Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Life after Spring Break/Venice

So once the wonderful vacation of Spring Break was over, we had to come home to a lot of work. The first couple of weeks back I had to get through many presentations, papers and other assignments. They have certainly kept us busy these last couple of weeks. I have had many assignments, presentations, papers and projects. In fact, for my last couple of weeks, I have had to write three seven-page papers, given three presentations and (so far) taken four finals. (I have one more to go tomorrow)  This is all in the last two weeks. Besides the work, there hasn't been much going on. We had a long weekend the weekend before last and I just stayed at home working most of the time. However, one of those days, my roommate Nick and I decided that we would go on a day trip to Venice. Neither of us had been before and it was the last trip of the semester. We woke up early in the morning (about 7 or so) and headed to the train station in order to make it on time. Luckily we got to sit in first class for the way there and we actually had seats for the whole time. We knew we were getting close when the scenery from outside of the windows changed from mountains to water. When we first got a look at the city, after leaving the train station, it was like nothing we had ever seen. There were no cars in sight. There were vehicles of every kind for the water-water taxis, fire rescue, ambulances- but not one car. The whole city is an elaborate maze of canals that create a really unique experience. We had no idea where to go and what to see so we just picked a direction and started going that way. We ran into many people going on gondola rides around the city but we decided not to because it was very expensive and a little too bro-mantic. We walked around for a few hours, taking pictures of just about everything we saw. We eventually became hungry and decided to eat at a place that was right on the water. They were having a special "tourist" deal in which we had 3 items of food for just 14 euro. Because we were in Venice, and they were famous for their seafood, I decided that I would have the spaghetti with cuttlefish, stewed in its own ink. This plate of food was as black as the night. It was one of the weirdest things I have seen served on a plate, but it ended up being delicious. I also had fried calamari and some french fries. After lunch, we made our way to one of the main attractions of the city- The Piazza San Marco and the Basilica di San Marco (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Mark%27s_Basilica). We had seen, pretty much, the entire city at this point, so we started walking back to where we had started at the train station. We bought our train tickets back and we had another hour or so to kill. We decided to walk up the other direction and see what was there. (More photo-worthy things) When we made it back to the train station, we were waiting in a big group to see what platform our train would be arriving at. As soon as the number appeared, a massive crowd dashed for the train. It was complete pandemonium. We eventually ended up standing (all crammed together) on this train for about 2 hours. It was completely brutal. Eventually, these very nice people let us have their seats when they were leaving so we were able to sit down for the last hour or so. Needless to say, we were quite tired at this point. We came back to our apartment and made some delicious chicken/pepper/cheese quesadillas and called it a night. After this trip, like I said earlier, we have just been going to class and working. I only have a few more days in this glorious town and on this incredible adventure and it is certainly hard to come to terms with that. I have been taking all the opportunities I can to walk home instead of taking the metro, in order to take in as much of the city as I can. Tomorrow is my last final and then hopefully I can get some packing done before we have our farewell dinner on Thursday. (I leave Friday) Please don't make me go.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Spring Break-Part 2

So, we left off in London, when we were going to the train station. We were taking a very long system of night trains and a ferry in order to get from London to Dublin. We took the first couple of trains that led us up the coast of the UK, up through Wales. We were traveling all through the evening and into the night and we finally reached the ferry station.  We were expecting to board some small boat, but once we made it through the check-in lines, we were boarded onto a massive, cruise-type ship. They had everything on this ferry, from arcade games, a movie theater, buffets, bars and lots of places to sit and sleep (although by the time we reached the area, every place was pretty much taken).  My friend Nick and I played a couple games at the arcade and then we just kind of settled in on the ground to try and sleep for a few hours. The trip was about 3 hours or so and laying on the ground helped me to combat the seasickness. We finally made it to the Dublin port and we called a taxi to take us to Shannon's friend's dorm that was located on the Dublin City University campus.  The man who drove the taxi was our first real introduction to the people of Ireland and it was a perfect start.  