Friday, December 10, 2010

Well, that went fast

I'm currently sitting in London's Heathrow airport having just enjoyed a bagel and Starbucks pondering where the Fall 2010 semester went.

As always, it was over in the blink of an eye.....which is sad because it was a good semester. I really enjoyed the students that spent their semester in Rome and we had some great adventures. Now, I'm on my way home for a much-needed break before our first full semester of 23 students. Ahhh!! Mama mia! This is twice as many students as previous semesters...heaven help us!

I hope this finds those out in cyberspace preparing for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I pray that as Christmas approaches we would all reflect on what Christmas is all about....a baby born in a manger whose sole purpose was to reconcile a dying and decaying world to the Lord thru His death on a cross--born to die. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Forza Roma!!

I am responsible for planning and implementing at least one event a month that fosters community building here on campus. Usually this involves night tours of Rome, weekend getaways, girls' nights out, and soccer games. Without a doubt, students' favorite event has been the soccer game. So far I've been to two Roma games and while they have been a fun cultural experience, nothing prepared me for the game we went to two weeks ago. Oh.My.Stars.

It was challenging finding a date that worked in our schedule and Roma's schedule. Really the only date that worked was last week. I wish we could have gone to a game earlier in the semester, but then again...maybe not.

Roma played Bayern-Munich and from what I've been told Roma lost to them in their last 2 meetings. So, this was a big game for Roma. We arrived at the tram stop near Piazza del Popolo and were stunned to see it so crowded. I had no idea how we would all manage to get on the tram. Well, we didn't make the first one, but the second one seemed like it for us. Have you ever seen news footage of mobs of people pushing against one another, straining to get into a store or out of a stadium? This is what it was like trying to get on to the tram. We were being shoved from behind and I was a bit nervous because there were two small children in front of me. I was worried they would get trampled! I did what I could, but the end result was me being shoved forcefully from behind onto the tram only to fall to one knee. Scary stuff!!

Finally, the tram moved and we made our way towards Stadio Olimpico. Upon our arrival we followed the crowd that was moving towards the stadium. As we made our way around the stadium towards our section, I noticed a group of police officers escorting a rowdy group of people dressed in red and white, singing loudly for all to hear. Hmmm...that's interesting. We kept on and suddenly found ourselves in the midst of the crowd. Germans. We were surrounded by the Bayern-Munich fans! Oh my. I tried to lead our group out of the mob, but was stopped by a police officer. I told him that I had tickets in the curva nord. He looked at me and my students behind me with suspicion. "Tedesco?" he asked in Italian. He was asking me if I was German! "No! Forza Roma!" I replied in Italian--No! C'mon Roma! He laughed and gestured for us to move to his left. We finally broke free from the crowd and made our way to the entrance. As we waited in line to get through the gates, a police officer motioned for one of my students to approach the fence where he asked her if she was German. Seriously? Are we wearing the German flag somewhere on our bodies?

Finally, we made it through the line and each went through the turnstiles. I waited on the other side for my students and Lynda only to be informed that one of my students was having difficulty getting in. I wasn't sure what to do and as I was deciding I was approached by a female officer. "German?" she asked me. NO! For the 100th time, I am not German. I am an American! I am a Roma fan! This, however, was not my response. I kindly replied that I was an American. "Ok," she said and then proceeded to help my student get through security. Whew!

Finally! We climbed the stairs into the stadium and to our section. Holy moly! We were down where the action was...with all of the craziness!! The game had just started and, as always, the Roma fans were going nuts with their chanting and song singing. To the right of us down a ways was the German fan section. Every now and then a Roma fan would yell something to the Germans.

The first half passed rather quickly with Bayern-Munich scoring two goals. Rome was not happy. The atmosphere in the stadium at the start of the second half was electric. People were excited and chanting. Goal Roma! The crowd goes wild. Goal Roma! The crowd goes nuts! Goal Roma! The crowd goes INSANE!!! Grown men were practically crying as they threw their arms around one another, singing, chanting, and doing whatever else one does as an Italian male....that being obscene and rude gestures directed at the opposing team's fans.

Soon enough the clock wound down and....Roma won!!!! It was an amazing comeback and grown men did start to cry! My students were grabbed by others around them and hugged. Suddenly, the entire stadium broke out into singing: Grazie Roma!! My students, myself, and Lynda got into it--though she thought they were singing Lazio Roma, which would never happen cause Roma and Lazio are bitter rivals--we were waving our scarves, raising our hands, and singing at the top of our lungs.

Honestly, it was an incredible night and I will never forget it. The mood of the stadium was unlike anything else I've ever was alive, vibrant, and contagious. One of the best experiences in doubt. Forza Roma!!!

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

All dressed up and no where to go....

I don't know that I can stress enough how important flexibility is when living in Italy. You have to be able to roll with what you're given...or not given as the case may be. If you get caught up in the mentality that "this just wouldn't happen at home" or "I can't believe this country functions like this..", well, you'll find yourself having heart palpitations on a regular basis. Instead, take life in Italy as it comes because you never know what's going to happen. Take our recent opera outing for example...

