Friday, December 16, 2011


In my very first blog post, I quoted a Sara Bareilles song called "Uncharted" which talks about what it's like to leap into the unknown--no background, no road map, nothing.  Just 3 and a half months ago, the song perfectly described my relationship to Rome.  I had a single semester of Italian under my belt, little information on the history or present of the city I was about to relocate to and few attachments here.

It is mindblowing how much things can change in a few short months.  Now, I feel that I have truly "charted" Rome.  My entire apartment has been in total denial about leaving for the past few days. We can't imagine life anymore without daily supplis (fantastic breadcrumb coated rice and mozzarella balls) from the pizza shop at the top of the hill from our apartment.  What will we do without the Pantheon and St. Peter's basilica practically in our backyard?  And how about Frigidarium gelato and handmade gnocchi?  How will I transition back to American coffee from delightfully bitter espresso? What songs will I jump up to dance to when American discos aren't playing Don Omar's Danza Kuduro?  And I have to stop saying disco in the US because people will think I'm talking about Saturday Night Fever, the musical or Danny from Grease, not just your average dance club.  How will I practice my Italian without the guidance of Susanna and her friends?  I can no longer hop a train to another historically rich and vibrant Italian town or book a last-minute flight to an awe-inspiring country.  Abroad has spoiled me, but I have also grown from it.

It hasn't just been food and wine and picturesque panoramas.  It has been making lifelong friends and singing in the streets in the middle of the night.  It has been learning to navigate foreign environments with language barriers and cultural obstacles obstructing the path to success.  It has been missing trains, taking walking tours, taking bike tours far less gracefully, learning the importance of history and rediscovering religion.  It has been sleepless nights and movie nights, laughing until I can't breathe and drinking more espresso than any human should.  It has been learning who I am inside and out, what I need, what motivates me, how I can help others and how I can make the most of any situation.  It has been transforming a far, far away city into my city, imprinting my insights and experiences on this town and absorbing all of the history, beauty and lessons it provisioned me.  It has been making a home away from home.  It has been dancing until 5 in the morning or calling it an early night after chatting at Bar San Calisto.  It has been Vespas and smart cars and walking until our soles are as red as Merlot.  It has been meeting Susanna's extended family and eating a hybridized Roman and Philippino pranzo that was absolutely beyond delicious.  It has been doling out 5 euro Secret Santa gifts on the top of Gianicolo our last night together, tears in our eyes, love in our hearts, Rome's wisdom filling up our insides.  It has been real.

Roma, I'll miss you beyond belief.  Thank you for all you have taught me and all of the happiness you have brought me.  I can only hope that as I continue my life's journey, there are more moments in store as magical as the ones I've had with you.  You've made me more independent, grateful and whole.  I see things with new eyes; it's as if this city has given me new contact lenses (and I thought I had 20/15 vision).  It's been the best, but now it's time for the next chapter.  Grazie mille per tutto.

ABV (my apartment-mates, minus Susanna) at our IES farewell dinner.
Dre's mom bought us all Chicago hats! :)

A domani (Stati Uniti!!),

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Last Supper

There are many great ways you can top off an incredible semester abroad in Rome.  You can go to a Roma soccer game, scream your lungs off in pride and potentially risk being assaulted by the enemy team.  You can take a trip to see all of the glorious tourist sights, musing at how familiar the landscape has become, which my apartment-mates and I did on Friday.  You can go to Papal mass and re-explore Vatican city.  You can tour the breathtaking Borghese gallery one last time.  But if you think like I think, all you want to do is eat until the cows come home.

Sara and I enjoyed one of the most absolutely incredible meals of our semester at Antico Arco restaurant, a ten minute walk from our apartment, when my aunt and uncle were visiting in late September.  The culinary experience was so memorable that, despite the steep prices, we promised we would return to toast to our final days in Rome.  Last night was the night of our "last supper." Okay, maybe not exactly our last, but by far our best.  And I had to go all out.  If you know me, you know that I'd trade a trip to Paris for an unforgettable meal. So that is sort of how I rationalize selecting the tasting menu.  There are only a few instances in your life when you can feasibly rationalize eating such an amount, especially when you are a 20-year-old girl who probably needs to refamiliarize herself with gym classes, but this was our last hurrah.  This was it!