This was one of the nicest guys I have ever met in my life. He was so nice to us and told us this incredible story about how he had overcome alcoholism with the help of his wife and how much he loved her and it was incredible story that almost had us in tears. He drove us to the campus and everybody passed out on some of the couches in the common room. I couldn't really sleep so I decided to read a little instead. Once Nick woke up, we decided that we would go and try and find a nice Irish breakfast. We walked down the road a little bit until we found a small cafe that made an Irish breakfast and it was delicious. It was certainly not my last Irish breakfast (I would go on to have about 3 more during our time in Ireland). This version was a little more basic, but the best breakfast that I had was with poached eggs, toast, sausage, bacon, white pudding and black pudding. One breakfast that I had came with beans and another came with potato bread. (They like to mix it up) We came back to the campus in order to shower and then while we waited for the girls to get ready, we went down to the on-campus bar and had our first (of very many) Guinness'. We shot a couple of rounds of pool and then met up with everybody shortly afterwards. We then proceeded to head into town and the first thing that we did was to buy bus tickets for the rest of the week. We walked around the center of the town for a while and we went to visit Trinity College campus. This campus is one of the most beautiful that I have ever seen. The buidings are old and gorgeous and the grounds are so clean and green. Shannon's friend Doug is studying abroad there so he joined our group to help show us all around. We had quite a few days in Dublin so we spent much of the time just hanging out and enjoying the fact that we were there. So, naturally, the next thing we did was to go to a pub to enjoy some local food and (of course) drink more Guinness. The waiter/bartender was a hilarious guy that was really nice and constantly made fun of us for being Americans. When the girls ordered "Irish coffees, he immediately said "Oh, f*** you". He had all of us laughing and was very good about bringing out the food and drinks. I ate half of a roast beef sandwich and a clam chowder that was absolutely delicious. One of the best that I have had in a long time. We spent the next couple of hours in the pub, eating and drinking Guinness and eventually our roommate Chris came. He met us in Dublin after spending time in Paris with his family. He met us at the bar and after a while we headed across town to check into our hostel. Chris, Nick and I were staying at a hostel that was downtown and located right on the River Liffey. It was an incredible location and the people there were awesome (I will get into that later). The rest of the night was pretty relaxing. We hung out with Doug and his roommates at their dorm at Trinity for a bit and then went to eat at a place called Eddie Rockets. It was an old diner-type restaurant with incredible milkshakes and burgers and fries. The next day I woke up pretty early because I had a mission. The one thing that I had forgot to pack was my razor and by now, I had quite a scruffy face going on. I went around looking for a barber shop because I thought I would get a shave. I walked around the city for a while until I found a place that had a Turkish hot towel shave. It was so nice. I haven't had a hot shave in so long and it was very different. After I was cleanly shaven, I went back to meet up with Chris and Nick and we went to breakfast at a restaurant about 5 minutes away. We had just missed the time for serving breakfast, but the meal was had was stil very delicious. Chris and I shared a spicy lamb pizza and I had a side cup of seafood chowder. The fresh-squeezed lemonade was also quite good. Chris had to go pick his classes at a local internet cafe so Nick and I just hung out for a while. We then picked up a couple of Cuban cigars and walked around the Trinity campus for a while. We never smoke cigars, but when else are you going to get Cubans? We then went back to the hostel and waited for my friend from Bowdoin, Ted to come. He met us in Dublin for a few days so that was pretty awesome. There wasn't much going on during the day because it was Good Friday. Many places were closed and there was no alcohol being served. So, because there was not much else going on, we decided that we would go to the casino and try our luck. I ended up being pretty lucky and actually won 16 euro more than what I came in with. We left the casino and went to a very popular burger place. They had so many options of toppings and it was so good. I had a burger with lettuce, American cheese, a "Jamaican" sauce that was of mango and it was spicy and with a fried egg on top. We also had fries with different kinds of sauces. It was one of the best burgers I have had. That night we decided to hang out at the hostel for a while before going out. The people that were working there were having a party so we decided to join them. We met many people from all over the country/world and they were all cool. After we hung out there with the hostel people for a while, we went to the girls' place and met up with the people that were living there. We stayed there for a while before heading back into town and going to bed. The next day was Ted's last full day in Dublin so I met up with him in town and we walked around checking out all of the sights and taking pictures. We ate at a Mexican place for lunch where I had a spicy lamb burrito. For a Mexican restaurant in Dublin, it was pretty good. We then made our way to the true Irish attraction: The Guinness Storehouse. This is where all of the magic happens. The place is seven stories worth of Guinness-making, Guinness history, shopping and everything else that you can think of that has to do with Guinness. When you take the tour, you can see every step of the process of how a Guinness is made and everything that goes into storing them and shipping them. The best part is that the top floor is the Gravity Bar. The whole floor is circled around a bar with bartenders that constantly pour Guinness to the customers and all of the walls are windows that can look out over the whole city. This is where most people get their free Guinness, so we did the same. On the way back we stopped at an Indian restaurant for dinner and it was delicious. We had a deal that was like three courses and a side. I had some lamb vindaloo, naan, and some really good chicken.  