Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Robinsons Do Italy

They are the master observers of art.

They pose by the Ponte Vecchio.

They discover beautiful views of the city from the gardens of the Pitti Palace.

They ride bikes in Lucca.

They even explore Lucca by foot.

They drive little red cars through the Tuscan countryside.

They pose in said countryside.

They finagle their way into private wine tours.

They visit torture museums? Not normal.

Then, they go to ROME. And have such a great time. A trip to be remembered. When in Rome...

They visit Vatican City.

They stand in line for St. Peter's in the rain. But don't worry, they were used to getting rained on every single day (minus 2) out of their 10 days in Italy.

They finally get in to the Basilica, and gawk at its massiveness.

And at Michelangelo's Pieta. The Sistine Chapel was also involved in the trip to the Vatican.

They see the Colosseum! "Joint is holding up pretty good, considering the Stones opened it." -Dad

They get caught, unprepared, in the rain at the Roman Forum.

They explore the Pantheon, with its perfect architectural proportions.

They discover the Tiber River.

They search the neighborhood of Trastevere for a bathroom for the boy, only to end up tricking one bar into thinking they'd buy something, while really they just ran away while the boy was inside using the facilities. 

Most excitingly, they go to ROME VS. FLORENCE soccer games! Oh wait, no they don't. They buy tickets for the game, then have it be cancelled the day before due to the sudden death of a Serie B player during a game. What are the odds?

It's hard to believe I only have three weeks left in this beautiful place.

(Eric and I found the best view of the city)

Faith, Stella and I after a piano concert in the Palazzo Pubblico. Despite falling asleep for the first half (it was   dark and he was playing Mozart, I couldn't help it), it was a great experience. Hearing "bravo" in its original language and context was also really cool.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cooking Class Photos

The group, pre-cooking class in our awesome plastic aprons.
Making gnocchi!
One of the cute pastas I made.

Cosimo, making a silly face of course.
I leave for Sicily tomorrow, my family has been here all week, and we went to Rome. I'll deal with all that later, but for now, life in Siena has been pretty awesome. Despite literally two weeks of non-stop rain...
First off, brace yourselves...I made pasta and dessert by hand in the kitchen of a delicious Italian restaurant. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am the absolute worst cook in the world. But, rest assured, I managed to not burn the place down, and after eating my creations...was still alive. Success.

We started by making cantucci, a bread/cookie dessert with almonds and sugar and honey and deliciousness. They turned out perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, I felt the need to sneak a couple off the plate, and got totally called out by the chef. Turned out he was saying "they're yours, take as many as you want," which makes the fact that I was sneaking them even more embarassing. Cue the red face.
Then we moved onto the main event, the pasta. First we did gnocchi, and basically just made a dough with huge globs of potatos and flour and whatnot, then cut it into little gnocchi shapes. We then shoved our hands into piles of essentially just flour and eggs and starting mixing away to create the dough for the rest of the pasta. When we were done mixing, the dough was then put into a machine that flattened it all out for us to cut, fill and shape. My favorite were the caramelle, little pastas in the shape of candies filled with either ricotta and spinach or eggplant. We got to personalize a bunch of the pastas too, which was fun.
Next, we ate it all. Literally. All of it. Seven types of pasta and cantucci. Insane.

Life at home has been a lot of fun recently as well (not that it isn't all the time). Yesterday, Faith and I helped Gabriello, Stella's 17 year old step-son with his English homework. And by helped, I mean I just sat there, bewildered by the difficulty of his work, occassionally helping to translate some. Faith, the English major, was really the most useful, because she could explain what the heck Shakespeare was actually saying. Without her, I was just as lost as Gabriello. Some of the lineup included Romeo and Juliet, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, and a lesson on the whigs and torries. Whigs and torries, really?!
I've learned a lot about the Italian school system recently, actually. I've always known that their tests are oral, "interrogazione," as they are called in Italian (intimidating, huh?), but I didn't really understand what exactly that meant until I befriended people who have to go through it. It's a one on one question and answer session with the teacher, with the door open so that the entire class can hear. No thank you. The only plus side, you can just say "I don't like my grade, ask me another question," if you are unsatisfied. That, I wouldn't mind. One must also take a test at the end of each high school year to move to the next grade. Pressure much? These are the reasons my Italian friends are ALWAYS studying, even if the test isn't for a month.

My Italian professor brought up another good point as well. Italian students don't do the whole "wait till the day before the test to study" thing American students are so accustomed to. Because, if you are dragging and look like crap and obviously haven't slept, you aren't making a good impression on the teacher who is evaluating you. Also, they don't write papers. What is that.

Family dinners have been particularly fun recently, usually leaving me in tears of laughter (although that's not too hard). Last night, Francesco, Stella, Natascia and Gabriello spent a good five minutes repeating "come" and "came" back and forth, as they were reciting tense paradigms, like "drink drank drunk." I tried a few, and I really realized how STRANGE the English language is. "Go. Went. Gone." Seriously, who thought of that...it makes no sense.

Anyways, Cosimo is still as cute as ever, and getting more so every day. Today he ran into Faith and I's room and yelled "Rache" and "Faity" before even greeting Stella. Love him.

