Saturday, October 22, 2011

Olive you!

Okay so about last week: it was not super eventful but it’s worth mentioning since it was another week I spent here and it was a landmark week here. Wednesday marked the halfway point in our program! Only seven weeks left, a very sad thing to realize.

Obviously, since it is half way through the semester, last week was also midterm week this week. Placed sporadically throughout the week we had tests to take; some I did better on than others. I love learning and being in these classes and I definitely did my best, but luckily, I was only super stressed about two tests. This was because only two of my classes are counting towards my GPA; the rest are pass/fail. So I know I’ll pass them all and get credit but I am determined to do “A” work in the two for grades.

Now, this may not come as a surprise to most everyone who reads this, but I’m very clearly my mother’s daughter. I was reminded of this once again this week when, along with my studying and lack of sleep, I came down with a gross cold. The only reason it is worth mentioning is because of the humor I saw in the situation. The difference between my mother and I is that I know when I need to stay in bed for a few days; she doesn’t until she is forced to by mere inability to do anything else. So Mom and Dad, be proud! I slept a few days away and although I am not better yet, I’m getting there!

Friday was the day of our last midterm, Italian (dun dun duhhhhnnn!). Scott and Matty came over Thursday night, accompanied by pizzas and wine and we (Kacie and I) began studying.  Working our way through a hundred photo copies filled with prepositions and verb conjugation wasn’t easy but we gave it our best. The boys gave it their best effort too, but I think maybe the tea, pizza, wine, and coffee hyped them up a bit too much.

[Oh and just as a side note, having wine sounds a bit irresponsible while studying, I understand. But the thing about Italy is this: wine is considered another food group, just like pasta, pizza, and salad. Wine is served with almost every meal and people are brought up on it. It’s not given the stigma it is in the United States and I think it works for them here! Just an fyi :]

Friday morning we tackled the midterm as best as we could and decided that after walking out of the room, we were on break and nothing else mattered! HELLO TEN DAY BREAK! I’ll find out my grade when I get back, but there is nothing I can do about it now J. To kick off our break, Casey E. and I went to grab some coffee over a long talk, and then rejoined the world at AHA, finalizing plans for our trips and hanging out before everyone went their separate ways for a week.

At some point Mary and her friend that was visiting, Jessie, found me and informed me that our director, Filaberto, would be taking us to see his olive garden. A REAL olive garden! (I thought maybe it was called a farm? But garden makes more sense I guess). I’m so happy I have a roommate that asks questions! So he took a small group of us out to his garden consisting of 385 olive trees and three different kinds of olives. It was a beautiful spot out in the country and had a run-down brick house (he hopes to fix it up some day so he and his wife can live there). After showing us around and explaining everything, he took us to an olive press. There, they use some of the older methods of pressing olives which is definitely cool to see. The smell was amazing; the moment you got close to the building it was overwhelming! Filaberto showed us around and explained how everything worked, what things are used for, and process of extracting the oil from the olives. Anyone can bring their olives in for pressing and then take their oil home with them. The thing that surprised me the most was the color of the oil! It was a bright green-ish yellow color, nothing like the clear liquid you get from the store.  He says that it only stays that color for a couple of weeks and then the pigments fall to the bottom. As a little token, one that none of us asked for, the people who owned the shop brought us two little bottles of fresh olive oil. It was so nice of them and it is easily the best oil I've ever tasted!

After we left there, Filaberto drove us around and showed us a small walled city and then took us to a church just outside Macerata. It was an old church, two floors, and simple but beautiful. It is believed that this was a church that Charlemagne spent much of his time. With Filaberto’s infinite knowledge, he explained what everything was, what was more modern and which relics were from the Romanesque time period. We got cappuccinos at a small café nearby and headed back. We stopped at one more church on the way back, one that was mostly white on the inside except for the apses.