We headed back to the hostel to get ready for the night and we decided that we would start the night at the hostel again. Tonight was even better/more fun with the hostel people. A lot more people were going out and we were all having a really good time. We played beer pong for a while and then we played some game that a Dutch guy taught us. It was called pokeball? To make it simple, it is a drinking game that we played in the street, similar to Kubb (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kubb). We headed out afterwards to a bar nearby to have a few beers. Once we got there, we actually ended up running into some people from Bowdoin that Ted knew (small world!) We hung out with them for the rest of the night and went around to a couple of other bars before heading back to the hostel. The next morning we woke up, said goodbye to Ted, and got ready to go to Galway. We all boarded a bus and headed west. Once we got to Galway, Chris, Nick, Nico and Maura all checked into their hostel. Shannon's friend Doug had a friend that had an apartment in Galway so he was nice enough to let a couple of us stay there. The weather is Galway is just as you would imagine: very rainy and a little cold. It rained off and on for the entire time we were there. We walked to a local restaurant/pub to have a little lunch. I had another Irish breakfast, although this was was a lot bigger than the first. There was so much food. It didn't help that I was sharing buffalo wings with Nick too. I was substantially stuffed. There was a rugby game on too so that was cool. After lunch we split up and those of us who were staying at Doug's friend's place (Doug, Shannon, Casey and me) went over there and hung out for a while before going to meet up with everybody at night. We went to a local bar in town that was supposed to be really fun and it didn't disappoint. There was a live band playing that was really good and everybody had a good time. There were a couple of bachelorette parties there too that were dancing and they were hilarious. The next morning we split up again, although this time it was Nick, Chris, Nico, Maura and me that went on a really cool bus tour. I came back into town and met up with them before heading out towards our first stop, which was a small farm, run by a man who was an expert in Irish studies and history. The place was really nice, surrounded by the greenest countryside I have ever seen in my life. The guy who lead the tour/owned the farm was extremely nice and really funny. We saw lots of sheep and cows and the view from the top of the hill that we climbed was incredible. While we were waiting for the bus to pick us up for our next stop, a couple of us were playing a little bit of hurling in the front yard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurling). We didn't actually know how to play, but we were just throwing the ball around and stuff. The bus eventually came and got us and we headed off to the main attraction, the Cliffs of Moher. They were so incredible. It was raining like crazy at this point, and we were not all dressed to keep warm through the rain. The tour was so worth it because seeing the cliffs was one of the most incredible things that I have ever seen. We were there for a while, taking pictures and getting way too close to the edge. After the cliffs, we came back to the bus and had a few more stops. We ate lunch at a town a little ways over, we saw a castle and another spot of some cliffs. The whole day was so much fun and it was some of the best scenery in the world. We eventually came back to Galway, checked the people out of their hoste and boarded a bus taking us back to Dublin. Once we got there, we got to the hostel, showered and then Chris, Nick and I went to go find some food. We walked through the Temple Bar area until we found a little Irish restaurant that was having a good deal on an appetizer/entree combo. The place actually turned out to be extremely delicious. For the appetizer, I had some breadsticks with garlic sauce. For the entree, I had fish and chips and the garlic sauce was so good from the breadsticks that I saved it for the fish and chips. Everything was great and after we finished, we just went back to the hostel and slept. The next day was our last day in the beautiful country of Ireland so we started it off right with a great breakfast. Nico and Maura met up with Chris, Nick and me and we went back to the restaurant where we had the lamb pizza. (This time we made it to breakfast) I had my last Irish breakfast, complete with tea and orange juice. The rest of the group went to the Guinness factory after breakfast, but since I had already been, I went shopping for a little bit. I bought myself some birthday presents and then met up with the gang before heading to the airport. We packed everything up, said goodbye to everybody at the hostel, got on a shuttle and eventually made our way out. We landed in beautiful Italy and ended an incredible, extremely fun trip.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Spring Break-Part 1

