You would think when a dark gray cloud is ominously looming above the entire city of Rome that it would be logical to take the bus home, right? Wrong. It is much more effective to walk back and take your chances. Boom! A crack of thunder. “Did I just feel a raindrop?” “I just felt several raindrops.” The sky opens up and, in all its vehemence, releases a downpour of torrential proportions. The gale force winds fight to take your umbrella into the heavens. “Hey, that’s mine! Get your own umbrella!” Clearly the best solution comes in the form of song. From ‘If You Like Piña Coladas’ to ‘Singing in the Rain’ to ‘I’m Taking Home a Baby Bumblebee,’ the music brings you closer to your final destination, but not before encountering a whole slew of dilemmas. Squish. A two-foot puddle threatens to suck you under the pavement into the ancient Roman ruins buried hundreds of meters below. Bam! An oblivious tourist staring at his feet and listening to his iPod smacks into your umbrella with his. Whoosh. Battle fourteen between you and the winds has commenced, now trying to steal your right arm along with the umbrella. Finally, your apartment is in sight. Why is it not getting any closer? It may be a mirage. You have finally made it. The door closed complacently behind you as if to say, “you think you can mess with nature?” You cannot.
Sorry this has taken so long to write. I got caught up in too many things and didn’t have time to write. My fall break, at the beginning of November went as follows:
It was a feat in itself just getting there. The trek consisted of 2 buses from the apartment to the airport, a marathon from one terminal to another in the grimy Rome airport, a shuttle from the gate to the plane, at least 5 moving sidewalks and a broken escalator through the Barcelona airport, a bus from the airport to the metro, the metro to a street out of the center of the city, and a 15 minute walk to our hostel (which had falsely claimed to be in the center); all of this while lugging around 10 days worth of belongings. Fortunately, the hostel was amazing. We had a 50-year-old hippie woman as a roommate whose possessions consisted of some clothes, an 8-pack of Heinekens, and a bunch of bananas. It was midnight when we arrived so we passed out exhausted and dinner-less. The next day, we went into the city and discovered the following things: you are never too old to chase pigeons, chipmunks are considered pets to the Spanish, street performers dressed in Halloween costumes are either really cool or quite frightening, paella and sangria are delicious in Barcelona, and it is impossible to spend time on a street other then La Rambla. The night of our first whole day, we somehow managed to join a bachelor party of Englishmen and an Irishman. I danced the salsa with the groom, who happened to be dressed as a genie (apparently one of many costumes his “mates” forced him to wear). The following day, we visited a church called La Sagrada Familia. This building has been in construction for 200 years and they are still not finished, come on guys, try to hustle. For those who can picture this reference, it looks like a drippy castle that you make on the beach out of wet sand. During the rest of our trip, we saw the Olympic stadium, the gardens, and performed our very own improv in an ancient Greek amphitheater. We also encountered Canadians, one of whom was the epitome of a Guido, a strange French guy, an awkward Australian, a group of crazy Italians from Bologna (are they called Bolognese or is that just a meat sauce? Thank you Eddy for that important inquiry) who taught us the Bologna fight song “Fino alle fine forsa Bologna,” which they sang consecutively for an entire night, and many more strange characters.
I can’t really come up with the right words to describe such a place. In the heart of the Redlight District, where we resided for the two and a half days we were in Amsterdam, is a place like none other. Between the “coffee shops” on every corner, the sex museum, the endless souvenir shops with drug paraphernalia, and actual brothels with women standing in the windows tempting the male college students with a “good time,” I felt a little out of my element. It was like being sucked into a twilight zone vortex where things that should be illegal are not only legal, but also ordinary and accepted. Because of the activities that occur most frequently in such a place, there is at least one place to eat for every ten steps you take. These places cater to those who are not in their right mind. There was a stand that only sold French fries, bakeries that had a dozen kinds of pizza, along with waffles with frosting and whipped cream (I may have actually given in and eaten one of those cholesterol-raising, heart attack-inducing treats), and other places, such as Wok and Walk, for those high people who are on the go. Our hostel itself was, in fact, half hostel and half bar. To give you an idea of the kind of place this was, I will say that the card they handed us at the front desk with our room number and check out time on it, also said 1 euro Jagermeister & Apfelkorn shots, 2 for 1 specials of Havana Club Rum & Cola, and Absolut Vodka & Mix. My first thought upon receiving this: where am I? This is not to say that all of Amsterdam was a haven for wrongdoings. If you go not more than 15 minutes outside of the center, it is a peaceful area with normal people riding bicycles and quaint little shops. We ventured into this area to find the Anne Frank house and were pleasantly surprised by the normalcy. The Anne Frank house was incredible. Each room was well preserved and had a different piece of her story. It was devastating to both hear and see what went on with the war and the holocaust from such a personal angle, since we were standing within the actual walls she and her family hid in. One of the most captivating quotes that I read while standing in Anne’s room, looking at the blacked out window in the claustrophobic space was “I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I’m free.” I can’t say that I’ll ever find a reason to go back to Amsterdam, but it’s one of those places that needs to be experienced at least once in a lifetime to fully appreciate the differences in the world.