The meal was absolutely divine (see courses below) and it was incredible to rehash the past three and a half months with Sara, who has been there through it all and who I luckily get to take back to Emory with me.  I know that, down the line, when we are missing these days to the extreme, we will be able to get together in our Clairmont apartments at school, throw some gnocchi al pomodoro together, listen to sappy Sara Bareilles songs and relive it all again.  That is what is keeping me together right now, knowing that when it's over, it still won't be over for us.  Cheers Roma!  Thanks for your gastronomic goodness and the ultimate experience abroad!

Anchovy crostini with passionfruit mayonnaise

All of Sara's overjoyed expressions capture my
feelings about this food as well...

Amber jack fish tartare with ginger, lime and puntarelle salad

Poached egg, cauliflowers, yogurt,ricotta cheese and black truffle

Spello chick pea soup with chestnuts and breadcrumbs
flavored with dill

Risotto with Castelmagno cheese...nebbiolo sauce to the side
(the best red wine flavor ever!)

Eating her Rigatoni Gerardo di Nola with carbonara sauce
and black truffle...they gave me a little portion, if I needed
to be eating more...

Beef tenderloin, pioppini mushrooms, pecorino cheese sauce,
potato and black truffle puree

Pan brioche chips, goat cheese with herbs and a fruity compote

A mini palate cleanser...walnut ice cream with dark chocolate!

And the final touch of any life-changing meal: Molten chocolate
soufflé cake with vanilla & rhum ice cream

Sara snacking on killer tiramisu

A cheesy Christmas tree pose was essential here

In 6 days I will be back in Rockville, MD.  It's surreal.  Hoping the last six are as great as the past three months and change have been.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Espresso and Introspection

It is becoming that time in my journey where all of the little thoughts that popped up in my head while I was walking over Gianicolo on the way to school, waiting for the 870 bus, visiting the Ara Pacis museum, trying tapas at Mercat de Mercats in Barcelona, strolling the streets of Trastevere, or trying to find my way home from a foreign neighborhood are rushing to the forefront of my mind.  I have never kept a daily journal so this has served as a repository for my thoughts, but often the need to update everyone on travel and food and the sights bars me from delving a little bit deeper into the greater meanings of life abroad.

There are endless aspects of the experience to analyze.  Being away from home forces you to see a new side of yourself.  You are tested in a multitude of small ways which contribute to your development.  In Italy, I am in this fixed space, separate from the fast-paced drive of my everyday life at school.  This is a time out of time for personal growth, for enjoyment of a new culture and exposure to differences I would never have encountered in the US.  I have relished in many little accomplishments and in the home I have created here.  There are also times where I wish I could have done more, pushed myself a little bit further to try a different activity, to see a new place or to make more of a rainy Sunday when I simply cozied up in bed with an Italian caffé.  Sometimes, I think I should have found an internship here where I could have interacted more directly with Italians and given back to this incredible city that has given so much to me.  I also know that I am going to miss life here more than words and that I will return someday, hopefully in the not so distant future.

At IES, we have "core" meetings where we try to dig a bit deeper into our experience abroad and the emotional stages that one typically faces.  I don't think I follow the typical format.  For me, I have been pretty steadily contented, with intermediate spurts of stress over travel and the nuisances of the slow-paced Italian culture, but feelings are starting to catch up a bit now.  At our last "core" session, we had to stand by a quote that summed up our experience here.  I can't remember mine word for word, but the idea was that this experience has only just begun and it will continue to affect me long after this program.  Being abroad hasn't made me instantaneously realize what I want to do with my life.  I honestly have no clue what job I'm going to have and I don't know where I'm going to be next summer or in 5 years.  To be completely truthful, I thought maybe I would waltz on over here and have an epiphany.  I am meant to be blank.  I want to do X,Y,Z when I graduate.  I need to do A,B,C to be successful.  I didn't fill in that blank or replace X,Y,Z  or A,B,C with the keys to my future. I still don't have all the answers.