It was quite a mini-excursion, one that I know was unplanned, but Filaberto was more than happy to take us on. This goes back to what I said about the staff here being more than just staff. They are true teachers, ones that go above and beyond what they need to do because they care that much. I don’t know what other directors are like in other programs but it seems to be that Filaberto has just as much passion for the program now as he did the day he started.

Friday night was a relaxing one. The boys came over and cooked us a delicious pasta dinner that would give Rachel Ray a run for her money. Then, in honor of the upcoming Halloween, we watched Amityville Horror. Ryan Reynolds was amazing but that movie was beyond terrifying! I love being scared though so after the boys left and I locked all 5 bolts shut on our door, I slept soundly.  I did however threaten each of my roommates that if they tried scaring me while I was sleeping, I would never speak to them again. I don’t know if I could have lasted, but no one scared me in my sleep so no worries! 

Italy is such a wonderful place but I am more than ready for this ten day break. I am spending the first couple of days being lazy with Eva since we are both leaving Monday. Neither of us wants to be sick, and since I am, I probably won’t be doing anything exciting. But Monday I’m making my way to see my German family, the Guth’s and I’m stoked! Germany will be a nice change of pace I think. Then for Halloweekend, Emily is flying up and we’re going to Amsterdam. Matty says it’s beautiful than Paris, so I’m beyond excited to see it. We’ll probably hit up a few museums in Berlin and Cologne as well a couple in Amsterdam so by the time I get back, hopefully I’ll be a little bit smarter!

I cannot wait to write about my trip when I get back but until then, I’ll try to keep track and remember it all! 

Have a wonderful fall week everyone and Happy Halloween!

Assisi and Frasissi

Well, since I am so far behind on my blogging, I’ll probably be posting two in the next couple of days, just to stay on top of things. I’ll go ahead and start with last weekend though, just to keep things in check J

Friday, the 14th, we had our usual AHA excursion. Our plan was for Assisi and then the Frasissi Caves. We’d been learning about St. Francis and Assisi as well as the fresco’s that were located in the cathedral there so I was excited to see first-hand paintings by Gothic superstars like Giotto, Cimabue, and Martini.
The cathedral, as well as the town of Assisi, was every bit as beautiful as was promised. We had to be quiet in the church out of respect for it so we all got little head phones as Filaberto talked in our ears through his microphone. There are two main churches, a lower and an upper. The lower had an entrance to see the tombs of St. Francis as well as his first four followers. The cool thing about Assisi is that it is just as religious as it is touristy. As we walked around the tomb, there were people deep in prayer, so silence was observed as to not disturb them. The upper church held the enormous frescos that are known for the beginning stages of showing depth to art, instead of everything being flat (for example, there is a piece showing St. Martin dreaming; his body is visible under the blankets, a development new for the time period).  The lower register showed the life of St. Francis while the upper register showed the Old Testament on the right hand side and the New Testament on the left side.

After walking through the churches, we were shown around the town a bit, saw another smaller church and then let go to see the town for ourselves and grab some lunch. We stopped at a little café place that was much like a cafeteria and enjoyed a full meal before doing some shopping and exploring of our own. After, we boarded the bus and headed toward the caves.

The Frasissi Caves were definitely a highlight of the day for me. I admire work that humans have developed over the years; the progress of man’s perspective and skill levels is incredible to study. However, I love to see the work that is naturally formed, over thousands of years, work that is orchestrated by a Higher Power but is sculpted with the simplicity of a single drop of water at a time. These caves are some of the largest in Europe that are still intact. Discovered in only 1971, there is still so much for them to explore, but the parts we saw were awesome! These caves are known for their abundance of white growths, evidence of pure calcium carbonate containing no iron (the iron causes the rusting/brown look). Each room was different and beautiful, stalagmites and stalactites as big as 20 meters! I have to say, the entire time we were walking around, all I could think about was how much my parents would love to have been there. Both geologists by degree and by heart, they would have been in rock, calcium carbonate heaven.