It was extremely cold there, which we were not prepared for. The freezing winds certainly didn’t help the two of the three of us who had come down with a cold. I, distracted by everything that I was carrying, left my favorite scarf on the bus: I am still mourning the loss. Our hostel was cold as well, not only in temperature, but also in personality. Well that’s not really fair to say. The men who worked in the hostel were friendly, but the women would have been just as happy if we had slept on the street. The blankets were literally made out of paper, so every time you moved, it made the sound of the table at the doctor’s office. Despite all of this Dublin was great. We found a little pub that we made our nightly hangout spot, where we ate soup, sat by the fire, and listened to live music. We ventured out into the cold to go to the Guinness brewery. We learned how barley is converted to malt, how malt is crushed to make grist, how this is added to hot water along with hops to give the beer that full, rich, Guinness flavor, and lastly, how the fermentation process works. They take you through all the steps until you reach the much-anticipated tasting room. Unfortunately, none of us like Guinness, but we tried some anyway. At the end of the tour, you can go to the top floor, which gives a full panoramic view of the entire city and each ticket is redeemable for a pint of the malt-like beer. We made some guy very happy by giving him our pints (his girlfriend had to translate our offering to him because he didn’t speak a word of English).
All in all, fall break was pretty spectacular.
Friday: My birthday! On the train ride over I spoke to a woman in Italian for about an hour and a half, granted I sounded like a 5 year old, but still. We even did a sudoku puzzle together. My roommate Rebecca and I arrived at the train station and met up with our friends who had gotten there at 4 am. They may or may not have slept on the beach with pajama pants on their arms to keep warm. We went to the beach (aka. giant rocks we had to climb over and sit on in front of a vast ocean) and discovered the great unknown waters of the Mediterranean. Dinner was not exactly what I had planned for a birthday dinner. Cinque Terrre is known for its seafood so naturally I got the fish of the day. I just did not anticipate that my dinner would be looking at me just as much as I was looking at it: head, eyeballs, tail, bones and all. Needless to say, I ate the bread. Saturday: 5 lands, 1 hike, 6 hours = amazing day in Cinque Terre. Necessary items along the way: 3 bottles of water, multiple purchases of Limoncello, beautiful landscape, 70 year olds trucking along next to us, narrow ledges without railings, and a cave that most likely leads to Narnia or Hogwarts or at least some very large spiders. Items in our hostel: 1 bathroom with a door that didn’t close, 7 beds, 3 of us, 1 dude from California, 1 Australian girl living in Germany who thought it was appropriate to walk around in her underwear in front of strangers, and 1 German guy named Toby who we automatically deemed Tobester. Saturday’s dinner beat Friday’s by a long shot. Pesto, Focaccia, Cheese, fresh plums, strawberries, and of course, nutella, all consumed picnic-style on the rocks by the water at sunset. What could have been more perfect? We convinced Tobester to come out with us Saturday night. Dancing, gelato, and trying on hats, sunglasses, and pashminas (pashmina, what a funny word) are now my favorite pastimes. Sunday: Snorkeling with the fishes was a definite highlight, as was the ex-navy captain of the boat who looked like he was going to bark orders at us until he started talking about the beauty of Italy and how amazing his kids are, so much for intimidation. This trip gets an A+
When an old man on the bus tells you he’s a Polish priest who has come to Italy to open a new church, you assume he only has good intentions. Right? Wrong. When he says you are pretty and asks if you are busy, you realize his intentions might not be so good. The thing to do then is get off the bus. You could wait until you are closer to your street, but after he kisses your hand, you don’t mind walking a few blocks in the rain.
Random thought of the day: Why is everything relating to the word ‘shot’ associated with something bad? Gun shot, shot from the doctor, shot of alcohol (well it could potentially end badly). See, I said it was random
Random thought of the day 2: Does it make me a bad Jew to have spent Rosh Hashana taking a tour of the Vatican? I thought so. Oh well, that is what Yom Kippur is for, shana tova.
It’s a long, hot, confusing walk back from Piazza Venezia to the IES center. We are lost and fairly certain that we will be captured by Vespa-riding, hair-gelled, “ciao bella”-yelling, Italian men or just pass out from exhaustion or malnourishment. I’m staring at my feet, trudging along and following two people who clearly don’t know where they are going. That’s when I see it. A piece of paper held in place on the cobblestones by a half-smoked cigarette with it’s edges fluttering in the wind. It’s not just any piece of paper, it’s money. It’s not just any money, it’s a 50 euro bill. Is it a mirage? I walk a little closer and see it is a concrete, tangible object. I look around for a minute and see no one near it. I pick it up and stare at the bill in my hand for a while. How do you return cash to its rightful owner? You don’t. I thought about running a finger-print analysis, but then the 50 would have to be shared by approximately 15,342 different people. I contemplate my trip so far and the amount of money I have spent on pizza, fresh mozzarella, pasta, books, a European dress, Nutella, hotels, trains, bus passes, books for school, strange-lined notebooks, and I decide I need it. If not to make up for these expenses, than to go towards my future leather jacket in black. I put it in my pocket and continue to class, the bill burning a hole in my pocket, and my conscience.