Lynda decided last summer that she wanted to dedicate a class to opera and to close out the lecture by taking students to an actual opera. I was excited because I've never been to an opera and I love the theater and the arts. Plus, we decided we would make an event of it and have everyone dress up. So, there we were....all dressed up and looking fine as we waited outside the Teatro della Opera in Rome. It was a nice evening and nobody minded waiting until the doors opened as they appeared to be closed. The thing was though,the show was scheduled to begin in 15 minutes. I would have thought there would be more people milling around, doors would be open...there would be more life around the theater. But, then again this is...Italy. Still, I became suspicious so I went to ask a security guard and he directed me to the box office. I walked up to one of the windows and asked the guy behind the glass what time the doors opened and he told me to talk to his colleague. She took one look at my tickets, counted them, and pulled out a stack of bills and began to count. When she was finished, she handed me the cash. Huh? Apparently, the show was cancelled due to a lack of financing. O-K. Lynda checked the internet the night before and there was no mention made of the show being cancelled. Oh, Italy!

I remembered that at St. Paul Inside the Walls church they often have a performance of a selection of arias from La Traviatta. So, we decided to check it out. We walked to the church and were kindly greeted by members of a Korean choir. Turns out that they were performing arias from various operas that evening instead of the regular performers. Hmmm....not quite what we had in mind. We took a minute to think about it and decided that we would stay as it was free and afterwards we would go somewhere for dessert. As we approached the door, they closed it because it was time to start the show. O-K. Shot down...again. Now what? A movie! We can go to a movie seeing as we weren't far from Piazza Repubblica.

So, one of my students ran up the street to check on movie times, etc for us only to return disappointed because nothing was playing in english. Shot down again!! Now what!? We were all dressed up...looking forward to a night out. What should we do? Go for tiramisu of course!

Several of my students from the spring semester had discovered a tiramisu place that made 4 different kinds of the decadent dessert. Yuuuummm. So, we all hopped on the metro, spent a good 45 minutes looking for the restaurant, and finally indulged in some deliciousness.

It certainly wasn't the night we'd expected, but that's ok. We ended up having a lot of fun and it was a great cultural lesson for my students. You gotta roll with it here because the alternative isn't pretty!

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Leave the gun, take the cannoli: Sicilia

Each semester I plan an optional trip somewhere in Italy for any student that wants to participate. Last year we went to Cinque Terre and Sorrento. So the question was: where to this year???

I have long been fascinated with the island at the bottom of Italy's boot. I admit that much of what I knew about Sicily was from The Godfather trilogy and other mafia-related stories. Since moving to Italy I had heard that it was a beautiful island with much to offer, but I didn't think it would be a realistic weekend getaway because the train to Palermo took 11 hours!! That's longer than my flight back to the US! No thanks. Still, I wanted to see if we could get there some other way....ferry, plane, swimming...well, the ferry was out because it took as long as the train, swimming was out because.....well, I don't think that needs a reason as to flying it was. I was quite surprised to find fares on a budget airline as low as €17 each way. Wow! What a steal.

So, the second weekend in November found myself, Lynda, and 7 students bound for Palermo. We arrived on the island late morning and I was immediately in awe at it's beauty. The ocean was a vivid cerulean blue against the rugged stone and scarce vegetation of land. Inland, rough mountains rose from the ground towards the sky. It was so beautiful!!!

We took the shuttle into the city from the airport and from there we walked to our hotel. I was impressed by the city as you could easily spot the different cultural influences in its architecture--Italian, Arabic, and Norman.

We stayed near the opera house that's featured at the end of The Godfather 3. Our hotel was nice and run by really lovely people. After checking in, we ventured back out in search of food. And this is where I was caught off guard. Having lived in Rome for the last year and a half, I am used to finding a restaurant/trattoria/osteria/tabacchi on nearly every corner. Not so much in Palermo. We had a hard time finding decent places to eat nearly all weekend. We did not, however, have a hard time finding delicious cannoli......YUUUUMMMMM. So good!

Anways, I digress...after finding something for lunch we proceeded to exploring the city. Lynda and I stuck together for the weekend and were occasionally joined by 4 students. We spent the weekend checking out the cathedral, old castles, other churches, and sitting by the ocean.

Overall, it was a great weekend and it offered a taste of Sicilia. I would love to have more time
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Lago di Como

Well, I had every intention of writing this post about a month ago, but has gotten in the way of updating this blog. Hey, better late than never....

When Lynda and I were trying to decide where we wanted to spend our fall break we decided that we wanted to go somewhere that we'd never been before. I immediately threw out Lake Como as a destination. I've always wanted to travel to Italy's Lake District and I wasn't disappointed.

We stayed in the lakeside town of Varenna. Set along the banks of Lake Como, Varenna is a quaint town that I imagine is overrun with tourists in the summer, but because fall had arrived along with cooler temperatures and gray skies we practically had the town to ourselves.

