Archive for January, 2014

First Few Days

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

We arrived in Milan on Monday morning. Suprisingly, Sabrina, my twin sister, and I, were able to navigate the airports and catch a bus and taxi to our apartment. Prior to this part of the trip, I was really nervous because I had never done any of these things without my parents…so when we arrived at Via Pasquel Sottocorno (street of our apartment) I was so relieved!

The first day, we spent sleeping away the afternoon. That night our landlord took us to the square in front of La Scala, the famous opera house in Milan, to hear a music performance.  The walk there was really cool. We passed the Duomo and through the Galleria. The streets were busy with vendors selling chestnuts (which look delicious) and these unusual toys that were sling-shotted into the air and when they fell, they spun to the ground….kinda like helicopter seeds…and changed from blue to green, which looked really cool!

The performance itself was amazing! The doors opened from the La Scala onto the square, emanating loud classical music from within. The sound echoed off the walls of the surrounding buildings to create an almost surreal scene. Renata, my landlord, said this was a special performance, occuring only for the third time in 300 years. The purpose was to commemorate Claudio Abbado, a famous composer who died earlier this January. The last commeration like this one was for Giuseppe Verdi, another composer, who died in 1901.

The past few days we’ve spent walking around the city, visiting the Duomo, stopping in cafes, and visiting our school (Universita Cattolica Sacre Cuore). We quickly found that very few people speak good English. Communication is really difficult and simply tasks like buying a croissant and finding a building (even with a smart phone) can be hard. At times I feel very discouraged. We still haven’t exchanged most of our US dollars we took out when we were in the States, figuring that it would be less expensive to exchange them for euros in Italy then in Virginia. The two places we know for certain that will make the exchange have a really steep fee. For $100 US dollars we would get back 48 euros. So…. that’s been one of the big issues. Also we’ve tried withdrawing cash with our credit cards, but this is impossible too, because most ATMs (known as Bancomats in Italy) require a 4 digit pin…which our credit card company is now sending to my mom…but it would have been nice to know earlier that YOU NEED A PIN TO GET ANY MONEY OUT IN ITALY!!! Also, the transportation system and phones (Sabrina switched to Vodafone) have been a hassle. Although, thankfully both my parents have been really helpful through this whole situation, sending Sabrina and I weblinks and making phone calls to companies like capital one, to try to figure some of this stuff out. Hopefully with time everything will fall into place, and we’ll start to get the hang of it. Also, when school starts on Tuesday, Febuary 4th, it will be nice to have some other English speakers to talk to.

 

 

 

 

Una Fine Settimana a Roma

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

During our first week here in Sorrento, I spontaneously asked two of my new friends, Jill and Morgan, to come to Rome with me.  I knew that it was somewhere that I desperately wanted to go–the history the permeates the city is overwhelming.  Despite having only three days to discover all that we could of the ancient city of Roma, it feels as though we truly lived as much as humanly possible while there.

On the train from Napoli to Roma (following a false start when the ferry wasn’t running due to bad weather and an unplanned ride on the circumvesuvian train from Sorrento to Napoli) Morgan commented that she needed to call her parents, because she’d forgotten to tell anyone that she was going to Rome.  I realized later that day that the same was true of me, as my mom commented on my pictures, saying she didn’t know that I had gone.  Morgan made a comment that resonated with me: “We’re such big girls.”  It’s bizarre to think that I’ve reached an age in which I can go to a foreign city with my friends for the weekend–not to sound childish, but–all by myself.

1157573_10202790186346084_1887516991_n

Once in Roma, things went pretty smoothly as we found our B&B and headed towards the Vatican city.  The owner of the Bed and Breakfast gave us directions and told us it would take about 20 minutes to reach.  He obviously hadn’t counted on the number of pictures we were going to take or the awestruck ten full minute gazes over the entirety of the city, so it took us more like two hours.  Roma is unbelievable.  Nothing gets leveled and rebuilt; they rebuild directly on, above, or around the old structures, which creates a beautiful, confusing hodge podge of the new and old blended into a city that represents the people of today while honoring those of the past.  Unfortunately, the spell was broken when we stopped at the top of one of the hills for a cappuccino and they were blasting Ke$ha; not exactly the soundtrack I had imagined on my first trip to Roma.

