Monthly Archives: September 2009

Livin’ the JForce life.

Well, it’s been a busy week for me! Although I’ve mainly been in Rome, there’s been quite a bit going on. To sum some highlights of the past week:

Tuesday night, we had a karaoke night at the Rome Center. It ended up being a lot of fun and was just a really good bonding time for everyone. We sang a lot of 80’s and 90’s music, and had huge dance party.

Wednesday morning, we had to get up early to go the Papal Audience. Unfortunately, although I got there pretty early, it wasn’t quite early enough, and I ended up not being able to get into the actual audience with the Pope. FYI: just because you have a ticket does NOT mean that you will get in to the actual audience. On the bright side, I still got to see the Pope up close because he drove by in the Popemobile only about 10 feet away from me!

Classes were canceled on Wednesday so that everyone was free to go the Papal Audience, so that afternoon I went back downtown to the Villa Borghese for a few hours and did some exploring. Villa Borghese is essentially Rome’s version of Central Park (or I guess it’s technically the other way around because I’m pretty sure that the Villa Borghese is older), and it quickly became one of my favorite places in Rome.

Wednesday night, we had the first set of calcio matches for the semester. Calcio is a huge deal here at the Rome Center. Of course, I’ve never really played soccer before, and I’m really not very athletic at all, but I signed up to play anyway just because I thought it would be a fun bonding activity. I’m on the Pink Team. I did play for part of the game, but I have to admit that I spent most of the time I was out on the field repeatedly thinking about how scary I think soccer is. I’m hoping that feeling will diminish after a few more weeks. After calcio is over, it’s tradition for everyone to go out together to this local pizzeria that we call BP. I think I enjoyed that part more than the actual calcio!

Thursday night, it was one of the girl’s from SLU’s 21st birthday, so a bunch of us went out to celebrate that with her, which was very fun. We actually visited an Irish pub (complete with Irish music), as well as a few other places.

I stayed in Rome this weekend, which has actually been fantastic! As much as I enjoy traveling, it’s also really nice to be more relaxed and hang out here, plus there’s always more exploring and fun to be had in Rome.

Although today I did go on a day trip with my Italian class to a nearby town named Velletri, where our Italian teacher lives. We got to meet his family, and we all went grocery shopping, then made dinner. His town was having their annual wine festival, so we also went to that.

And just to wrap everything up, tomorrow morning I’m getting up early to go the flea market, and then my parents should be getting to Rome sometime during the afternoon!

It should prove to be another exciting week. 🙂
-megan

Adventures in the Cinque Terre.

This past weekend, I traveled with three other girls to Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre (which literally means 5 lands in Italian) are 5 small towns all located on or near the coast of northern Italy, linked together by a trail. On paper they don’t sound that impressive, but the Cinque Terre quickly became one of my new favorite places in the entire world.

We left for the Cinque Terre early Friday morning by taking a taxi to the train station at 5:00am! The taxi drive was crazy—the streets of Rome were almost deserted since it was so early, and the driver was going so incredibly fast. To my still-asleep eyes, everything just seemed like a blur.

In part because of the speed of our taxi driver, we arrived at the train station with plenty of time to spare. We then took the train to Pisa, where we switched trains for La Spezia. Have I ever mentioned how much I enjoy traveling on the train? It’s just so much more relaxing than flying, plus you get to see a lot more scenery.

We stayed in La Spezia for the weekend, which is not actually one of the Cinque Terre towns, but it was only a quick train ride away. Staying in La Spezia actually meant we got to stay in a nicer place—a hotel instead of a hostel—that was actually cheaper too!

We spent most of our time at the Cinque Terre on Friday and Saturday completing the 7-mile hike that links the towns together. We broke the hike up into two parts and did the first half on Friday and the rest on Saturday. The second half was much harder than the first, but the views/scenery were gorgeous! The last half of the hike was a lot of up-and-down action, steps, and really narrow ledges, but I felt incredibly accomplished when it was over.

As soon as we got to the last town, we went swimming and hung out at the beach! Spending time at the beach was wonderful, of course, and we then wandered around the town for awhile. We got dinner and gelato and just enjoyed ourselves. 🙂

Sunday morning, we woke up early and took the train back to Pisa. It was already pretty cloudy at this point and starting to sprinkle a little bit, but we were hoping the rain would hold off. Unfortunately, just when we arrived at the Leaning Tower, it really started to rain hard. We stuck it out for a little bit and took a few pictures before heading back to the train station, where we had McDonalds for lunch! FYI: McDonalds in Italy tastes almost exactly the same as McDonalds in the US, except that it’s more expensive. But it is excellent comfort food.

After lunch, we grabbed another train that took us back to Rome, and that pretty well wrapped up the weekend. I absolutely loved visiting the Cinque Terre and really hope that I get to go back there again someday. Overall, it was really an excellent trip!

A few more tidbits of exciting news:
Tomorrow everyone at the JFRC has the opportunity to go to a Papal Audience! I’m really looking forward to it; this isn’t an opportunity that everyone gets. Also, my parents arrived in Italy yesterday, and I’m so eager to see them this weekend when they come to Rome!