After checking into our hotel, I went out exploring on my own since it wasn't raining yet and I wanted to sit by the lake. I practically grew up on a lake in southeastern Wisconsin and love being next to the water. So, after I meandered through the quiet town I sat next to Lake Como for almost an hour just listening to the water lap at the shore. I was immediately transported back to Brown's Lake, WI and my childhood. I felt such peace sitting there, looking at the mighty Alps across the water from me.

The next day Lynda and I ventured across the lake to the town of Bellagio, another quaint town beside the lake. The weather was out of control! It was blustery, cold, and sometimes rainy. Still, we had a great day wandering the cobblestone streets, perusing stores, and eating a yummy lunch of funghi pasta.

Later as we made our way back to our hotel via the path that runs along the banks of the lake we almost found ourselves in the lake the wind was so strong! There was an incident involving Lynda's glove that I won't bore you with...but let me tell you that I haven't laughed so hard in a long time!

On our last day we awoke to....sunny skies! Of course. We're leaving so why wouldn't the weather clear!? The view stole my breath. The water was a sharp and clear cobalt blue, while from it's banks the imposing Alps rose proudly and snowcapped towards the azure sky. Nestled throughout the Alps' foothills, tiny Italian towns and villages looked inviting and like something out of a postcard. Really, it was picture perfect. We took our time making our way to the train station, stopping to sit by the lake and take in the view.

It was the perfect end to a great fall break. I returned to Rome relaxed and ready to start the second half of the semester.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fashion and a fresco...basically: Milan.

Fall break descended quickly on the Rome campus last Thursday as students scattered across Europe for their 10 day break. With their departure came my own time away from Rome as Lynda and I headed north for a mini-vacay in Milano and Lago di Como. (I'll tackle Lake Como in another post)

I love fashion. I do. I don't consider myself to be a very fashion forward person, mind you, but I do love to look at clothes, shoes, and handbags. I do love to shop and buy clothes, shoes, and handbags, and there's no where in the world better than Milan to do just that. Milan is home to such fashion icons as Prada, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Versace, and so many more! I felt underdressed just walking around in the city. Still, it's a pretty unique city compared to Rome, Florence, and Venice.

Milan is a newer, more modern city and lacks that "old world" Italian charm. Yet, it has its own character and its own feel. For one, it's a fairly clean city in my opinion. Yes, there is graffiti from time to time because what city doesn't have graffiti, but it's not like Rome where every surface is covered. It's a polite city. When exiting the metro I was shocked that people stood to the sides to let you exit. That would never happen in Rome!! People crowd in the entrance of a train and it's sometimes challenging to get off before the doors close. I was shocked to see people lined up along the right side of the escalator so that people could pass on the left if they so chose to climb the escalator stairs rather than allow it to carry them up.

We were in Milan for two nights and two and a half days. We didn't have a lot on our itinerary other than try to see DaVinci's The Last Supper fresco, visit the Duomo, see the La Scala opera house, and perhaps purchase some high fashion items at discount prices.

We started our time in Milan by visiting Piazza di Duomo. I was unprepared for what I saw as I ascended the stairs out of the metro. The view before me was breathtaking!! WOW. So much bigger and ornate than I'd expected. Milan's Cathedral is the world's third largest church after St. Peter's in Rome and Seville, Spain's Cathedral. Milan's church is a monstrous Gothic cathedral that seemed to go on forever. We spent some time admiring the architecture and then wandered the city knowing we would be back the next day for a closer look.
We spent the evening walking the calm streets of Milan before settling on a Rick Steve's suggested restaurant for dinner. We were not disappointed by the food and had a lovely first meal in Milano.

We awoke much too early on Saturday as we wanted to try to get seats on a bus tour that included a stop to see DaVinci's famous fresco. In order to see the fresco one must make reservations months in advance, but because we hadn't officially decided to go to Milan until September we were too late. So, we arrived at the ticket office only to be told that the morning's tours were sold out, but that there was space on the afternoon tour. Whew! We paid for our tickets and set out to find some discount designer clothing stores that I'd read about.

We were unable to find the first store we looked for, but we did stumble upon Via Monte Napoleone--Milan's fashion street. As we meandered down the street we came face to face with Stella McCartney's store, Prada, Valentino, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Armani, and more fashion icons. It was overwhelming to be on such a street. There is no way on earth that I would ever be able to afford anything from any of these stores nor do I think I would ever want to buy anything considering that I could put my money to better use.  Besides, we were on the hunt for discount designer goods! 

We made our way to two other shops in different areas of Milan (can I just say how proud I am of Lynda and myself for navigating our way to these stores? They were in the suburbs of Milan and weren't easy to find!), but failed to purchase anything. There wasn't anything that I felt like I HAD to have. 

