Saturday, May 4, 2013

Sto cucinando

The weather the last couple of weeks has been nothing short of spectacular. The sun has been shining, not a cloud in the sky, and a slight breeze to cut the heat. And yet, I have found myself in the kitchen lately. 

Perhaps I've been inspired by the amazing produce that the spring has produced, who knows why I've been in a cooking mood, but I just am. So, here's what I've made: fresh tomato sauce from good!!, roasted eggplant, roasted asparagus, and today: a fresh strawberry pie. I have been spoiled over the last four years with the incredible produce that Rome and Italy has to offer. And I want to take full advantage of it while I'm here....


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A day by the sea

Spring has finally sprung here in Rome. It's been warm and sunny--just like I like it. And when the weather's this good, you must take advantage of it. So, Sean, Joy, and I decided to take advantage of it in Sperlonga along the ocean where my RA had taken the rest of my students for his last event.

For the last four years, my students have found themselves at some point at the beach in Sperlonga and yet, I had never visited the seaside town. I'm not a beach person myself, but I do like be by the water and explore quaint Italian towns. So, to Sperlonga we went.

The actual centro storico, historic center, of Sperlonga sits high atop a hill above the water. The walk up to the top isn't a bad walk and one is treated with peekaboo views of the gorgeous Mediterranean you can't complain. Once at the top, you realize that the old center is just a maze of narrow cobblestone streets leading to small-ish piazzas. It's really a lovely little town. And I mean little. As in, there's not a whole lot to do. So, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a lovely restaurant that overlooked the ocean (I had calamari and fried shrimp---yuummm), explored the town, sat and watched our students down on the sand below us---sadly, we were able to see their sunburnt skin from high atop the hill. Did nobody listen to me when I reminded them to bring sunscreen!? All in all, we just enjoyed the sun, surf, and company.

It was a beautiful day and a great way to get away from hectic Roma....especially considering that it was Friday and students were leaving on Monday. One last hoorah before the close of the semester. A great way to go out indeed...

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Tanti auguri a me!

My birthday is a pretty big deal. Make that a very big deal. I might start the birthday countdown on January 1. And when I say 'I might'...I mean 'I do.' I can't help it. Growing up, my mom always made a big deal about the birthdays around our house. We would wake up in the morning and the kitchen would be decorated with streamers, balloons, and signs. She would meet us at school at lunch time and we could pick where we'd go to lunch. For dinner, we could either go out to eat or she would make us our favorite meal followed by the dessert of our choosing. Big deal. And that's stuck with me throughout adulthood. No matter how old I get, 3...., I still love my birthday. This year was no exception.

I awoke, surprisingly, somewhat early on my big day. April 16, just so you know or want to mark you calendars. I decided that a nice walk/run would be a good way to start my day considering that I awoke in a funky kind of mood...not terribly happy, but not really sad or whatever. Funky. I opened my parents' card and one of their gifts--I rationed them out throughout the day. My mom had written that she was praying that the Lord would bless me with a small reminder of how much He loves me. Cheering me up just enough to get going, I headed out into the gorgeous Rome day, bopping along with my iPod. Towards the end of my time, my phone beeped with a text from my friend Laura. She was in my neighborhood and did I want to grab a birthday coffee with her, she asked. Heck yes! I didn't even care that I looked and smelled like...ehhh. I was just so thankful because I knew this was God's "Happy birthday, Kristen" gift. On top of that, the corner bar had started stocking cold coffee since the weather had turned. What a great present! (And let's not forget the double-cheek kiss that I received from Daniele, my favorite barista) I was so blessed to start my birthday with a friend who has been a true gift from God, drinking my favorite beverage, eating a yummy cornetto, in my favorite city.

Arriving home, I showered real quick, got dressed (of course, I put a little more effort into it seeing as it was my special day), and went into the kitchen where I was greeted by a gorgeous bouquet of yellow tulips (my faves!!!) and lovely card made by my students. Awww!! I felt so incredibly loved!

