Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Getting into the holiday mood...Viennese style

The Rathaus Market
As I've said, I have a list of places that I wanted to hit up before I left Europe. Vienna was one of those cities....especially for the Christmas markets. I decided early on in the semester that this was the year I was going to hit up the Vienna market. So, I bought my ticket in September and waited, and waited, and waited. The last weekend of November finally arrived and I made my way (along with 6 of my female students and my friend BethAnn) to Vienna. I was not disappointed.

We arrived in Vienna in the late afternoon, but by the time we got to our hotel (an hour at the most) it was dark! So, we dropped our stuff off and headed out to our first market at the town hall. Oh wow! How incredibly beautiful. It was a feast for the eyes! There were thousands of lights throughout the trees in a variety of shapes and colors. There were hundreds of stalls in front of the town hall selling hot drinks, sweet treats, yummy sausages, Christmas gifts, and Christmas decorations. Where to begin? A hot beverage of course. Each of the markets (and there were a lot of them!) had their own mugs. You can either "rent" the mug for €2.50 or you can keep it and then buy either hot spiced wine, hot chocolate, hot punch, and lots of other offerings. So, we got our drinks and started our shopping. The markets were part heaven and hell for much to buy and so little money! ;)

Basically, the weekend was a non-stop shopping extravaganza. We went from market to market....spending. :)

In between the markets, we managed to see a couple of Vienna's biggest churches, the Hofburg palace, and other historical buildings. We also managed to enjoy some yummy schnitzel, strudel, and, of course, Sacher Torte. On our last day, Beth Ann and I popped into Cafe Sacher, the birthplace of the Sacher Torte. From the outside, it looked as if the place would be way too expensive as it was swathed in a deep claret velvet, gilded mirrors, and crystal chandeliers. To our surprise, it was completely reasonable. So, we got a seat, had some soup, and then indulged in Vienna's famous torte. Yuuummmm.....
It was a fabulous weekend and I really enjoyed Vienna. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to get into the Christmas spirit in Vienna. It was magic personified and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. 

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Rapid rundown

Ok, so I don't know about you, but this semester was the fastest of my life. No joke. It seems like I just boarded a plane bound for Rome and now I'm home for Christmas. I'm excited to be home, don't get me wrong, but this past semester was fabulous and I was/am sad to see it end. So, let's take a moment to reflect on some of the highlights of these last 3 months, shall we?

         --Students arrived
         --Friends Lisa and Ben visited. Since they'd both been to Rome before, I was able to show them a piece of "my" Rome. I love showing off this incredible city!

         --Went to Bologna and Ravenna with two friends and one of my students. Let's just say that the trip to Bologna was well....never ending. We took the train to Bologna only to have it hit something in a tunnel about 45 minutes outside of Rome and stopped. And there we sat for 3 hours. Yes, three HOURS. Without any information or anything. Well, except for the free soda we got. Then, they turned the train around and sent us back to Rome only to put us back on a slow train. All in all, we arrived in Bologna much later than we'd expected. Since it was closing in on 6:30 by the time we were able to get out to see anything, most everything, ie. churches, museums, etc, was closing for the day. So, we spent our time at Tony's eating the most amazing Bolognese of my life. Of course, we were in Bologna, so I wouldn't expect anything less!

The next day my friends returned to Rome and my student and I forged ahead to Ravenna to check out the mosaics. Can I just say WOW?? Absolutely, positively unbelievable! They were so gorgeous and I am still floored by what people were able to create out of tiny pieces of glass.

We had a great time exploring the tiny town, and not just because there was an international bread festival that weekend! No, the churches were breathtaking. Of course, this wouldn't be Italy without some sort of we discovered the next day when we went to board our train to Bologna in order to catch our train back to Rome. There was a large line of people in the train station; much too large for a normal Sunday. We got in line...and that's when I heard the word I hate: Scopiero. Strike. Yep, Trenitalia personnel were on strike. What does this mean? No trains; at least no regional trains. What to do? What to do! The man at the counter, thankfully, was very nice and rather helpful. He told us that there may (or may not be) a train later in the afternoon. So, we waited. And finally, and with much thanksgiving, we boarded the train bound for Bologna and arrived back in Rome 3 hours late. It was a great weekend....just not a good weekend for train travel.
--My cousin, Brooke, arrived for her first European adventure! We spent some time together in Rome, Florence, and then she went to Venice by herself for a couple of days before we went to...Barcelona! I first visited Spain in 2000 while my sister was studying in Granada and Barcelona was the only major Spanish city left on my list. So, we headed to Barcelona with Sean and Joy for 4 days.
La Sagrada Familia
What an incredible city! It was filled with so much to see, do, and eat! The architecture (muchas gracias, Gaudi!) was not to be believed. Seriously, I don't understand the imagination or gift behind Gaudi's genius. So, so, so cool!

My favorite thing, though, was the day that we saw the Barcelonans (is that even a word?!) gather together in front of the Cathedral and dance the Sardana. It was so cool! Here's how this works: an orchestra plays whatever music it is that one plays to do the Sardana, then one by one people begin to gather in a circle and dance.

November: (I don't even know where November went!!)
--Venice: As always, the 10th weekend of the semester found us in Venezia. I never get tired of that city and wandering around. I discovered some new gems on my own, and Joy, Sean, and I went to the island of Torcello to look at some beautiful mosaics.

--Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving remains one of my favorite days with students. We celebrated a week late as we were in Venice over Thanksgiving. Still, we wanted the students to have a piece of home. As always, I ordered our turkey about two weeks ahead from the butcher. I asked for a 12 kilo turkey (about 24 pounds) and as always, they gave me a 30 pound, 8 ounce turkey. Ahhh! That's too big for the oven bag! You should have seen the eyes of all of the nonne (Italian grandmothers) in the butcher shop. I thought they'd pop out of their heads! They couldn't believe that I was cooking an entire turkey or that we would eat the whole thing. As always, students signed up for parts of the meal to make/help out with. We had a ton of food, but it was all soooo good...and eaten quickly. One of my students made the most incredible apple pies! They even had fun dough shapes on the top of the pie. She has some made pie making skills. We spent the rest of the evening putting up our Christmas tree and decorations, and watching Elf. Once again, it was a memorable evening.
--Vienna: Well, this weekend getaway deserves its own post....

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Where in the world is Kristen?

You may be asking yourself, or maybe not, where in the world has Kristen been? Well, quite literally: Rome, Pompei, Florence, Bologna, Ravenna, Barcelona, Venice, and Vienna.

However, I have mostly been in Rome with my amazing students. I have been so blessed this semester with a truly unique and incredible group of young people. While there have always been students that I have enjoyed immensely and to this day miss a lot, this is the first group that I have worked with in my 11 years in higher education that truly got along all of the time, encouraged one another, spent time with each other, and felt like a cohesive group. What a tremendous blessing! Even now I am listening to their laughter in the halls as they prepare for their final presentations. So, that's where I've been....hanging out with them. That's not to say that I haven't been active in, around, and out of Rome...cause I have. I will post a couple of blogs in the next couple of days about places I've been and things I've been keep an eye out!

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