After shopping we rested with a quick lunch and made our way back to the Duomo to meet up with our tour. The first stop on the tour was DaVinci's Last Supper.  I wasn't sure what to expect when I saw the fresco, but it certainly wasn't what I saw. The work is beginning to deteriorate after years of abuse and lack of preservation so the religious community that houses the work restricts visitors to groups of 25 people who are allowed to view the work for only 15 minutes at a time. Before you can enter the area the fresco is housed in you must go through 2 detox chambers to remove anything that could harm the painting from your clothes, etc. You'd swear you were entering the secret chambers of the CIA or something given all of the hoops you have to jump through! But, let me tell you this....soooooo worth it!! I was overwhelmed by the sight of the freso. DaVinci's work is genius and moving. The fresco was so much larger than I'd anticipated and richer than I'd imagined. I am so glad we got to see it! I could have stared at it for hours rather than a mere 15 minutes....
No photos are allowed of the this is the best I could do: a shot of the outside of where the fresco is located.

After our visit to the fresco, we re-boarded the bus and headed back to the Duomo where we learned more about it and surrounding structures like the Galleria and La Scala opera house. We went to a museum and passed by Sforza castle. It was a good tour and I appreciated the bus as my feet were beginning to hurt! :)

After the tour concluded, Lynda and I wanted to explore the inside and outside of the cathedral. The interior of the Duomo is massive. The ceilings are ridiculously high and, because it's a gothic cathedral,  the entire sanctuary felt dark and foreboding. We left the interior and headed around the cathedral to take an elevator to the top of the church. For €8 you can take the lift to the very top of the Duomo and see the entire city of Milan and miles beyond. It was incredible to experience the city and the church from that height. To be able to 'explore' the church's architecture up close and personal was a unique and incredible experience. 
Well, after our whirlwind day of sightseeing we decided it would be best if we just grabbed some dinner and headed back to the hotel. We attempted to find a restaurant near the Duomo, but the only places we found were overpriced restaurants that catered to unknowing tourists. Did we eat at one of these establishments? Nope. We did what any self-respecting American would do in this situation...we ate at McDonald's. Ha!

I really only eat McDonald's when I'm in Europe. There's other and better things I can eat at home, but when I'm here and need an American fix---the golden arches do it every time. Exhausted to the point of delirium, Lynda and I ordered our food and sat down. She got her order ahead of me and found a place to sit at a ledge-type table with high chairs in the overly crowded dining area. When I plopped myself down in hunger, thirst, and tiredness, I found myself looking into the faces of two young men who seemed to be mesmerized by something either on my face or sweater. Then, and this is one of the oddest things that has ever happened to me, one of the guys leans over and offers me one of his french fries. Huh? Who does that? Who offers a complete stranger some food from their plate? Weird! I politely said: "No, thank you." He shrugged, gathered up his stuff, and he and his friend left...leaving Lynda and I in hysterics. Too, too funny!! After dinner, we hobbled back to the metro station, made our way back to our hotel, and crawled in to bed. 
The next morning we slept in, ate breakfast, and went to the train station to wait for our train bound for Lake Como. Milan was a quick trip, but honestly I don't think we needed anymore time there. We saw everything that we'd wanted to see, had a lot of laughs, and had some amazing adventures. Now on to Lake Como.....

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Getting philosophical

Each time we visit a monument, church, or other site here in Rome I am struck by the same thought. I find myself amazed at the thought that no matter how different the world's cultures are, how vastly unique they are, we are all drawn to the things that are great, the things of beauty, and those things that have endured.

One of my favorite things to do at one of these locations is to sit down and watch those around me take it all in. I love hearing the different languages around me as those people experience the site for the first time. Watching people react to something like the Colosseum for the first time is so fundamental. I would bet money that nearly everyone has the same reaction: awe, wonder, amazement, and a sense of humility at what man created thousands of years ago. No matter the differences that separate us, we are at the core of who we are people created by the same God, people whose hearts are stirred by beauty, grandeur, and the ability to create magnificent structures.

Sit back someday and watch the people around you and I can guarantee you that you will discover that while there are many things that make us all different, unique...we are still at the heart of things very much the same.
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Friday, October 8, 2010

Cooked to perfection....

Today was perhaps one of the best days that I've had since moving to Rome over a year ago. It was a crazy adventure and I am so glad that this is my life for now...

I have a long list of things I 'have' to do before I leave Rome/Italy to move back home. This list includes things like visit Cinque Terre, go on wine tour, visit the Lakes district, see Sicily, stay at an agrotourismo, visit an olive farm, and take a cooking lesson. I can now cross 'take a cooking lesson' off of my list! (Of course after today, I may just add it to the list again because it was just that good!)

I found the name of a cooking class here in Rome after someone sent me a link to a video a bunch of American students in Rome made while participating in the same class. The class looked like great fun, it was in my favorite area of town: Trastevere, and the chef seemed to be not only engaging, but knew what he was doing. So, I sent out an email a couple of weeks ago inviting anyone who wanted to come as well. Lynda and 4 students responded and so I made our reservation. I was beyond excited!!!

