Thursday, October 25, 2012

On the European Horizon

Y'all. I'm going to Paris. And London. And Dublin.


And what's more, this will be the second (yes, second) time I'll be in Paris this year! How amazing is that?!

I have 10 fantastic days ahead of me with magnificent plans in these three incredible cities. Holy crickets.

I can not wait to tell you all about it when I return, but I am by no means wishing away these next 10 days!

Oh, and did I mention, I get Starbucks?! For the first time in a two months?? Sweet nectar of heaven, Bonnie's coming for you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

That Place You've Read About

When you read about Italy, you read of Rome, of Venice, of Florence, of Capri, and of that elusive cluster of coastal towns - Cinque Terre. Literally meaning the five lands. I'd always heard that these five seaside villages were cuter than cute and ideal for backpacking students to hike their connecting trails with primo vistas. Of course I thought these places couldn't be nearly as idyllic as everyone said, but I was so wrong. They were downright adorable. We caught an early train out of Rome on Friday and arrived in Vernazza, the town where we would be staying, by noon. Since we couldn't check into our room until 2, we spent some time lounging on the jetties of the harbor and soaking up the sun.

so happy to be in Vernazza


When 2 o'clock arrived, we found our little apartment on a back street of Vernazza, but there was no official hotel/hostel sign in sight. But the door was open. So we walked in and there was our key along with a note from the owner! How cute is that! It was a little one room apartment with a double bed and a single bed along with a kitchen sink, some cups, and our own little bathroom. It was absolutely perfect for our two nights there. (Oh, and did I mention it was cheap? I just love it when that happens.) After settling, we set out to explore for the day. Before leaving Vernazza, we climbed up an old Castle with a tower overlooking the sea and the view was so beautiful. Something we certainly were not short of on this trip was magnificent views. After the castle, we took a train to Monterosso al Mare (the only other Cinque Terre town that is to the north of Vernazza). Walking around and exploring the city, we found a local wine/pesto/marmalade/sauce shop that was recommended by a student-geared travel book. And it was recommended for a very good reason. Two words. Free. Samples. And the man who worked there was so nice. I tasted some magnificent lemon marmalade, local pesto (what the Genova region is famous for), red pesto, and so many other delicious things. The proprietor was so generous, he asked us if we wanted to try any wine and we said sure, so he opens three (yes three) new bottles of wine to give us samples. It was just so unexpectedly generous! And the man really knows what he's doing, each of us ended up buying something small, and we only did so because we had the opportunity to taste it! I walked away happily with two small jars of the aaaaaaahmazing pesto (one to eat here, and one to take back to the states). Because it was just. that. good. Once we had covered the town, we grabbed dinner at a good local restaurant then hopped the train back to Vernazza to get some sleep before our busy Saturday. 

on top of the tower

view of Vernazza from the tower

Monterosso al Mare

Saturday morning we hit the ground running: grabbed a cappuccino to power up, then struck out onto the hiking trail from Vernazza to Corniglia, it's southern neighbor. Now before I go any further, let me note, due to maintenance/safety, the primary hiking trails that are always raved about that connect the five towns and run right along the coast were unfortunately closed. But no worries: there are secondary trails that are just slightly further inland, but still have marvelous views. So that's what we took! Now, the hike between the these two towns is supposedly one of the hardest. And let me just say, it was beautiful, but it was rough. It was steps and steps and steps. They were steep and they were numerous. Essentially it was the best and most beautiful workout I think I've ever had. We hiked up the mountain that is on the south side of Vernazza, then connected with the car road that winds back down the other side to land in Corniglia. I think in total the hike took us about 2 hours.

looking back on Vernazza from the hike

on the hike

on the hike

Once arriving in Corniglia, we toured the town and found a place to picnic. We had made sandwiches that morning and bought some fruit at a stand in Monterosso and it all made for a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing lunch.


