Monday, November 21, 2011

You Know What They Say....

Well, that was what I call an adventure.

We started in Rome on Saturday, arriving around noon. Thus began a week of "Do you speak English?" and "how do you say...?"  The Ciak Hostel was very good to us, we actually stayed in a separate building called the Secret Garden (a good omen for sure). After we got to our hostel and had a bit of rest, we decided to venture out into the city.We walked about 2 blocks before the Colosseum laid itself out right in front of us. In less about 10 minutes we were standing in front of it, mouths gaping. That first day, I'm pretty sure we all expressed how unbelievable it was that we were standing in front of a 2000 year old structure.

This was our view from the Colosseum.
Unfortunately, tours closed about 5 minutes before we got there, so we had to figure out what else we could do that day. From the Colosseum, you can see some awesome building less that a mile away. We had no idea what it was, just that it looked cool and we had nothing else to do. So we wandered towards it.

Turns out what we saw was the Piazza Venezia, which was completed about a century ago. Its architecture doesn't exactly fit into Rome's, but it is spectacular.

After some pictures around that area, we decided to go find some lunch. One main goal of this trip was to not plan anything in advance. As many of you will agree, sometimes the most picturesque spots or delicious restaurants are so far off the beaten track, you have trouble finding them again.

That's how we found our Sunday lunch and Monday dinner. Dining on a budget in Italy is not the easiest thing, but we stayed within our means and had some of the most delightful eats. Sunday was pizza and wine at a cafe located next to a church and a fountain on one of the sunniest days I've seen since August.
This is my wonderful funghi pizza with some pinot on the side. (and Tory's lasagne in the background)
Between Sunday and Monday, we hit pretty much every landmark and piazza we could find. We took a bus tour around the city so we could see it all. Here are some pics from the Colosseum.

  After seeing quite a few other places in Rome, Monday we planned to spend the afternoon in Vatican city. I really wanted to see St. Peters and the Vatican museum. Off we went. St. Peters is one of the biggest open space building I've ever been in. It looks like you could fit airplanes in there. Every piece of marble is ornately carved, the canvases painted, and the mosaics shining. In Rome and especially at the Vatican, I started to come to terms with the amount of people in this world. It started off as a random thought, but when I started to think about it thousands of people come to the Vatican everyday. Usually from countries with strong Christian ties, but also thousands just interested in the history of it. For some this is the holy place, others the root of all evil. The amount of people that come to the Vatican is no where near the amount of people in the world, obviously, but it did get me thinking.

Enough philosophy. Let's get back to travel. After leaving the basilica, we went over to the Trastavere neighbourhood. It's not really a tourist destination because there aren't any big landmarks. We walked down the Tiber and figured we would just find a restaurant as we walked. La Scaletta, I'm not sure if I could find this restaurant again if someone asked me to. It looked small, cheap, and very Italian so we decided to try it. It ended up being the best meal of the week. I decided on the Menu Touristo, and from that I chose the bruschetta, the house pasta (a cream sauce with panchetta and mushrooms, the most delicious pasta I've ever eaten... the girls too!), fried octopus, and creme caramel for dessert. Paired with a delicious wine. OH MY GOD. That's how good it was, no exaggeration (I have witnesses).

We cabbed back to the Secret Garden and prepared to leave for Florence! Getting to Florence provided a few problems but we sorted them out with some credit card use and positive attitudes. Upon arriving we found our hostel to be 5 minutes from the train station, and it was an adorable room too! We dropped of our stuff, had a bit of rest, and decided to go in search for the best pizza in Italy. On our way, we walked through the San Lorenzo market, passed by the Duomo, and actually found the best pizza in the world (according to Stephanie). A few tears were almost shed because of how magical this pizza tasted.

We also went to the Leather School of Santa Croche were we got some very pretty hand made Italian leather bracelets, despite the service. You have to go through some gates, a school yard an a bunch of low doorways to get into the leather school, which seemed excitingly authentic. But when we got there the pretentious woman working kept acting as though we would steal bracelets. She was just doing her job, but she could have hid her suspicions better. Obviously this annoyed me enough to remember it a week and a half later.
Nevermind her, Florence was still waiting for us. We found a bunch of gifts for our families and friends and went to go get some dinner. First, we stopped in at a bar that Amber's friend had told us about, One Eyed Jack's. And there, to my great surprise I found a beer named the Theresianer. I'm not sure if my sister, Theresa, has ever had this beer before, but I thought it was cool enough to document with a picture. Also, Theresa, I stole that glass for you! It will be one of many presents, but probably the only stolen one.
After a few drinks, we went to a mod style restaurant recommended by the bartender. I had seafood pasta, which was delicious, but in retrospect a bit overpriced. Once again, we wandered back to the hostel afterwards to recharge for another day of sightseeing.
Keeping in mind that through all of this, the sun was shining and the weather warm, the next day we set out to go into the Duomo. We had, unfortunately, gotten to the point where paying for museums and spectacles was getting a bit tiresome. The Duomo was free and beautiful. Unlike St. Peter's however, it was empty of pretty much all furniture and quite a few people. We went in, took some pictures and continued our tour.

I'm sorry to disappoint, but after the Duomo we went to go find David. He was a bit too expensive to see, and considering I can see him on the 198 travelling East or West whenever I please, I wasn't too disappointed.

I'm giving up the answer a bit early, but I'm going to tell you about the best part of the whole trip now, because it happened in Florence. By many recommendations from students who had already studied in Florence, we were told to climb a small mountain to see the greatest sights of the city. It took some time to climb and half a lung coughed up,  but we made it to the Pizzale Michaelangelo. There we sat on the South East side of the city a top some steps, watching sunset over Florence. As the sun went down, we could see the light reflecting off of the Duomo and the river. In some spots it looked like buildings were of fire from the reflection. We had a bit of a picnic and were in the company of many couples, but we had a spectacular view.