Oh, and I got a haircut today! The Italian salon was definitely an experience. Despite the fact that the lady who cut my hair spoke no English, and that the only words I knew about hair styling were written on a sticky note in my pocket, it didn't turn out too horribly. I did walk out of there with some intense curls after the styling session, though...

My program is leaving for Sicily tomorrow and won't return until Sunday evening. We will be touring the city, meeting with an anti-mafia group, climbing Mt. Etna, and eating Sicilian food, aka the best kind of food. More updates to come when I return. A presto!

Friday, April 6, 2012


Hiking Cinque Terre

The hardest hike I've ever done, but totally totally worth it. At all times I was either surrounded by lush forest or sprawling vineyards, most of the time with a sharp drop-off to the sea directly on my left. That made maneuvering my way over old landslides a bit perilous at some points, but alas, I survived.

Examples of the landscape:

The hardest, steepest section of the hike took us winding through farms and towns and people's backyards, and ended with a view like this!

The sea is in-between those hills, I promise!

You may have noticed that it was a particularly cloudy day in these pictures. After being bummed out when we woke up and saw the weather, once we started hiking we decided it was a gift from God. Having a hot sun beat down on us would have been the worst, and instead the cloud cover provided a nice, cool temperature in which to stay comfortable in. It did brighten up after lunch though, during an easier hike, so we got the best of both worlds!

Each town presented its own unique and spectacular views (and food!) The last two were still recovering from the devastating landslides that occurred at the end of last year, but were charming nonetheless :)

Outside of Corniglia
One of my favorite views. Reminds me of my trip to Greece.

Pesto pizza in Corniglia, honey gelato was involved too...

Another favorite view, outside Vernazza

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Nel tuo abbraccio
davanti a me,
sparisce l'ignoto
che mi fa paura."

"In your embrace,
everything unknown
that scares me

-Lorenzo Mullon, street poet, Venice

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I know my posts have been about my travels recently, so here's a bit of an update on what's goin on in Siena (thanks for the pic, Faith) :

Tourists. Everywhere. Is 2.5 months living here long enough to have no sympathy for them and find them completely obnoxious? Probably not, but that's how I feel anyway...

But on the bright side, it's getting warm! And my family is coming on Saturday! And Cosimo (my host mom's baby grandson) said my name!

Adventures in Switzerland

"More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace
mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost,
if you can conceive of such a combination."
-Wilbur Wright

I couldn't have said it better had I invented the airplane myself.

The most common reaction I've received from my family and friends upon seeing the pictures of me soaring through the air attached to a piece of metal and cloth is: "you don't look scared at all!" or, "you look so calm." My response to that is this: how can you not be at peace when you feel lighter than air and are experiencing the most unique and tranquil sensation of your life?

I can't even come up with the words to describe the feeling of being lifted off the ground by the wind. It was nothing short of magic. If I knew even the first thing about physics, maybe I wouldn't be so amazed by it, but getting swooped up off the earth by an invisible hand was probably the most fascinating part of the entire experience. I was expecting to have to jump off a cliff of some sort and hopefully be caught by the wind. I was not anticipating just being swept into the air mid-run.

Once in the air, it was quiet, pleasant, clear. The opposite of what I assume sky diving would be like. The guy I was flying with pointed out the air pockets we were being carried on, especially when we started to trail a bird. "Look up ahead, see how that bird is being lifted up?" As soon as this sentence left his mouth, I found myself also being lifted up on that same burst of air. Incredible.

A few minutes of simple coasting later, we start with the tricks. Imagine being on a roller-coaster without the roller-coaster actually being there. He would pull us up to the point where we were almost stopped, then point us straight down and we'd dive for a few second before being evened out again.

Landing was an adventure in itself. I realized as we were getting closer and closer to the ground that my instructor hadn't mentioned anything about what to do during the landing as he had for the takeoff and during the flight. Right as I began to panic, we just touched down on our extremely padded stomachs and slid a few hundred feet to a stop. Painless!

So, the whole reason I was able to have this awesome adventure was because I have a friend, Lauren, studying in Geneva, and we spent a day there before we headed to Interlaken. Three words to describe Geneva: beautiful, French, expensive. I had been prepared for English to be widely spoken in this city, but alas, it was all French. Interestingly enough, in Interlaken, it was all German. Good thing I don't speak a word of either of those languages.

View of Geneva from the World Health Organization

Lauren is interning at the World Health Organization, so she gave me a tour of the headquarters (awesome!) then we went over to the United Nations. That night for dinner we treated ourselves to a Swiss specialty, fondue.

Lauren and I at the UN

Fondue dinner :)

The next day, Lauren, her friend Caitlin and I took a three hour train ride to Interlaken for our day of extreme sports. Here's some of my other favorite pics from hang gliding, and some from our hike afterwards:

Photo by Lauren

View from our take-off point

Train tracks going straight up the mountain

Caitlin, Lauren and I

In the town of Interlaken

The train ride from Milan to Geneva on my way there was also never lacking in beautiful views:

Lake Maggiore outside of Milan

Train yard in Switzerland