After lunch, we took a train to Riomaggiore, the southernmost town. We roamed it streets, got the lay of the land, and then spent some time by the harbor. Sitting harborside, we enjoyed some good gelato and essentially just wasted time. We had thought earlier in the day that we would continue to hike from town to town, but the first hike was so exhausting that we ruled that out early on. Before heading out of Riomaggiore, we wandered around the sea front a bit more and discovered a little beach that we didn't know was there and it was supurb. Since we didn't have our suits, we just sat on some rocks on the edge and stuck our feet in. The water was impressively clear in that little beach. The water in all of Cinque Terre was lovely, but not particularly clear. But somehow, the water in this little beach was as clear as glass. 


beach at Riomaggiore

Finally, as late afternoon was upon us, we took the train back north by one town from Riomaggiore to Manarola. Manarola was precious, but the real gold nugget was dinner. Two of our guide books recommended Trattoria del Billy, a hidden gem high up in the mountains of the town. We had read that we needed a reservation...which of course we didn't, so we hoped that by showing up at 6 (2 hours before the traditional Italian dinner time) we could snag a reserved table and vacate it before the rightful occupants arrived. And we did just that! The staff was hilarious when we showed up worn out and clad in hiking attire asking for a table at a reservation-only restaurant. As a joke, the proprietor told us that for 50 cents we could just have the cook himself! SO FUNNY. Quite the comical group. In the end, they did give us a table. The restaurant was adorable. It had primarily outdoor seating, arranged on a variety of four different balconies/terraces that branched off one very narrow and very steep staircase. One landing only had room for a table of two, another had two four person tables, two lounge chairs with a table in between, and a porch swing. And the lowest and furthest out terrace where we sat, had multiple tables, but still only sat about 20 people total. Our table was pushed up against the railing, and quite literally looking straight down on Manarola, and straight across the valley to the rows and rows of vineyards. As if that wasn't enough, the food was magnificent. This might sound silly, but specifically, the basalmic was UNBELIEVABLE. It was as thick as molasses and surprisingly sweet. So before we even got our food, the bread with the oil and that nectar-of-heaven basalmic was bliss. For dinner I had a dish of pasta with that splendidly signature Genova pesto. Abbie and Lindsey shared a bowl of seafood with squid's ink pasta. Yes. Squid's ink. As in the pasta was black. And guess what? I tried it! Aaaaaand it just tasted like pasta. Finally, once dinner was done, we rode the train back to Vernazza and turned in for the night since we had an early train the next morning. 


We caught our train bright (or rather dark) and early the next morning and were back in Rome by noon! Now all that's between me and 10 straight days of marvelous travel are three midterms. I can not wait for Fall Break! 


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Two Worlds Collide

Finally. FINALLY. It happened y'all. My life in the states finally collided with my life in Italy. Last Monday, my dearest Momsie and Popsie arrived in Rome!! Can I get a WOOT WOOT?! They had flown in the Wednesday before and spent their first few days in Florence before taking a train to Roma! Needless to say, I was SO STOKED that they were here. I've been lucky enough to dodge the homesickness bullet while I've been here, but just because I'm not homesick doesn't mean I wouldn't love to see my Mom and Dad! I picked them up from the train station on Monday afternoon, introduced them to Rome's oh-so-wonderful (that's sarcasm) public transportation system and navigated to their precious hotel/B&B in Trastevere. After my second class for the day, I met them back at their hotel and we went to dinner at the beloved Carlo Menta (remember that place?). It was wonderful. I don't know if it was the restaurant, the company, or the fact that the pizzas were 3 and the bread was free, but it was just so good.

Tuesday morning, since I didn't have class until 2, we got up and got going and traversed the town to land at the Colosseum. And let me tell you, it was a kick. Dad had downloaded Rick Steves' 30 minute audio tour onto his iPhone and he brought an earphone splitter. Sadly, we only had two pairs of earphones, so Mom and I split a pair and shuffled around the Colosseum shoulder to shoulder.

I know, we can't get much cooler, right?

on our way to the Colosseum

 Dad: "Turn around and smile!"

showing off his sweet audio tour and earphone splitter. 

matchy-matchy for the Colosseum

Wednesday morning, Mom and Dad came to see my school, after which we grabbed a cappuccino at my regular bar. Always good. Then, they scampered off to tour the Vatican until later that evening when I would be done with class. We ate dinner that night at a highly rated pizzeria on Via di Trastevere, just a few blocks from their hotel. 

