Rome, Travel

The Healing Powers Of Rome: An Exercise In Purposeful Living

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Me standing in an ancient bar at Ostia Antica. Inscription: “Fortunatus says: Since you are thirsty, drink wine from the crater.”

The day before I left for Rome, I made several frenzied phone calls and errands, all to do with my health. Doctors, health insurance, pharmacies, more doctors, my boyfriend to calm my overwrought nerves, my best friend to try to reassure me that I would actually enjoy my abroad experience, more doctors, a different pharmacy…and so it went. After about two months of unknown ailments, eight different prescriptions, a stomach infection and a tonsil the size of a golf ball, followed by tonsil surgery that left me exhausted and frustrated, I was determined to be fully stocked for my current medical situation as well as preemptively medicated for every possible condition that could arise in my four months in Rome. I was certain that I would end up with some strange incurable ailment in a hospital with doctors who I couldn’t communicate with and were probably uncivilized and definitely incompetent. Physically, mentally, emotionally…I was a bit of a wreck.

I always remember in the first couple of days after our arrival, my friend (joking in the most PLS-y of ways) telling me, “Don’t worry, ancient people came to Rome for healing all the time. It’ll work for you too.” My knee-jerk response was a sort of self-righteous dismissal, thinking You have no idea what these last few months have been like. And yet, after the first couple of days…it happened. I didn’t end up using a single one of those prescriptions. In fact, I rarely took so much as an Advil. All of the ailments I had been dealing with cleared up, as did a few I didn’t even know I had.

Call it whatever you want, but Rome healed me. In more ways than one.

At that point in my small laundry list of medical woes (one of which, appropriately, was directly caused by overmedication), getting through a semester healthy may as well have been coming to the temple of Aesculapius as a leper and miraculously walking away clean. That temple, by the way, was conveniently located a mere ten-minute walk from my apartment, on Tiber Island. Coincidence? No chance. A modern hospital now resides in its place, full of I’m sure, civilized, multilingual, and (fairly) competent doctors. I wouldn’t know — I didn’t need them.

But Rome also healed me in a deeper way, one that I didn’t quite grasp the full impact of until I returned home.

“I sometimes fancy,” said Hilda, on whose susceptibility the scene always made a strong impression, “that Rome—mere Rome—will crowd everything else out of my heart.” ―Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance

Trying to imagine a semester with no extra jobs, no internship, no writing, no editing, and for the love of Jupiter, class only three days a week, had been unthinkable to me. What am I going to do with all that time? Despite living in a city with an unlimited possibility for exploration and discovery, I was convinced I would be bored, antsy, frustrated by my own non-productivity. More incorrect, I could not have been.

Living in Rome was a four-month long exercise in slowing down the usually frantic processes of my own mind, and throughly and actively experiencing the present. With virtually no responsibility (sorry JCU, it’s the truth), rather than anxious I felt liberated. As someone who genuinely enjoys the mental yoga of having seven activities on my plate at once, that fact in itself was a revelation.

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Rome: A Retrospective

Rome, to me, was a city with a profound lack of immediate gratification. You want soccer tickets? Too bad, every tabaccheria is closed. Milk for your cereal? Sorry, the store owners are taking a nap. Taking a bus to class? Great, because it’s promptly thirty minutes late. And no one else even seems to notice. Need your permesso di soggiorno? Cool, it’ll come after you leave. Trying to check Twitter? Try again in six hours when you get your hands on WiFi. Your check? What the hell do you need that for?

Sometimes, I really did just want the damn check. After three hours or so, it tends to get to that point. But really, what did I need it for? Where was I going? Answers: Nothing. Nowhere. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the constant itch I felt to go somewhere else was habit, but not necessity. I could just sit here. I could just be here.

Aptly described by my high school math teacher in a newspaper article as, “she always seemed about 90 percent with me in class, and 10 percent thinking about what was next,” this lesson could not have come to someone who needed it more. Romans walk a solid third of the speed of New Yorkers and eat a solid six or seven times slower (let’s call the coffee drinking and driving inexplicable aberrations). For the most part, though, the speed felt glacial. And for the most part, I was grateful to be taken in by it.

Since my triumphant return to America (I literally chanted “USA! USA!” in the airport when anything efficient happened), I’m already getting more than a little bit nostalgic for the slow, deliberate ways of the Romans and their way of making every moment feel deeply and purposefully lived-in. I honestly believe that not having access to our phones much of the time played a huge role in that. Not only in the feel of purposeful and active living, but in the twenty-some of us getting to know each other as well as we did.

Unfortunately, almost as soon as I returned, so did the compulsive need to check my texts, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram…the list goes on. And spending the last week and a half working exclusively online and in large part on Twitter, my brain functioning has once again come to mirror my frantic clicking from one article to another. I already have a predisposition for that mental pace — media only expedites the process. Placing 100 percent of my focus on one subject has once again become a rarity.