But that's not what living in a different country does for you.  It doesn't fill in the blanks of your life as if it were a  Mad Libs book.  No one can do that for me, but myself and I can't altar the timeline fate has set for my life.  However, being here has introduced me to many versions of myself that I don't encounter on the daily at Emory.  For example, abroad Alexi has met Alexi who just missed her train home from Siena.  Abroad Alexi has encountered Alexi who accidentally sent her suitemate on a train to a different town in Germany (long story).  And abroad me has had to figure out how to deal with these varying distressed versions of myself.  Sometimes, I get totally flustered and I have to piece me back together.  At times, these hectic, anxiety-producing moments of abroad really scared me, but sometimes you have to make a real mess of things just so that you learn to put all of the pieces back together.  And after some difficult encounters with the foreign environment, abroad Alexi had the pleasure of meeting Alexi who could hold a conversation with an Italian student for an hour. Abroad Alexi also met Alexi who can successfully travel from San Lorenzo to the Colosseum in record time.  At the risk of using my own name more times than any non-egomaniacal person should in a paragraph, abroad put me in situations I could never have faced under a cozy American security blanket.  It is the stresses, controversies, intricacies, and triumphs of this new situation that have made my experience so special and rewarding.

Today was my last day of courses at IES.  As I prepare for my final exams and check the final items off of my bucket list, I am dealing with a whole host of feelings that I didn't realize would surface so quickly or so fiercely.  I will avoid writing you all an entire book here, but wanted to thank my family a million and one times for this unbeatable opportunity.  You are the best!

In front of appropriate picture as the semester wraps up!
Photographed by Becca

A presto (veramente!),

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Home Meets Rome

With the holiday season fast approaching, nothing could have been a more perfect early present than having a best friend from home visit me in Rome.  Becca is studying in Amsterdam this semester and recently decided to book a trip over here, much to my delight!  Our visit was brief, but we packed a lot of sights into such a short time, caught up over Dutch stroopwaffels (a new fave sweet treat) and tea, and enjoyed the blast from the past that always accompanies reunions with old friends.  It is nice to know that no matter where you are or how long it's been, when you reunite with a close friend, it's like no time has passed at all.

Friday afternoon, I took a mid-afternoon bus to meet Becca at the Terravision café and give her a huge, much deserved hug before we started our day.  We had little time to lose so we headed over to Vatican City so that she could get a glimpse of St. Peter's basilica and snap the essential tourist photos of Rome.  We did a little loop around the Tiber, making our way past Castel Sant'Angelo, over the Ponte Helio and to my school.  I hadn't thought about it for a while, but she made me realize again just how pretty our school building is.  I can't say it's always a whole heap of fun studying in it, but I definitely appreciate its amazing location, even more so when a new visitor points out just how special it is to be Tiber-side.  After that little section of our city tour, we enjoyed gelato from Gelateria al Teatro, one of the most famous spots in Rome, just a five minute walk from IES.  Becca opted for pure chocolate and coffee, while I changed things up a bit and tried a fruit and cheese flavor.  It was definitely a bit strange, but totally delicious.  Rome's gelatified version of cheesecake...perfetto!  

We caught the 870 bus to return to Monteverde and enjoy a little down time before dinner at Lumie de Sicilia a few streets over.  Kristen, Megan and I discovered this sweet little gem over fall break; the adorable owner loves to chat us up in English and offer the best recommendations.  The authentic antipasto included thinly sliced squid, a few cuts of savory meat and various marinated and breadcrumb-crusted veggies, but our ravioli variations were the winners of the evening.  Bex and Sar opted for ricotta in cream sauce, while I ordered the pasta with sea bass and artichokes...I am going to miss this carb-filled existence!