And then, Thursday. What a day. I went to the Vatican that morning with my art class, and it was great, but it was unbelievably crowded. Mary Catherine landed around 8 am and took a train to Rome, where Dad met her and brought her back to the hotel until I got there around 2. Once we woke Mary Catherine up from her nap, we went and grabbed lunch at a bakery/cafe around the corner, then took the tram to the other side of the river to see the Trevi, get gelato, see the Pantheon and eat dinner in Campo di Fuori. After dinner, Mary Catherine found a turquoise necklace at a street stand, then we grabbed her stuff from the hotel and went back to my apartment to pack for Venice the next morning. 

my dear Flat Colleen in the Vatican Museum!

at the Trevi


Friday morning we left for Venice. Oh. My. Word. It was wonderful. All the things you think Venice will be, it is. The train ride was great, train rides are always great, but they're even more great when you're with some pretty cool people. When we arrived, we took a water bus to our hotel, just next to San Marcos square. We stayed in a little apartment owned by the hotel looking over a small canal. When we walked up to the apartment, there were a couple of gondolas on the canal and one of them was singing. It was just too perfect.  The apartment had three beds in one room, and then one bed in the kitchen. Soooo, later that night, MC and I moved one of the beds into the kitchen with the other. And boy, that was fun. That night we walked around Venice, and window shopped, then grabbed dinner, played some cards and turned in for the night. 

Saturday morning, we got a late start. Before going too far, we stopped at a bar for a cappuccino. We sat inside, along with the pigeons that were wandering through the bar. Quite entertaining. Mary Catherine was not a fan. Then we went to San Marcos square, walked around and did a little shopping. It started to rain while we were in the square, so we grabbed some sandwiches from sandwich row and went back to our apartment to eat lunch. I don't really know why, but that really was one of the best parts of the trip. After the rain stopped for the most part, we went out and took a water bus to Murano in the hopes of seeing some Murano glass factories. We arrived too late for the factory demonstration, but we still got to shop and watched one glass maker who was working in the back of his shop. Every store in both Murano in Venice had shop windows brimming with glass figures, jewelry, and so many other enticing things. I think Venice was one of the most enjoyable places to shop, and not necessarily buy, but just look! Once we were back in Venice, we grabbed dinner again, then took some dessert back to the apartment to eat while playing a good and much overdue game of Onze. 

the Wake Forest house on the Grand Canal!

MC and her pigeon friend

oh Venice 

on the Grand Canal


view from our apartment

On our last day, we wandered around San Marcos Square a little bit more, then took some time to shop the Rialto Bridge and the surrounding area before getting on our train back to Rome.

Rialto Bridge shopping

When we got back to Rome, Mom and Dad grabbed a cab to take them out to their hotel near their airport and then they left the next morning. MC and I went back to my apartment, then out to dinner at Carlo Menta, which (as always) was delicious! Then Monday morning, once I got back from class, MC and I decided to go shopping. Oh shopping. So good. But first, I took her to see my school, then we grabbed a sandwich and had ourselves a little picnic in a park, followed by some gelato from my favorite gelateria. After lunch, we went to Via del Corso and shopped the whole street. The WHOLE. STREET. It was so much fun, and each of us had just one or two good finds. Once we reached the end of the street, we took a break and rested our feet by sitting on the Spanish Steps. After the shopping, we headed to Trastevere to shop at some vendors in the hopes of finding a purse for MC. When we got their though, it started to pour. Absolutely pour. So we donned our raincoats and umbrellas and sought shelter in a little back-street store, where MC did find a purse! Yay! Finally, we went to Le Fate for dinner and it was just wonderful. We were in the restaurant for the better part of the storm, and the place is so cozy and warm that it was just a really nice night. 

loving her gelato. struggling to not get chocolate everywhere

on the Spanish Steps

Via del Corso

After dinner, we knocked out some homework, packed up all her stuff, then hit the hay. The next morning, she got on a train to the airport and that was it! I can't believe they've all come and gone so quickly! Talk about a whirlwind! No doubt though, it was so good that they came. They're all just such a hoot.

And MARY CATHERINE. She spent the day before her birthday on an 11 hour flight. Talk about a good sister. So today she's celebrating her 22nd birthday! Yay! 