After this discovery, I went and watched  my students' "perform" their final oral exam for Italian class--skits. I love watching their skits because not only are they really creative, but they're also hilarious! Following the skits, Sean, Joy, and I made our way back to the corner bar for my second cup of coffee. Why? Because one of the things I want to do before I leave is have one of the baristas let me use the espresso machine to make coffee. What better day to try and get them do this than my birthday? Sadly, though, I failed. Daniele explained the process to me, but didn't even offer to let me get behind the machine. I will try again!

I spent the rest of the early afternoon with my RA, John, in our final one-on-one. We both wanted to try pizza from Pizzarium, said to be Rome's best pizza, so we decided to wait for his last meeting with me for the honor. The pizza was very good, the company better, and again, what a way to spend my birthday!

Later on that afternoon, I was called into the kitchen because John needed "to talk to me". Upon entering, my students, Sean, and Joy began to sing "Happy Birthday" to me. The buffet was lined with delicious treats that Joy had made for me and I was presented with my birthday gift--a pedicure! Couldn't ask for a better gift!! Of course, we then followed up the yummy treats and gift with a dance party. On the terrace. LOVE it! No birthday is complete without a spontaneous and random dance party.

Leaving the students behind, Sean, Joy, and I went out to dinner to celebrate at an adult-only time. Woo hoo! We ended up going to a restaurant recommended by Laura not far from the Pantheon. We were not disappointed. Everything was incredible! We started with fabulous breads, an artichoke tart, then I had the blueberry risotto (yes, blueberry. It was AMAZING. Tart and tangy, but so flavorful), and finished it up with my favorite--creme brulee. The restaurant itself was cute and quaint and I couldn't have asked for a better place to have my birthday.

All in all, it was an incredible day. I felt so loved and just...loved. My favorite gift, though, was from my niece, Sophie. My sister and bro-in-law made a video of her attempting to sing to me. Instead, she distracted herself every time she began. Best.Gift.Ever.

Of course, my birthday is never relegated to one day....psht, one day is for amateurs. I celebrated again on Thursday night with Laura who drove us out to Castel Gandolfo (the little town outside of Rome where the Pope 'summers') so that we could eat alongside the beautiful lake. Good food, fantastic fellowship, and gorgeous scenery just capped off the celebrations.

Yes, I had a fantastic birthday. Yes, I heard from the many people in my life who took time out of their busy lives to show that they care, but really...what I am taking from April 16, 2013 is how lavishly the Lord pours out His love upon us. He never does things by half. He's an all in or nothing kind of God. And He showed His love for me over and over and over again. I am blessed and am thankful for His reminders.

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ein wochenende zwischen schlössern und bergen ... Deutschland

I have never had any desire to see any of Germany's major cities. From what I've been told, they're cold and reminiscent of the Communist/Fascist reign of the 1930s-80s. That didn't appeal to me at all. No, I wanted small town Germany where I could see gorgeous mountains, see cows in a field with bells around their necks, hear men yodeling, fraulein in their dresses serving beer, cuckoo clocks, and tuba players wearing hats with feathers in them. This was the Germany I wanted to see. Surely, I'd see all of this and more in Bavaria, right? Ha!! What in the world was I thinking?!

I arrived in Memmingen on a Friday morning with a student, Jessica, who'd come along for the adventure. We would travel by rental car south to the small town of Fussen so that we could visit the "Disney" castles, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau on Saturday. We had a quick something to eat (I was able to get a BAGEL!!!) in the airport and then picked up our little Hyundai rental. I'm a good driver, but after not driving for 3 months and seeing how people in Italy drive, I'm not gonna lie and tell you I wasn't nervous. Cause I was. I had this fear that they would drive like maniacs and I wouldn't be able to navigate. I was reminded before I left that I was going to Germany, home of all things orderly in Europe. My mind was somewhat at ease. Still, I speak no German...nichts. Ergo, signage intimidated me a bit. Thankfully, I'd "upgraded" and got the which I am eternally grateful! All I had to do was take care of the car and Leiseil, our name for our GPS, would take care of the rest. 

