Monthly Archives: February 2013

The daily life of an art student in Rome!

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IMG_3477For my sketchbook class this week, we met up at the Church of Sant’ Ignazio, near the Pantheon. Not registering where I had heard the name before, I walked into the church and was instantly blown away when I looked up and saw this above me! This is one of the first times this semester that I actually got to become face to face with a painting I learned about in art history the past year and a half. By far, this was the greatest to see in person because you truly get the feigned perspective effect that the artist, Andrea Pozzo, intended to create. It really does look 3D, but only if you stand at a certain spot in the church. Anywhere else, and its completely skewed, which I honestly think is what makes the ceiling painting so incredible!

IMG_3476Further into the Church of Sant’ Ignazio, is yet another one of Pozzo’s feigned perspective paintings, but this time it is in a circular space that gave a dome like effect. (It’s the darker circle at the top of the photo in case you can’t find it). I’m sorry the picture does not give it justice, but in person, you eyes are fooled and it is truly hard to tell what is the structure of the church and what is painted! If I wasn’t awake for my early class before arriving to this church, I definitely was now!

IMG_3480Later in our sketchbook class, we were really feeling the coldness the shade created so our teacher took us out to sunny Piazza Navona to sketch the fountains. So here, we all spread out around all sides of the fountain, capturing on paper the aquatic scene sculpted before us.

IMG_3482Next, we walked to the other side of the piazza to do a twenty-five minute sketch of capturing the late morning movement within the square and around the buildings.

IMG_2969I figured it was about time you all learned what happens when I get restless when doing hours of watercolor homework. Needless to say, I was searching for something other than paper. Luckily my roommate was a willing subject!

1254The next day, for my photography class we focused on capturing street photography. So we headed out to a market located at Campo dei Fiori to begin to photograph the people around us. In this picture, a girl from my class is attempting to go up to a woman to ask her if she can take her picture. Needless to say, we were all bashful about trying to ask people this question, and in Italian nonetheless!

IMG_3662While we were supposed to be taking pictures, I got way too tempted by the fruit stand nearby and decided to buy myself a delicious cup of strawberries for my breakfast. They even had sugar to sprinkle overtop! It was so delicious!

IMG_3669At that same stand, a guy also was squeezing fresh pomegranate juice. Now a cup of this was mighty pricey, coming in at around 4 euros for a small cup, so I decided to split one with another girl in my class. It was also delicious and oh so sweet!

IMG_3861During that same photography class, we walked over to Trastevere to walk around the alleyways photographing found objects and wall graffiti as you see one of my classmates doing in this picture.

IMG_3838I found my dream Vespa! So of course I had to take a picture of it in all its brightly colored glory! Surprisingly though, this color is quite rare in scooters here. Most of them are usually either red or black.

VENICE CARNIVAL!!!!!!!!

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Since I was blessed with the opportunity to experience one of the biggest festivals in Italy, I figured an entire post about my weekend adventure would be best to give it justice! So here is the Venice Carnival through my eyes…

On the slow train to Venice

On the slow train to Venice

So because we are cheap people, we decided to go on a slow train up to Venice because it cost so much less! The train ride totaled around 9 hours but luckily we reserved seats in this compartment. The cool thing was that the train actually looked like the ones used in movies such as Eurotrip and Harry Potter. It was nice to have my friends sharing the compartment with me because the seats scoot down to make a mini bed with the person across from you so we all just ended up squeezing together to hopefully get some shuteye.

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We arrived to Venice around 10am and by the time we finally found our hotel through the winding streets, we had a couple hours to kill until we could check in to our room. So we ended up finding a popular square called Saint Marco that led up to the water. Here there was gondolas lined up in front of us and we just chilled basking in the sun, enjoying the view, and eating gelato during our wait.

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Even though it was only Friday, people were already beginning to look festive in their costumes, parading themselves around the square.

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We explored near one of the canals later in the day. I saw this refection in my friend’s sunglasses and just thought it was too cool!

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Our first night of dinner we went out to a restaurant nearby our hotel. Since Venice is known for their seafood, being surrounded by water and all, I had to try some dishes incorporating fish. So for an appetizer I got a smoked salmon dish with olive oil and lemon over lettuce. The salmon was so fresh and delicious!

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The next day we decided that today was going to be the day we’d be able to check a very important activity off our bucket list: riding in a gondola down the canals of Venice! The experience was amazing and I had to stop myself a few times from taking so many pictures so that I could just put my camera down and be in the moment. I wanted to relish in the fact that I was actually here in Venice doing something most people only get to dream about!

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On the gondola ride we had one of the best drivers ever! Not only was he attractive but also he gave us the opportunity to learn how to paddle the gondola ourselves! My friend Becca and I were the only ones who wanted to try but it was an incredible moment and actually much easier than I predicted it to be!

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Later we explored more of the markets in several different piazzas and found this cute little stand with Italian candy.

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Saturday and Sunday was the busiest day in Saint Marco’s square and was full of people wearing masks, costumes, and tourists.

