Tag Archive | travel

My Life at Home (a.k.a. I’m not in Europe anymore and I’m feeling nostalgic)

So I’ve been back in America for about three months right now, and, honestly, I’m still not over it. By “it,” I mean not being abroad. I miss hearing Italian all around me; my friend asked me to translate a phrase for him today in Italian and I was BEAMING over it. I miss walking around Florence, the cobblestone unstable under my feet. And I miss traveling being my number one priority.

I have a bunch of friends studying abroad this semester and I can barely look at their Facebooks because I get jealous that it’s no longer me there.

I spent three and a half months abroad and visited 10 countries. I’ve been back in America for around that time and I haven’t even left the state.

I have a different set of priorities here, which definitely resembles “real life” more than it did in the past. It’s part of growing up, which is inevitable and something that I should try to be excited about. But I don’t know if I can be excited about it if it doesn’t involve traveling in the future.

Back in America

Let’s just say, leaving Italy was one of the most difficult things I have had to do.  I threatened to chain myself to the Duomo numerous times so I wouldn’t have to leaved.  But I’ve been back in the United States for about three weeks now.  I had to go back to reality and back to the rush of being a native New Yorker.  As much as I love living in the land of the brave, who wouldn’t miss Italy and all the travel opportunities I had while abroad? (10 countries in three months- just saying).

So here is a list of things that I miss from studying abroad:

  • The architecture- I made the Duomo my cell phone background because I miss walking past it every everyday, it’s not the same.
  • Browsing the street vendors-maybe I want to treat myself to a one euro bracelet that day.
  • The language- it’s a known fact that the Italian language is the most beautiful of them all.
  • Field trips during my classes- field trips aren’t as common at my home college.
  • The mini cappuccino machines by my classes- 50 cent cappuccino con cioccolata, yum!
  • Traveling during the weekends with my friends- Prague, Istanbul, Crete, London, etc.
  • The slow pace of life- okay, maybe I struggled with this while there (see above- Native New Yorker), but it’s definitely something I appreciate.  We should enjoy life and all aspects of it, not rush through it.
  • Italian pizza
  • Pasta with amazing sauces
  • Gelato
  • Panino shops
  • Just Italian food in general.
  • Walking places and exploring the town- can’t do that in my hometown, which is unfortunate since I came home to a broken car.
  • Fashion
  • The store fronts- they’re so carefully crafted, they lure me in every time!
  • People calling me bella- okay, sometimes it’s creepy, but other times it’s nice and acts as a good ego boost!
  • Being mistaken as a native Italian.
  • Having traveling and soaking in your surroundings as your biggest responsibilities in life.

I want to thank my parents, family and friends as well as Marist College and Lorenzo de’ Medici for the best four months of my life.

I will continue to write posts about looking back at my experiences as well as offering advice to those considering to go abroad.

A presto!

il Dumo, Firenze- who wouldn't miss this?

il Duomo, Firenze- who wouldn’t miss this?

Paris & London

Last weekend, my friends and I thought it was a good idea to squeeze Paris and London into one weekend. Yes, we got to hit all the main sites, but we didn’t get to wander and because of travel issues (of course) our time in London was cut short.

We began our trip when we arrived in Paris late Thursday night.  Since everything was closed at that point, and we were vehemently opposed to eating McDonald’s, we settled for some good ole kebabs.  I know it’s not French, but the kebabs stands are more popular in Europe than in America, so that made us feel a little better.

I woke everyone up in my hostel early Friday morning by continuously singing/shouting that we were in Paris and that it was time to get up. No one was too happy with me, but it got them moving.  We left the hostel and got lost in the rain, of course, looking for the metro station.  We finally reached the metro and while we were at the information desk, my friend’s iPhone got stolen.  Between that and the rain, everyone’s spirits were dampened (look at that pun!), but I was determined to keep moving so we could see everything.