Let me pause here for a moment and tell you that everyone who knew I was renting a car in Germany asked me this question: are you going to drive on the autobahn? To which I patently answered: are you nuts!? Why would I want to drive on a freeway with no speed limits and crazy people in a foreign country? I don't even like driving through L.A. Oh, how naive I was. It wasn't until I was 20 minutes into our 40 minute drive did I realize that all of Germany's highways are considered...the autobahn. Cars were whizzing past me so fast that I could feel the vibrations from the wind as they zoomed on by. And again, I'm not gonna lie....but I punched the gas and went. Well, I went as fast as my Hyundai would take us. It was fun. No speed limit? Heck yes.  And it wasn't just the no speed limit thing that was so was the scenery. I have never in my life seen anything like the scene outside of our windows. Flat, green pastures suddenly gave way to majestic white-capped mountains. They were breathtaking and Jessica and I kept exclaiming "It's soooo beautiful!!" 

Arriving in Fussen, we were able to locate our hostel quickly, drop off our bags, and explore the town. That took us all of...45 minutes. No joke. Fussen isn't very big and there's not a whole lot going on, but what it does have is charm and character. It was cute and quaint with lots of architectural detailing on its buildings and houses. Precious!! We wandered through its streets and then spent a lot of time sitting on a bench staring out at the river when finally...the sun poked its way out from behind the clouds and Fussen went from pretty to...awe-inspiring. The Bavarian Alps jutted up from the ground, stretching towards the heavens. Their peaks were snow covered and it almost hurt to look at them when the sun was shining directly on them. What impressed me the most though, was the feeling that they were an accurate representation of God's grandeur...His majesty...His awesome nature. 

     On Saturday, Jessica and I visited the most beautiful castles I have ever seen. They were so incredibly picturesque and fairy tale-like that I could envision Beauty and the Beast or some other tale set there. There are two castles per ticket and you must take a guided tour in order to get into the castle. First, you must go thru Hohenschwangau castle before you can go on to "Mad" King Ludwig's Neuschwanstein castle. I was thoroughly impressed me, though was the history of the castles. Who knew that Ludwig only lived 100+ days in Neuschwanstein before being declared insane, being committed, and then found dead in a lake next door to the asylum the day after. Fascinating!! I can't begin to describe the I'll just post pics...


LOVED it! Followed up our castle adventures with some wiener schnitzel, German potato salad, and of course, strudel. Perfect!

We spent the rest of our weekend exploring an Austrian town even smaller and more dead than Fussen. It was hard for two American women to understand how a town closes its doors...and I mean ALL of its doors before 1:00 pm. Does nobody want to make any money? This lead to many laughs...and making our own fun.

All in all, it was a great weekend and a fabulous introduction to Germany. No, I didn't see half of what I wanted to see (seriously!? Was it too much to ask for one lousy tuba player?!) I want to go back and explore more of this beautiful country. After all, part of my family history traces its roots back to Deutschland. I want to know more about my "people"; my "homeland." 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Una passeggiata

There are times when I find myself in another city in Italy or another country besides Italy when I stop and ask myself: is this my life? Sometimes, it seems so surreal to me that I live in Rome, in Italy, in Europe, that I honestly have to stop for a moment in order to truly allow that truth to soak in because it seems so overwhelmingly mind-blowing to me. And then there are days when I do something rather ordinary in Rome, but because I live here, live in Rome, it becomes somewhat extraordinary. 

As I have said before, the Italians love their bus strikes. To this day, I still don't know what or why it is that they are striking. Nor do I know what the outcome of the strike is. And it seems to me that these strikes just happen to occur on the most inconvenient of days for me. So, on what was a gorgeous Friday, a day when the sun was finally shining brilliantly, spring was in the air, and a day when almost all of my students were going to be out of town in order that I could head out of Rome to a little town 40 minutes away---there was a strike. Of course. Sean, Joy, and I were left wondering what to do on a day when we didn't want to find ourselves inside the convent. We decided to go for a walk, una passeggiata, and discover our neighborhood. And thus became one of my favorite days in Rome. 

I love my neighborhood, as I've said many times before. It's just so...Roman. It's not's real...and it's beautiful. There are pockets of beautiful villas, lush greenery, vivacious parks, and wonderful people sprinkled throughout the apartment buildings, shops, and car parks. And I love to explore it, to find new and hidden treasures. 