Overlooking Roma

Overlooking Roma

I’m going to be honest: when we got to the Vatican, we all kind of freaked out.  Can you blame us?  We were IN THE VATICAN CITY.  It was crowded and loud, like the rest of Roma, but nonetheless and indescribable experience.  We tried, for the first of two times on our short trip, to go to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel (Musei Vaticani e Capello Sistine) but it was closed both times.  We walked back along the Tiber river, exhausted from our full day of travel, and got a little lost before finding a nice little restaurant where we stuffed ourselves with pasta and went home for an early night.

The next morning, we had breakfast at a cute little bar across the street from our B&B.  This is the moment where I’m going to start to obsess over the food.  When you think Italy, your mind goes immediately to dinner–pasta, pizza, gnocchi, and calzones.  But in reality, breakfast might be my favorite meal in Italy.  First of all, the coffee is just fantastic everywhere you go.  There are little coffeeshops everywhere (it’s called a “bar” because they serve coffee during the day and alcohol at night) that all make excellent coffee.  I’ve yet to have a bad cup while I’ve been here.  The only people in our group who have been disappointed are those who don’t like espresso and order an “americano,” where they pour hot water into a shot of espresso because drip coffee isn’t common here.  I keep telling them to embrace it and order and cappuccino, and most everyone is coming around to the Italian coffee.  Aside from the coffee, the pastries here are out of this world.  It’s totally normal to have un cappuccino e un cornetto per la colazione in Italy.  The croissants (Cornetti) come con zucchero (plain with sugar on top), con crema (with a delicious cream filling), con cioccolata (with chocolate, of course), and my favorite con marmellatta (with marmalade), among many others.  I look forward to the next time I can have one literally every day.

La colazione a Roma

La colazione a Roma

After breakfast, we had a full day, as we headed to il Colosseo (the coleseum), il Foro Romano (the Roman Forum), the Pantheon, la Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Steps), and finally, as the sun was setting, la Fontana di Trevi (the Trevi Fountain).  The Colosseo, like many things in Italy, literally took our breath away.  All three of us stopped and gasped as we saw it around the corner.  It was so amazing to be able to see, to touch, to experience something that was so ancient and so rich in history that I’d dreamed of for so long.  The Foro Romano was equally impressive, and we all felt the need to stop and just soak it all in.  While it’s incredibly important to understand the history of a place and see the ruins for what they are, the feeling that you get from them is a wise tranquility, and we all wanted to experience that for what it was.

Il Colosseo

Il Colosseo

We continued up to the Pantheon.  I’m running out of words to describe my experiences of all of these places that I’ve known only in books and dreams, so suffice it to say the Pantheon was beautiful, though that is a vast understatement.  After that, it was a short walk through one of the world’s most expensive shopping districts (yes, we were tempted by the Prada; no we did not succumb to that temptation) to the Piazza di Spagna.  The steps were grand and magnificent, but not nearly so much as the church at the top.  It was silent inside–perhaps the first place we’d been to that was–and we sat for fifteen minutes, admiring the enormous, lavish decorations while reflecting on how we couldn’t even begin to process all of the wonder we’d seen that day.

Le mie amiche Jill (a sinistra) e Morgan (a destra) alla Piazza di Spagna.

Le mie amiche Jill (a sinistra) e Morgan (a destra) alla Piazza di Spagna.

After a quick couple of photos at the top of the steps, we meandered toward the Fontana di Trevi, which I have to say was my favorite part of the day.  Maybe this is because I watched the Lizzie McGuire movie a few too many times as a pre-teen, but I’d always wanted to cast my coin into the fountain to ensure my return to Roma and make my wish.  Was all took turns throwing in our coins, and then admired the fountain all lit up at night.  It’s something that no picture can really explain.

Fontana di Trevi

Fontana di Trevi

As evening set in, we walked back to Trasteverre, where our B&B was located, and for the first time I didn’t need my map.  We’d walked everywhere thus far, and I’d been our unceasing navigator, but this time I was able to look up and enjoy the simple beauty in every cobblestone.  After yet another delicious meal, we drug our tired feet to our beds and  readied for the next day’s adventures.

Sunday was sunny and beautiful, and it was the only day when we got really lost.  We attempted to head towards the catacombs, but I mistook a street sign and made us get off the bus 2400 meters from our actual stop (oops).  After yet another lengthy trek, we arrived to find the catacombs closed.  Unfazed, we hopped on another bus and all was well until a sweet british couple informed us that we were going to the wrong way (yes, that was a reference to “Planes, Trains, and Automoblies,” and yes, that is what Sunday felt like).  We got off the train in a sketchy area on the edge of Roma, sang some songs while waiting for a bus, garnering us some rather strange looks from the locals, found the right stop, got on the metro, and made our way all the way across the city to the Vatican once again.  Unfortunately, the museum was already closed, so we took one last stroll down the Tiber and headed towards the train station.