A process of adjustment.

It’s official—I’ve been in Rome for 3 weeks now. During these first few weeks, there have been a variety of things that I’ve had to adjust to as a result of living in Rome/at the JFRC.

These include, but are not limited to:

military time, living in dorms again/eating in a cafeteria for my meals, not using my American cell phone, paying to do laundry, not using a dryer (most of the time), no wireless internet in my dorm room, taking public transportation everywhere, shampoo/other toiletries costing twice what they do at home, not really eating breakfast, stores being closed for siesta times, marble floors everywhere—not just in nice places, and of course, the obvious language barrier.

And last but not least, finding a balance between schoolwork, traveling, and all of the other miscellaneous things I have to do (laundry, going in the grocery store, keeping in touch with people from home, writing in my journal/this blog, etc.).

I say these things not because I view them in a negative light, but rather for the sake of reflecting upon the differences between cultures/residential situations.

With that said, the hardest/worst thing is definitely not eating breakfast. I look forward to the day when I’ll be able to have my cereal and orange juice every morning again.

….

Random other updates:

– I now have an Italian cell phone. It’s pink, and I’m not a fan of that. However, I have text messaging (for free!) for the first time in my life, and I do like that.

– I bought Harry Potter 7 yesterday in Italian. Now my collection is up to the American, British, Chinese, and Italian editions of the book!

– I’m done with my second week of classes now, and Art in Rome is officially my favorite class, even when means getting up early.

– No Friday class tomorrow, so I’m taking off really early to catch a 6:00am train to Cinque Terre with a few other girls! We’re spending the weekend there, then leaving early Sunday morning to stop in Pisa on the way back to Rome. I’m really excited for this.

To classes ending on Thursdays!

-megan

You live, you learn: A weekend in Sorrento, Pompeii, & Capri

I’ve returned to Rome yet again, and I must say that it was quite a trip. I think we all underestimated how complicated planning the logistics for traveling was going to be, which this past weekend definitely taught us. Don’t get me wrong—I still got to see lots of amazing things and had a good time, but it was certainly a learning experience.

On Friday evening, we took a bus to the subway to the train station, where we took the train to Naples. Once we arrived in Naples, we had to buy yet another train ticket to get to Sorrento where we stayed for the weekend. Once arriving in Sorrento, however, our hostel was an approximately 25 minute walk from the train station. With our backpacks. At night. On tiny, winding roads. Uphill.

Needless to say, we were all exhausted and rather relieved when we finally arrived in at the hostel! It was a pretty nice place, just in a very inconvenient location.

This was also only the beginning of the various transportation methods we employed throughout the trip that included more trains, buses, ferries, subways, cars, tons of walking, and even a rowboat!

On Saturday, we went to Mt. Vesuvius. We took a shuttle most of the way up the volcano and then hiked the rest of the way up. Seeing the crater was amazing, as well as the fantastic view from the top. It was also very appropriate considering that we went to Pompeii afterwards. Just seeing the volcano that caused all of that was really impressive.

Pompeii itself was fantastic. I loved it. Seeing an almost completely preserved Roman town was just so compelling. The history major in me was basically thrilled. However, walking around Pompeii after hiking at Mt. Vesuvius basically wore us all out so we were again extremely tired by the time it was over.

Sunday morning, we got up early and took the first ferry over to Capri. At Capri, we visited the famous Blue Grotto and did a little bit of shopping. The Blue Grotto was wonderful! It definitely looks like something that is man-made, which makes it even more miraculous that it was solely created by nature. (You have to ride in a rowboat to get into the grotto, if you were wondering where the rowboat came in.) Capri itself was a beautiful island, but it was also a little bit too crowded and touristy for my taste.

After spending some time at Capri, we took the early afternoon ferry back to Sorrento. We planned on riding a bus back to Rome, but it unfortunately ended up being full, so we were out of luck on that account. Instead we ended up taking the train back the way we had came, which was a bit stressful. However, we all got back to Rome just fine, even though we were exhausted.

All in all, it really was a good weekend, even with frustrating things that happened. There were a lot of things I learned that will be very useful on future trips, so even that wasn’t all bad (for example, I overpacked—that backpack got really heavy after awhile).

And then, I had to get up and go to class this morning! School doesn’t stop, even when I’m gone traveling for the weekend, but I really can’t complain. Afterall, I’m still in Rome!

-megan

Life as of lately.

Last night we had the Mass of the Holy Spirit. Every Catholic university starts each academic year off with a Mass of the Holy Spirit, and the Rome Center is no exception to this tradition. The mass was at this absolutely beautiful church (I can’t remember the name right now, so just trust me on it), and then everyone went out to dinner afterwards. We all paid 15 Euro for the meal, but it actually cost a lot more (Campus Ministry was nice enough to subsidize it for all of us). Anyway, the food was fantastic—probably my favorite meal yet since arriving in Italy.

I just really love the feel of the Rome Center. It’s such a great place to be. Since it’s a pretty small group of people (approx. 150 students), it really does become a very close-knit community.