We set off first towards our favorite chocolate shop for a sweet treat after popping into the corner bar for a coffee made by my favorite barista--Daniele. It seemed like everyone was out as we walked towards Leonidas---and they probably were considering that they couldn't get anywhere thanks to the strike. We purchased our chocolates and continued on our way. We strolled through side streets, and up hills, until we reached a park full of 'nonnas' and 'nonnos' with their grandchildren (who, of course, despite the hot sun and warm temperatures were still decked out in their winter gear of coat, scarf, hat, and boots). Across from the park is a fresh food market. So, we crossed through the park and picked up some supplies for an impromptu picnic, just the necessities---salami, prosciutto, cheese, bread, olives, roasted eggplant, pickled artichokes, apples, and wine. We, then, found a bench in the park, ate, basked in the sun, and soaked up the culture as we watched the families and older Italian men gather to talk about life and all that was going on in the world.

And it was then that that feeling of absolute awe struck me. This is my life. I live in Rome, Italy. I am doing something seemingly innocuous, but at the same time...something that most people will never get to experience. And it was then that I, once again, thanked the Lord for the opportunity that He's given me to live out my dream. It was a slice of heaven here on Earth and I breathed it in deeply, letting it sink into me, and I tucked it away so that on those days when I miss home, when Rome and Italy frustrate me or when I've finally left this place and am once again residing Stateside, I can pull it out, look at it, and remember why it is that I love this place, why it is that I am here, and be thankful once again for all that I have been blessed to experience.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Paris: Part deux of....part deux

So much to see!! My second day in Paris was another jam-packed, sight-seeing, city-experiencing day o' awesomeness. 

I started my day as everyone should start at least one day of their life: with a warm croissant and a cafe au lait. Say what you want about France, French people, and French food...but it is a country, a people who know their pastries. My version of food heaven would be thus: pasta from Italy, pastries from France, and chocolate from Belgium. Heck yes. But I digress. After I finished my breakfast I decided to head out to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. A cemetery?, you ask. Yes, a cemetery.

The Pere Lachaise Cemetery is the final resting place for many famous people and has some lovely grave markers. Some of the more famous people interred at the cemetery include: the Doors' frontman Jim Morrison, French vocalist Edith Piaf, opera diva Maria Callas, French novelist Colette, Polish composer Frederic Chopin, Irish novelist Oscar Wilde, American author Gertrude Stein, and German painter Max Ernst. The cemetery also has several moving memorials to those who perished in Nazi concentration camps and those who joined in the resistance movement.

     Far left: An example of the many headstones. Right: Jim Morrison's grave..still so many people who seem to mourn his loss.

 Following Rick Steves' tour, I wound my way through the headstones seeking out people whose work I'd read in school, saw in museums, or listened to on the radio. The day was once again gray and cold. The cemetery is huge, sitting on 110 acres. And so, it was eerily quiet. Occasionally I would come across another tourist, but for the most part it felt like I was the only one there. Every now and again I would hear a crow call and goosebumps would promptly pop up all over my skin as my overactive imagination put me in the middle of a horror movie where I was the star and somehow locked inside one of the many crypts trying to find my way out. Shudder.

Finally leaving the dead to return to the land of the living, I headed towards the former Bohemian haven of Montmartre. Anyone who has seen the movie Moulin Rouge is somewhat familiar with the eclectic neighborhood. Back in its peak it was home to such famous artists as Toulouse-Lautrec, Dali, Picasso, Van Gogh, Modigliani, and Monet to name a few. Once again, I turned to my good pal, Rick Steves, for his guidance as I followed his Montmartre walk which took me from Sacré Cœur to Moulin Rouge and everything in between. I saw where Picasso painted, where Renoir lived, ate onion soup, strolled past Toulouse-Lautrec's haunts, passed by La Maison Rose, found myself in front of Le Chat noir cabaret, and strolling past a the last remaining vineyard within Paris. I loved Montmarte. It's as if its energy gave something to the artists who'd resided there in the past and those who reside there now. 