So I decided that I would split up my spring break adventure into two parts because there is a lot to tell, and I find myself with less and less free time in order to write these posts. This first part I am going to talk about the beginning of my trip. Our spring break trip technically started on the cuisine trip to Parma. The day after we came back from the trip, we woke up very early and headed to the airport to leave for London. For the first part of the trip, it was Shannon, Nico, Nick and me. We got to the airport early in the morning and checked in at the counter (I FINALLY had my passport stamped when we left/arrived at London. When traveling within the EU, they usually don't stamp it). Nick and I shared a large suitcase and brought our own carry-ons. We were going to be gone for a while so it was the best idea. The flight took a couple of hours and once we finally reached the airport, we went through customs and, like every other time during this trip, they felt the need to give me a hard time. The lady at the London-Gatwick airport was not very nice. She kept asking me why I was there, for how long, to show her my ticket home, asking me why I was leaving from Dublin and not London and basically just not making it easy for me to enter the United Kingdom. After a good 5 minutes or so, she finally (angrily) stamped my passport and we headed towards the train. Right before, we had to experience the very brutal task of taking money out at the current exchange rate. This part of the trip was NOT so much fun. I am not sure if you are aware how high the exchange rate is from the dollar to the pound but if you take out 200 pound, it is about $334. Also known as CRAZY. So, after this miniature stab in the heart we boarded the train and headed into the city. Once we arrived at a station closer in the city, we then asked for directions to our hostel and hopped on "the tube" (what they call their metro, also known by this symbol, http://londonunderground.ws/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/london_underground_logo.jpg) Our hostel was located in an area off the metro station South Kensington and near Hyde Park. The moment we stepped out of the metro, we walked through the best smelling neighborhood I have ever been in in my entire life. The smell of crepes and other desserts hit us first, shortly followed by the smell of delicious, fried pub food. It was incredible. In Milan, you mostly have the smell of pollution and stiff air, so getting out into this new clean environment was a very nice relief. So we started walking to the hostel and, of course, like the smart college students that we are, we walked the wrong way and had to turn around and head the other direction. Our hostel was very cool and the people who worked there were very helpful. So, thanks to Shannon, we were able to see so much in such a short amount of time. She made an itinerary that was very thorough and we followed it thoroughly during the 3 days that we were in London. So after we were checked in to our hostel, we set out to do some exploring. We headed into the center of town with one major goal in mind-to find Chipotle. For those of you who don't know, Chipotle is a restaurant that has amazingly delicous burritos and other mexican food and because you can't get it anywhere in Italy, this was our first mission. We eventually found the place and devoured this beautiful taste of home. Feeling extremely satisfied and 5 pounds heavier, we made our way through Picadilly Circus and into the center of the city. Picadillly Circus is basically a famous junction in the city that has a lot of shopping and entertainment. We walked through the area and through a very nice park (I don't remember the name) and onward towards some of the more "major" attractions. We finally came to our first real "tourist attraction", which was Westminster Abbey. This is a massive church and is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English monarchs. We took the tour inside and it was a very cool place. (Nothing like the duomos here in Italy) Many famous people throughout history are buried here such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Another great part was that Westminster is right across the way from Big Ben and Parliament so there were many a good photo opportunity. Of course, along the way, we saw many of the traditional things that one expects to see in London, such as the double-decker buses, phone booths and the guards who refuse to smile, move or acknowledge anything else going on around them. We walked a little further across one of the bridges to go check out the London Eye. (A giant Ferris wheel on the banks of the River Thames) After this part of our trip, we headed back towards our hostel in order to get jackets (it cooled down a bit) and regroup for the night. We walked back down through Picadilly and ate dinner at a chinese buffet (it wasn't too bad). We bought some beer and wine and headed back to the hostel to hang out. People were sitting in the common area and we were talking with everybody, playing pool and it was really fun. Not too much happened after that, so we just got ready for day #2. April 2nd was the day we arrived and the following day (April 3rd) was my birthday. I didn't really care about what we did, I was just happy to be in London on my birthday. So we followed Shannon's wonderfully thorough itinerary and started marking things off the list. We left from our hostel in the morning and started walking towards Buckingham. (Of course, going the wrong way again) But, the one positive was stopping at a place called EAT to eat. I had an amazingly delicious hoison duck wrap with cucumbers. (I would eat three more before leaving London) We eventually hopped on a bus and turned around toward the Palace. You were not allowed to go into the Palace except during the summer months because the Queen is there. Although we did not head in the right direction, it did give us a chance to see many different gardens, buildings and monuments along the way. Once we made it to Buckingham Palace, we took a tour of the stables and all of the carriages that the Royal Family has used throughout the history of the Monarch.  