Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No two moments are ever the same.

I have no reason to complain, no reason to be ungrateful, and no reason to wish to come home. But homesickness hit hard last week and luckily, I came out on top. Regardless of the negativity that comes with wishing you could be with familiarity, I cannot help but recognize the incredible week I’ve had, the moments that stirred me, and the amount of change I hope that each day has on my life.

Friday, September 23 was the date of another one of Filiberto’s becoming-infamous excursions.  The most recent trip was to an ancient Roman town called Urbs Salvia (anyone else catch the irony?). This town is mostly buried underground, as it has been covered by hundreds of years of earth change, but recently, excavation has begun. Walking through the old amphitheatre was a different sort of experience, especially when you think about the fact that only a foot or two deeper are the steps of gladiators, actors, politicians, and whoever else stepped into the arena (arena comes from the Latin word “harena” which means sand, as sand is what generally covered the floor). People fought and died there, as well as some lives were spared there. And there we stood, stomping on leaves, discussing a time period we could never really imagine. We walked among the ruins of the town; we saw parts of the old temples covered in frescos and arches, seemingly in perfect condition, lying neatly on their side. It was as if, after some sort of natural disaster, the town was buried and forgotten (ironically, a prediction by Dante in “Paradiso”).

After exploring more of Urbs Salvia, we made our way over to Abbazia di Chiaravalle di Fiastra, a monastery and abbey that are still in use today. We had just learned about the Roman use of the arch as well as the shape of many churches from that time period, so witnessing it first hand with Filiberto’s endless supply of knowledge, made the ancient structures so much more impressive. The history of the monastery is fascinating enough to me: it was once a monastery, inhabited by monks devoted to God’s teaching. It then was taken over by the government and used as a holding place for people that would eventually be sent to concentration camps throughout Europe. It is an awful thing to try to imagine: they had no idea why they were at this palace-looking place and no idea where the government wanted them next. Little by little, the compound would receive a list of people and where they should be sent, but no one knew why… it wasn’t until years later that people found the real reasons why.  After the war, the compound was owned by a prince, who used it as his palace. After he died, his wife donated it to a charity with the sole intention of it becoming a monastery once again, with the only stipulation being that the prince’s tomb remains in the abbey. This is where it stands today and this is the state of the monastery once again.

The abbey itself, unlike any of the other churches we have seen in Italy, is bare. There are few statues or paintings on the walls, most of the awe coming from the giant pillars as well as the simplicity of it all. Each window was covered with yellow glass, which left gold light all over the abbey. Now, I’m not a very artistic person, but the lighting here was something I had to catch on camera. I have never seen something so simple yet so picturesque before, and in that moment, I almost felt like a photographer. (Almost... don’t get too excited.) After we had been in the abbey for about 15 or 20 minutes, the bells rung, indicating one of seven times in a day that a monk must pray. A few minutes later, four or five monks came in and began their praying ritual. We sat in the pews and just watched, all thirty of us in complete silence. I have never witnessed something like that, and I feel so blessed that I could! What a culture and belief system different from what I am used to. After touring more of the abbey after the prayer, taking a lunch break, and touring some more, we boarded the bus once again and made our way over to our last destination, the winery.

The Cantina Degli Azzoni is a winery about thirty minutes from Macerata and is one of the largest in Marche. They own vineyards all over Italy and bring their many different kinds of grapes to this winery to juice, ferment, bottle, and sell their wine. We got to witness the arrival of a truck (accompanied by quite a few happy bees) and then the process that follows. We drank maza, a juice that is pure grape juice, no sugar added, nothing purified. It was delicious! (If only I knew how to cook with it, I’d have some very happy roommates). We were able to see large tanks of wine as he explained the necessity of having the wine remain at a specific temperature, so the fermentation does not go too fast. After all of this education, we were taken to a room for the wine tasting portion and a table full of food- after such a long day, it did not take much to convince us to chow down! This was followed by me buying more wine than necessary and trying to figure out how I would get it back to the states to share… this answer is yet to come J

The excursion was awesome, the people I am here with as well as our fearless leader make every moment a memory, as cheesy as that is. We have so many more excursions to go, basically one a week; I cannot even imagine what each Friday will hold. (This Friday, I do know that we are hiking somewhere and have been instructed to wear good shoes and that eventually, we’ll need a walking stick. Hm…)

This past weekend, following the excursion was a quiet one. I relaxed and caught up on my life. I started reading a book for class, got some sketching in, cleaned the apartment, and re-organized my things. As a reward for my hard work, I took myself shopping J I felt even better after turning down some very affordable Armani pants, reasoning that I had already treated myself to real Italian leather boots and had a coat that I had my eye on. It was a good decision overall, I have never been one to buy something based on a label alone and I couldn’t let Italy and Georgeo get the best of me! A night out with some of the girls on Saturday was relaxing; a few hours of chatting and red wine have never been a bad thing.

