Archive | October 2012

Amalfi Coast & Pompeii

Last weekend I went on the Amalfi Coast trip offered with Bus2Alps.  They took us to Capri, Positano, and Pompeii.  Each place was beautiful, but unfortunately it rained the first two days.

The island of Capri is off the Sorrentine Peninsula, on the south side of the Gulf of Naples.  On the island, we went to the town of the same name, as well as Anacapri and the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzura).

The first thing we did in Capri was a boat tour around the Blue Grotto.  The tour guide pointed out various landmarks, such as the second oldest lighthouse in Europe and houses of the rich and famous on the hills surrounding the cave.  We learned that Michael Jackson tried buying a house for 20 million dollars, got rejected by Capri, then returned with 30 million, and got rejected again (poor MJ).

Lighthouse, Capri

The Blue Grotto was absolutely stunning though.  The water is a deep, rich blue, and even in the terrible weather, it glistened.  According to Capri.com, “the blue coloring of the Grotta Azzurra is created by the daylight which enters via an underwater opening located immediately below the entrance to the cave. The light is filtered by the water which absorbs the red tones, leaving only the blue ones to pass into the cave.” You can see purple and pink from the coral where the water’s surface meets the cave walls.

Blue Grotto

After the boat tour, we walked around on land. Anacapri is raised at a higher elevation than Capri (we did a lot of hiking this weekend).  It was a small village with shops and restaurants, just like Capri.   Coral is very popular in Capri because of the Grotto, all the stores we went to had objects made from coral.

Anacapri

The tour guide brought us to Carlos’ Sandal Shop, where we were offered limoncello and chocolate tastings.  Capri is known for their handmade sandals, so we were able to watch them make it while they customized it to the customer’s feet and taste.

And yes, there was an old man sitting in the doorway making the sandals.

The next day we went to Positano with even more rain.  Positano is known for its black sand beaches, linens, and its charming village.  We hopped on another boat ride which took us cliff jumping and cave swimming.  As an adrenaline junkie, I loved climbing up the cliff, reaching the highest point possible, and jumping into the water below.  I feel like I need to take advantage of what nature offers us.  The cave swimming was just as exhilarating, partially because of the stormy waves that we were fighting.  We entered on one end of the cave and came out the other.  It was amazing being in the cave, floating around, and just observing everything around me.

Positano cave

As I left the cave and swam back to the boat, I laid on my back and looked up.  Even though it was raining on my face, I couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty around  me. We’re so lucky to have things like this, and I’m so fortunate to be able to utilize it and experience all these things first hand. Sono fortunata.

Positano

The next day, Sunday, we went to Pompeii. Pompeii, as many know, is a town that was preserved by ash and pumice after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.   It is a popular site for excavations and for people everywhere.  The amount of remnants within Pompeii is astounding; there are original lead pipes, fountains, bath houses, temples, pottery, and even brothels.

Pompeii

I remember doing a project on Pompeii in my Italian class, maybe in middle school or the beginning of high school, and from that point on, I wanted to go to Pompeii.  I love being able to see things that I’ve studied throughout the years, especially ancient ruins, surrounding me.  I also feel a sense of accomplishment, it’s been my goal for so many years to see these sites and I finally am.  It’s a reinforcement to keep on dreaming and working towards my goals.

Outside of the excavations was a market with vendors selling postcards, jewelry, and Pompeii paraphernalia.  I approached one man and asked him, “Quanta costa?” (or how much?) for a postcard. He looks at me and asks “are you Italian?” Now Italians usually know who is a tourist and who isn’t, plus I know when I speak Italian I don’t have the right accent, so I was a little surprised. I explained to him (in Italian) that I’m studying in Firenze and I’m American. His response back was, “oh, but you have the Italian face.” Excited, I tell him that my grandmother’s family is from Napoli. “OH, a fellow Napolitano, we’re friends now, take the postcard for free.”

I walked away and, about five minutes later, I had a similar conversation with another vendor that insisted I was Italian. And I got another free postcard. I need to thank my Italian ancestry for this.

I hope to return to these areas one day (hopefully with nicer weather).  The Amalfi Coast trip allowed me to connect with the beauties in nature and of our history.