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Confetti was a common addition to the event and was seen scattered all over the ground as an aftermath of the many people throwing the paper squares into the air. One time I even had some random guy just walk past our group and dump a hand full of confetti into my hair. I guess he thought he was spreading the joy!

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As soon as the sun dropped, we pulled out our masks that we bought previously in the market that day and went out to the square to join the dance party that was occurring!

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The next day, we met up with three of our friends who came for the day and helped them find a gondola. It was fun to see their excitement as they set off for their own ride!

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Sunday night we saw our last sunset in Venice before taking a long night train back to Rome. Must I say though, it was one of the prettiest sunsets I’ve seen with the combination of the sky and lights reflecting off of the water – the picture doesn’t even give it justice!

History, Festivities, and Impact

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The view of the Tiber River

The view of the Tiber River

Even in the dead of Italian winter, Rome is absolutely beautiful! This is a view overlooking the Tiber River on one of the many gorgeous sunny days.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

For my sketchbook class, we set out to an onsite location and ended up at the Pantheon. The stark contrast between this towering ancient building and the more modern apartments/buildings surrounding it just made the Pantheon even more breathtaking!

Sketching inside the Pantheon

Sketching inside the Pantheon

Inside of the Pantheon we ended up sitting on the benches to draw for an hour or so, attempting to perfect the dome roof above us.

Looking up at the dome of the Pantheon from inside

Looking up at the dome of the Pantheon from inside

Looking up at the dome was such a humbling experience. Our professor was telling us about how he remembers one time when it snowed last year, being at the Pantheon was the coolest site ever! He said how the snow would come down through the hole in the ceiling so that when you were standing inside the building there was this small area that had the magic of a slight snowfall. How cool is that?!?

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After drawing the Pantheon, our teacher took us into a nearby church that had the most amount of leaf gold on the walls that I have ever seen so far! It was all so extravagant and beautiful.

The next day for my photography class, we went out to an area that was known for its traffic and fast driving in order to capture action shots. I loved photographing the scooters that drove by because they are one of the easiest and most common means of transportation here.

Rome's carnival

Rome’s carnival

Although Venice is known for its carnival this time of the year, each city has their own smaller version to celebrate! In Rome, there were events taking place in both Piazza Navona and Piazza del Popolo. Here in Piazza del Popolo, they kicked off the festivities with a parade and a horse show following that which was set up in a portable arena built just for this time.

Roman carnival

Roman carnival

Confetti, as well as decorative masks, are the most common items seen all around the festivities. Here my friend is joining in the festive spirit and throwing a bit of her own confetti into the air!

Roman carnival at night

Roman carnival at night

Later that night on the opening day of the carnival in Rome, occurred one of the coolest things I have ever seen! Projected onto the main archway of the piazza was a video that matched up perfectly to the architecture of the structure. Complete with more abstract modern designs as well as painterly historical images, the whole video lasted around 15 minutes in which they also included some history/stories. It was so entertaining my friends and I watched it twice!

Roman carnival

Roman carnival

Here is my roommate and my friend gathered near the arch, fully filled with joy from the amazing version of the carnival that Rome had to offer to us!

Firenze is Not a Centaur Apparently

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Okay. I understand I’m supposed to be posting about Rome. I know I’m supposed to be living IN Rome and enjoying the city I’m living in, because someday I’ll be an old spinster with 50 obese cats with only a memory of Temple Rome to keep me warm at night- I’ll never have this opportunity ever again, blah blah blah, YOLO, et cettera. I get it. But when you live within 4 hours of some of the most beautiful and historically important towns in Europe… well, can you blame me for hopping on a train every chance I get and exploring them? So bear with me one last time while I tell you about my travels outside of La Citta. Then I promise we’ll get back to talking about Rome. Really.
Let’s get started then. Last week’s destination? Florence.
Or not.
Fun-Slash-Magali-Is-Exponentially-Stupid Fact: Florence is not an Italian name. Florence is the English translation of the city’s real name, which is Firenze. I’m telling you this so that you don’t make the same mistake I did, which is wasting about 48 hours wondering why anyone would name a town after the centaur from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. On a similar note, when Wale stopped by Temple for the orientation concert like a bajillion years ago, I went around calling him Whale until somebody smacked me in the head with a food tray and put me out of my white girl misery. Misnaming is not exactly new territory for me.

Anyway, let us resume. Home to Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, the Medici mafia, and some seriously bad street performers, Firenze is one of Italy’s most important cities, both historically and culturally. This is Leonardo da Vinci’s stomping ground, after all. Here is where the Medicis built the modern-day equivalent of El Dorado. There is a 45% chance that Dante himself threw back absynthe here. This very spot is where Savonarola was like, “Yo Florence, clean your act up, otherwise Lucifer the Prince of Darkness is gonna getchu.”