A view of Sacré Cœur              La Maison Rose                                      Parisian vineyard

One can never see too much art whilst in Paris, so of course my next stop was at the Musee d'Orsay. Again, I love me some Impressionism...couldn't wait to take my time through the museum. I saw some incredible art by Monet (I can't say enough about how much I love his work!), Van Gogh, Cezanne, and others. The Orsay is housed in an old train station and is beautiful in and of itself. If you get to Paris, don't miss this fabulous museum!

Leaving the Orsay, I meandered along the Seine and made my way to Notre Dame. I love this cathedral. Not only is it iconic, but it's absolutely beautiful. It's even more stunning at night. I sat there for nearly an hour as the sun sank further behind me and just stared. And stared. And stared. I finally left only because my belly started to rumble and it was a bit embarrassing. 

Unfortunately, my dinner the second night was...ehh. I didn't take the time to do any research as far as where to eat, so I went to a restaurant that looked promising. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. It was merely...ehh.

 Hugo's House. 
On my last day in Paris I once again followed one of Rick Steves' 
walks...thanks, Rick! This time, I made my way through the Marais neighborhood. In this part of Paris, I toured Victor Hugo's house. Ahhh! 
Pens and blotters belonging to authors
Anyone who has ever read or seen Les Miserables should get excited. The house tour was free and you were treated to a peek at his writing desk and ink pens and  blotters that not only belonged to Hugo, but other novelists such as Alexandre Dumas, author of The Count of Monte Cristo  and The Three Musketeers. The writer in me just about passed out thinking of the incredible works that flowed out of those ink pens and blotter.

From there, I made my way towards the Holocaust museum, Memorial de la Shoah (Holocaust in French).  It was an incredible reminder of the savagery that the Jewish people, and so many others, faced at the hands of evil. It was also an incredible reminder of those who fought the good fight on the side of the Resistance in Paris. One of the most moving parts of the museum was the crypt. It contains a large, black marble Star of David which contains ashes recovered from those murdered in the camps and in the Warsaw ghettos. It was an incredibly moving and tangible reminder of an atrocity that still haunts Europe and the world as a whole. 

Finally, I made my way through quaint shops and boutiques to the Pompidou. I gaped at the modern structure as, again, my tummy rumbled. So, I found myself in the cutest little bistro near the museum for one last Parisian culinary delight in the form of Quiche Lorraine, a side salad, and the best chocolate cake ever. It was such a cozy little place filled with Parisians who were eating with friends, colleagues, and others. I sat back, enjoyed my time out of the miserable rain, and took my last couple of hours in Paris in. 

All in all, it was a fabulous stay in Paris. I love that city and will get back again because I have more to see. One can never go to Paris just once, or in this case twice, and see all that it has to offer. And so I won't say au revoir to Paris, instead I'll just say: à plus tard.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Paris: Part Deux..or at least part 1 of part 2...

The middle of February found me once again in Paris. This time, though, I was on my own. And it was Valentine's Day week. How did I come to be in one of the most romantic cities in the world all by my lonesome, you ask? Well, here's the deal. As part of my job, I get one weekend off a month. Unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts, I was unable to take a weekend off in February, but was able to take Tuesday through Thursday. I was excited by this because I thought that perhaps I could find a cheaper flight to somewhere like Austria or Switzerland mid-week. I was wrong. The fares are even more expensive and harder to find. What gives? So, Paris it was seeing as it was the cheapest option---isn't that ironic?

So, I set off to take on the City of Lights on my own. As I had been to Paris before and had seen all of the major sites, I wanted to see the things and explore the neighborhoods that I didn't get to on my first trip. I wanted to see more of the "real" Paris rather than just the Louvre, Notre Dame, etc. I was a little nervous going on my own because 1) I speak no French outside of the easy phrases like please, thank you, etc., and 2) I hate to dine by this would be my personal gauntlet. It was thrown..and I rose to the challenge.