And now we get to Tuesday night, tonight, and my true “Eat, Pray, Love” moment. My roommate, Mary, another girl, Rosie,  and I decided to try out a yoga studio a few blocks from our apartment, as for this week only they had free trials of their classes. After getting there we discovered that tonight’s class was less yoga and more meditation, something none of us knew anything about. The class got started and everyone stood in a circle as she explained what we were about to do. Every once in awhile she would look at us and say “capiti?” We always answered “si” even though we almost always meant “no” but we figured that as long as we followed the lead of everyone else, how difficult could it be? Fake it till you make it is what I’ve always heard. Well, we were right. It wasn’t difficult at all. Basically, when she said “meditation,” she meant “dance around to music with your eyes closed, slowly first, then get a little crazy.” So that’s what we didJ After the dancing came the sitting and then the laying, followed by either questions or stories, I’m not sure which, by the participants. It all sounds a little weird, I understand, but it was definitely one of the coolest things we have done yet on our own, apart from the group. It was oddly spiritual, something I may have needed since an English speaking church is hard to come by here, and it was oddly refreshing. It was fun to let loose and be a little different, everyone else was ironically doing the same weird stuff so no one cared. Of course, maybe my experience would have been slightly different had I known what was going on, but when in Rome, right?

We’re back at the apartment now, worn out and sleepy from our class, despite my afternoon nap. Tomorrow is a full day so I might as well catch some Z’s while I can! We’re taking a cooking class tomorrow night with one of the teachers here so I’ll come home knowing how to make Pasta Carbanera! Woohoo!

Goodnight world, love, hugs and kisses J

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Monte Conero: Gravel Floors and Sunrises