The horses that pull the carriages were there and even the cars in which the Royal Family are driven. It was a pretty interesting exhibit because they are some of the things that are not normally seen as close as we had the opportunities to see them. We then made our way through the city on a very long walking tour. We stopped to take pictures at many fountains, monuments, buildings and other landmarks that were photo-worthy. We crossed the city to the Millennium Bridge and the made our way back towards the area that our hostel was at. So, there was really only one thing that I wanted for my birthday and that was a traditional fish and chips dinner. Luckily, there was a great pub near our hostel that we took refuge (from the pouring, London rain) in. We ordered a couple of beers and I scanned over the many options of fish and chips until I found the perfect one. Like a ray of sunshine during this rainy hour, there it read-"The Codfather". This wonderful idea of a dinner was to have a massive piece of cod, sitting atop a bed of french fries, accompanied by onions, peas, four thick slices of bread and tartar and curry sauces. I was in heaven. I attacked this dish with much vigor and went home feeling about 5 pounds heavier and 5 times happier. The next day we woke up early and went back to Buckingham, although this time we were going to see the changing of the guard. It was a pretty cool procession and the entire park was filled with tourists and admirers. We were on a pretty tight schedule so we made our way through the park and back to the metro station in order to continue our last-day adventures. We made a quick stop at Somerset House, which is an important arts and culture center in the city and then finally off to explore the Tower of London. At the Tower of London, we saw so many different things. There were different exhibits in each of the towers that talked about the history of the Tower and different uses that each of the towers had. You can check out a lot of the different information here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London) but while we were there, we also had the opportunity to see the crown jewels. The crown jewels were really cool to look at. The monarchy has so much incredible wealth it is a little crazy. There were all kinds of crowns, robes, plates, robes and other items that had been used or worn by the Royal Family. From the Tower, we headed towards our final stop on our London trip. We went to the very famous department store, Harrods, and had high tea. The department store was filled with all kinds of luxury brands and floors filled with different kinds of gourmet food markets. On the top floor of the store there was a very nice, sophisticated resstaurant where we had our tea. We split two different types of teas (I had my favorite, Rooibos Chai) and then there was a little tree-type tray filled with incredible little sandwiches and desserts. Each sandwich was more delicious than the last and the desserts were so rich. We spent a bit of time there before heading back to our hostel and packing everything up before catching the train. To hear about the night train/ferry ride, you will have to read part 2 of the spring break adventure (whenever I write that!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Parma- Cuisine Trip

I am basically a week behind in these posts right now, so I am writing about the cuisine trip from last weekend. We traveled south to visit a few different cities and experience the culture and cuisine of a different region of Italy. We left on a Friday (March 30th) and hopped on a bus to go to our first stop, Cremona. In Cremona, we had a tour of another Duomo (I have seen way too many of those) and then we had a really cool visit to a violin shop. Cremona is one of the most famous places for making violins in the world. We heard from a luthier (person who makes string instruments) about the long and complicated process that goes into making a violin and had the chance to see all of the stages of the process. We also took a small tour of a historic theater. After the stop in Cremona, we headed to our main destination-Parma. We arrived at our hotel, checked in to our rooms (they were quite nice) and then took a small tour of the city. We saw, of course, another Duomo and then a Baptisery. We then came back to the hostel to hang out for a bit before going to dinner. Dinner was at a place downtown that had incredible food. For the appetizers, we had plates filled with different kinds of meat, such as prosciutto, and along with that we had a type of fried pastry that I have always known as sopaipillas (http://www.eatnewmexican.com/2011/08/sopaipillas/). I am not sure what the Italian name for this type of food is, but for when I saw them, I was so excited. My father has been making the best sopaipillas for years and we only have the chance to eat them on certain occasions. For our first