After dinner, we prepped for a night out with Susanna and her friends.  Blowdryers were handed off like batons in a track race and hands were flying with everyone furiously grabbing for tops and applying eye shadow.  Just your typical weekend night in an apartment with 7 (this weekend, 8) girls! We drove over to EUR, Mussolini's utopia in Rome (really a sight to be seen--the buildings are very futuristic in an almost unsettling way!) and attempted to get into Pure, our first choice for a night of dancing.  But it seemed that private parties had completely reserved all of our top choices (or Susanna's recommendations--the American girls are not all too familiar with nightlife in that section of Rome) so we decided to check out Futura Arte.  It was an interesting experience to say the least...a lot of 30 and 40-somethings dancing to a combination of 80 percent Italian music I haven't heard and 20 percent random American jams like "Summer Lovin'."  Now, I love Grease, but this was a little bit weird.  Still, we all enjoyed changing things up a bit, learning some traditional Italian dance moves from Susanna's friends and not having to sweat up a storm while breaking it down to David Guetta for a change.

Saturday was an ambitious attempt to fit Rome's most important sights into a one day period.  First stop: lunch at Piccolo Buco by the Trevi for gnocchi with four cheeses and a mushroom pizza, fuel for the day.  Unfortunately, the forecast for "scattered showers" wasn't what we were hoping for, but we made the best of the rain and took some cute shots with our cheap umbrellas tossing our coins into the fountain.  Next, we made our way over to the Spanish steps and scaled the entire building (okay, it wasn't that probably took five minutes) for another credible view of Rome's rooftops in their rainbow of pastels: awe-inspiring splendor.  Luckily, Bex has an insane camera so I will have to steal a couple of photos from her to provide the full effect.  I know, you're all probably getting sick of the superlative adjectives, but I'm being sincere I promise!  We needed a break after all of that trekking and stopped for a drink at Dolci e Doni, a cute little café on a sidestreet.  Unfortunately, the waitress didn't understand when we asked for ice tea, no sugar...we ended up with what essentially tasted like 4 euro Snapples, but you just have to laugh at the little blunders.  We sipped, quipped and flipped over how crazy it was to be in Rome together.  After finishing our sickeningly sweet beverages, we made our way over to the Pantheon.  Right before we entered the piazza, rain started pouring sheets upon us and we sought shelter in Tazza D'Oro, a famous little café, before I freaked out, realizing that the Pantheon is most beautiful when you see raindrops pouring through its central opening!  Luckily, we were able to catch a little bit of the drizzle when we arrived at the monument. It is actually unbelievable--you feel like the heavens are opening up and you have the front seat to the show.  I only wish we could have caught the view of the rainy spurt from inside.  Finally, we enjoyed a nighttime view of the Colosseum where Bex carried out a little photo shoot: moonlit cobblestones, hands on the Colosseum's travertine columns, every angle of the massive ampitheatre.

After our long day at the city's center, we met Sara in Trastevere for dinner at Aristocampo restaurant. Before we arrived though, I had to take Becca to our favorite cannoli place with ricotta filling to die for and pastry with just the perfect amount of crunch.  Dinner was fantastic. Meals here (as you all know by now) go: pasta, pizza, repeat, pasta, pizza, repeat.  We toasted, talked, and tasted each others' yummy dishes and had just enough time to make it to the Trastevere chocolate festival before heading home.  Bex and I ended up enjoying a cozy night in.  We had more than enough to catch up on and were able to relive our high school slumber party experience with a rom com.  Except this time, we were in Rome.  So surreal!

A daytime shot at the Colosseum from History class this past week!

MD + Emory/Rome friends in one
Lumie di Sicilia...awesome and delicious!

Bex marveling at the embarrassing amount of change
I laid out for our meal at Piccolo Buco.

So cute!

Coin tossing in the rain!

Bex + Lex + rain + Rome = A-ok! :)

At the top of the Spanish steps!

It was hard to say goodbye to Bex this morning and face the mountain of work piling up as finals lurk right around the corner.  This also means that I leave in less than 2 weeks.  And I can't lie, it's definitely getting to me.  I start to think about how drastically different "abroad problems" are from real world issues.  Seriously, my roommates and I have crafted a mental list of our "crises" here and how silly they can be.  Case in point, today's abroad problem from Megan: "I hate when my socks are different thicknesses."  Yes, it's a joke, but we're also not plagued with constant deadlines.  There are no travel barriers.  There's no limit to how far you can wander or what you can do tomorrow morning or next Friday night.  Losing that will be hard, but I have to remind myself to smell the roses while I can and take everything one step at a time.  I hope I don't sound terribly redundant with these thoughts, but they keep striking again and again.  Still, I am so looking forward to seeing all of my loved ones so soon.  What would life be without you all?