Ciao Ciao mi amici! (that’s hello my friendsJ)
It has been almost a month since my arrival in Italy, and not one day has gone by without some sort of adventure. This past week our group has become more and more comfortable with our town of Macerata, exploring and making some friends, all while consuming heavy amounts of gelato.
Over the past week, I have been busy with roommate dinner and movie nights (we are fabulous cooks if I do say so myself), group dinners with our new Italian friends on a rooftop underneath the stars, dinners to our favorite pasta place to celebrate Emily and Brittany’s birthdays (they have homemade pasta there!), and last, but not least, camping! Yes, this girl went camping. And not normal camping, but backpacking. Under the stars, on top of a tarp, using my backpack as my pillow kind of camping.
The weekend started off beautifully: we had another walking tour of Macerata, something we were worried about with the continuous heat and our lack of a normal attention span. But Filiberto had some tricks up his sleeve: we saw some incredible things in the very town we have been in for two weeks. He took us to two churches that literally left me speechless. One was so small, but so filled with details, each piece having meaning. The other, huge, but still, filled with just as many secrets, ones that could easily be overlooked if our wonderful guide hadn’t helped us out. This town holds so much history, history that the people here have pride in. They respect the history that formed its walls and scenery. It’s unlike anything you could find in the United States, I think.  
Friday night, my roommate, Mary, and I packed our bags for the rest of the weekend, one backpack each, of the things we would need to survive the night and next day. We even managed to pack ourselves lunch! (How domestic of us). Early Saturday morning we were off to the bus station to get an early start on the day. We met a few others from our group, just in time to catch the 7:50 train to Ancona. From there, we took a bus to a small coastal town called Sorolo.  We hadn’t planned anywhere for us to say, but as we got off the bus, we saw across the street a large sign for a camping sight on the water! How perfect, right!? We went down, reserved our plot of gravel, and headed off to Monte Conero, a large mountain in the region of Marche, that’s cliffs hang over the water and encloses beaches in its protection.
 Starting on a paved road and ending up in a narrow path, surrounded by trees, rocks, and a steep edge, we were dripping in sweat by the time we reached the top. Once we reached our destination though, the view was breath taking and it made the climb, and our already sore calves, worth it. The steep cliff reached down into a private beach, only accessible by hiking or a boat. The cliffs were beautiful, the water blue, and the sky bluer. I wish theway I was describing these things could do them justice, but not even pictures could accurately tell you about this place. There at the top, we took a break and ate our lunches, eating some of the best fruit I have ever tasted, bought at a local fruit stand. After our descent, we walked toward another edge, one that is not as high but more out over the water. This was just as beautiful; standing atop you could see for forever and also had an amazing view. We made our way down to our beach (after running out of water. Note to self: more than one bottle. Always.) After reaching the beach, we all pretty much jumped in the water to cool off, laughed about the over-abundance of speedos, and passed out among the sand and rocks. We were exhausted from our hike!
After the beach, we hiked back up to Sorolo, ate pizza on the main piazza, followed by… you guessed it… gelato J The scene was picture sickeningly perfect: friends having cute drinks and appetizers together, kids eating gelato cones, and two couples taking wedding photo’s overlooking the cliffs and water.
Even with all of the exploration of the day, the mind-blowing scenery, and the relaxing beach, part of this happy memory came when we all got back to the campsite. I swear, we laughed for hours. Over nothing really, but nevertheless, it continued until we got clapped at (which we think meant we should quiet down). Something about sharing a tarp with 5 other people under a tree with only 2 sheets and 2 sleeping bags, made the night bizarre but entertaining either way. Of course, no one slept all that well. If it wasn’t the cold that woke you up (or the heat in the case of the girls with sleeping bags) it was the mouse that took residence in the tree above us. This thing insisted on being up all night, throwing stuff at us. You may think I’m exaggerating but I’m not: we woke up with chewed up seeds and leaves covering our sheets and tarps.
So 5 am, I was wide awake and too scared of the mouse to go back to sleep (also, sleeping on gravel isn’t as comfortable as you may think). By 5:30 I was ready to see the sun rise (Scott’s idea) so I was on my way, the other 4 girls with me. (Shocking, not so shocking, Scott slept through it, changing his mind after we woke him up). After a long, and very impatient wait (and much to Mary’s surprise), the sun eventually showed its face, and it made the whole wait, the whole sleepless night, worth it. Bright fiery red and orange, it was awesome.
So that was pretty much the end of the super big adventure. We lay on the beach most of Sunday morning, enjoying the incredibly clear water. We could see the fish swimming around us, it was the coolest thing. After a quick rinse off in the campsite’s pool, we headed back home. (There was a short bus and train strike most of the day Sunday, but it was over by the time we needed to come back.) Basically, it was an absolutely amazing weekend. So relaxing and so much fun, doing things I’d never done before, with people I only met two weeks ago. I am so blessed and so happy I met these people, I’m here in Italy, and that I am able to experience this all. One year ago, I never thought I’d be here, and now I am. So happy J But I’m off to bed now. A real bed sounds so wonderful, I’m about to take full advantage of it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Address!

Heyyy Everyone!

I have been here, in Macerata for over a week now, I supposed I can give out my address!
I don't need anything, but would love some snail mail, I'm always a fan :)

If you do send a package, it's easier with FedEx or UPS; they get here faster.
Also, please be sure to keep the addresses separate if you do end up using them.

For plain letters, postcards, etc:

Beth Delisio
AHA Macerata Program
P.O. Box 221
62100 Macerata, Italy

For packages, and other big stuff:

Beth Delisio
AHA Macerata Program
Via Crescimbeni, 5
62100 Macerata, Italy

Lovee love,

Monday, September 12, 2011

Finally Established!

Ah! I have been in Macerata for exactly one week, and I have to say, it has quickly become home.

Maybe I should tell you a little about where I'm living, so everyone can rest assured I am safe and happy :) Macerata is a walled city built on top of a hill, located in the region of Marche. It is about 30 minutes from Ancona and 20 minutes from Civitanova, two coastal towns with beautiful beaches. Over the years, Macerata has grown outside of its Roman walled beginnings and now spreads down and through the hills. There are little "super markets" around the city, which we have quickly found out are closed Sundays and Thursdays (we realized this when we wanted to make brunch Sunday but had no eggs. Cereal it was.) The super markets are more like the size of a 7-eleven but they have the necessities. There are also stores with farmer-market fruits and veggies you can buy, which we have also discovered is cheaper than the chair Coal grocery stores. Saturday, for  our cross-cultural class, Filiberto (our program director) took us to the mall, a smaller version of the ones we have at home, but with a Walmart sized grocery and clothing stores as well. I know I am focusing a lot of the food aspect, but here at the Dollhouse (what we have named our apartment) we have realized the importance of not going hungry.