course we had a parmesan cheese risotto and butternut squash ravioli and for the second course we had a very delicious stewed beef. Dessert, of course, was tiramisu. The wine was also flowing that night. Everybody was having a great time. It was really fun going on a trip with a lot of people from our program. We went out that night after dinner and had a few drinks and sampled a little bit of the nighttime scene in Parma. It was interesting because there is a pretty big college there, so a lot of people our age were out and about. The following day, we spent some time in Parma, before heading off to a place called Mantova (Mantua in English). This city was very basic, mostly occupied by a big castle as the main attraction. We took a tour through the whole place and there was some really beautiful art, statues and gardens. Afterwards, we had some free time so a couple of us walked down to the waterside of a nearby lake and sat around at a little bar for a while. We then boarded the bus, heading for dinner, and ended up getting lost and losing about an hour or so. Once we finally made it to the restaurant, we were bombarded with another massive dinner. The type of meal was very similar to the restaurant in Parma (as is tradition within the whole region). The plates of meat and baskets of the sopaipilla-esqe pastries were first. There was another course with some kind of crab dish (delicious) and mushroom risotto. The third course was, again, a stewed beef (although this one was better than the night before) and some kind of pork chops. Dessert was some kind of cake. Pretty tasty, but not my favorite. We then left to go back to the hotel, before going out for the night. We hung out at the quad of the local college for a while. The next day we took a trip to a Parmegiano-Reggiano factory. I am sure many, if not all of you, have heard of this cheese. What you probably don't know is how they make/store it. It was a really interesting experience (and you can bet a very smelly one) to see this process. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HREBsvlKaI) They have cheese there that has been aging for years and they come in 40 kilo wheels. (about 88 pounds) We sampled a very large amount of cheese and some people bought blocks to take back to Milan. After the cheese factory, we boarded the bus and headed off to a town named Castell'Arquato. This was our last stop before coming home. We split into two groups once we arrived and one group went to a wine-tasting, while the other took a tour of the town/castle. My group was the first to do the wine-tasting. We sampled 3 different wines and each received a massive plate of meat and bread. It was a lot of fun, although wine is not my favorite choice of drink. The tour was also very fun because the tower that we visited had incredible views of the whole valley. Once we returned to the area where we sampled wine, some girl from the other group had passed out. She was fine, just didn't eat enough that day. We then all boarded the bus and finally headed home after an incredibly fun and magnificently delicous weekend. Now, for my spring break adventures, I might have to break them up into seperate posts. Needless to say, there is a lot to tell.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


This past weekend I, along with two friends (Nico and Shannon), went to Rome for a few days. We also met up with our friend Todd while we were there. (He was there visiting a friend and his girlfriend was flying in too) We took the overnight train on Thursday night, saving some money on a flight. Well, this was an adventure. The train left at about 11:30 PM and arrived in Rome at 7ish. This was a nightmare. There were no beds, and about 6 people in every little car. There were hordes of Middle Eastern men that were standing/sitting in the hallways who were trying to sneak free rides on the train. Every time the police would check for tickets, they would all run off the train, down some cars and then jump back on. They talked, joked, played music and kept all of us up and annoyed for a good 7 hours or so. I maybe had an hour of sleep throughout the whole ride. I just listened to music and sat there. Once we finally arrived in Rome, we went down into the metro to look at a map and find our bearings. We got directions from somenody in the metro and went to try and find the girls' hostel. (I was staying in a different place because I didn't decide I was going on this trip until after the girls had already booked everything. I stayed with Todd in a hostel the first night and by myself in another hostel the second night) We took the metro, walked a little bit and eventually found the place. The problem was that there was a problem with the pipes and so nobody could stay there. The girls had to move to a different hostel that was all the way across the city. It wasn't that big of a deal, just a hassle. They checked in and we put our stuff away. We then walked around for a little bit and ran into Todd. He and I went to check into our hostel shortly after that. The rest of the first day was spent walking around and seeing many things. This trip was very much so one of sightseeing. I don't think I have ever walked so much in a short amount of time. We saw the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the monument for Vittorio Emanuele II and a couple of very nice Plazas. That night I went to stay in a hostel that I had booked for myself and it was awesome. I had my own room and a massive, comfortable bed. It was a little expensive but so worth it for that night of peaceful, undisturbed sleep.