Hot crowded bus with guy’s armpit in my face: check. Awkward train ride in between Italian strangers who did not seem too fond of Americans: check. Having bus close and drive away with me in it when all I was doing was asking for directions: check. Having my roommate run after the bus, while memorizing the license plate in case she had to report a kidnapping: check. Finally getting on the right bus only to endure winding roads along a cliff that are only meant to hold one vehicle at a time: check. Getting off in a random town we don’t know the name of just to get off the bus of terror: check. Taking an 8 mile cab ride that cost 50 euros: check. Supporting friends who nicely asked if they were in the right room after seeing ours and getting yelled at for 20 minutes by angry Italian hotel managers who misunderstood us: check. Best start to trip ever: check.
Though all of this may be true, the Amalfi Coast was well worth the trip. The water was a sparkling bright blue and you could see all the way to the bottom. I may or may not have had a few rough encounters with some rocks, but all is forgiven. The town we were in, Praiano, is beautiful, but very quaint. Apparently, despite the aforementioned roads, they do not believe in sidewalks. Running through a tunnel because it is the only way to get to an atm while cars are competing to see who can hit you first is quite frightening. I’m chalking all of this up to life lessons that I can pass on to others.
Rule # 1 DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT lose your passport. It will send you into a panic-stricken downward spiral of despair and self-hatred.
Rule # 2 When reporting said passport to a police station, make sure to bring a native speaker when the only word the officer knows in English is ‘goodbye.’
Rule # 3 While at the US Embassy, make sure to profusely thank the nice people who help you get a new passport. It is always good to throw in a few extra “graziemile.” Also, take a minute to contemplate Dan Brown’s feeling on the embassy as a savior for the American running from Italian law.
Rule # 4 Try not to do something that would warrant the need to run from Italian law.
Rule # 5 Even when you are deliriously happy that you solved your passport problem on your own, try to remember that smiling at an Italian man sends an unwanted signal and causes you to hear “ciao bella” a few dozen times more than the usual.
Rule # 6 Irish pubs are not the best place to practice Italian. They know you’re American simply because you’re there and using broken Italian does not help prove otherwise.
Rule # 7 Always keep friends from swimming in the Fontana della Barcaccia in front of the Spanish steps at 3 am.
Rule # 8 Do not expect to be able to make correct change going on 3 hours of sleep when buying postcards: you will be sorely disappointed.
Rule # 9 When you decide to book a hotel for the Amalfi coast on a whim, make sure to actually find a way to get there. Train reservations are no walk in the park.
Rule # 10 Speaking of parks, when running with people faster than you, try to remember to breathe and know that eventually they will have to slow down.
Ciao! Rome is fantastic! It still hasn’t hit me that I’m here quite yet. My roommates are great (though they are all blonde) and there are tons of cool people in my program. My apartment is nice, but I will never again take air conditioning for granted. It’s so hot, I don’t even have sheets on my bed, but I’m already getting used to it. This is the first time I have used my computer since it ran out of batteries, because I was terrified to charge it. There were sparks flying, literally. I decided I would brave the outlet today so that I could update everyone. The first day here my roommates and I somehow managed to lock ourselves in (smart, huh), but we conquered that problem with a desperate call to the Italian Student Companion (ISC), Daria, who lives with some girls downstairs. She is amazing- she kept us out until 3:30 am bar hopping last night even though we had to get up at 7:45 to take a placement exam. We went out to Trestevere, which is THE place to go out at night near where I live in Monte Verde. We met a lot of interesting people, especially this Italian couple who were in their 20s and lived in England. They were obsessed with us for some reason. We also went to a bar where we had chocolate shots filled with baileys irish cream, topped with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and cocoa powder. Era deliziozo! I still have not figured out how on a random Wednesday night, there were a million people out partying, but when in Rome…all in all, it was a great night. Also, I talked to a grandmother (nonna), for about 10 minutes waiting for the bus- I was so proud of myself! My official program started yesterday and we had huge blocks of time in between the information sessions so I wandered around with some people and found Castel di S. Angelo, which was beautiful. We decided not to go inside quite yet since it cost 9 euros, but then we spent that amount on drinks so I suppose we should sort out our priorities. I have lots more to say, but this has already been long-winded enough and I am going out with my roommates to have pizza in the piazza! I love you all!