I arrived to a much colder and much grayer Paris than I had experienced in the fall of 2011. Thankfully, I was prepared for the frigid temperatures and didn't let them deter me from my exploration. I checked into my hotel, hopped on the metro, and made my way to my first stop: Musee Marmottan. Basically, a whole museum dedicated to Monet as it contains the world's largest collection of his work. Does it get any better? His work was breathtaking and I was able to study and stare for as long as I wanted as it was my time, my schedule. The gallery wasn't very crowded and was housed in a lovely old Parisian home. It was wonderful and I fell even more in love with Monet's color, vision, and brilliance. I could have stayed there all day had I not spied the Eiffel Tower from a window on the top floor. And so I bid adieu to Monet and made my way to the Eiffel Tower where I reveled in its size and iconic-ness while enjoying a hot nutella crepe made by a woman in a crepe stand. Again, does it get and better? I, then, walked along the Seine taking in the people of Paris as I listened to Edith Piaf on my iPod. I made my way to the Arc di Triomphe as I hadn't seen it on my first trip into Paris and proceeded to stroll down the Champs Elysess enjoying the occasional street performer. From there, I headed back to my hotel for a quick nap (getting up at 2 a.m. for a 3 a.m. shuttle pick-up was no easy feat for this morning-hating gal) before dinner.

Feeling a little refreshed...I decided to try out a crepe restaurant that I'd read about on Trip Advisor and also in the Rick Steves' Paris guidebook. It was a tiny, little restaurant with only 8 or so tables. 8 tables!! Luckily, they were able to sit me as I was alone provided that I could finish my meal in an hour and a half. An hour and a half? Pssht. I may live in Rome, but I'm still an American...I can eat my dinner in 90 minutes. I'd never had a savory crepe before, so I was excited to try something new as I ordered a crepe filled with goat's cheese (one of my faves), bacon, an egg, and tomato sauce. It sounded like an odd combo, but I waned to try new here we go. Plus, I knew that if it wasn't delicious..the wine that I'd ordered would help with that. Unlike in Italy, the meal also came with a side I knew if nothing else, I'd have something in my system. Turns out, I didn't need to was AMAZING. I could not believe how those seemingly diverse flavors could come together and explode on my tongue so wonderfully. The wine enhanced the flavor of the crepe and I was in heaven. Does it get much better? Uh. Yeah. I hadn't had dessert. Dessert. What can I say except....I'm currently drooling thinking about that crepe. Think about this: cinnamon-spiced apples wrapped in a warm crepe with caramel sauce and topped with chantilly creme. Yeah. Enough said. Needless to say, I went to bed that night with a very happy and contented tummy.

I shall leave you here for I need to get some sleep so that I can go out and explore Rome tomorrow, but I promise...I will catch you up on the rest of Paris. Then, after Paris---a great day in Rome. And after that--we'll see...

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

A tale of woe

She awoke with a start as thunder cracked through the sky, shaking her house just a bit. And as she shook away the remnants of sleep, she heard the rain pound upon the ceiling above her head. It was as if God had forgotten His promise to never flood the world again and had turned on His heavenly faucet in order to drown out those of us down on Earth. Then again, she knew that God was faithful to His Word and wouldn't re-flood the Earth, so it was more that her imagination was running amok and her own distaste of the idea that she would have to go out into the downpour as she must make her way to the train station. Resolved not to let the bad weather get the best of her, she hopped out of bed and went about getting herself together in order to face her day head on.

Dressed and ready to go she entered the kitchen. Sighing, she shook her head, set her purse down, and proceeded to clean the crumbs off of the prep table, put jam that should be in the fridge away, and wash the knives that should have been washed. So was her lot in life lately, she thought. Cleaning up after everyone. She sighed again, picked up her purse, and made her way down the 55 stairs, opened her umbrella, and stepped out the door into the cold, driving rain. It seemed to her that it was the kind of rain that couldn't make up its mind as to which way to fall and so, it fell every which the right, to the left, from the front, and from the back. And while she donned her rain-proof jacket, she felt as though she were soaking up each and every tiny rain droplet. And what was worse, she hadn't even made it out of the driveway yet.

She made her way across the tiny river that used to be a road in front of the house towards the bus stop island. Knowing that passing taxis and buses wouldn't give her any thought standing next to the road, she moved towards the back of the no thought to the cars that would pass along that side of the street. She paid them no heed..that is until a car sped by, its tires flinging dirty, road water her way and soaking the bottom half of her jeans. Thanks, she muttered to herself. This is a great day! she said to herself in her sarcastic inner dialogue as the bus approached her. She hopped onto the bus, thankful that something seemed to be going her way as she was able to get a seat right away. Finally!