All was well on the journey back, until the train station in Napoli.  Being a blonde in Italy certainly has its benefits; I get compliments nearly every day on “I miei belli capelli” (my beautiful hair). However, it also has it’s downsides, namely acting as a giant yellow target screaming “AMERICAN! THERE’S A NAIIVE AMERICAN GIRL OVER HERE!”  In the train station, you constantly have to be on your guard.  People teach there tiny children how to scam foreigners, so as heartbreaking as it is, you can’t help any child that comes up to you.  Some men in the station tried this scheme on us, sending a six year old boy over to beg for money, but we sent him away.  Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.  As we were getting on the train, a man grabbed for my backpack.  Luckily my friend Jill managed to push him away, and as he tried to nab hers, she jumped on the train.  This was our first real experience with petty crime, and we got lucky, but it definitely made us all even more aware of how easy it is for someone to take advantage of inattentiveness.

As we returned to our apartment, we commented on how happy we were to be home, and I realized just how nice that is.  It’s a wonderful feeling to unconsciously know that Sorrento is one of my homes now.

WebRep
currentVote
noRating
noWeight

Observations

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

So having been in Edinburgh for about three weeks now (and being an avid people watcher), I’ve been admiring how students on campus dress. No sweatpants, pajamas, dirty jeans, and hoodies here. I’ve yet to see that kind of casual dress on campus. Everyone is very put together and carries him or herself in a more mature and classy way than I’m used to seeing. Being a girl who likes clothes, I’ve paid the most attention to how the ladies on campus dress. (Sorry fellas, not talking about your nice fitting cardigans and Beatle boots today.) Most of the girls dress nice, but edgier. More street fashion than in the U.S. Nothing overly feminine or girly. Their shoes are literally always one of two things: Doc Martens or these little black booties with a slight heel or wedge. They wear a ton of scarves but they are either never wrapped, like they just hang long over the neck, or they are big enough that I think they are actually blankets that are swallowing them. (Looks snuggly though!) Their coats are always cute. They look like something you’d find at a thrift shop. Not many classic pea coats or winter jackets. They’re more so statement pieces. They wear a lot of beanies here too – like the beanies that are knitted with the pom-pom on the top.

 

Of course everyone on campus isn’t a clone of each other. Not everyone is wearing these things, but this is what I see most often. (And I like it!)

First Day of Classes

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Finally, after more than a month of sporadic scheduling, my classes have resumed. I love break, don’t get me wrong, but it will be nice to have a more concrete schedule.

Usually, I’m upset when classes restart and I’m constrained to the humdrum of school life, but I’m almost (gasp) excited for classes to start this semester. I must be getting lame or old. Or both. Probably both.

Now, I know there will be at least one person who pauses and thinks, “wait, why is Ben in class on a Sunday?” There’s a simple answer to our observant friend’s question: in Islamic nations (such as Jordan), Sunday is not part of the weekend because it is not an Islamic holy day. Instead, Muslims’ holy day is Friday, and our weekend is Friday and Saturday.

I have four classes this semester: Modern Standard Arabic (Fusha), Colloquial Arabic (Amiya), Jordanian History, and the Arab Spring. I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to my classes this semester. In fact, my only regret is there is no French class here. But, you know, c’est la vie.

image

Above is my school for the next four months. Besides teaching Americans studying in Jordan, Amideast also teaches Jordanians English, administers American tests (the ACT, SAT, etc.) to Jordanians, and sends Jordanians to study in the US. The workers here work hard, yet somehow manage to show up every day with a smile on their faces. I don’t know how they do it.

Bonus:

As I walked home from school today, I passed by these orange trees and couldn’t help but take a photo (and remind both Virginians and Minnesotans that it’s warm enough here to grow oranges!).

Glasgow < Edinburgh

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Yesterday I went to Glasgow to get a feel for the city. (And my feeling is that it is not as awesome as Edinburgh, but still cool.)

I hung out with my friends Amara and Steffi all day, so of course we had a ton of fun. We were dropped off at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum first. (This was an ISC trip.) It was pretty cool. They had a weird foot exhibition which freaked me out because, ew, feet. But they also had medieval armor and a mummy and a dinosaur skeleton which were pretty awesome.