The night concluded to be an early one for my roommate, Mary, and I once we returned to Macerata, as we had an early morning the next day, hiking through some mountains near Fabriano. We had signed up for a 6 hour hike with two of our professors, Marc and Gina. We met Chelsea and Scott at the train station (Rosie had slept at the professor’s the night before) and quickly boarded our train. As soon as it pulled out of the station though, we realized we were going the wrong way! Getting off at the next stop stranded us momentarily at a town that had two visible buildings in addition to the station we were at. Luckily, a train was coming ten minutes later. Finally getting to Fabriano, Marc picked us up and we made our way to their mountain home. Our hike began almost right away so that we could make it to the restaurant on time, an eatery located on top of the final mountain we were going to hike. Marc did not join us but another visiting professor, Ben did. So our pack of 7 made our way, with the company of a village dog, Pongo. The hike was invigorating to put it politely. Once the burn in my rear-end and calves went away, the scenery blew me away. There were times that we were looking straight down, hiking on the side of a mountain that literally required us to put one foot in front of the other. Other times we were hiking through small villages that only held 10 homes. The final climb to the top was the hardest, as the wind was whipping everywhere and there were no trees to shield us from its punishment. It came in handy however when Rosie and I were ten feet from the top: the wind pushed us right up, with extremely little effort on our part. Yes, the wind was really that strong. The restaurant was a fine minute hike downhill from there and once we reached it, the thawing began. The pasta we consumed was perfect for our famished selves: I had some that was basically bread crumbs and cheese mixed and made into noodles. Delicious! After some wine, water, coffee, and a load-up on carbs, we set off again. We took a different way back to get a different view, this one much more leisurely but just as beautiful. In the end, the hike was worth every achingly sore muscle and I was proud to know I worked off my lunch! I feel so blessed to have Marc and Gina as professors at AHA: as with the rest of the staff, they go above and beyond their “jobs” and truly want us to experience everything we possibly can. They want us to see Italy they way they do each and every day, so that we can really enjoy it for what it is.

That’s all for now: but this story is To Be Continued since I haven’t even gone into this past week yet.

So I’ll talk to ya’ll lata!

Ciao belli ragazzi!

Ps. If you found this one boring, chances are, you’ll find the next one just as boring. So grab a cup of coffee first or read it in a British accent. Anything might help J

Monday, October 10, 2011

Burnt Siena

There’s a difference between dreams and reality; in dreams you’re living a life you one day hope to grasp and in reality, your feet are planted firmly on the ground. I believe it’s human nature to constantly be chasing your dreams, always wanting it to be your reality, and if you’re lucky enough, blessed enough, and if things just happen the way they’re supposed to, dreams and reality merge.

I’ve come to this conclusion this past week as I’ve been thinking about where I am, where I have come from, and what I’ve been blessed with thus far. Don’t think I take one of these things for granted; I know I don’t deserve anything I have, God has just been good.

Things as simple as standing at the bar, Maracuja (bars here serve coffee all day with small sandwiches, sometimes drinks at night but not always), for a quick café before heading off to class or watching Across the Universe with your Italia AHA familigia after a pancake brinner, make my weeks incredible. It’s the little things I’ve learned to notice and appreciate, especially since it’s the little things that make Italia so much different from home. We’ve been getting to know our favorite bartenders, the guy with the fruit and veggie stand outside our apartment, and our favorite gelato guys, trying to establish some sort of familiarity here. Each of these things is going to make it nearly impossible to leave this place I have come to absolutely love more and more each day.

This past Friday for our excursion we went to Ravenna, a city about 3 hours north of here, and then Gradera, a castle on top of a hill. (Cold had finally set into the east coast of Marche and I was very glad for my new sweater and warm blanket I had for the bus ride.) Ravenna is a city known for its mosaics, and after being there, I understand why. The outsides of many churches tend to be a bit plain at times and these are no exception. Standard old brick covered the gorgeous architecture of the cathedral, giving no expectations for anyone visiting. Once inside though, my breath was literally taken away. The only thing I could say was “oh… my… gosh…” Tiny mosaic tiles covered the entire ceiling of this incredible cathedral, leaving a scene that could be mistaken for a painting, considering all the detail that was provided. As Filiberto talked about the church, it was clear, that just like so many other churches, each detail had a very specific meaning. The baptismal and smaller crypt were the exact same, so much detail and so much meaning. Each tile glistened in the small light provided, a view I don’t think I’ll see again.