The first monument that we saw was the Arc de Triumphe, which is actually a monument for fallen soldiers.  In the center of the Arc is a large French flag, which blows majestically in the wind.  I imagine the monument to be very patriotic and moving for the French.

Arc de Triumphe

We then walked down the Champs-Elysees, one of Paris’ most famous streets for shoppers.  We found a French cafe along the way where we got lunch.  The street was decorated for the holidays, with sparkling white lights on the buildings and trees, white wire globes with shiny blue balls, and fake snow.  It was a winter wonderland.

We then crossed the bridge to the Eiffel Tower.  We decided to be ambitious and climb up it, as opposed to taking the lift up.  We deemed it “the workout to last us the rest of the semester.”  Along the way up, the stairs were numbered and there were signs that explained its architecture and gave background to its purpose.  They displayed the other possible designs the creators were considering for the 1889 World Fair. On what they call the first level (or the first breathing stop), there is a restaurant and souvenir shop.  Sitting in the restaurant was a groom and his bride.  I wish I asked them their story, I wonder if they got married on the tower or just in the city of Paris.

There’s a bar at the top of the tower.  When we finally reached it, we each got a celebratory flute of champagne.  Being able to say that you had champagne in Paris is impressive enough for me, but adding at the top of the Eiffel Tower as well, makes it even cooler.

View from the top

By the time we got down from the Eiffel Tower it was already getting dark.  At a certain time each night, the Eiffel Tower lights up.  The Eiffel Tower was literally glistening.  I think it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

We made our way to Notre Dame.  It was pitch black when we saw it, I would have thought that there would have been lights illuminating it.  But the darkness gave the cathedral a very gothic look.  The architecture was amazing.  I was really interested in the gargoyles though, mainly because of Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.  We wandered the streets around there which were full of pubs and shops.  It had a nice nightlife going.  We stopped at one place and got crepes,  mine had Nutella and bananas.

We then took the metro to the Louvre.  Although we did not go into it, just seeing the outside was beautiful.  The pyramid in the courtyard is stunning, especially at night- it glows.  I think Paris in general is amazing at night.

As a result of a last minute decision, Saturday morning we went to Disneyland, Paris.  The happiest place on Earth, but in Europe.  I don’t think it can get any happier than that.  The park was decorated for the holidays as well, which put us in great spirits.  I felt like a little kid again when the Christmas parade went by and we were dancing along and taking pictures of our favorite characters on floats.  We were only able to get on three rides, but they were all very different than their American counterparts.  I guess safety standards are a tad different in Europe.

Disney Christmas

We then had to rush to the airport to hop on our plane to London.  We spent the night in Piccadilly Circus, London’s Time Square.  Off the main circle are streets filled with clothing and souvenir stores.  There were big, bright signs advertising various products.  I saw one sign with the Union Jack and the Beatles saying “Let it Be.” I don’t even know if it was advertising anything, but it was so British!

London was decorated for Christmas as well.  On one of the main streets off of Piccadilly there were arches, each with a day of Christmas, from the song “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

That night we went to a steak house.  I had mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and bbq chicken.  It was the most American thing I’ve had in a while.  And it was great being to ask for things in English, and then getting a responses in English as well.

The next day, we planned on doing a hop on, hop off bus tour.  We started with it, got off in one place to switch to a different bus, and then it didn’t come. We wound up wasting two hours.  We were able to rush along though.  We saw Parliament, Big Ben, London Tower, and the Tower Bridge, all the main buildings we wanted to see.  The only thing that I didn’t get to do was take a picture at Abbey Road. And shop.  Oh well, I guess that just means I need to go back there.

Big Ben, Parliament

Tower Bridge

London was such a beautiful city, maybe because it reminds me the most of Manhattan.  But the buildings are prettier and some much older.  I was sad to find out that most of Old London, where the Tower is, was destroyed during World War II.  In Italy, I get to see so many ruins and old buildings, that I forget that with how much has been preserved there is even more that have actually been destroyed in war.