After our trip to the museum, we were dropped off at George Square, where we promptly looked for someplace to eat before we died of hunger. Not far from where dropped off was a restaurant called “Jamie’s Italian” which the three of us geeked out over because it’s Jamie Oliver’s restaurant and we love that guy. It wasn’t as pricey as we assumed it might be so we ate there and the food was splendiferous! (For the record, I had risotto with wild mushrooms and smoked mozzarella as well as a brownie topped with amaretto ice cream and caramel-amaretto popcorn.)

We didn’t have a ton of time after eating so we explored the various shops close by. The street reminded me a lot of Grafton Street in Dublin, Ireland. We did some touristy shopping for a bit. I bought myself a haggis because I couldn’t resist. Look how cute it is!!

Photo on 2014-01-26 at 18.45

There was also a random TARDIS in the middle of the street. Steffi and I are big Doctor Who fans and of course flipped!

Over all, Glasgow is a nice city. It definitely has some great shopping that I would go back for. (Especially since it’s so close. It only took an hour to get there by bus and I’m sure by train it’s even faster.) Edinburgh is definitely prettier though. Less industrial. It has more character. But that’s just my personal opinion.

Moved In

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

In the past five days, I have: completed orientation, moved into my apartment, made preliminary explorations of Amman, humiliated myself trying to speak to Jordanians, and fallen in love with the city.

I’ve had a couple of family members and friends notice my conspicuous absence from the internet the last couple of days. It’s nice to know that my online presence is missed while I’m away but oddly jarring that I’m online enough that others notice that my absence (to my parents’ generation, welcome to a day in the life of a millennial). Anyhow, thanks to Zain Mobile, I’m no longer sans-internet.

Moving into my apartment was a treat. It’s a 3 bedroom, 3 bath behemoth in the “nice” (read: rich) part of Amman. I have my own bedroom and my own bathroom- which is nice- but the apartment seems a little excessive, seeing as I only brought one suitcase. I know I shouldn’t complain, but it’s difficult to savor when I know many families are living in spaces much less spacious.

image

image

(Mum, notice how my bed is made. I was trained well.)

Some friends warmly referred to my room as the “princess room.” I have no idea why…

I’m still getting my bearings around town. Amman is a big city and not well laid out.  Apparently, the city was not well prepared for the big influx of Palestinians decades ago, so the spread was erratic. This, of course, means that getting around is difficult. Thank goodness for taxi drivers or I would be lost all the time.

The city itself is gorgeous, and I am excited to get to know it better! I can’t show it all in one picture, but I think the one below does a pretty good job.

image

An amazing story…

Friday, January 24th, 2014

about one family’s experience fleeing the violence in the former Yugoslavia. Read about Vildana “Sunni” Puric, now the host of a very popular radio station in DC, and so much more. A story from the Washington Post, 1/24/14.

From Bosnian refugee to beneficent radio host

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 3.47.39 PM

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 3.47.10 PM

Gino’s -Cork City

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Gino’s

On Fridays I have the day off school but none of my other friends do so I have decided that will be the day I explore some of the city for myself (and maybe do some school work). This past Friday I was in search of an Italian restaurant. This elusive restaurant always seems to be closed when I am hungry and always open immediately after I eat. I decided there was no way this restaurant could possibly be closed at 1:30 in the afternoon but alas, it was. Lights were on, a waiter stood behind the counter, I was so excited, I turned the door handle and it was locked. I swear the waiter laughed at me.

So I wandered around, looking for another inexpensive restaurant or café to read my book and get some food. Inevitably I got lost, but only the vague sort of lost where I couldn’t tell you how exactly to get back home but I recognized some of the shops and one of the street corners seemed familiar.

Then I saw Gino’s. Lunch specials! blinked at me in red lights. It was cozy and quiet, with bright white walls and a single rose at each table. The restaurant was filled with single patrons (like myself) who were all reading, and families with small children being treated to ice cream.

Cork is well known for having the best food in Ireland, meat products, milk, cheese, bread; what else could I ask for? Gino’s delivered on all of this. The flat-bread pizza, while not an Irish dish, was absolutely delicious and made with local ingredients. On a more general note of European waiters, they never rush you like back home. Anyhow, I relaxed, read my book and then the manager brought over the ice cream of the day which was the richest chocolate ice cream I think I’ve ever had. Thank you Cork for giving me Gino’s, my new favorite restaurant.


Orientation

Monday, January 20th, 2014

For me, orientation has always been a double-edged sword.