Forward-thinking at its finest, people.
But who cares about all that? I was making my way to the lovely city of Florence/Firenze to visit my lovely friend Chrissie, who’s studying abroad at SACI art school from the Maryland Institute College of Art.
This is Chrissie. Say hello.
We’ve known each other since elementary school, so to be able to get together even while we were both abroad is an amazing blessing. So with an excitement witnessed perhaps
Here are the highlights from the trip:
The Chocolate Festival 
After reuniting at the train station McDonald’s (really), Chrissie and I made our way to her apartment, which just a couple of blocks away from the Duomo. On the way there, we bumped into a group of yellow tents, which Chrissie enthusiastically informed me was the annual city Chocolate Festival, where local chocolatiers sell everything from white-chocolate dipped strawberries to fudge with peanuts and bananas for a week every year. Yup, you heard right- a festival dedicated entirely to CHOCOLATE. There was not a single green food product to be found anywhere. I mean, it was like the universe wanted me there. The next day we rose up early to come back to the Chocolate Festival and engage in various acts of gluttony that would probably get me sent to the emergency room were I nearby any sort of responsible adult. We munched on waffle sticks dipped in dark chocolate, apricot-flavored macaroons, and drank hot dark chocolate that tasted more like liquid Hershey’s syrup than Nesquik. We continued to repeat this ritual for the following two mornings.
Thumbs up, Florence. What a town.
My hostel
I stayed at Locanda Daniel in Via Nazionale and let me tell you how great it was. It was so great that I actively chose to take a shower in there, even though it was full of strangers and I’m paranoid about stuff like that. I felt that comfortable. For a little over 20 euros a night I got the most comfortable bed of my life in a very central location and a view of Brunelesci’s dome that made me want to jump off the balcony.
The Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is home to some of the most iconic and beautiful works of art dating from late antiquity to the Reinaissance and Baroque. If you’ve ever heard of Botticelli or a little guy called Leonardo Da Vinci (I think Tom Hanks played him in a movie not too long ago?), this is the place that houses some of their most important works, like “The Birth of Venus” and the “Annunciation”. It is also incredibly difficult to find, if only because there are so many different ways to get to it. It took me the better part of the day to bump into it- I guess I could have looked at a map or researched it beforehand, but let’s be honest: that sounds like responsibility and I take no part in that. Besides, I’m trying to be more “spontaneous”. That’s what studying abroad is supposed to be about, right? Just hopping on a random bus and praying you don’t get murdered?
Anyway, once we got there we had about two hours to wander around before closing time. We rushed through about a couple of centuries of masterpieces, including works by Artemisia Gentilesci (aka the first relevant woman in the history of western art), and an entire room dedicated to Caravaggio (swoon). Once we realized that we had accidentally skipped the room with Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and “Spring”, we sprinted up 15 gallery rooms five minutes before closing time to see the pieces. It was like that scene in “The Dreamers”, only none of us was naked for 90% of the rest of the film. We finally found it in Gallery 10. It was, in a word, breathtaking.
The Uffizi is more rude about taking pictures than the Swiss Guard at the Sistine Chapel, so here’s a copy I got off Google.
 
The Palazzo Vecchio
If only for the lol-tastic ceiling paintings.
What the $%# is that.
Tour of SACI
On the second day, we stopped by Chrissie’s studio at SACI, and checked out her artwork. SACI is a study abroad program for art students from the States, and it’s pretty similar to the Tyler program at Temple- students get their own studios, they get exposed to some of the greatest works of art in Western civilization on a daily basis, and learn about all sorts of vegan options to be had in Europe. SACI also offers classes in frescoes, some of which I got to see. The building put Tyler to shame (sorry not sorry) and the work by the students was so good that I didn’t even mind that most of them worked in modern art.
 
Brunellesci and Ghiberti’s Respective Masterpieces
Thank you, Professor Kline, for instilling in me a fangirl passion for a piece of ecclesiastical architecture the likes of which has not been witnessed since the last Twilight movie premiere. If you’ve never heard the story, it’s a tale as old as time- basically, Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti were two great artists/architects/geniuses who battled for commissions all the time and created two of the biggest masterpieces of the Reinaissance in the process. I know they’re two dead white guys, but they knew their stuff- the Dome is Florence’s main attraction and an architectural feat, and the Gates of Paradise are basically blinding in their beautiful golden depictions of scenes from the Old Testament.

Ambulances kindly stationed near just in case of fainting
Reuniting With Old Friends
This is gonna get real cheesy, so if you’d rather not, here’s a video of a puppy that looks like a cotton ball to use up your time alternatively. Let’s get one thing straight- Leonardo is a queen, and I’ll never forget the way I clutched at the bars in front of “The Gates of Paradise” (which I later found out were reproductions , and the originals were housed in the Duomo museum, which I passed about fifty times in the span of one weekend but never went inside of. Ha. Ha. Hahahahahahahhaha *raises a knife in the air*). But the best part of all was gettting to see my friend again. As lame as it sounds, my favorite night wasn’t spent out partying with Italians or frolicking around beautiful churches- it was the night we decided we were too tired from sightseeing to go out and chose to stay at home watching “Bridesmaids” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary”. Florence is amazing and all, but so are my friends- and getting to spend some time with my closest one while living in a strange city with new people and new dialects really helped put things in perspective. Sometimes it can get pretty lonely living in a new place and doing things you’re not really used to on a constant basis. Having a friend there really helps you build a kind of home… even if it’s in the same city where Leonardo went out in drag every Friday or whatever.
Up Next/Predictions 
NOPE. Sorry, but since midterm week is coming up, I will be AWOL for, oh, I don’t know… a month. That’s probably how long it’ll take me to recover from studying. We have class while we study abroad? Those classes still follow normal educational models of testing? What?
 