The students, Lynda, and I planned on leaving campus at 9 am this morning in an attempt to miss traffic. HA! How is it that I've managed to live here for over a year and forget that this is Rome, that this is Italy, and nothing ever works like it should?! We were about 10 minutes late getting on a bus and I was freaking out because I was convinced that we were going to be late. (Punctuality is an American trait that I don't see going away anytime soon!) So, we booked it onto the next bus once we made it to Termini only to sit there for another 10 minutes. Finally, the bus began to make its way around Piazza Repubblica and down Via Nazionale. Traffic was slow moving and I was stressed...well, I shouldn't have been stressed by traffic because as soon as we began to move the bus flipped a u-turn and began heading back up the way we just came! What!? Well, it turned out that there was a demonstration of high schoolers in front of the Ministry of Education and that was causing all buses and trams to come to a standstill. Where was this demonstration? Practically right where we needed to be. There was no way we were getting there via public we walked.

The bus was diverted to the Center and we weren't that far away really, but it felt that way as we raced through the streets of Rome. When all was said and done, we were about an hour late. Gotta love Rome...and you have to take it in stride because otherwise you'll go crazy! Below is a picture of the demonstration that kept us from using the buses:

Anyways, we arrived at the restaurant and found the chef, Andrea, and the other woman, Nan, joining us chatting. Nan's husband Bernie was late joining us because of the demonstration so we didn't miss anything. Hooray!! 
Chef Andrea was AMAZING! He was funny, approachable, knowledgeable, and obviously has a passion for teaching others to cook. This made the lesson fun and educational. He put us right to work as we were running late and had 3 courses to cook. On the menu: gnocchi spinaci, eggplant parmigiana, and tiramisu. Well, the eggplant and tiramisu are by far two of my favorite dishes and while I like gnocchi just fine...I could take it or leave it....that is until I tasted what we made.     
Gnocchi. AMAZING! They melt in your mouth.
Chef Andrea only uses ingredients from the Lazio region, the region Rome is located in, and the ingredients are all fresh. What a difference this makes in the taste of the food! Everything was so vibrant and so delicious!! We chopped, diced, peeled, beat, fried, sauteed, mixed, mashed, and everything in between. The result: one of the best meals I've ever was almost as if heaven opened up at that moment and the choir of angels sang "ahhhhhhhhhhh". Seriously. It was that good! 
By far the most incredible eggplant parmigiana I have ever had in my entire life!!

And finally, tiramisu. Perfection!

All in all, it was an amazing day. The students had a blast, we cooked with some great new friends, I learned a lot, and I got to cross something off my list that I've been wanting to do for a long time. I am so blessed!!!
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Thursday, October 7, 2010

When in Assisi...

I spent part of last weekend wandering the hilly and curvy streets of the Umbrian town of Assisi. The town, which sits atop a hill over looking the Umbrian countryside, is a breathtaking mix of gorgeous architecture and breathtaking vistas. It's a peaceful and peace-filled town that I recommend to anyone planning a trip to Italy.

Assisi is located in the region of Umbria and is about 1.5 hours from Rome by fast train. I sped up there on the fast train on Saturday after a meeting for work. Lynda and several students travelled up to Assisi earlier that day and Lynda and I planned to spend the night away from Rome while the students were going to head back in the evening. 

I met up with Lynda at our fabulous hotel, Hotel Ideale. Sadly, it was dark by the time I arrived so I wasn't able to fully appreciate the view from our room. Lynda assured me that it was spectacular. Shortly after my arrival, we went to dinner. We found one of the restaurants recommended by Rick Steves and enjoyed a fabulous dinner of bruschetta, pasta, vegetables, dessert, and Umbrian wine. Yuuuummmm. It was the best dinner I've had in a while. We meandered back to our hotel where we promptly crashed and fell asleep.

I awoke on Sunday morning to a view that had my eyes popping out of my head like something only seen in a cartoon. WOW. That's all I can say. The day started a bit overcast and foggy, but still I could see for miles from my window. The valley below was a colorful vision of green velvet-like hills rolling into one another and running into mountains that raised from the earth like sentries. Spectacular. 

After a yummy breakfast of delicious cappuccini and cornetti, where I was told by the proprietor that I had occhi belle (beautiful eyes), we walked down to Piazza San Rufino and watched the locals scurry to Mass. We sat there for a good half and hour until Lynda had to leave to catch the bus that would drop her at the train station. I ended up staying behind and spent the day in Assisi alone. 

One of the things I like about Assisi is just how peaceful it is. It's quiet. I miss quiet. As I sit and type this, an ambulance is roaring past the convent and it's shrill siren is piercing my ear drums. Quiet is often times taken for granted. Not in Assisi. I cherished it. 

