missed my flight and was told that I wasn’t going to be able to get another one.

But, I eventually got my boarding pass, got through security (and was randomly selected to get padded down, of course), and was finally at my gate. From there, I smiled prettily at the guy next to me and asked him if he knew how I could get online so he gave me his password to the airport wi-fi and I was able to at least check email and Facebook. It’s amazing how small things like this can make a big difference at times!

About an hour later I had landed in Trondheim where I was met by Kolbjorn, got to their home, and was settled in J I don’t think I’ve slept that hard in a long time...I was both physically and emotionally drained!

Kolbjorn and I have agreed that yesterday I got rid of all of my bad travel luck for at least a year. So that bodes well for the rest of my travels! At least until June 19…please universe. Just get me through June 19!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Final Day In Edinburgh

The beginning of the next phase of my adventures abroad didn’t exactly go as I had planned (but then, when do they really?). After finishing up the last of the cleaning in our flat and saying goodbye to my room, I started to lug my suitcases down to street of Stirling to the train station. As I went, realizing how amazingly heavy my luggage was, I consoled myself by thinking that at least this would be the only leg of the journey that I would have to carry my suitcases long distances, and that I only had to make it from my flat to the station and then from Waverly in Edinburgh to the hotel. My large suitcase weighs almost exactly 50 pounds, my carry-on weighs about 20, and my purse is filled to the brim. Needless to say, I was already exhausted by the time I reached my platform (which required me to carry my stuff up and down a large flight of stairs).  So, on the train I tried to keep my spirits up, and thought that since I had spend a lot of time in Edinburgh, I would know it well enough to find my hotel. Well, after about 15 minutes of dragging my stuff up the hill from Waverly station, I got to the street where the hotel website told me to turn, only the street name was wrong. Maybe I need to go further down the road to find the right place, I thought. Five minutes later I decided to ask someone, and found a nice looking man. “Just go through the park and take a left, and that will get you there, he said”. Well that didn’t sound quite right, but he must know Edinburgh better than I do, I reasoned. So, off I went again, through the park. Reaching the other end of what is known as “The Meadows”, I looked around and found myself in a residential area. Seeing as I’m staying in a hotel, that didn’t make a lot of sense. So I stopped a lady and asked her if she knew where I was supposed to be going. She told me that I should never have walked through the park (which took about 20-30 minutes to get through). At this point, my hands were raw, and I could feel tears beginning to threaten what was supposed to be a fun day. So I began my mantra. This will be a good day. Don’t cry. This will be a good day. Don’t cry. Two more people, three wrong turns, and about 40 minutes later, I finally arrived at my hotel, and tears were averted! When I told the hotel receptionist the route I had taken to get there, she just looked at me and said “Oh my god, you poor thing. We’ll get you a welcome tea when your room is ready”. Sometimes I really think God just knows when we need a break.

Bags put in storage until I checked in, I decided to go back to a familiar and happy place for a cappuccino—The Elephant House. I had wanted to stop by, because this was the café I came to on my first day in Edinburgh and it’s a special place for me. One delicious coffee later, I was feeling revived enough to go find a park down by Holyroodhouse on the Royal Mile that Ashley had told me about where I ate the sandwich I had packed in Stirling (which felt like a lifetime ago already). It was such a lovely park, and it felt like business of the royal mile just faded away there.

After lunch, I continued down the mile to Holyrood and decided to take the tour. I wasn’t sure if I should, because I had heard before that it’s not really worth it, but seeing as the castle was so packed of tourists and I’ve also already been, I figured I might as well. I’m very glad I did! It was fun to walk through the rooms, listening to the audio guide tell me all about what the rooms were used for. I felt like it was especially cool because the queen actually uses it as a residence, so they told you all about what she does in each room. Obviously the private apartments aren’t viewable, but it was still fun.

Grace, Ashley, and Grace’s parents were in Edinburgh today too, so we met up and went back to the Elephant House so that us three girls could have a last tea and say goodbye. That was really bittersweet, because it was of course nice to see them and everything, but it was also really tough to say goodbye and then walk our separate ways down the street. It has been so hard saying goodbye to people, but I know that we will see each other again if we want to make it happen!

Upon my return to the hotel, I was thrilled to find that my room has a bathtub!!! I have been DYING to take a bath the entire time we’ve been here but it just wasn’t ever possible. So, this evening I’m going to be a total wild child and draw myself a bath, sink down with a book (maybe even Harry Potter again) and just relax. I am SO excited!

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I will catch the bus to the airport (at least this time I know how to get back to Waverly) and head to Norway! Woohoo! 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Until We Meet Again, Stirling!

My suitcases are full and sitting by the door, just waiting for all those last minute items, the walls are completely bare, and my room even smells empty. It's a very weird kind of looks like I was never here. But, thankfully, I have more than enough picture and memories of all of the fun times I've had while studying abroad in Scotland and of all the great people I've met. It's definitely a bittersweet feeling. I'm so excited to do some more traveling and ultimately get home and be with my friends and family again, but saying goodbye to Stirling is also hard. I took my last morning walk around the back of the castle this morning, and kept repeating that this was the last time, but even with my "remember this moment" mantra playing in my head and my empty room staring me in the face, it still hasn't really sunk in that I'm leaving. I honestly don't think it will until I'm out of Scotland.

The next few days play out like this: tomorrow morning I leave Stirling and head to Edinburgh for the day. I'm really happy that it worked out like that, because Edinburgh is my favorite city in Scotland by far, so it's important to me that I get to say a real goodbye to my favorite places there.

Then, on the morning of the 3rd I fly from Edinburgh to Trondheim, Norway for a few days, then to Hamar, followed by Oslo. I'm really excited about seeing Norway for the first time and visiting family members there! Some of them I've met before and some I've never gotten the chance to meet before, and I just know it's going to be an awesome time. My family's heritage has always been important to us, and so the opportunity to go to Norway is a real treat!

On the 9th, I fly out of Oslo to Florence, where I meet my aunt Janece for ten days in Italy! We will start in Florence and then move on to Rome! We may also take a day trip from Rome, but those details will be worked out later :)

Very early on the 19th, I will begin the trek back to the US. From Rome I fly to Zurich, then to London where I get to spend about six hours waiting for my flight, but then I'm on board to Seattle where my parents will be meeting me!

A very packed few weeks, and I can't wait! It's going to be a blast :)

Tonight I'm going to Chico's, my favorite Indian take-away place with Grace and her family who are here visiting her, and then Amanda and I are going out for our last cider and black at our favorite pub Molly Malone's.

I think saying goodbye to the people I've met here is the hardest part, but those who know me know I have a slight obsession with Sex And The City, and Carrie sums it up pretty nicely with this:

"After all, seasons change. So do cities. People come into your life and people go. But it's comforting to know the ones you love are always in your heart. And if you're very lucky, a plane ride away."

So instead of saying goodbye to my favorite people and places, for now, let's just say "see you later"