After Ravenna we got back on the bus and headed towards Gradera to see a medieval castle. I have never seen a real castle before, at least not the kind you read about when you’re a child, filled with knights, princesses, moats, and draw bridges. Lucky for me, this is the exact thing we saw! Gradera is known for a couple of things, one being a scene in Dante’s Inferno taking place there, another for the fact that never has an army been able to take over the castle from outside (the castle became property of the state due to financial reasons, of all things). The castle is surrounded by three sets of walls as well as two moats and two draw bridges, to aid in the protection. The castle was an awesome thing to walk through, although with the guide speaking in all Italian and one of our AHA adults trying to quickly translate, it was hard to gather all of the facts about the place. Still, I tried take in as much as possible; walking through something so old was exciting enough! The bus ride home was relaxing and nice, although my DJ’ing seat partner and I probably got a bit obnoxious with our karaoke skills.

Saturday early morning my flat-mate, Mary, and I left for Siena. The main bus stop is not far from where we live, but we left in plenty of time to make the Grey-hound-like bus to get to our destination. Passing through Perugia (yes, I took a picture of the famed Amanda Knox town), we made our way through beautiful Toscana to Siena. At first sight, Siena seemed to be similar to Macerata: an old walled city with beautiful piazzas and winding roads. It turned out to be very different however, the buildings reaching higher toward the sky, a much larger population, and the most obvious, a large Gothic cathedral located in the center of the city. Mary and I found our way to il Campo, the main piazza, after a delicious dinner of Sienese pasta, risotto, and wine at one of the best restaurants we’ve been to yet, Ristorante San Desiderio. After relaxing on the piazza and watching some kids from one contride (one of 17 neighborhoods) do some entertaining flag throwing. We found a tourist center, who pointed us in the right direction of a hotel. We wanted to stay at a hostel but they were all closed (weird) and there was only one hotel left in the city with rooms open. Needless to say, despite the steep price, we took it. Let me be the first to say though, staying at Hotel San Marco was the best decision we made. Not only was it beautifully clean, safe, not far from the city center, and served breakfast in the morning, but it had the best shower I’ve had since I’ve been in Italy. Well worth it.

Anyways, back to the city! After changing and freshening up after a day of travel, we headed down town. We met a wonderful couple from Oregon (ironic, since so is Mary and over half of the people in our group). We chatted with them as they discussed their travels, we talked about ours, and we bonded over the fact that we had the same Rick Steve’s book. We ran into Bill and Carol a few more times over the course of the weekend, and each time, they were the sweetest people. After getting back downtown, we went straight to the Duomo with our OPA passes (again, thanks to Rick Steve’s for the idea: 10 euro to see the cathedral, baptistery, crypt, and museum). The Duomo was a beautiful creation that was filled with art, both Gothic and Renaissance. Mary and I walked around in complete awe. The size, detail, and sheer magnitude of the history there was overwhelming. We saw a pulpit by Nicola Pisano, a work of art that contains relief panels as well as small sculptures at the base. After exhausting the cathedral from every angle, Mary and I left for some pizza, devouring it with cokes on Il Campo. We explored the city for awhile after that and the chill settled in, not freezing but causing us to hurry for a nice warm bar to settle in. We found one on the piazza, playing European pop music, mixed with some American and we took our seats (the heat lamps were a major plus). Sipping on a couple drinks and free appetizers, we soaked in the scenary, laughing and enjoying where we were. The bar began filling and we realized there was about to be a concert. The music ended but being good- upbeat but not understandable to anyone who didn’t speak Italian. According to our waiter, it wasn’t a cover band, but a rather well known band in the area; this was confirmed by the groups of girls reciting the lyrics in time. We had a wonderful time, returned to the comfort of our hotel, and slept in the cloud of a perfectly needed bed.