I made my way down into the main Piazza and wandered from shop to shop as I strolled down towards Basilica San Francesco. Assisi was the home of Saint Francis. His image and his love for birds are seen all over Assisi and his basilica is incredible! It may be one of my very favorite basilicas in all of Italy. It is a sight to behold. (See the picture above)

I spent time just gazing upon the exterior of the basilica while watching the tourists traipse in and out. I love people watching. It's certainly one of my favorite activities. From there, I wandered up the hill to a cafe that Lynda had told me about. I ordered a cappuccino and sat outside on the terrace for an hour or so, entranced by the view before me. The terrace overlooked the valley behind Assisi. Small farms and agroturismi dotted the hills and vineyards and olive groves rolled up the sides of the hills. In the distance I could hear dogs barking and shots ringing out as, I assume, men were hunting for dinners. Again, peaceful. I finished up my coffee and headed across the street to Francesco's shop. Here I discovered a balsamic vinegar so delicious that I could quite literally pour myself a glass and drink up. SO GOOD! I purchased some for myself and my dad as well as some smooth and rich olive oil. If you've never had quality balsamic or olive oil, sad day. There is such a difference between the good stuff and that which we're used to getting in the stores. 

For the rest of the day I spent my time meandering through the town streets, sitting in piazzas and watching people stroll by, eating gelato, and enjoying some quality time alone. 

All in all, it was a great day and a much needed respite. 


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Il Colosseo

We visited my favorite spot in Rome last week, il Colosseo. Seriously, I love this structure. It's beautiful, magnificent, imposing, and matter how many times I've seen it. 

As always, it was packed! We were smart and bought our tickets online in advance because nobody wants to wait in a line that seems to be 200 miles long. As you make your way into the Colosseum you are often accosted by people selling cheap tourist garbage, men dressed as gladiators, and annoying tour operators who want to sell you a tour that may or may not be historically accurate. It drives me nuts. 

The day we visited was no exception. Lynda was walking in front of me when an American guy, roughly about 22-25 years old, asked her if she wanted a tour of the Colosseum. She said no and he then said to her: "Don't you want to know what you're looking at?" (I might add here that his tone was fairly condescending.) if this 'kid' knows more about the Colosseum than Lynda. It's laughable, which I did do by the way. Annoying!

So, later on she and I were talking about what had happened and laughed about the possible retorts we could have used had we been quicker on our feet. There was one in particular that I wished I would have thought of earlier...little did I know... 

Anyways, we met back up with our students in front of the Colosseum a while later and guess who was there as well? (Still accosting tourists I might add.) That's right, our "friend" from before. He looked over at us and gave me a 'look'. I am not one to let those types of things go by. I know I should be that person. I should be more mature, more graceful, more merciful....but I'm not. Instead, I turned to Lynda and in a voice loud enough for him to hear I said: "I'm confused. I thought this was where Jesus was crucified?" He started to laugh. I don't know if he was laughing because he knew what I was doing or if he thought I was being serious--which I was not. (May I just interject here that I know that Jesus wasn't crucified here, but this is actually a question that a lot of people pose in Rome because for some odd reason they really think that Christ actually visited Rome while He was alive. I am not one of those people. I was merely being a brat....) Victory! My small-minded comment made me feel less annoyed and somewhat smug. I know, I know. This is not good....but still....sometimes being a bit snotty can feel oh so good. :)
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Week one: check!

The first week with students has come and gone. Whew! What a week....and what a difference a year makes.

Again, it's amazing to me what a difference having one year under my belt makes. I know what to expect, what to do, how to use my Italian, and more. Not having to set up systems, withdraw money from my own account, etc. has freed me to do what I love to do: get to know students and journey with them in Rome and Italy.

I've really enjoyed getting to know the students that are here this semester. It's a pretty diverse group in terms of personalities and that makes things around here fun. I've laughed a lot this week and am thankful for everyone here. I trust that the Lord has great things in store for us this semester. And if this week is any indication to how this semester's going to go...well, it's going to whiz on by.....I'd better enjoy the ride.
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Friday, September 3, 2010

I'm baaccckkkkk

It's hard to believe that I am about to say this, but....I'm back in Rome and getting ready for year 2. WOW! Where has the time gone? (I feel like that's a common question I ask myself and the blog abyss)

Anywho, I arrived back in bella Roma on Wednesday after a great flight on British Airways. I flew directly from Phoenix to London and then after a 2 hour layover made my way from London to Rome. I have to say that of all the international flights I have ever flown that was by far the easiest and most enjoyable flight....well, as enjoyable as a 9 hour and 45 minute flight can be! I was blessed with a seat behind the bulk head which afforded me lots of extra leg room. You can never have too much leg room on international flights!! There was a moment of concern when I realized that I would need to go through security in London. After my last experience with UK officials, let's just say that I wasn't too thrilled at the prospect. But! God is good and there were no delays or banning from the UK for me! I even had time to get an iced latte from Starbucks.

When I arrived back at 'home' Lynda was waiting for me...with dinner! God Bless that woman! She so graciously made us dinner and went to the store for necessities earlier in the day. I am truly blessed to work with such an amazing woman and even more blessed in that I get to call her friend.