Although the trip was a tad rushed, I am so happy that I got to see both of these cities, two of the most famous in the world.   I understand why now, both have a unique feel that links them back to their history as well as the modern era.

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.

Lake Como & Switzerland

This past weekend I went on a trip with my university to Lake Como and Switzerland. Both are considered high-end vacation spots and boast mere beauty.  The Alps painted the background of every picture throughout the entire trip. Also, one of the things that impressed me most about this trip were the variations of colors in the water, so bare with me as I discuss it.

Lake Como is the host of many vacation homes of famous people, including George Clooney.  The length of Lake Como is 146 km, the third largest lake in Italy, and  is surrounded by shops and houses.  There are beautiful villas with Italian gardens, which exhibit symmetry and beautiful fountains and statues in order to impress guests.  And they do. We only had enough time to sit down for lunch in the main part of Lake Como, but at least we got to face the lake and the boats sitting on it.

Lake Como

We then took a ten minute ferry ride to Bellagio.  Lake Como is shaped like the letter “Y,” and the Bellagio sits at the tip of the peninsula separating the lake’s two southern arms.  It is nicknamed “the pearl of Lake Como.”  There is a village of small shops filled with jewelry, fine china, house goods, and food that are painted yellow or pink with green shutters.  They seemed to have been painted bright colors to go with the euphoria one feels on the island.  At the end of the island there is an overlook that offers a stunning view of the lake and the land surrounding it.  The water is a deep blue-green, with dark shades of teal throughout.  It always seems to be glistening with the sun’s reflection and movement.

Bellagio

After about two hours we went back on the ferry and onto a bus that took us all the way up to St. Moritz, Switzerland.  We made one scenic stop along the way.  It was at sunset and we were able to take pictures of sun’s reflection on a lake.  Again with the Alps in the background, it was so serene.  The water was a deep, bold blue with pink and green reflections from the hills and sun.

lake in Switzerland

We stayed at St. Moritz overnight and then went on a walking tour the next morning. St. Moritz is considered a village (because of its small population) and its main, and only, industry is tourism.  They don’t want factories that can interfere with the land’s natural beauty.  Therefore, the village really caters to the tourists.  There were many kiosks and souvenir shops that were open, even though it was a Sunday (in small, European places they still close on Sundays).  The mayor of the town also had their symbol, the sun, trademarked for tourism.  Their emblem is the sun because, usually, 322 days of the year it is sunny in St. Moritz.  This coincides with the cheerful disposition of its inhabitants.  The Swiss are very welcoming and proud of their surroundings, they want to share it with everyone.

St. Moritz

We stopped at a restaurant/cafe during the tour called Hauser.  There I bought homemade Swiss chocolate; mine had hazelnuts in it. And it was almost finished by the time I got back home that night.  Our guide pointed out many sites to us, such as a tower with a clock that was painted a blue to match the sky, the first “Palace” hotel, and the “Chesa Veglia.”  “Chesa Veglia” translates to old house; he explained to us how farmers used to keep their cows in the basement of the house because of the heavy snow falls and the heat radiating from them would help warm the house.

Old House

After the tour we took a train for three hours back into Italy.  The Ferrovia retica, la linea del Bernina. (Thankfully, they spoke Italian in the part of Switzerland we were in).  The ride offered many beautiful sites of the hills, small villages, and rivers running from the Alps.  Unfortunately I was really struggling staying awake.  The color of the rivers though was a piercing ice blue that I did not know could exist without chemicals or being digitally enhanced.  It might be this color because of the glaciers of the Alps.

As we progressed further down the line, at Lago di Poschiavo, the water color was more similar to that of Lake Como. It was darker, with deep shades of teal.

Lago di Poschiavo

We finally arrived in Tirano, Italy.  It was a small town that I normally would have loved to have explored, but I instead opted to get food before we got on the bus for another six hours.

As for the Italian words of the post- lago is lake, since we were constantly surrounded by beautiful lakes and bodies of water, and l’autobus is bus (since I spent so much time on one this weekend).