Daytripping to Umbria

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The past month has been filled with exploring the city of Rome but this past weekend we got a chance to see life outside of Rome. We went to multiple little towns in the Umbria region to experience different aspects of Italian commerce. We all rolled out of bed at the crack of dawn and made our way to the bus. On the way to the first stop, we were slowly woke up to the beautiful views of the Italian countryside.

A couple hours later we arrived at the Monino Olive Oil factory. The factory is set in an old mill complimented by the olive groves surrounding it. An olive oil expert described to us the process of making olive oil and all the health benefits of a good olive oil.

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The olive oil expert! How cool of a job is that??

The best part was the tasting. Apparently, there is a whole procedure to tasting olive oil! So we all followed his lead in a process of sniffing and inhaling and swishing and breathing. Although having just olive oil was a little difficult so early in the morning, we learned a lot from the different tastes and smells. We were then given delicious bruschetta to see how the different olive oils compared.

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Emily, Sarah, Lydia, and I- all now olive oil experts! 🙂

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Delicious bruschetta!!

Our next stop was a small family owned vineyard. The entrance was elegantly decorated with a variety of wine bottles.

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We were given a tour by the wine taster of the factory and the cellar.

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Our sommelier- what an even cooler job!

 Then, we got again to the best part, the tasting! The tasting room had a beautiful view on the vineyard and we were able to enjoy three delicious glasses of wine.

The first was a sparkling rosé wine. Because the bubbles slowly rose to the top, we could tell it was a good wine.

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The second was a sweeter white wine. We learned how to observe the greenish tint in the white and describe the different scents.

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The third was an aggressive red wine. We swished the wine around to see how the drops or “tears” of wine fell slowly done the sides. The wine would have been perfect with a big, juicy steak!

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After the wine tasting, we all took our afternoon naps on the cozy bus. Our next stop was the world famous Derutta Ceramics Factory.

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We were privileged enough to meet Mr. Grazia, the owner himself, who explained how dependent his industry is on the American economy. I had no idea that so many companies used to depend on small companies like theirs for their products.

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Mr. Grazia in his office 🙂

Then, we were walked through all the various rooms of the factory to see the process of making the ceramics.

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I have been loving exploring the city of Rome. However, touring the Umbria region showed me how many other treasures Italy holds!

A Taste of Rome

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Celebrating with gelato!

Celebrating with gelato!

To reward ourselves for getting through our first full week of classes in Rome, my friends and I headed over to a gelateria near the Piazza del Popolo. All of us chose two different flavors ranging anywhere from dulce de leche to chocolate to strawberry. We couldn’t resist and ended up have a bit of everyone’s different flavors and it all tasted absolutely amazing!

The view overlooking the Tiber river

The view overlooking the Tiber river

On a random weekend day we decided to go explore a part of Rome we had never been before (this was south-west of the Vatican). As you can see, we had to cross the bridge to get there and we had yet another day of beautiful weather. This part of Rome had more alleys and cobblestone streets, portraying the more stereotypical Roman environment.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

We walked through the Piazza Navona while exploring and came across many street artists’ work. It was so cool to see how Rome inspired these artists and the techniques they used to capture what was around them.

Satisfying our American food craving

Satisfying our American food craving

Even though Italian food is quite good, there comes a point where my friends and I also craved some good old American grease. We found a restaurant called The Perfect Bun where they served some American favorites such as delicious burgers and fries. It was just the break we needed from pasta, while also fulfilling the longing for food back home.

my 'birthday cake'

my ‘birthday cake’

On Sunday, January 27th, was my twentieth birthday. Since we didn’t want to go out Sunday night because of having an 8am class Monday morning, we ended up celebrating my birthday Saturday night. Before we went out to hit up a club, my friends surprised me with a chocolate pastry that they stuck a candle in and sung to me. Even though this was my first birthday without my family, my friends still made this day special for me and consequently made me feel more at home.

The most amazing Nutella and banana crepe ever!

The most amazing Nutella and banana crepe ever!

On my birthday morning, I decided to go explore a crepe place that was located on the way to Temple. Here, there were endless options of what you could get on a crepe and I decided to go with the Nutella/banana option. It was amazing watching the guy make them because he first spread Nutella and banana on half of the crepe, then folded it again and spread another layer of Nutella, and finally topped it all off with sprinkling cocoa powder on top. It was honestly the best thing I ever tasted and totally melting in my mouth! Best thing was that it was only around 3 euros!