Sunday, we awoke to a great Italian breakfast (which, much to my original doubts, I have quickly become accustomed to… I have even started enjoying it!). Down town once again we finished the sites on our OPA passes, the museum being our favorite. The Panoramic view at the top of the museum allowed us to see the whole city, picturesque with the clear white clouds scattering the bluest of skies. The museum held art masterpieces such as Duccio’s Maesta and Donatello’s Madonna and Child. I saw historical manuscripts of ancient music, printed on lambskin as well as copper printing sheets (thank goodness Mary was there to explain everything). Basically, I was surrounded by history. We visited the crypt (still have no idea what it was for) and the baptistery, and then killed the rest of our afternoon looking for a late lunch and enjoying the few shops that were open on a Sunday. I picked up a little Christmas gift for my mom, enjoyed lasagna and wine at a whole in the wall restaurant, and relaxed the rest of the afternoon away on the very populated Il Campo. All in all, Siena was a beautiful city. It was simple despite all that there was to see there. The people were all so friendly and nice, even the pizza guy was more than happy to show us the proper way to eat the large slices. We were sad to leave the city we had mostly left unexplored but we’re so happy we took the weekend trip to see what we could. The bus ride home was uneventful, got some reading in and took a couple naps when I could, but the darkness that surrounded the bus was relaxing and soothing in the shadowed outlines of the mountains around us.

No matter what I plan for, at least I can wake up each morning knowing that no two days here are ever the same; I cannot wait to see what the rest of the semester brings me. I have scheduled my ten day break, an adventure all of its own, I can already tell and I am so excited for everything preceding and following it.

Can’t wait to show more pictures,

Monday, October 3, 2011

Those Moments

Once again, I'm left thinking about how incredibly blessed I am. Not every moment is perfect, and anyone who talks to me generally gets the force of my venting, but I have a new goal I am working on, and so far it's been helping! My new goal: every day, every single day, have an "Oh my gosh, I'm in Italy!" moment. It doesn't need to always be for a big reason, but I just want to feel that surprise, that amazement, and that complete gratefulness.

So since that's my goal, I'll go ahead and share some of them from the past week.
Friday was another excursion, this one to Fonte Avellana. Mark and Gina, two of the professors here took us on a hike starting in a small town, with the ending goal being an abbey, hidden deep in the hills. I had just gone hiking a few weeks ago in Monte Conero so I wasn't too concerned. I packed extra granola bars and a water bottle, as well as a Gatorade (expensive but worth it. Nothing sounds better than a drink the color of the sky that surrounds you). This hike however, was nothing like Conero. Luckily, it was definitely cooler, but it was also much steeper, rockier, and out in the open. But the view blew my mind and was a scene just out of a movie. The path was marked with red spray paint lines every 5-10 minutes but our wonderful guides knew exactly where to go. We were encouraged to use hiking sticks, which some of the girls informed me made us look like Gandolph? or something.... (all of the Lord of the Rings references went straight over my head haha) As we reached the top of the first hill, looking back was a picture of mountains, falling away in different shades due to the humidity. We took our first break as we saw three semi-wild horses roaming through the hills. They ran over to us, as we were standing by their water source, an old aqueduct. They are semi-wild because they are allowed to be free in the summer, and then when it becomes cold, they go back to the barn they are from. From there, we continued hiking, some parts of the hill were straight down. Falling was NOT an option, because if you do, survival was not a likely option (trees could break your fall, but ouch either way!). The thrill was there but I was never scared; I was too amazed with my surroundings. I'll include some pictures, but no amount of describing will accurately tell you how beautiful this place was. The hike wasn't that difficult at all, dispite whatever complaining was going on. And THAT was when I had my "I'm in Italy" moment! I just couldn't bring myself to be upset, disgruntled, complain, or even speak negatively about this incredible experience... I AM IN ITALY! This is a chance of a lifetime, so what if there is a steep walk down hill or a dead animal laying near by... the bugs won't really hurt me.