I slept great the first night and awoke at the 'early' hour of 12:45 p.m. After a quick shower and a quick lunch, Lynda and I were off to Termini to accomplish two things: 1) pick up the postal kit for her permesso, and 2) buy the monthly bus passes for us and our students. Oh Italy. How I forgot your love of ridiculously long lines and red tape! After waiting for 1.5 hours (yes, one and a half hours!!!!) in the post office, we found out that we could no longer obtain the kit at that particular branch. Instead, we could pick it up at the branch just down the street from us....of course. So, we made our way to the ATAC office and purchased our bus passes. What a difference after last year's debacle!

We decided to reward our efforts with a dinner out at our local pizzeria where we were greeted with an enthusiastic "Ciao!" and "Come stai??" followed by a warm handshake by the owner. It's good to be loved! We scarfed down delicious salsiccia (sausage) pizza, drank some vino rosso, and then delighted in the decadence that is tiramisu. Mama mia! It's good to be back!

All in all, the first two days that I've been back have been far different from last year. The weather is gorgeous and I actually feel somewhat competent! Granted, the language is coming back slowly, but what can I expect? I haven't spoken any Italian in 2.5 months! Show yourself some grace already.

Students arrive in a week and there's much to be done. I am grateful for the opportunity to be here and for what God has in store for us this semester. Please pray for me and my students as we get ready to embark on what can only be an amazing adventure. Grazie mille!
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Time flies...

If you're anything like me you are now asking yourself: Where did summer go!??! Anyone have an answer because I sure don't.

I'm heading into my last week here in the States before I head back to Rome for  new semester. I really don't know where the time has gone! I had an interesting summer...and that's putting it mildly. There were quite a few challenges at home that I wasn't prepared for that made the summer so very trying at times and because of those challenges I find myself at an interesting emotional crossroads: I am both excited to go back to Rome and sad to leave home. Who knew? Despite everything going on here, God has blessed me this summer with quality time with my parents, my sisters, and my friends. I didn't get to see everyone that I would have liked to, but those I did see I was able to really spend time with them and to me that means more than seeing 100s of friends for 10-15 minutes each. I am and have been reminded of God's love through the outpouring of love my friends and family have shown me this summer.

There's still much I have to do (and much I have to buy!) before I head back and this week's going to be crazy! I am going to try to meet a friend for dinner 1/2 way between Tucson and Phoenix, I have to get some cavities (UGHHH!!!!) filled, I have to shop, I have to take my mom to some doctor's appointments, and then next weekend my sisters and I are throwing a "60th Birthday Extravaganza" for my dad here in T-town. So much to little time.

I've been in contact with a couple of the students that will be joining us in Rome this fall and I am excited to meet them and adventure with them. I know that this is going to be an excellent year since hey! I already know what I'm doing....or at least to some degree I do!

So, as I move towards heading back to Rome I am trusting God with what He has for me this year and am trusting who it is that He is molding me into.

Nove giorni....mama mia.
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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Home sweet home

I made it back to the good ol' U S of A on Thursday after a marathon day of travel.  I started the day at Rome's airport amidst American tourists who were anxious to get home and unexperienced with life in Italy. What makes me say this? Well...we were all awaiting the boarding of our flight and above our gate the airline and flight number listed was an El Al flight to Tel Aviv, but it was really our United flight that was boarding from that gate. Yes, it was confusing, but it was so typically Italian. They didn't change the info, they just went ahead and boarded the flight. Those standing around me complained about how disorganized the airport and airline this would never happen at home. I couldn't help chuckle. Yep. This is the way things are over here...this is how they do things. You just have to be ok with it and go with the flow. If not, prepare to be frustrated all of the time. ;0

The flight leaving Rome was an hour late thanks to France's air traffic controller strike so I had to run for all I am worth from customs to my gate to for my flight to Phoenix. (Of course it was at the very last gate!) I just made my flight and then had the pleasure of waiting on the runway for an hour as they rerouted flights because of a storm.

Finally, I made it to Phoenix and was greeted by one of the greatest sights: the Egglets (Lees, Matty Moo, Addie Mae, and Noah), the Suarez family, and Gabe. Awww! What a great welcome home! My sister and brother in law picked me up and we met my cousin for dinner. I finally crashed after dinner.

I'm still exhausted, but it's not as bad as when I head out there. So glad to be home!!! Thank you Lord!
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Friday, June 18, 2010

Cinque giorni, ventitre ori, e cinquanta minuti

Woo hoo! In cinque giorni vado a casa mia negli Stati Uniti! (Translation: Woo hoo! In 5 days I go to my house in the United States!)
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Being "Rick Steves"

Living in a city like Rome affords me with lots of amazing things to enjoy: the Colosseum, the Pantheon, gelato, pizza...and lots of visitors!

When I told people that I was moving to Rome a common response was "I'm so going to visit!" Ok. Sure. I would love for you to visit me...but I knew that travel to and from Rome is expensive so I didn't really put much stock into people's exclamations. Well, I was wrong. (Happily wrong!) In the last month or so I've had a constant flow of visitors. Friends from home have traveled across the ocean to see me...ok. I'm not completely naive. I know that for the most part they're coming to stay with me for free in an incredible city...but still...they're also coming to see me.