The second day that we were there we woke up and met at a very interesting basilica that was situated in downtown Rome. We then walked a lot through the city to make it to the Trevi Fountain, where we also decided to pick up a nice gelato. From the Fountain, we then walked to the Spanish Steps. We took many pictures from the top of the steps. The rest of the afternoon we spent in the Vatican Museum, touring through hundreds of artifacts, gazing at the Sistine Chapel ceiling and taking many more pictures. Afterwards, we walked around St. Peter's Square for a bit and then walked around a lot more of the city.
The third day, we woke up early and headed to St. Peter's Basilica in order to check it out and tour the top. It was an incredible view of the Square and of the city and it happened to be an absolutely beautiful day. We were leaving in the afternoon so we did not have a whole lot of time to accomplish a lot, but we still did the best we could. We walked to the Borghese park and decided that we would rent a surrey (http://www.google.it/imgres?q=surrey+bikes&um=1&hl=en&sa=N&qscrl=1&nord=1&rlz=1T4GGNI_enUS447US448&biw=745&bih=668&tbm=isch&tbnid=WhpvZ5ZefBHeMM:&imgrefurl=http://www.surreycompany.com/surrey.htm&docid=UFudRq2TlJv1FM&imgurl=http://www.surreycompany.com/images/DSC00683.JPG&w=247&h=262&ei=gJx4T-rtI9DUsgbsm9CtBA&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=112&vpy=145&dur=113&hovh=209&hovw=197&tx=126&ty=107&sig=108811358009964459993&page=1&tbnh=145&tbnw=137&start=0&ndsp=9&ved=1t:429,r:0,s:0) and ride it around the park for an hour. It was so much fun (and it felt great driving again, even if it didn't have a motor!). We then came back and got the girls' stuff from their hostel and headed towards the train station. We decided to hit a church on the way out and it was very nice. We then parted ways and came back to this lovely city. This past week we went on a cuisine and culture trip but that post will come later. Also, during this spring break, a couple of friends and I are going to London and Ireland. It's a great way to spend my birthday too!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My "Sensational" Weekend

So, this past weekend was one of the craziest experiences of my entire life. A lot of us from the program had planned this trip a very long time ago. It was one of our first priorities. The goal for this trip was to go to Sensation White http://www.sensation.com/belgium. This concert took place in a small town, about an hour outside of Brussels, called Hasselt. (In Belgium) There was very little to do in this small town, but they did have a massive arena to house everybody that would attend the concert. (20,000 people ended up going to Sensation) Our flight landed on Friday night in Charleroi and so we had to take a taxi ride. (There were seven of us) The taxi ride was a very funny start to a very fun and interesting weekend. Our taxi driver was a very interesting man, driving us to Hasselt at an average speed of 90 miles an hour or so. It might have been even higher, except that he decided to stop at a gas station to have a smoke and talk to some other taxi friends. We decided this was a good opportunity to try some Belgian beer. We bought a six pack and hung out in the car until the taxi driver was ready to get us to our hotel. Once we arrived in Hasselt, we checked in to the Holiday Inn Express-Hasselt. Now, the only person who wasn't the "nicest person I have ever met" in this entire town, just happened to work the front desk at our hotel. We were planning to have more people stay in our room, but we only booked a twin. The manager was not very nice and wouldn't let all of us stay there. After some debating, some people ended up getting a room across the street for Friday and then on Saturday they would be able to stay with us. (Nobody in the hotel would be worrying about where people were staying) So after we figured everything out on Friday, 5 of us guys left to go get something to eat. The only place that happened to be open was a little place called Hasselt Fried Chicken. It was absolutely delicious. The owner was very nice to us and kept the place open late so that could finish our meal. Afterwards, we headed down the street to a little bar to get a beer. We asked the bartended what his favorite beer was and he served us this beer that was voted the world's best beer in 2010. I can see why. This was probably the best beer I have ever had. It was delicious. The best part about it was that each of us had one beer and there were 5 of us, and the total cost was only 14 euro. In Milan, each beer would average about 5 euro each. Another example of how everybody in Belgium is extremely nice, a man at the bar bought us a round so we decided to stay and have one more before turning in for the night. The next day we decided that we would do something more interesting than just sitting around all day, waiting for Sensation. The event did not take place until 9:00 PM (we ended up going around 10:30 PM) A couple of us decided to board a bus and go to the Netherlands for a few hours. Before we boarded the bus, we ate a burger at a little sandwich shop across the street from the station. The burger had "cocktail" sauce on it, which sounds strange, but