After our hike, we ended at our destination, an abbey and monastery that was just recently opened up to the public for tours, although some parts still aren't able to be seen because they are used regularly by the monks there, who have taken a vow of silence. Also, you're not supposed to take pictures inside. The monastery was very cool looking, inside and out, although all I could think about was how tired I was. And then comes another "oh my gosh" moment... we were able to see an incredibly old book, one that is unavailable to most people. I could not tell you what it was called, but the way they explained it (or the priest that was allowed to show us), it is basically the musical equivalent to the Rosetta Stone. It holds some of the first written music, including timing and notes, and there are only two copies in the world. Even the Vatican, which had taken most of the old lamb-skin books from this monastery, did not have a copy of this book. It was awesome, and once again, it must be those connections! :)

Friday night was a quiet one: I gave a personal (and unwanted) karaoke concert to whoever was awake on the bus for the ride home so by the time I got home, I was exhausted. A group of us grabbed some pizza, gelato, and passed out in front of the computer watching a movie. We take turns pretending to be awake, laughing at something random, and falling back asleep.... but a perfect ending to the day.

Saturday was a great day too! A lot of the other AHA students were out of town for the weekend, so the few of us that were left, definitely wanted to explore what we could. After a very complicated phone conversation, we found a place we thought we could go trail horse back riding. Kacie, Casey, Matt, and I all made our way out to the middle of nowhere, thanks to Enrico, our wonderful taxi driver. We get out to a lovely horse farm and meet a lovely lady who, in addition to not speaking english, did not really want us there in the first place. Great start! It apparently was a riding school, so gave us each our first lesson! None of us knew how to ride English saddle, so it was interesting to say the least. She didn't make us pay at the end either, so it ended up being a 5 euro a piece horse lesson (cab ride). It was fun to watch, and the girl helping our 'teacher' was very nice. After returning to Macerata our small group went to the produce market, bought some fresh fruits and veggies and got some gelato (shocking right?) That night, we all got dolled up and headed out to dinner and the rest of our planned evening. We ate at an incredible little restaurant (although still haven't had bad food) and had a great time! We then went to a German opera concert at the theater in town so we could have our own "Oktoberfest experience" as Filiberto called it. The music was amazing, but it was also the music I fall asleep to at night... so we may or may not have left at intermission. The rest of the night was entertaining, we floated around town, meeting up with some of our new international friends and just enjoying being in town.
Sunday was a relaxing day, but definitely needed. I think getting a day to re-group is absolutely necessary, especially with everything being so overwhelmingly incredible here. Overall, I feel like I laughed more on Saturday and Sunday alone than I have in a long time, bringing me to tears more than once! The people that were with me, definitely know the right things to say to bring a smile to my face! (BETAAAA! why!?) (Did you know you could ride whales?)

Nothing is ever as you think it will be and being here has taught me to go with the flow, expect nothing, enjoy everything, and always stop to enjoy the smell of the field you're laying in or the cool breeze as you laugh with the girls while enjoying a drink on the piazza. Every moment is needed to complete this experience, and I will express the gratefulness I have for this experience over and over again, from now till forever I'm sure!
But the truth is, no matter where I am in the world, no matter where anyone is in the world, we're still living! An even when I come home, I need to remember to keep having those "oh my gosh" moments, because (here I go being cheesy again) life is way too short not to. We will never get these care-free college days back, we'll never get our twenties back. So we have to enjoy them now! And once I get older, I need to continue to love every moment, because life is way too fast. There's my little soap box. I know it's easy for me to have those wow-moments here but I think its way more important to have them at home in every day living, so try.

I'll attach pictures later, love and hugs and kisses to home :)