The Colosseum! :)

The Colosseum! 🙂

On Tuesday, my sketchbook class met at the Colosseum metro stop. The crazy thing about this though was how as soon as you walk out of the metro it’s like BAM! The Colosseum! Seriously though, it’s towering over you and is quite a humbling moment, as this famous ancient icon stands right in your face.

The San Pietro at Tuscania

The San Pietro at Tuscania

All the sketchbook classes went to Tuscania for the day on Friday to sketch for most of the day. When we first got there, there was this amazing blue sky and bright sun shinning above us as we sketched our first subject, San Pietro, which was a Romanesque church built sometime around 6th century B.C.

The Santa Maria Maggiore at Tuscania

The Santa Maria Maggiore at Tuscania

Another church we got to explore was the Santa Maria Maggiore. It was more decorative in the inside with very graphic images of hellish figures. Both churches though, rested outside the city walls, up on the hill.

Sketching the beautiful scenery in front of us

Sketching the beautiful scenery in front of us

Our ending point for the day in Tuscania consisted of all the sketchbook classes sitting on the wall’s edge and sketching the church and a castle’s ruins. It was probably the most gorgeous scene I have seen so far here in Italy.

Helllooooo Rome!

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My first glimpse of gorgeous Italy

My first glimpse of gorgeous Italy

Coming into land, I was exhausted from the long plane ride but quickly perked up when I looked out my window and saw my first sights of the beautiful Italian countryside. My pulse quickened as I realized that as soon as I landed, my several month long adventure would embark, leaving me unsure of what to come but also filling me with excitement of the unknown.

The view from the apartment's porch the first day in Rome

The view from the apartment’s porch the first day in Rome

Upon arriving to Rome, we were faced with a beautiful, sunny day. We reached our residence and quickly found our apartment to get settled into. In mine, there was a large porch area with this view of the surrounding apartment buildings.

The kitchen and living area in our apartment

The kitchen and living area in our apartment

3. After we got to the apartment and thoroughly explored the rooms, we began moving in and getting situated in our new home for the next few months. Our living room/kitchen is probably the room most used by my roommates and I. We were always told before coming to Rome how our apartment would be smaller than normal but honestly, it’s actually quite spacious for a city apartment and almost cozy.

The pizza we ate the first night in Rome.

The pizza we ate the first night in Rome.

4. The first night in Rome, everyone on the program was invited to a pizza night at the Temple building. It was a way for us to navigate our way to the building where our classes would be, as well as an opportunity to meet other Temple Rome students. When we got there, we had our first Roman pizza that was similar to that of what you could get in the U.S., except the toppings were totally different and delicious.

In St. Peter's Square at the Vatican

In St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican

Throughout orientation week, we had a lot of free time to go explore the city. One of the days, I went out with my friends to the Vatican and then walked through St. Peter’s Square.

The beautiful hilltop town of Todi

The beautiful hilltop town of Todi

The Sunday after we arrived, the whole group took a trip to a town called Todi. This was a town that had a medieval look to the architecture that created an old timely ambience.

One of the ally streets we explored in Todi

One of the ally streets we explored in Todi

We had around two hours to explore the town and felt adventurous as we ventured down random allies such as this one. While doing this, it was fun to imagine people walking around these streets centuries ago and what it might have been like back then.

A piazza in the town of Todi

A piazza in the town of Todi

There were several piazzas in this town that were lined with cafes around the edges but always had a large cathedral at one end of it. It was all so intriguing and it immediately became obvious to see why many old movies such as Romeo and Juliet were filmed here.

My favorite cathedral we explored in Todi

My favorite cathedral we explored in Todi

This is one of the cathedrals in Todi that was very timely but also had a gothic architectural feel to it. The interior was equally as beautiful but had a more delicate approach to its design. As interesting as the design was though, what truly made me love this cathedral was the feeling that one got as they walked through the doors and suddenly felt very small and unimportant. The humbling experience touched me more than anything.

The whole Temple Rome group gathered at Titignano

The whole Temple Rome group gathered at Titignano

As a group we later went to a castle, which was half an hour outside of Todi, for a traditional four hour Italian meal. While waiting to go inside, we took a group picture of all of those in the group, super excited for this semester!

One of the dishes from the traditional Italian meal

One of the dishes from the traditional Italian meal

There were so many dishes and courses throughout this meal and this was once of my favorite that consisted of different kinds of meat fresh from the animals on their land. Apparently all the food and wine from the meal was grown on their land so it all was so delicious and fresh.

A toast to the semester!

A toast to the semester!

A toast with all my friends to this semester and all the adventures that are about to unfold over the next few months! Can’t wait to see how this all enfolds as the semester continues!