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Czech, Please!

I can't tell you how many times I uttered the above words in Prague this weekend (with an alternative spelling, obviously)...meal after meal of goulash, pheasant, bacon dumplings, you name it! Thanksgiving is an annual trademarked New family celebration so it was a bit upsetting to have to spend the holiday thousands of miles away from my family for the first time in my life.  So, rather than fruitlessly attempt to recreate the magnificent Maryland potluck event, I opted to explore another awesome city with my Rome friends, this time adding my high school friend Alex to the mix. It was quite obvious that we would have to take advantage of how inexpensive a city Prague is and eat like royalty (see below pictures, of course)!

We checked into our hotel Thursday night and were pleasantly surprised by the themed ambiance. Our room included a lofted second story with three extra beds, jungle themed wallpaper and decor, and our own personal swing (yes, a swing...we're proud to relive our childhoods abroad).  We set out for a traditional Czech Thanksgiving which, for me, included strawberry-lime cider (sweet, tangy deliciousness with a little buzz) and beef goulash with bacon dumplings, a hearty and smoky dish, which was a nice change-up from our traditional Roman go-tos.  In a moment of utter abroad perfection, we went around the table saying what we were thankful for and, setting aside all of the silly inside jokes, all of the responses seemed to center around our appreciation for our experience in Italy.  We have really thrived in our travels together and, despite the small obstacles that stack up at times, we are all thoroughly respectful of and grateful for our time in Europe.  After our teenage sap-fest, we headed to Nebe, a small cocktail bar, for some colorful drinks and quality background music (Madonna, Jay Z, the works) before turning in for the night.

Friday was our unabashedly touristy day.  After a traditional Czech lunch including potato soup in a bread bowl (Panera cravings have since ensued) and sausages cooked in black beer (whatever that is...), we met in front of the Starbuck's in Old Town square for a free tour of Prague.  Yes, a free tour.  Kristen somehow scoped out a website that offers quality tours of nearly 70 percent of the city with no upfront charge attached whatsoever.  The company believes that you should give them how much you think the tour is actually worth and not pay any excessive fees, a nice philosophy and perfect for us cheap-o students!  We were able to cover the history of Old Town, the astronomical clock, the Church of the Black Madonna (creepy story attached to that one, you'll have to ask for the full deets), the Powder Tower, the central bank, and the Jewish ghetto.  Our tour guide Tijo was a hilarious younger guy from the Netherlands who moved to Prague because he "fell in love with the beer, the city and a girl."  Gotta love the guy and he dished out some truly compelling facts about the city.  Apparently, Michael Jackson performed a massive concert in central Prague where he erected a huge temporary statue of himself where Stalin's statue once stood.  Also, the Hugo Boss store is apparently ironically located in the Jewish ghetto because the designer actually created the Nazi uniforms.  Never liked the guy's clothes before and I certainly won't be shopping at his store in the future!  We polished off our day with a bit of souvenir-searching and headed to Phenix for a fabulous meal which included perch and pumpkin cake for myself with mulled wine as a beverage.  This little concoction is a hybrid of cinnamon spice tea and delectable red wine served piping hot--perfect! The disco we wanted to check out was also conveniently located right next door from the restaurant and it was awesome to say the least.  The club was five stories tall with a different musical genre playing on each floor.  Even the Oldies hits were enjoyable...who doesn't love Grease Lightning?  All in all a fantastic intro to Czech life!