That was pretty much the end of Florence for us. I've got to keep a few stories to tell in person.
Off to Venice!
The Gondola Gang (Tory's Term)
We arrived in the dark and fog in Venice, unfortunately without directions to our hotel. Directions are pretty much useless in Venice. The map was difficult to read, there a waterways with walkways, without walkways, and then just walkways. No cars though, that was pretty sweet. As my dad put it, the city looks a lot like it did 800 years ago. We found our hotel situated by a very unfortunate looking dock, easily a past inspiration for a horror film. Once again, the people there were very nice to us, despite the language barrier. That night we just bought some snacks and watched a movie, exhausted from travelling. When we woke up the next day, however, we were refreshed and excited to see as much of the city as we could in the fog. The weather, had become quite chilly though, so that had an effect on the sights we saw. We did make it to St. Mark's piazza and had a gondola ride from the adorable Nicolas.

 So we did all the traditional things in Venice. It was a very beautiful place that felt much more Italian than the other cities. For our last dinner, we were directed to a traditional Venetian restaurant near our hotel. There we had the most delightful waitress who gave us recommendations on what  to order. I got a spicy seafood dish and tiramisu. It was the last night and I hadn't had it yet. That restaurant was the best place to end our trip. We walked back, fell asleep, and came back to Dublin on Sunday. We couldn't wait to get back.

Here are some more pictures for those not on facebook.

 A couple days ago, we all went out for thanksgiving. I was able to talk to many of you on that day. We went to the Woolshed, where they show the American football games. We sat around, had some beer and a real turkey dinner and watched the Packer game. I think it was the most fun I could have had 3000 miles away from home. Oh, and I made pie. Stephanie made the Frenck Silk, Amber the Pumpkin, and me the Apple. I'm sure I'll be able to add some pictures of that soon.

Love to you all and hope the holiday was wonderful!

P.S. This was my favorite picture!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Man, oh man... It's been a long time since I did one of these. I'm sorry for neglecting it. This post might get pretty long, but I'll post again after ITALY.

So, we last left off before my trip up to the North of Ireland. Well, I got really (really really) sick that weekend. I spent more time in hotel rooms than I did touring the North. I did go to Giant's Causeway, which you can check out in the link. Basically, its a crazy rock formation on the Atlantic Ocean. Some of you won't be surprised to find out, whenever we visit a body of water I have to put my hands in it. I did it when I went to California with Dad when I was 12, when we went to Spain 2 years ago, and I do it here.

This is me venturing to put my hands in the Atlantic, which was much more dangerous than it seems in this picture. Slippery stones and pools of water, not to mention that I was still really (really, really) sick. It was totally worth it! (it always is).

I would say a good amount of people who read this blog know what The Troubles were in Northern Ireland. It only ended about 15 year ago and went on for almost 30 years. If you want to know what the conflict was about, check out that link. It's wiki, but it will give general information. There are tons of murals all over Belfast and Derry, the cities we visited, dedicated to conflict. This picture is of a mural on the side of a house right outside our hotel. We were told by our advisor only to turn right when we left the hotel. If we turned left it would lead us in Sandy Row. Were we really in any danger? Probably not. The issues are pretty much over, but segregation is absolutely still apparent. Loyalists, as you can see from the flag, support Britain ruling in Northern Ireland. We were avoiding the chance that we could be"in the wrong place at the wrong time", there were a lot of those kinds of deaths during the Troubles. 

The division of the island of Ireland happening in the 1920's when Ireland was asking to become their own country, independent from Britain. Basically, the six counties of what is now Northern Ireland was more heavily populated by Protestants (and therefore supports the Crown) than Catholics, so those counties stayed ruled by the British. Nowadays, the ratio of Loyalists (Protestants) to Unionists (Catholics) is about equal, which causes discussion of reunification to continue. 
         The weekend after that was Halloween, which is considered a bank holiday in the Catholic country of Ireland, so I had an extra-long weekend. Guess what I did with all that extra time? I went to meet/ visit with my relatives up in Cavan. So I stayed with Anne and her family, she is my mom's first cousin. I met my Grandma Theresa's half-sister Bonnie. The fact that I can come to a different country and spend time with people who are blood-related to me is amazing. I had a wonderful time, it was Halloween so on Saturday night I went out with some of my second cousins. We had a fantastic time, they did a great job at showing me around the Virginia (town they live in) night life. FYI the night life consists of 4 pubs and 2 nightclubs. Nonetheless,  I was not disappointed. UGH, unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures (groan) but I'll have some at Christmas, I promise!
Absolutely HA-LARIOUS

On Sunday I came home and went out in Dublin. Our friend documents a Dublin band, Funzo, so we went out to see them place for a while. It was night filled with wandering around. We went out much earlier than usual, and it was unseasonably warm. We found a random bar that we now are big fans of. Best costumes of the night went to the Cool Runnings Team. Luckily we knew one of them, so we got a picture!

I'm sorry to tell you all that since then, I've pretty much just been writing papers and doing school work. I'm making Irish friends, a few of which will see this post and laugh. Thanksgiving is two weeks from today and our big group will be going to a bar to eat dinner. We wanted to have it here, but there was no way to fit all of us in one apartment. I will be dedicating my day to my favorite activity- BAKING! I'm going to make my first home made pie crusts. Apple pie and French Silk pie (by special request) will be on the dessert menu Thursday night. 

As I said, I'm going to Italy! For the next 9 days, I wil be eating and drinking some of the most delicious food! No worries, a post will be written when I return. And don't worry, Jean sent me about a hundred batteries so I'm going to take some fantastic pics!

Love to you all!