Beamer, Benz, or Bentley / Metro, Trains, or Buses

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Before arriving in Roma, I was a little unsure of how I would manage getting around the actual city. Philadelphia has a pretty comprehensive system of transportation including trains to just about everywhere, bus routes, taxis, and of course the Broad Street Line Subway. In addition to those public means, I’ve had my baby Coco, aka my mini cooper, to get me from point A to point B.  From our residence in Roma, I was told we had a forty-minute walk to campus. Now I don’t know about you, but I start tasting blood when I walk up a flight of stairs. A forty-minute walk would probably result in my immediate collapse and death, and ain’t nobody got time for that. Luckily, transportation in Roma comes in many forms and is pretty easy to grasp.

The Metro:

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            With that 40-minute walk in mind, I was overjoyed to discover how close we lived to the Metro. From our apartment it’s a three-minute walk to Cipro station, a ten-minute ride to Flamino, and a five-minute walk to campus. Now that commute I can handle. The metro is a huge asset for a study abroad student. With a monthly pass for about 34 euro, you can travel throughout the entire city on both the A and B lines. The C line (the line I would probably use the most) has been under construction for a few years. The problem with construction in Rome is once you start digging; you’re bound to stumble upon a few relics. Case in point, the C line remains unfinished.

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            The Metro is sort of like Broad Street Line, except it actually brings you relatively close to your destination. We hop on the Metro at least two times a day, but it’s probably closer to five. Depending on the time of day, you can either sprawl out over multiple seats or you’re left smushed between a little old lady and an overeager 15-year-old boy. The actual Metro has TVs that feature some of the most bizarre adverts I’ve ever seen. The main goal seems to be showing funny clips of cats walking across bridges, or clowns goofing off in front of a black screen. In addition to the televisions, amusement comes from your fellow passengers. Public displays of affection are wildly accepted so don’t be surprised if the couple to your left is busy making out or more.

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            If you enjoy impromptu performances, the metro is the place to be. Any ride that doesn’t include the glass-shattering noise of an accordion is a small gift from God… Musicians love to turn the metro into their stage. Picture standing on a jerky Metro at 9am Wednesday morning, after Taco Tuesday did you dirty the night before, and a man begins to blast the notes of some obscure Italian tune directly into your ear. I appreciate performing arts, but I could do without the ocular assault and coin jar shaking. I actually prefer the gentleman on the Broad Street Line that clammer through the aisles yelling, “DVDs $5”!

Buses:

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            Buses in Roma continue to be a mystery to me. There are so many different numbers and routes to chose from that I usually just skip them completely. I’ve had to venture on them once or twice for class excursions and the flashbacks of sticky railings and the strong stench of urine continue to haunt me. The drivers pick and chose where to stop and there’s really no timetable to follow. Buses in Roma, like in Philadelphia, are not my number one choice for travel. Other students seem to have had more success however, and swear by the system.

Taxis:

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No more iPhone mirror shots

My relationship with Roman taxis was pretty solid until last week. Since the Metro stops running by 11:30pm weeknights and 1:30am weekends, we’ve grown accustomed to hailing a cab home at night. You can find the white taxis just about everywhere in the city, and when split between a few friends, they’re pretty affordable. I even managed to snag a free fare when I was lost last Thursday. I told the driver I was a little turned around and started up a conversation in Italian! Cab drivers continue to be a huge part of improving my Italian. He told me I was beautiful and sent me on my way to Piazza Navona without having to pay! Score.

That experience is mostly out shadowed by my Tuesday night fiasco of losing my iPhone 5 in the back of an unknown taxi. Tragically, my precious phone is officially listed as KIA. No phone has meant no social media on the go and no camera for me! The loss of my iPhone has been a tough battle to get through; luckily I have insurance and a new one is supposed to be delivered today. I don’t know how people manage to go an entire semester without a smart phone, let alone without a phone at all, you’re all either insane or a lot better off than me!  I’m counting down the minutes until I have my lifeline to world back.

Trains and Trams:

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            I’ve been on two trains since arriving in Roma, one to Venezia and one to Viterbo. The high-speed train to Venezia was a blast, but probably because it lead me to Carnivale! The regional rail track to Viterbo was a lot less glamorous but still offered me a beautifully scenic route into the Italian countryside. Trains are an asset for study abroad students, but really only for traveling outside of Roma.

Getting around Rome is a breeze once you get the hang of your choice of transportation. I’ve also been informed that people do actually walk places as well… bless their hearts. Truth be told, I did manage to survive a five plus hour walking tour, so I can confirm it’s easy to walk from place to place in the city. It’s worth doing at least once; there are so many hidden gems along the way to stumble upon. I’ve found my favorite church, bakery, and park on foot! When there’s a specific destination in mind, hop on the metro. If you have time to burn or just feel like wandering, you won’t regret the effort of walking around this beautiful city.

Other Notable Events:

– I babysat a six-year-old Italian girl and helped improve her English! It was a lot of fun and made me miss babysitting back home!

– We went to Mood Nightclub and had an incredible time despite people setting our expectations pretty low. Casey and I met the owner as well!

– Mega Burger delivers pancakes until 5am… praise the lord. I can now cross pancakes off my list of food that I desperately miss. Pad Thai continues to be number one.

My lack of an iPhone means I have no new photos to share, but fear not: they’ll be back and will definitely make up for lost time.