It's been such fun showing my friends Rome and introducing them to my life here. We've been to the Colosseum, Pantheon, Piazza di Spagna, Fontana di Trevi, Campo di Fiori, Piazza Navona, San Marino Pizza, Gel'Istria, the corner bar, Cinque Terre, and more. I've been playing out my own version of Rick Steves! I love introducing people to the sites and places that I've come to love and appreciate. Again, it overwhelms me to see these places with them because it's as if seeing them for the first time all over again. Amazing!!!

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Blast from the past

I lived in Italy during the summer when I was 16... in 1993. Wow, that seems like it was a hundred years ago!  I had the most incredible time and was changed because of it.

I went to Italy with the Lion's Club as part of their youth exchange program. The goal of the program was to allow youth from around the world to live in and experience another culture as well as meet other people their own age in order to start communication and international relationships. I was blessed in that my parents could afford the airfare to send me, all the program cost was the airfare. I chose Italy because I was fascinated by it and because my older cousin had just returned from a year as an exchange student outside of Venice. I was excited and terrified all at the same time. I remember crying for hours the night before because I was so scared to travel internationally by myself and to a country where I didn't speak a word of their language. My mom told me I could stay home if I needed or wanted to, but I knew I had to was something that I had to do. (Hmm....could it be that God was working in my life before I knew Him? :) )

The plan was that I was to meet up with another girl from Tucson at the airport in Germany (or at least I think that's where we were supposed to meet) and we would continue on to Venice together to meet our host family. Imagine my scared 16-year-old-self when she didn't show and to top it off when I got to Venice my host family didn't know that I was coming as well! Talk about freaked out! I managed to hold in the tears until I was alone. Oh, and did I mention that the airline lost my luggage? Benvenuto a Italia! (Not much changes...)

Anyways, Catherine, the other girl from Tucson, eventually arrived as did my luggage and what ensued was arguably one of the best summers of my life. I spent time outside of Venice in Mestre with an incredibly loving and welcoming family. Their daughters showed us Venice and took us out with their friends.

From there, we went on to camp with other exchange students from all over the world outside of Trieste. It was a great time meeting other people our age from all over the world...I remember Abbie from England, Tim from Germany, Yael from Israel, Uri from then-Yugoslavia, and Tomas from Hungary. (He holds a 'special' place in my heart!)

Finally we landed outside of Udine at another family's home. They had two boys, Antonio and Paolo. Ahhh...they were an incredible family. They took us exploring in the mountains and in the tiny towns that surrounded their home, cooked us delicious pizza in their backyard brick oven, pushed me in the pool, took us on their beach holiday, and so much more.

I left Italy that summer completely and utterly in love with Italy and its people. That summer was a catalyst for the life I am now living.

I have been to Venice twice now since moving to Rome and each time I am there I wonder if I might bump into a member of one of my host families. Would I recognize them? Would they recognize me? So, I decided that I wanted to look them up and get in touch with them. Perhaps I could meet up with them the next time I am in the area....except I can't remember their last names! I know I have the information at home somewhere, but I couldn't find it the last time I was home and besides, I want to know now!! (Delayed gratification and I aren't friends.)

What's a girl to do? Facebook! That's always the answer! I was able to track down Catherine on FB and ask her if she remembered the names of our host families, but she didn't....I mean it has been 17, gulp, years. I am now more determined than ever to reconnect with them and to thank them for how they helped to shape my life. I can't wait to write to them, in Italian, and tell them that I am now living here.

Come divertimento!
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Monday, May 10, 2010


Last Wednesday Lynda and I ventured to the Umbrian countryside and spent two nights in the hill town of Orvieto. What a treat!

The medieval city is perched atop a hill that overlooks the rolling hills of Umbria and its neighbor, Tuscany. So beautiful!

We spent the two days that we were there exploring the town and eating some fabulous meals. We had some of the best pizza I've ever had. Pesto, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese made for a culinary sensation! The weather wasn't all that great due to rain. There were moments of sunshine (as evidenced in the picture above), but there were also moments of torrential down pouring! 

On Thursday we decided to walk the trail that leads around the perimeter of the town so that we could enjoy the view. As we stared out into the green velvet hills a man, Luciano, approached us and told us that we needed to visit a nearby church because it was home to some beautiful frescos. He proceeded to ask us where we were from and was very excited to learn that we were from the US because he'd lived in the States when he was younger and he wanted to practice his English. Thus, Lynda and I found ourselves with an unofficial tour guide. He walked with us and explained Orvieto's colorful history from the time of the Etruscans to its role in World War II to its current place in Italian culture. He was actually very knowledgeable and fascinating. He even told us about the time he met Rick Steves! (If you've ever traveled to Europe you probably know that many refer to Rick's travel guides as their tourist 'bibles'.) 

All in all, Orvieto was fabulous. It was peaceful, relaxing, beautiful, and interesting. And bonus! It's only an hour and 10 minute train ride from Rome. What a great day trip it could be for students and guests. Love it!!


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