Saturday, we decided to pave our own way through the city.  The main event was our trek across the famous Charles Bridge to Prague Castle on the other side of the water.  I've included a couple of shots of the gorgeous castle and the picturesque little town that surrounds it, but my dinky camera doesn't do the place justice.  We all absolutely loved the city, essentially a real version of Disneyland. Mostly, we just roamed through the castle grounds, checking out St. Nicholas' church and the monastery nearby.  Kristen and Alex tried out some traditional Czech pastries, while Megan snacked on the perfect apple crepe.  After even more browsing in the glass shops for classically Prague-ish trinkets, we prepared for our next exciting meal.  I ordered fish ravioli, skeptical in anticipation of its quality as we were all fresh from gorging on Rome's pastas.  However, the dish, soaked in shrimp cream foam, was the perfect combo of chewy and silkily creamy, as was Sara's truffle gnocchi which I stole a few bites of.  Luckily, everyone in our crew loves to share so bites of chicken, duck and foie gras were freely doled out around the table. After wrapping up our dinner (a gourmet meal came in at under 15 euro as converted from Czech crowns!), we did some bar-hopping around town, hitting up M1 at one point, a small hip-hop bar/club that celebs including Kanye West and Coolio have frequented.  Again, a quality line-up of activities for our second full day.

Sunday, we wrapped up our Turkey weekend adventure with a chic brunch at Paul bakery (the French chain) and some more souvenir shopping before a later flight home.  Prague was freezing, but exhilarating, so picturesque and rich with history.  I am glad we ended our cross-country travels on such a high note!

Traditional beef goulash for Thanksgiving dinner

Drinks at Nebe

Old Town Square

Tour guide, Tijo

The famous astrological clock

WJ reunion in Prague

Always repping Kappa Gam!

Gift shop at the Choco-Story museum

Mulled wine, my new favorite chilly weather drink.

Pumpkin spice festive!

The epic five-story disco...the largest club in Central Europe!

Perfect view of Prague Castle

Looking over to the castle from the Charles Bridge!

St. Nicholas' Church

Prague's version of Gianicolo

The church at Prague Castle

Stained glass interior

When I arrived in Rome, I made my way a few streets over from Termini for a quick dinner with Laura, a sorority friend from Emory, a relaxing way to wrap up the weekend and a sweet reminder of the fun to be had in the upcoming semester in ATL.  Though I am having an absolute blast here, I am starting to recognize the imminence of my departure.  Nonetheless, I am glad we've had the opportunity to seize each day abroad and this weekend was no exception. 

Ci vediamo dopo,

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Un Mese Di Più...What To Do?

One month more...what to do?  I cannot believe it.  Times flies faster than you could possibly think especially when 5,000 miles away from Rockville, I have found a new home.  One where, when I'm feeling under the weather, each of my roommates trades off in making me warm pasta and honey-drenched tea, where my Italian mamma Sus whips up rice with olive oil and parmigiano and tells me twice a day, "Prendi la tua medicina!," where the Chicago native at the pizza shop next to school gives me daily discounts and I now know how to call a skeevy Italian guy an asshole (stronzo!)  After a week of battling some serious sickness, I decided I had to take my recovery into my own hands and eke out some major sightseeing and Italian journeying this week...

Galleria Borghese

I wish I had some of my own images to accompany this commentary, but, unfortunately, you aren't allowed to snap any photos in the Borghese galleries.  Still, there's nothing like seeing the gorgeously decorated interior, the lifelike Bernini statues or the dark, enchanting Caravaggio paintings.  I have been to countless museums in the past couple of months, but nothing stuck out quite so much as this fantastic collection.  We went with Pier Paolo's class this past Wednesday and I can say without a doubt that this museum, situated in the breathtaking Borghese gardens, is my favorite, no doubt topping il Vaticano.  Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V, amassed the incredible works, mainly awesome Baroque pieces like Bernini's "Apollo and Daphne" and Caravaggio's "San Gerolamo" (you can see photos of these from Pinterest below).  So, if any of you are starving artists seeking inspiration, please plan your next trip here.