The bus continued on its way, stopping and picking up passengers, and still there she sat, content to be out of the rain and cold for just a moment. As the bus approached the part of the bus ride near Porta Pia when it went from being electric to running on gas again, it stopped. And waited. Nobody seemed to know what was going on and became even more confused when the doors opened. Some people got off the bus while the rest waited. So, she sat there, listening to her iPod and waited too. Finally, the bus moved along slowly until it got to Porta Pia where it pulled up behind another 90. And then it happened. The doors opened, the driver announced something, and everyone got off. Ugh. Really? She disembarked and began to walk. And walk. And walk. Along the way, she texted her friend, Joy, to let her know that her awesome day just got more...awesome. "Bus broke down at Porta Pia, everyone had to get off, in the rain, she said as walked to Termini from Porta Pia in the rain." Joy responded with an ever encouraging: "Lol". She had some respite as the rain subsided a bit as she trudged towards Termini. Thankful for small miracles, she came to another bus stop and was able to board a different bus bound for Termini.

Arriving at the station, she made her way through vendors trying to sell her roasted chestnuts, scarves, iPhone covers, and other useless garbage. Thankfully, she had her iPod and could just make her way through the crowd. Entering the station, she weaved through the people towards the Trenitalia counter to take a number. She withdrew her number, A540. Scanning the board for where the A's were at, her eyes landed on....A-4-4-0. Seriously? 100 people were in front of her? This words could describe it.  She wandered through Termini, bought a coffee, went to the grocery store, and returned to...only 50 people in front of her.

She took a seat on the ledge and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, her number was up! She approached the counter, bought her tickets, and left the station in less than 15 minutes after she went to the counter. Yep, it was that kind of day...little did she know when she awoke that morning that it would be, to quote one of her favorite childhood books: "it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day."

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Just across the way

I have an imaginary friend. Hmmm. I should probably clarify what I mean by that because otherwise, it sounds a bit bizarre.

It's not that she's imaginary; she's quite real. I have known her since I moved to Rome. I say hello and good night to her almost every day while I am in Rome. It's just that she just doesn't know that I exist. Yeah, that still sounds bizarre. Let me clarify further....

At the end of the my hall is a window. This window looks out over and across the back garden to nearby apartments. In the apartment building directly across from me I see a woman almost every day in the same place in her apartment between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm. Every day. Our "friendship" began slowly. I would glance out the window as I was leaving the building or on my way to the bathroom and see her sitting on her couch in the living room facing the window. After several months of catching glances of this woman I began to wonder about her. Who is she? What's her story? Does she work? Is she married? Why in the world is she always in the same spot in her apartment?!

So, I have taken to making up stories about her. I will forever wonder who she is, but for now..she's the woman who lives across the way and there's nothing to stop me from imagining all sorts of things...think Audrey Hepburn in "Wait Until Dark"...just sayin'.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Harvest time

This past October found me in the hills of Rome crossing another "must-do" activity off of my "Europe To-Do" list. Olive picking.

My friend, Laura, has a friend, Marti, whose husband works for a seminary just about an hour outside of Rome. The seminary is located in a lovely villa with lots of property. On this property: olive trees. Every October they pick the olives and deliver them to a local man to press the olives for olive oil. This year, though, they didn't have any students in residence to help the harvest. So, Marti called Laura for help and Laura called me. And I said: "Heck yes, I'll help!" And that's how I came to pick olives in the Roman countryside one day.

It was a great and somewhat unusual experience for this city girl. The men who helped with the harvest laid down net-like coverings on the ground around the trees to catch the olives. Then, we would come along with these tools that I can only describe as rake brushes. We would then, quite literally, 'comb' the trees. The tines of the rake would catch the olives and they would drop to the ground only to be caught up into the net. It was dirty, tiring, and all around wonderful! I had a great time and wouldn't mind helping next year. Crossed this off on my on to grape harvesting!