was one of the best burgers I have ever had. This sauce was not normal cocktail sauce, but I am very curious as to find out just what kind of sauce it is. We rode the bus for an hour until we reached the town of Maastricht. The busride was very interesting, on account of a man who was very intoxicated, to the point where we stopped on a street and he urinated on some old man's mailbox. Poor old man. The Netherlands is another great and friendly place. The little town square was filled with people walking around, eating food from all over the world and enjoying the day. There were tulips everywhere (but no wooden shoes that I saw). The weather was a little typical of what we imagined it would be-a little rainy, gloomy and about 50 degrees. It was still very nice and we enjoyed a very relaxing afternoon before, what would be, one of the craziest nights I have ever known. So we arrived back in Hasselt after another long busride and hung out in the hotel for a while. At this point, more and more people were showing up to the city and our hotel, many of them dressed in all white. We had many people in our room, spending the last couple of hours before the party. Everybody was so excited for the night and there were so many people from our program there. The time for us to leave for the concert was finally upon us and we all headed out in a giant herd of IES students. I was wearing a white button-up shirt, tucked into a pair of white jeans and white shoes. The outfit actually ended up being pretty cheap. (The pants and the shoes are still there. They were beyond the point of return) We arrived at Sensation, walked in and were immediately blown away. There was a giant lotus-shaped stage were the DJ's were set up that would rise and fall with the music. There were giant light-up balls on the ceiling that would also rise and fall and the lights would do all kinds of things. At times, you would get the feeling that the floor was rising with the way that everything would move up and down. We danced, along with 20,000 other people from about 10:30 to about 6:30 in the morning. After everything was done, we walked back to the hotel and passed out for maybe an hour or so. We then woke up and spent the day in Hasselt. We ate some Belgian waffles and waited for our taxi to the airport and then waited at the airport for our plane. (That is where we also bought some chocolate) The rest of the trip was spent trying to come home, falling in and out of sleep on buses, trains and finally,once reaching home, passed out. I am still trying to catch up on some sleep from the weekend, but it was so worth it. I have not been great at keeping up with the blog lately, but I promise I will try a little better. Midterm week was crazy (I will write another post about that) and I am heading to Rome tomorrow with two lovely ladies (I will right about that too). Now, time for some sleep.

Friday, March 2, 2012

This Past Week

Life here just keeps on rolling and it is never a dull time. For my first class of the week (Italian 350) we went to a theater to see a concert. The performers were a group of middle-aged men singing Beatles songs and other music from the 60's and 70's. We had the chance to go because the lead singer/guitar player was one of the people that works in our program's office. His name is Walter and he is awesome. (http://www.waltermuto.it/public/) It was a really fun concert because the rest of the audience was filled with Italian middle school kids that knew every word to all of these English songs. On Tuesday I went on aonther field trip to the house of Alessandro Manzoni. Manzoni was a very famous author in Italian history and is credited with being one of the true founders of the modern Italian language. His house has been turned into a museum and is located in the center of the city. It was a very interesting place to visit and more interesting to have a tour in Italian. (Not much room for tuning out) I would have had to go back to the house on Wednesday for a different class but my professor told me that I wouldn't have to go again. (free class period!) I instead walked around the Duomo square and did a little shopping. It was the end of fashion week and there was still a lot of activity in the fashion district. (Not to mention gorgeous women walking all over the place) Last night I stayed in because my throat has been feeling a bit scratchy the last couple of days. It has been so incredibly nice out the last few days. Today we decided to walk around the town and do a little shopping. We went to a big store that had all of the big brands in it. (It is called the Rinascente) We were all wearing shorts and tshirts with sunglasses. The Italians were staring at us all day long because they are still wearing jackets and scarves. One of the highlights of the day was when we went into the Gucci store. They had just opened this store about a week ago, so they were "celebrating". They served us glasses of champagne while we looked around. We all felt quite rich. This weekend is a longer break than usual so I plan and getting a lot of things done. We have a couple of trips coming up in the near future so those will be pretty awesome. I put up a couple of pictures from the last couple of weeks.