Apollo and Daphne c/o Pinterest

San Gerolamo c/o Pinterest

The Perks of Pigneto

Friday, pre-Venice, I had to meet up with a partner from Sociology class to get a feel for the Pigneto neighborhood of Rome and conduct a couple of interviews for a Powerpoint presentation.  The one-hour, two bus trip there seemed to forebode a taxing experience wandering unfamiliar streets and begging on hands and knees for an interview in English.  Luckily, the day turned out to be a great success from the moment I arrived and hopped a few streets over for a delicious crepe to the bus ride home.  Pigneto is an incredibly diverse neighborhood filled with immigrants of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and African origin who are respected and made to feel at home.  The area is also a residential hotspot for young students who attend the nearby Roma Tre or La Sapienza universities and for several families.  We enjoyed the edgy graffiti and striking street art that lined the corners as well as the boatload of advertisements for upcoming films and concerts.  There are several theaters in the neighborhood and it attracts an artistically engaged group.  The individuals who live there are also incredibly politically knowledgeable and expressive.  Given how cool and intelligent they are, it was a shocker to learn that they were actually friendly, unlike those charming (*sarcasm*) Italians who frequently edge me off the 870 bus.  An aperitivo at Necci (chicken with tzatsiki sauce...a nice change) and a couple interviews later, we were on our way back, but it was nice to get into the nooks and crannies of Rome that might be lost to the naked eye.  The few pictures below evoke how intriguing the area is...sometimes the hidden gems make for the greatest experiences!

Typical street corner in Pigneto...

Graffiti gallore...

Aquila Theater

Free expression at its finest...

Radiation artsy!

Necci and Alexandra, one of our interview victims!

Yummy pollo con salsa tzatsiki

Venezia: La Vita Sull'Acqua

After much anticipation and deliberation as to whether we could fit in the trip, we booked our Venice tickets last week...which unfortunately involved an overnight train that landed us in the City of Water at approximately 5:30 in the morning this Saturday.  Crazy, I know, but you take what you can get as a study abroad student.  When we arrived, all we wanted was more sleep, a caffeine fix and some warmth for goodness sake.  We weren't prepared for the tundra that is Venice in mid-November. Actually, you sort of forget about seasons in their entirety when it is still in the 50s and 60s in Rome. After a cornetto and some hot tea at the train station, we set out on a brisk morning walk to the local fish and produce market.  The smell of spidercrabs and swordfish isn't exactly the kind of wake up call I normally seek out, but it did the trick.  We got a non-touristy view of St. Mark's square, albeit the foggy weather, and ducked into a chic coffee shop for espresso before making a game plan. After a decent amount of port-hopping (many water buses were closed due to fog), we finally found an available line to Murano, the island specializing in breathtaking glass.  Once we landed, we must have visited (I kid you not!) 30 glass shops looking for souvenirs for friends and family.  I have seen beads in every fathomable shape and color...ovals, spheres, squares, strange glass daggers, Nativity figures, you name it.  We took a later bus back to Venice after our cash and stamina was exhausted and had to desperately search out a restaurant that was still open at 3.  Luckily, we found a nice corner joint where I ordered spaghetti with squid ink and grilled salmon, a nice sampling for a city specializing in fresh seafood.  After, we toured and shopped around a bit more before taking a "gondola" (AKA water taxi...we're students, we have to think cheap) to Ferrovia for our train back. The city is certainly one of a kind with its array of brightly colored buildings and its elegant gondola paddlers gracefully swinging the long boats across the shining waters that coat the entire isle.  It's the kind of city you can typically only imagine in a daydream so I am thrilled we had the chance to see it for ourselves.  

Fresh fish at the market

Wish I could have brought these home...

Morning fog doesn't obstruct the lovely views

St. Mark's

Chilly, but enthusiastic

Still chilly, still Murano!

Just a day's work for these guys...but so much fun for us! 

A kiln in Murano

The gorgeous go-to for glassblowing!

All in all, a week well spent.  Today, after showing one of Sara's friends around the city center, I split to take the 44 bus home and met a lovely Italian teenager and her mom.  The most rewarding part of our hour-long conversation was when her mom chimed in to Marla (my new friend), "Lei sembra italiana."  She seems Italian.  What?  Who?  Me?  I think the woman meant that I simply looked Italian with my dark eyebrows and hair coloring, but to me, it meant a lot more.  Because when she said it, I felt a bit proud with my newly granted title...I felt come una vera italiana.  Like a real Italian.  I hope that I retain even a glimmer of that feeling when I return home in less than 4 weeks.  But until that time, I'll enjoy what precious few days remain here.