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Saturday, January 19, 2013


As you know, I arrived back in Rome on Tuesday night. Despite the frigid temps and rain, I forced myself to go out on Wednesday to the grocery store as all I had in the house in terms of food was white rice, black beans, garlic salt, and coffee. And while I like all of those things, I thought they didn't really work in terms of a complete meal. So, I ventured out to the store and picked up a few things to get me through for a couple of days plus some supplies for at least one dinner for myself and the Doyles when they arrived. Well, due to weather issues in the States, the Doyles didn't arrive until yesterday. Needless to say, they were pretty tired when they got in and didn't want to go to the store. Then, today the weather was just nasty---cold and raining again. Once again, they didn't get to the store. But that was ok for the most part because I'd had enough sandwich makings that they could eat lunch and I'd made them pasta the night before. Dinner tonight though was a different story. Since they didn't have any food and they didn't want to go far because they were tired and it was, you guessed it, cold and rainy, they invited me to join them for Chinese at a place just down the street. I hadn't been out of the house since Thursday afternoon, so I joined them.

We've been, or at least I have, been going to this particular Chinese restaurant for 3+ years now. The people and the woman who runs the place know me by now. I wouldn't call those who work there or the lady particularly nice or warm people. They get you in, get your order, get your food, get your money, and get you out. They're not ones for conversation or niceties. At least not with us.

When other patrons, ie. Italians, come in the door, they're overly nice and accommodating. So accommodating that they always give the Italians these free appetizers that we've come to refer to as "elephant ears" because that's what they look like. They're these rice puff thingys in the shape of elephant ears and are served with sweet and sour sauce. In my 3+ years, I have only been the recipient of these twice. Twice. Now, it's not that big of a deal to me because I don't really like them, but it's the principle of the matter...the principle. So, when Sean, Joy, and I noticed that every table around us had these...and I mean every table...well, we weren't too happy. What's wrong with us that we don't get the same kind of service? We order in Italian. We speak to them in Italian. Why aren't we given free stuff? Joy and I were dying laughing at the situation because it seemed so ridiculous. Of course, I thought it was funny, but she was legitimately scandalized.

It may seem like a very minor issue, and it is, but c'mon...who doesn't like free stuff? What does a girl have to do to get free elephant ears!?

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Not the end of the story...

When I wrote my previous post I was certain that my friend's brother wouldn't come thru for me. I had another hour until my flight would board and I didn't see how it would happen. So, I sat there in the terminal, wrote my blog, bought a magazine, and made one last trip to the bathroom. And that's when it happened.

As I was washing my hands I heard over the loudspeaker: "British Airways is paging London passenger Kristen S----. Please come to the desk to speak to an agent." What?! I quickly dried my hands and went to the desk where I was informed that Leon (my friend's brother!!) wanted me to go the Executive Club and speak with him. I made my way to the EC where I was greeted by Leon. Now, the funny thing is because I fly this route 4 times a year I was fairly certain I knew who Leon was without having ever met him. I mean, it's not as if British Airways has a ton of staff in Phoenix. I was right! The person I thought he was was indeed who he is. Aha! We greeted one another and he told me that he was working on getting me the best seat for my flight--woo hoo!!---and I had a couple of options. 1) He could upgrade me to World Traveller Plus which would give me an extra couple of inches in leg room and Business Class-type meals, or 2) he could put me in a row of four seats all to myself so that I could stretch out and sleep. What to do? I opted for #2 because my mom, grandma, and I had already gone to dinner, so the food wasn't that big of a deal to me.  So #2 it was. He then told me to please make myself comfortable in the EC. The manager of the club took me in and showed me around. She showed me the lounge where I could help myself to any of the snacks, sodas, beer, wine, teas, coffee, hot chocolate, hot apple cider...well, you get the picture. I could have whatever I want. So, I sat back with a hot mug of apple cider and a snack. My how the other half live!

My flight back to Rome was quite comfy as I had all of that extra space to myself. I was able to sleep (something that almost NEVER happens) and the flight literally flew by...pun intended.

So here I am back in Rome and thankful for the gift that God gave me in Leon and his generosity. It was a great experience and I am so grateful. Of course, I'm still holding out for first will happen!

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