The weather is changing here in Rome and I'm soaking up every minute. It's really getting chilly and crisp and fall is setting in! Finally!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I Left my Heart in Capri

First of all, I apologize for the lateness of this post! Things have been so crazy over here (you can read about it in the next post which should (hopefully) be up by the end of the week!) Also, I've had some trouble as of late in uploading photos, and these adventures have been just oh so amazing that I couldn't bear to write about them and not include the pictures!! Albeit, most of the pictures truly don't do justice to the experiences, but still! So, with that out of the way, all that follows is what I wrote upon returning home last weekend:

This was an incredible weekend. We had the unbelievable opportunity to go to Sorrento, Capri, and Pompeii - and my oh my was it wonderful. Really and truly, I think this was the all time best trip I've ever taken. We left Rome on Friday morning and made the 3-4 hour trip by bus. The scenery was wonderful, and the best part was when we reached the coast. The sea was gorgeous and sparkling. Sorrento and Capri are on the Tyrrhenian Sea, a part of of Mediterranean Sea. After settling into our hotel in Sorrento, we took some time to walk around, explore, and shop. Sorrento is such a precious and quaint small town and it was perfect to explore in one day. We ate dinner at a restaurant that was on top of a cliff overlooking the port of Sorrento. It was just so lovely!

the view from the cliffs of Sorrento

dinner on a cliff top restaurant, overlooking the port

On Saturday morning, we woke up early and took a boat from Sorrento to Capri, where we would spend the day. And oh my word - Capri is magnificent. It is glorious and beautiful and perfect and magical. It is by far my favorite place of anywhere I think I've been. Ever. Upon arriving, we went in search of a sailor to take us out on a boat to tour around the island and show us the best of Capri. We found one who agreed to take the 8 of us out for 3 hours, for about 18 euros/person. Such a good deal!! So we set out with our new friend, Salvatore, into the blue waters of Capri. We spent the next three hours floating around the island, visiting grottos (orange and purple), and stopping in some of the bluest waters I've ever seen in my life to take a swim. The whole time was a dream. I mean, lounging on the coast of Capri on a private boat and swimming in the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean? Is this real life?! We swam through several caves, and once we even swam through a cave to a secluded beach! I will forever dream of my time at Capri and long to go back. After we finished our unbelievable time on the boat, we went back on the island, grabbed lunch at Anacapri, shopped a bit, then caught the boat back to Sorrento. Back at Sorrento, we wandered around for a bit more, then grabbed some gelato at an amazing and well-known gelato place right under our hotel, then turned in for the night.


swimming off the coast

the water was so blue and so clear!

swimming through caves

the trademark of Capri. I made a wish when we went through it!

jumping off rocks!

Sunday morning we checked out of the hotel, hopped on the bus and drove to Pompeii. We toured the city, which I'm sure you've all heard much about. It really was incredible, how much they've found, and how well it's all preserved. Supposedly people have been saying lately that they believe there's even more buried underneath what they've already found! I'm only going to post a few pictures, since you've all seen pictures of and heard of Pompeii before! 

walking on the crosswalks of Pompeii


Two things Pine Cove has in common with Pompeii: pine needles!

and pine cones!!

streets of Pompeii. I had no idea how extensive the city was! 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bellisima Ballet Thursday

I really don't have much to say about this week. Classes were normal, oh and we had a public transportation strike on Wednesday. It really didn't mean all that much, we just had to walk the 1.5 mile route to class. But don't worry, we were rewarded with a cone of gelato. Well worth it. Other than that though, the week was pretty average. Except for today. Today was splendid. Yes, today marks the beginning of the weekend, yes I'm leaving for a fabulous trip in the morning, oh no. It was because I went to the Ballet. The Ballet. 

I have dreamed of going to the Ballet ever since I was a little girl. Ballet has always been something that entranced me. I love the grace, the floaty costumes, the way the ballerinas seem to weigh nothing and every move they make is artful. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn't continue ballet past the age of 9. And now, at age 20, in Rome, I finally got myself there. I went to the Ballet. I went to the Ballet in Rome. It was Romeo e Giulietta the Ballet, at Il Teatro dell'Opera di Roma. The show was marvelous. The opera house was fantastic. I think it's the happiest I've been in a while. I still can't believe I went the the Ballet in Rome. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. 

our "front and center" seats. NOT. but worth every penny!

so so SO happy to be there

ceiling and chandeliers 

the level of our seating. we were in little bitty rows that went up like steep stadium seats.

This will undoubtedly be one of the most treasured memories from my time in Rome. Tomorrow we leave for Sorrento, Capri, and Pompei! It's going to be a great weekend. PLUS, Mom and Dad will arrive in Rome on Monday!!! So many wonderful things happening in such a short amount of time!