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An Evening (or few) in Roma

Quando in Roma- When in Rome.

I spent this previous weekend with my friend in Rome, staying with a few of her friends from college.  I am going to start off by saying that I was pleasantly surprised by Rome.  For some reason, I always pictured it as a big, dirty city. But I was wrong, it is so much more.

Rome

bridge and Castello in the back

At first, I thought of it as a larger Florence. It has wider streets and more people.  But then I realized it has a personality of its own.  People are friendly and the people are moving.  There is a distinct mixture of old and new.  As a city, it needs to keep up with the modern times.  Yet, there are multiple monuments that mark it with its history.  The Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain were constructed in the 18th century, Palazzo Farnese was designed in the 16th century (with contributions from Michelangelo), and the Bocca della Verita in the 17th century.  And of course, there are the ancient Roman ruins that date back to the B.C. era.  The Colosseum’s construction began in 72 A.D.

When I looked at the Colosseum and the ancient ruins, I tried to visualize it being intact and full of people (wearing togas of course) using the area.  It is amazing that these ruins are still around, some untouched, despite the thousands of years on them.  There are so many events, such as wars, that could have completely demolished them, but they are still around and act as a priority to so many people.

Colosseum

Friday and Sunday consisted of mainly exploring the sites (and pizza) of Rome, but on Saturday we went to the Vatican.  First, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica and learned about the history of the many of pieces of art within the church.  I was happy to see Michelangelo’s Pieta, which is unfortunately behind a glass wall because of someone trying to destroy it in the 70’s.  The tour guide was very informative and actually able to work us through the crowds and fit everything in- the first time I saw an Italian rush since I arrived here.

We also saw a wedding at St. Peter’s, which the guide informed us that the honor is reserved for Swiss Guards.  The guards are from Switzerland because of their neutrality in war and have a reputation for loyalty and discipline.  Their uniforms, the somewhat comic looking blue, red, and yellow outfits, were designed by Michelangelo during the Renaissance.  The Vatican likes to keep to their history.

We also learned that St. Peter’s Square is actually shaped as if arms were embracing the center, in order to make it more welcoming and inviting to others.

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Square

After St. Peter’s, we went into the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel.  It was a very moving experience to see all the art in front of me, in full form, as opposed to on paper or on a computer screen.  It was surprising to see how tremendous paintings, such as “The School of Athens,” are and how they offer a much more powerful feeling in person.  It makes one appreciate the work more, being able to see the detail and size of it.

Vatican Museum

School of Athens

The Sistine Chapel was astounding.  There was nothing simple about it.  The detail, the movement, the placement, and the beauty- it is non comparable.  I wish I could just grab a pillow and lay on the floor by myself, staring up at the artwork all day, pulling out each specific detail and listing what makes the artwork so special.

I would love to go back to Rome and spend a few weeks there.  There is so much more to explore that I feel like the Romans themselves do not know of.  I would also like to learn more about the Romans today and their mentality. I believe Rome can offer so much to those who open themselves to it.

Germany: Marienplatz, Oktoberfest, Dachau

On the weekend of September 28, I went to Munich, Germany. I booked the Oktoberfest trip through a student travel group called Bus2Alps.  We left Thursday night and arrived Friday 9 a.m. And as soon as we arrived to the campsite we were staying at, Stoke Travel, we were handed a cup of beer. The motif of this weekend.

My friend and I planned this way back in the beginning of August, when we thought it was a good idea to opt for the cheaper camping option, as opposed to staying in a hotel or hostel- not realizing how cold Germany is in September. Let’s just say there was a lot of layers and cuddling happening at night.

Now, we knew Oktoberfest (and Germany in general) was going to be different than what we were used to in Italy.  Whenever my Food & Wine professor discussed it, he described it as a place with “burping, farting, and pissing.” Of course, not as elegant at the Tucscan wine tasting. However, we were excited for the difference.

The first day, we decided to explore Munich minus the festival.  We didn’t want to go to Germany and miss out on the actual city. From the campsite, we took a bus to the train station and then the train to Marienplatz (we became pros at the train system by the end of the week).  Since we missed the morning bike tour of the town (typical us) we had time to kill before the next one at 4 p.m.