Today, I actually signed up to play calcio (soccer) as part of the JFRC intramurals. It’s a big thing here at the Rome Center, and I got talked into doing it… My soccer skills are limited to say the least, so I’ll let you know how this one works out. I’m still a bit skeptical about it, but hopefully it will be fun.

And now I just got done spending way too much time with my Italian-English dictionary and Italian textbook. School has definitely begun.

I’ve now had all of my classes. Today was my first Art in Rome class and one of our rare classes not on-site. Tomorrow, however, we’re meeting at the Roman Forum/Colosseum for class. What’s that? Class on Friday? Aren’t I not supposed to have class on Fridays while in Rome?

Ah, that’s what I thought too. However, as we all unfortunately learned once arriving at the Rome Center, we do in fact have classes on some Fridays. Initially this didn’t seem like much of problem, but it has already made travel plans rather complicated.

Speaking of travel plans, I’m actually leaving to go somewhere tomorrow afternoon! I’m taking the train to Naples, then Sorrento, where I’ll be staying for the rest of the weekend. We’re planning to visit Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius, and Capri, before we come back Sunday night! It should be a busy weekend, but a lot of fun.

I’ve also made a few other travel plans and am working on getting more lined up. Next weekend, I will hopefully be going to Cinque Terre and Pisa! And I also bought my plane ticket for Fall Break. Things are starting to come together, which is very exciting.

More soon about my first real trip this weekend!

-megan

The “study” part of studying abroad.

So it begins… Classes have officially begun at the JFRC (or the J-Force, as we affectionately call it). No more wandering around Rome everyday and spending all our time researching trips and getting to know people. I’ve moved past simply the “abroad” portion to also embrace the “study” part of studying abroad.

However, since I am in Italy and my schedule allows for it, I’m only taking 12 hours this semester, which will be a nice break from my usual 15-16 hours. My classes are as follows:

  • Italian III
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Food & Wine of Italy
  • Art in Rome

I’ve already had all of them except Art In Rome (which is only on Thursdays). So far, they seem like they will all at least be interesting. Italian intimidates me a little bit, I must admit, but I’m hoping that if I just stay focused I’ll make it through alright. Roman Catholicism seems pretty straightforward; I don’t think it will be too difficult. And of course, Food and Wine should be fun!

I am really excited for Art in Rome though because it’s taught almost entirely on site; for example, the day that we learn about the Colosseum, we actually go to the Colosseum. I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Today I went on a small adventure with a few of my friends to the “Bone Church”! (Actual name = Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini) However, it’s nicknamed the Bone Church for one very important reason: the crypt is decorated with the bones of over 4000 monks! You can read more about it/see some pictures here. Pretty crazy stuff. It was certainly a sight to see!

On the way to the Bone Church, we actually stumbled upon another really famous church: San Carlo alla Quattro Fontane. That’s one of my absolute favorite things about Rome–how I stumble upon such beauty and history everywhere I go. I am also (finally) the proud owner of a Rome bus map, which is basically a neccesity here. Overall, it was a very successful afternoon!

And… I’m already excited for the weekend!
-megan

The end of the beginning.

Well, vacation’s almost over. Orientation at the Rome Center is officially finished now, and classes start tomorrow (a couple weeks after everyone back at SLU).

As part of orientation, we went on a small trip. Monday morning, we all loaded onto a bus, and drove all day to get to a town named Matera in Southern Italy. Matera is not very big city and not many tourists really go there or know about it yet. It was incredibly beautiful and not a place I would have gone on my own, so I was so glad that it was included as part of our orientation. Fun fact: it is also where The Passion of the Christ movie was filmed!

But what really makes Matera so special is the houses there that were built into the side of cliff; they essentially started caves that were dug out to become homes. They call this part of town the Sassi, which is Italian for stone. Walking around the Sassi was almost like walking through a maze, everything was winding with lots of hidden nooks and corners.

After touring the Sassi in the morning, that afternoon I went on a hike to another hill that overlooked the Matera. The view was so beautiful, and I just loved being there—definitely one of my favorite things I have done thus far on the trip.

Since coming back to Rome from Southern Italy, I’ve really just been working on getting more settled in and exploring the city some more. There’s so much to see just in Rome, and I feel like I’ll never get to half of it. Even the smallest things here are such an adventure, from buying laundry detergent to finishing all of the paperwork for my Italian visa.

Today we have been having wonderful weather—like mid-80’s instead of high 90’s, sunny, with just the right amount of breeze. I spent most of my afternoon just sitting in the JFRC courtyard, reading and catching up on my journaling.

I also had my first experience going running in Rome! Of course, the Rome Center is located on a hill, so parts of it weren’t too fun and it was definitely different than going running back at the track in Perryville. Instead of the track, I was running on narrow, winding streets, dodging all kinds of plants and being careful to avoid vespas. I definitely got a few strange looks from some Italians (I don’t think they really go running like we do), but it was way worth it.

And now classes start tomorrow morning, which will be another kind of adventure in and of itself… just maybe not quite as exciting as the other kinds I’ve been having. However, it will be good to be learning things again, and it will be nice to have some kind of routine.

-megan