(A brief preface to the writing below: I’m currently staying in a hotel ~1.5 miles from my apartment in a ritzy part of town. I’ll move into my apartment on Thursday.)

Honestly, it is nice to have time to meet everyone else in my program, learn cultural issues, learn about the program, etc. But it has also meant lots of time spent in a conference room, listening to people talk at me. This can be extremely frustrating, a sentiment I’m sure many people my age share.

However, between morning and evening excursions, I’ve managed to do a little exploring.

The first time I went out, I definitely had a “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment, however Amman is gorgeous. I’ve been longing the last two days to leave and explore on my own, but I assume skipping orientation would be frowned upon. Oh, well. I have four months to explore.

The above photo is down the street from the front of our hotel. Please excuse the quality/darkness. It was early in the morning when I snuck out to take the picture.

The above photo is my favorite I’ve taken so far. As many of you know, I dislike malls (crowded, indoor buildings made for commercialism? No, thank you). However, the photo crushes many American stereotypes of the Middle East. Yes, Jordan has many malls and- as you can see- they’re just as big American malls. Moreover, the stores within the mall are remarkable similar to those you’d find in America, including a Caribou, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Häagen-Dazs. Globalization is here, my friends, and it’s affecting everywhere.

Capri, Laundry, and Fresh Fruit

Monday, January 20th, 2014

This week in Sorrento has been a whirlwind of beautiful sights and fun nights.  Between classes, my internship, delicious dinners, and late-night gelato runs I’ve barely had time to breathe, let alone sleep.  This weekend I had the opportunity to go and explore Capri with a large group of the other students here.  After a late night seeing our Professor Marco Spiezia play at the Wine Bar, we met up at 7:45 to take the ferry over to the island.  Despite the early morning and the 4.5 mile hike (and partially thanks to some espressos) we were treated to truly breathtaking views.  Do yourself a favor: if you only ever take one vacation in your lifetime, go and see Capri.  Everyone was taken aback by how unbelievable the water was.  In the photos, it looks as though we’ve photoshopped a postcard onto a green screen.

L'isole di Capri e molto bella!

L’isole di Capri e molto bella!

 

At first, all of us were trying to capture as many pictures as possible to posses the unbelievable sights surrounding us, but slowly we all came to the conclusion that it was negatively impacting our appreciation of the reality of the island, and the cameras slowly were put down as we separated into corners of quiet reflection.  It only really hit me how amazing this experience has already been and will continue to be as I looked out at the hazy, almost nonexistent division between sky and sea.  It already feels like a dream, but I know that I am infinitely lucky to have experienced Capri, and that I have the opportunity to return before I leave.

Le mie Amiche Melissa e Haley con me a Capri!

Le mie Amiche Melissa e Haley con me a Capri!

 

On another note, I continue to be faced with new experiences that differ greatly from what I have become accustomed to in America.  Doing my laundry this weekend was far easier than I expected…that is, until I went to dry it.  There are very few clothes dryers in Italy, and we are expected to dry our clothes on a rack in the open air.  This is not necessarily problematic; on Sunday, when I did my laundry and put it outside it was overcast, but breezy, and I assumed they’d be dry by Monday morning.  Then it rained.  And rained.  And poured.  And then rained some more.  My clothes are still outside, sopping wet, because bringing them inside would create an enormous puddle in my tiny shared bedroom.  I was understandably frustrated by this, but after a good evening and a great gelato with my new friends, I’ve decided to pay to dry my clothes at a laundromat down the street tomorrow (it’s supposed to rain for the rest of the week) and chalk it up as a learning experience.  Next time, I’ll check the weather BEFORE I do my laundry.

I’ve finally found the fresh market and bought a bunch of fruit and vegetables fro 2.50 euro, which is far cheaper than the local supermercato.  The oranges are enormous and so delicious that I don’t think I’ll ever want to eat another orange in America again.  In other food related news, I can now drink straight espressos, so all in all I’d say I’m assimilating to the Italian lifestyle pretty well.

Un cappuccino al bar a Capri!

Un cappuccino al bar a Capri!

I’m planning a trip to Rome in the near future, so my next blog post will probably have to wait until after that, so for now I’ll leave you with this, a line from a popular Italian song that I feel describes my first week in Sorrento:

“Un bellissima spreco di tempo/Un’impresa impossibile/l’invenzione di un sogno/una vita in un giorno”

-”Baciami Anocora” da Jovanotti

“A beautiful waste of time, an impossible task, the invention of a dream, a life in a day.”