When You’re Wearing a Mask, Anything Goes

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How do I even begin to describe Carnivale di Venezia? In retrospect, the long weekend seems like a blur of masks, champagne, confetti, and strobe lights. In other words, it was incredibly awesome.

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THURSDAY

Casey and I boarded a high-speed train at 5:30pm to head to Venezia and meet up with Tom and Avery. We packed the necessary essentials including sandwiches, crisps, ipads, and wine.  Three hours and two liters of vino later, we arrived in Mestre (the mainland across from Venice), only to realize my phone died and we didn’t remember our address. At this point, Casey and I don’t even panic when these situations arise. We quickly charmed a train station employee into letting us charge my iphone in his office and then grabbed a taxi to the apartment we rented for the weekend!

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Thursday night in Venice should have been a sleepy one. It was not. We managed to discover the only nightclub in Venezia, a small place called Piccolo Mondo. It was located in a tiny alleyway- the only clue to its existence being the large wooden doors and intercom. Inside was a wonderland of lights, music, and bizarre characters. I befriended the French bouncer Jacques, Casey danced with Italians to David Guetta, and Avery actually approved of the DJ. We danced, we spoke French, and we made it back home by 5am. Piccolo Mondo blew us away.

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FRIDAY

I woke up Friday morning and decided to have some tea in our meditation room before rousing the other hounds. The apartment was super cute and right next to a delicious bakery. I’ve never had so many delicious treats! Eventually, Tom and I were able to wake up Avery and Casey, and we headed towards the island to buy masks and explore a bit. On the actual island we spent a few hours looking at the amazing selection of handmade masks offered to carnivale participants. Masks ranged from inexpensive touristy ones to 100-euro handmade pieces of wearable artwork. Stands littered the streets, and shops dedicated solely to mask making could be found around every turn. We easily spent the rest of the day exploring the hidden passageways and tiny bakeries!

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Venice is incredibly beautiful and picturesque; I can’t wait to bring my family back to see it in person. I fell in love with their signature winged lion and gorgeous buildings, there was something beautiful to see around every corner! We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant called Trattoria la Rosa dei Venti and I gave up vegetarianism for their Tagliatelle mari e monte (pasta with shrimp). It was the best decision I’ve made in awhile; the dish was phenomenal. YUM!

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Then the sun went down, the masks came on, and Venice got rowdy. The night started off normally, we went in search of some new friends and spent a bit of time at a bar near the main square. As if on cue, Casey and I decided to leave the group and venture towards Piccolo Mondo to do some more dancing. After making more wrong turns than I thought possible, it was two am and my alarm reminding us to go home (so we wouldn’t be dead for the events tomorrow) was blaring. Frustrated at being lost, we were about to head back to Mestre when the distant thud of reggae music began to reach us. Unable to ignore this strange new addition to night, we kept walking until we came face to face with a giant factory holding a free reggae-trance concert! We looked at each other, then the clock, and headed inside.

Once we were in, I pulled Casey through the hundreds of masked people up to the front row. Ever the ambitious one, I decided that we needed to get on stage. I turned to Casey and said, “hold my jacket” before making eye contact with one of the guys on stage. Ten minutes later we were being escorted along the barricades towards backstage. While the DJ was taking a break and had his track on auto-play, our moment came. We walked on stage and looked out at the hundreds of people dancing to the music under strobe lights. I started dancing, held up my arms, and then screamed, “I’M FEARLESS ”! It was a minute of pure, reckless fun. Completely relishing in this ridiculous moment, I turned to smile at Casey only to find her literally inches away from the DJ’s equipment. Before I could scream NO, she was messing around and producing her own beats. Within seconds security came up and lead us off the stage, into the crowd, and then out of the factory. In about 90 minutes, we managed to make it into a reggae concert, got invited on stage, and then consequently were kicked out of the venue. Unreal Moment Number 87 of studying abroad, check.

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SATURDAY

We traded sleep for redbulls and made it onto Venezia for the biggest day of Carnivale late Saturday morning. The island was packed with thousands of people dressed up in various costumes and masks. Little kids, students, and tourists filled the tiny streets. We bought champagne and confetti and had a blast starting battles with all the little kids we passed. The weather was freezing; we actually saw some snow (and thunder and lightning!) Saturday night, but otherwise the sky was clear and the city looked beautiful. We met up with Brian and Joe for dinner before heading to Club Orange to celebrate into the night. We decided we wanted to dance and heard about a rave happening on the mainland from a girl I met waiting in line for the bathroom. My new Italian skills are continuing to be paramount in this entire experience.

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Naturally, the six of us ended up getting lost after hopping off the bus. Skipping ahead, we managed to convince an Italian girl and her boyfriend to drive us in their two cars to the most underground club I have ever seen. This place was unreal; inside there was a dancing penguin, crazy lights, and a huge sign that just read, “POPCORN” covering the wall. We danced until exhaustion kicked in and we were forced to head back to our apartment. Fast forward through two hours of blissful sleep and we were on a train back to Roma. When we finally made it home, we crawled into bed and slept for the rest of the day in a fruitless attempt to feel like real people again. It’s Monday night and I’m still completely knackered from the experience.