The train station in Marienplatz (or Mary’s Square) is located right by the town square.  Outside the square, we walked around through a bunch of food and shop vendors.  Now, the knowledge of my German pretty much extends to the vocabulary used in the songs of the Sound of Music, so trying to translate proved very difficult.  We had no idea what the majority of the food was, unlike here in Italy.

Marienplatz

We passed one vendor that was selling flowers, including Eidelweiss.  I have a deep love for Eidelweiss because when I was little my mother used to sing the song to me (again, Sound of Music).  The small shop also had handmade ornaments of the flowers, but unfortunately, I didn’t have a safe place for it because I was going on the bike tour.  Later in the weekend though, I bought myself an Eidelweiss music box to make up for it.

At the beginning of the bike tour, I ran into one of my friends that is studying abroad in Spain this semester. We were meant to miss the first the tour!

The bike tour was a lot of fun.  The tour guide explained to us the various sites of Munich, many which were reconstructed after WWII.  I found it interesting that there were many monuments honoring those who stood up against Hitler and the Nazi movement.

We also learned that Oktoberfest was created in order to please a woman.  In 1810, King Ludwig III married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen.  He bought her land, outside of the city, and held festivities on it.  There were horse races and parades and the festivities eventually developed to Oktoberfest now.

The last stop the guide took us to was Englischer Garten, which is the second largest beer garden in the world.  We sat around the Chinesischer Turm, a tall, wooden structure that played music from all cultures.  There were benches situated around it where we were able to eat our chicken and drink beer.  That was the first time I tried a Radler- half lemonade and half beer.

Beer Garden

After the bike tour, we found our way back to the campsite (after briefly getting lost in Marienplatz).  The campsite was a constant party with people from all over the world visiting Germany for Oktoberfest.  We were often approached by people, such as French or Italians, so they can speak English to us.

Surviving the first cold night, we woke up early the next morning to go into Theresienweisse to Oktoberfest.  One of my friends from home advised me to just “follow the lederhosen,” in order to find the location- and it worked.  There was a swarm of people wearing lederhosen and dirndl walking to the site.

When we go there, we waited on line for the Hofbrau tent (and tent is an understatement, this tent can fit 10,000 people).  We instantly order the giant pretzels and liters of beer (note-they kick you out if you decide to stop ordering beer).  We sat at a table with Germans and Swiss, with our backs touching a bench of German guys.

It was amazing to see how happy and united everyone was at Oktoberfest. People were genuinely excited to be there to drink and meet new people.  I don’t know what that says about society, but beer clearly was the cause of this camaraderie.   There was singing, dancing, and clanking of beers, shouting “Prost!” The people that we sat with spoke to us in English about life in their countries and asked us about America.

Inside the Hofbrau tent

view from swing

When we left the tent, we decided to walk around the festival.  Oktoberfest was like a giant carnival, there were vendors selling food, beer steins, shirts, and other small souvenirs.  There were also tremendous rides, such as swings and roller coasters. Fun for the whole family.

The next day, Sunday, had a different feeling to it.  We went to the Dachau concentration camp, where the sky was gray and gloomy, setting the tone to the place.  When we first walked through the entrance, the area is desolate with only a few bunkers and monuments.  We spent a lot of time in the museum, which offered background information, artifacts, and pictures from the concentration camp.

Dachau

I would enter a room, read the information, see the objects and pictures, and then read that in that particular room I was standing in, what I was reading occurred. The same walls, the same floor, the same area.

One quote that stood out to me in one of the descriptions stated that we are constantly reshaping the history of tomorrow. At first it made me feel small, there are billions of people in the world that are dependent on it. We are pawns in the game of life.

But then I realized that wasn’t the point of the statement.  It was to give us encouragement to take control of our role in life and to do what is right.  It was empowering; everyone has an impact.  The theme of the museum was “never again,” and we are supposed to contribute to that.

“Never Again.”

I would love to return to Germany and spend more time there.  It offers so much history and so many beautiful sites, much more than I realized.  I would especially like to return to Oktoberfest in the future and further experience the culture of it.