So on to our apartment! I have three wonderful roommates, three roommates who like to share non-stop laughter. I am so happy I got to room with Mary Pancakes, Evaa, and Kacie Grace and we have the perfect apartment for us. Two bedrooms, one with incredible closet space and one with a balcony, a living room, perfect for our movie nights, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The kitchen is where we decided to name this place our dollhouse. Everything is mini! The fridge is shorter than me, the cabinets not huge, and the cups are the usual Italian coffee cups (they look like something from my tea set when I was six). But it is perfect and works, and that's all we need. The view from our apartment is beyond incredible; in the morning you can see the mountains as clear as ever, ridges and peaks visible. Throughout the rest of the day though, as the humidity sets in, the mountains change to hues of pinks and purples and blues, looking like they were painted with watercolors. I feel so blessed to wake up every morning and see this!

I wish I could describe every part of my trip so far, but it would take me years. All I know, is that last week I met a group of about 30 strangers, and now they have become my family away from family. Filiberto and Angelica have made us feel at home here, in a city thousands of miles from my home in Valparaiso and I am so happy here. We have invested in a router for our apartment, so skyping with my family has eased the homesickness, and I can enjoy just being here, living every moment fully.

Well that is all for now, I'll give more details later about whatever else is going on here. I miss you all at home, chat/skype/tweet/message/email me whenever :)

xoxo Beth

  This is a view, as the sun was setting, from our balcony ^^^

Me, my fabulous roommate, and two of the gentlemen on the trip at the Macerata food festival. loveeee.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The day of arrival!

So I have been in Italy for two weeks, tomorrow morning. I feel like I have done so much in such a short period of time, and that the time flew by! But it also feels like I haven't been home in ages, so it's kinda a weird combination.

Not the point though! The point is, I'M IN ITALY! It is crazy to think I am half way around the world and experiencing a culture so differently from my own. Rome was a rude awakening to my very American world point of view and I thought I was ready to go home. As my Aunt Anne, my Mom, and I made our way through Italy though, I realized how quickly this place has felt like home. Like visiting my grandparents for a weekend, there is just something comfortable about being here. I miss my real home of course, but Italy is incredible.

Rome wasn't all bad though. The history there is unbelievable and just walking around the ruins is like taking a step back. To me, it is amazing that there is so much history on display everywhere, but to the people of Rome, it is no big deal. They grew up seeing the Colosseum on their walk to work every day. The tourists though, clearly are impressed, and they are EVERYWHERE. Still, I grew to really like Rome, and we had a great welcome to the country.

The people in Napoli reminded me of my Grandpa in a big way and it made me so grateful I grew up with him and my Grandma in my life. All of my grandparents are a blessing in my life, I'm happy I finally get to experience where one of them is from!

Florence is quite possibly the most romantic city I have ever seen, couples everywhere. And not just couples going for walks together, but couples pausing every few steps to smooch. Adorable, romantic, but not exactly my style. :) Still, it might be one of my favorite cities so far. The big cathedral that is the center of the city is perfect to just sit, eat a great dinner, and people watch.

Venice is the place I may have felt most comfortable though. Surrounded by water (obviously) it is gorgeous everywhere you look. The people really live here and if you walk through a back street at night you can hear little dinner parties going on everywhere.

Now, I have had some much needed R&R in a little camping resort-ish place just outside of Venice. A few days to just Be was what I needed after the summer I had so I worked on my tan and patiently waited for Kacie, Casey, Lianna, and the rest of the crew to get here. And tomorrow is the day! Cannot wait to meet my fellow travelers and have the adventure of a lifetime with them :)

ps. BIG thank you to my wonderful, loving parents. Could not be here without them. My family's support is what has gotten me through even first set of doubts to every moment of excitement. Love you :)

pss. big shout out of congrats to BSU for beating IU, once again!