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Venezia was a complete thrill and I can’t stop smiling when I think about it. This entire semester is starting to spin around me like a dream; it seems too fun or special to even be real. I can physically feel the contentment and life that I’m breathing in over here. I’ve found it in little moments since I arrived in Italy: when I’m leaning against a train window or have my elbows on the beaten up wood of our favorite pub, when I can’t stop laughing in our aged and broken kitchenette, or I’m lying awake at four am. It’s a moment of recognition that things worked out and I’m where I’m supposed to be. It feels right, like home. I can only wish the same for you. Now stop being sappy and check out some of pictures of how it all went down:


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How to Survive Carnevale in Venice: A Three-Step Guide

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Carnevale. Carne. Vale. Carne= meat. Vale= Go. Meat goes.

Normally you wouldn’t catch me anywhere near a festival that celebrated the disappearance of meat- in fact, you’re likely to find me huddled on a street corner holding out my index fingers in an X sign at it-  but for Venice’s 2013 Mardi Gras celebration, I was willing to make an exception. After all, this is the city that’s managed to literally walk on water for a couple of centuries now. They want to go vegetarian for 40 days? Fine by me. (Sudden thought: maybe the reason WHY they’ve managed to stay afloat for so long is because they’re super lightweight from lack of protein? Investigate.)

ANYWAY. I certainly will not condone a meatless holiday, no matter how many centuries and religions incorporate it into their lifestyles. That sounds like healthy living and I’ll have no part in that. However, I am more than willing to accept a two-week festival in which dressing up in 17th century garb and going about your business at H&M or whatever is perfectly normal. With that thought in mind, I headed to San Marco last weekend with a couple of pals to partake in the festivities. Between hanging out at the Doce’s palace, flailing outside of St. Mark’s Basilica like some kind of demented worm and dancing at piazzas whose names I quite frankly have no interest in remembering, I had a magical time. Here are some tips to ensure you will too.

1. Keep it rull
As in, see as much of the real Venice as you can. With the rise of a little thing called the internet, travel is now easier than ever… which unfortunately means plagues of fanny-packed tourists and so many souvenir shops that it can all start to seem a little Eurodisney after a couple of hours. I managed to catch a play about the history of Venice (Whatever, I’m a huge nerd, sue me) and if the British actors are anything to go by, the city has an amazing history that borders on the magical. Like, did you know Venetians used to just wear masks all the time during the winter months before Mardi Gras? You could do whatever you wanted and no one would know your identity. You could commit murder! You could have a passionate love affair! YOU COULD READ 50 SHADES OF GREY WITHOUT BLUSHING 50 SHADES OF SHAME. And did you know that Saint Mark didn’t even die in Venice? This prophecy foretold that Marky Mark would die in Venice, but when he didn’t, some randos stole his remains and hid them in baskets under meat that was considered unholy for the Muslim populations at the time (that way they wouldn’t get searched), and brought him back to Venice. And let’s not even mention the fact that Casanova practically coined the term “sex addict” here.  As far as I’m concerned, 18th century Venice was practically Vegas. And you should see most of it.

2. With all the madness of different languages being thrown around (Southern English, Australian English, and British English) and the mess of winding streets seemingly constructed before a time when street signs were invented, locate the nearest thing that feels like home and cling to it desperately when things get too unfamiliar.

THANK GOD

3. Dress up!

Everyone does it and you will look like an idiot if you don’t. 18th century garb is preferred, but we spotted a couple of hippies, a nun, and some loaves of bread.

So that’s why he’s resigning… #TheRealPope

EXTRA: Don’t Panic!

Venice is beautiful but can be extremely frustrating to navigate with its clogged up streets and confusing water buses. Make sure to allow for ample time to get to everywhere you want to go. Like your flight. Which we missed. 9:15AM FLIGHTS AND CARNEVALE NIGHTS DO NOT MIX. REMEMBER THIS. But most of all remember THIS: enjoy yourself. Life is short, and the Venetians knew this. Why else do you think they practically coined the term YOLO? So do yourself a favor and take it all in.

Up Next: 

FLORENCE! Forgive the caps, but I’m making my trip to Tuscany to visit my friend and slight soulmate Chrissie, who’s a MICA student studying abroad at the same time as me. Look forward to lots of shrieking and men-bashing (it’s Valentine’s Day, after all!)

Predictions

1. I will laugh inappropriately at The David for about 0.34 minutes. I’m sorry but I’m only human

2. I will cry at the mere sight of Brunelleschi’s dome and Ghiberti’s “Doors to Paradise” (why do I CRY so much lately? You’d think I was a character in “Perks of Being a Wallflower”)

3. I will shower Showtime and HBO with requests for a minseries on the Medici family. Come on, they’ve done The Tudors and The Borgias, this is not an extraordinary request.