Cinque Terre

Weekend update- parte due.

Yesterday, Saturday, my two friends and I took a train up to La Cinque Terre to spend the day there.  Cinque Terre (“Five Hills”)  consists of five villages on the coast of the Ligurian Sea; Monterosso al MareVernazzaCornigliaManarola, and Riomaggiore. We went to the first four, and they were absolutely amazing.

Monterosso beach

Each village has its own, unique charm.  To get to each village, there is a regional train that goes up and down the coast.  The first one we went to was Monterosso.  Monterosso is mainly a beach with only a few shops.  The beach was small and crowded, but we fell in love with the water right away.  The water was blue and clear, unlike the muddy green at home.  It was at the perfect temperature, it was like we were floating in a bath.

On the beach, it was easy to distinguish who was Italian and who was not (Speedo’s anyone?). Regardless, everyone was relaxing and enjoying the beautiful weather.  Finally, we were happy about the unusually hot summer that Italy has been experiencing.

The next stop on our trip was Vernazza. Vernazza is more of a town than Monterosso and has a small port.  The small, brightly colored shops are lined along the hill, with the doors open, welcoming the tourists to inspect their products.  At the bottom of the hill, by the port, are three or four restaurants overlooking the water.  The restaurant we chose had large, colorful umbrellas, where we happily sought cover from the sun.  We sat next to an older American couple; the wife was reading from her tour book aloud to her husband, which enlightened us with some information on the town.

Vernazza

While waiting for the next train, we got gelato at a gelatteria named “Gelato, amore mio,” or gelato my love. A title that I can definitely agree with.

Our third stop was Corniglia.  Instead of going into town on our right, we decided to be adventurous and go to the left, to a pebble beach near the train station.  Getting down there was a huge process. There’s a path that follows the tracks, but then leads to multiple flights of stairs to get down to the coast. At one point, when facing a left or downstairs, we decided to go down.  We get to the coast and it’s aligned with huge boulders.  We then see the pebble beach we were looking for in front of us, with stairs leading to it from where we should have made a left as opposed to go down.

Instead of turning around, we decided it would be a good idea to climb all the rocks to get to it. As we progressed further, the rocks became more slippy and further spread apart.  With waves crashing on the rocks, our balance became even more off.  We finally decided that it was a terrible idea and to turn around and take the proper path to the pebble beach.

At the actual pebble beach, and the word pebble was an understatement, smooth round rocks coated the fifteen foot coast.  We had to carefully crawl into the water and sit down on a rock, because, even off the coast, there were only rocks along the floor-no sand.  Our lack of balance made things a little difficult, but the view was unbelievable.  We would have loved to sit there the entire day if we could, watching the water roll over the rocks and the sail boats in the distances.

Corniglia pebble beach

Alas, we had more places to visit. Our next place was Manarola.  Manarola was also on a hill, with small businesses and homes aligning the streets.  At the top of the hill there were signs with poetry (in Italian and English) of the Cinque Terre and its wine.  There is also an overlook, where there is an magnificent view of the sea and port. There, we went right down to the coast where there was a cove, something like a natural pool. We swam in the water, climbed the rocks surrounding it, and watched the school of fish that stayed close to the rocks.

I absolutely loved climbing the rocks.  I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so the higher we climbed, the more exciting it was.  I could not jump off the highest point, for fear I may not clear the rocks below it, but we jumped in at various locations along the way.  During the jumps, I was filled with so many emotions for the moment.  There’s the excitement, the hint of pride for gaining the courage to do so, the terror that there is no turning back, and the appreciation of the view surrounding me.  I just wanted to freeze frame it and never let go.

Manarola cliff

I was finally convinced to get out of the water and leave the cove.  We were unsure of the time our train was leaving for home so we had to get to the main station (La Spezia) soon.  We had difficulties actually getting home though, which will be explained in my next post roughly titled Difficulties Abroad.