In Rome? Wasn’t a problem. I would allow myself to focus on one single thing for long periods of time (yes, even a single painting for the hour it took Tegs to describe it), and that ability was both calming and comforting. Try as I might to duplicate that level of mental clarity, I know I will only be able to get so far. There will always be something special about how I felt, thought, lived, for those four months. And for that Rome, I thank you.

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Food, Photos, Travel

That’s So Gaudi: BARCELONA

instagramMight as well kick it off with the crowning moment of my trip to Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia. The only possible way I can describe it is to try to convey how profoundly I can’t. The single most impressive thing–natural or manmade—I have ever seen, La Sagrada Familia makes you sit back and ponder how incapable you are of comprehending it, let alone describing it. It was truly one of those moments that puts you face to face with the limitations of language. Pure and simple, it can’t be done.

Gaudi’s masterwork, La Sagrada Familia was begun in 1882…and it is not close to completion. Gaudi devoted the last 43 years of his life to the gargantuan undertaking. And by gargantuan I mean: after those 43 years less than a quarter of it was finished.

The pictures don’t come close, but they’re all I’ve got. If you find yourself thinking they’re cool, just remember how pitifully insufficient they are. I will absolutely return when it’s closer to completion, or (hope against all hopes) completed.

On to the second most important element of our weekend in Barcelona: the food. I still don’t know if I’m emotionally prepared to put it at the top, but it was absolutely in the top three food weekends of these four months (which are, frightening, coming to an end in just four days). The food was so good that I would be genuinely upset if I forgot any of it. So I wrote it all down, naturally. Highlights:

La Boqueria Market: Just being there was a highlight of the trip in itself. La Boqueria, the history of which dates back to SONY DSC1217, was a chaotic conglomeration of juice, so-fresh-they’re-still-moving fish, olives, chocolate, cheese, and some rather grotesque seemingly barely dead animals. And in the midst of it all, I was gifted with two personal food bests. First, the best oyster of my life. Chris and I had the brilliant notion to buy an oyster and eat it on the spot. They were enormous, took the girl a solid five minutes just to break open, and with a little bit of lemon and vinegar….MAN were they worth it. As Chris said, the only way you can describe the taste of oysters is that they taste like the sea, but not in a gross way. And these were unbelievable. I thought it was gonna be good, and then it was so much better. Second, the single best olive of my life. Green olives (possibly Seville but I’m not positive) in a mix with spicy red peppers, but they had this incredible smoky flavor that immediately made all other olives pale in comparison. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t craved them several times since…

20130419_145640In El Born, probably my favorite neighborhood in the city, Lily and Let’s Go took us for a hipsterific lunch with wine bottle menus. Sea bass ceviche with avocado—yum! For dinner, we broke a four-in-a-row Mexican food losing streak (i.e. From Rome to Barcelona, we went to four Mexican restaurants—whose websites said they were open—only to find them closed). But never doubt four college kids with a craving for Mexican food. Los Chiles saved us, with mountains of guacamole and gringas (chicken pineapple tacos). 

In between all the eating, we saw some stuff. And by some, I mean a lot. With the luxury of two full weeks to plan out the weekend, I took full advantage, making an itinerary (with the help of Rick) that as been lauded as the best damn four-day trip itinerary Europe has ever seen. Cosi, we did Barcelona right. Touring through Eixample gave us the Block of Discord, and most importantly, Casa Batlló. A house designed entirely by the man himself (that’s Gaudi, catch on) in 1904, it too deserves its own mini gallery.

Day 2 was Barri Gotic, La Boqueria, the rest of the Ramblas, and the cherry: Parc Guell. More Gaudi. Sorry not sorry. Honestly, by this point in the semester I had been so overloaded with Renaissance and Baroque, I didn’t think I could look at another fresco of the Annunciation or classicizing facade. Then Barcelona stepped in with its Modernism, Art Noveau, and other modern art terms that I don’t quite understand, and it was such a breath of fresh air. The city was like nothing I had ever seen, and that did not go unappreciated. Such is why we couldn’t possibly have gotten sick of Gaudi that weekend. As you can see.

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Parc Guell, inexplicably pronounced “parkway,” was intended to be a complex of outrageous mansions. I don’t know who wouldn’t want to live there, but somehow it didn’t quite catch on. So now it’s just a sweet park you can run around and take pictures in. This is the mosaic-ed “el drac,” who greets you at the park’s entrance. And this is what drac gets to look out at every day.

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Our last day in Barcelona began with churros and chocolate and ended with one of the best meals of my young life. In the middle was the beach, which was great, but…food. Lunch was insane, with bombas from La Bombetta, along with patatas bravas and octopus that was so mindblowingly tender I don’t know how it could’ve been octopus. And then dinner. Rick Steves won again by pointing us toward the den of flavor that was Tapas 24. Here comes the list:

  • That Spanish tomato toast
  • Cava sangria
  • Iberico ham, cheese, and truffle sandwich
  • Foie gras burger
  • More bombas
  • Paella with mushrooms and ham and other delicious things
  • Lamb skewers
  • Rabbit ribs

My mouth actually just started watering. Barcelona, you were unique, delicious, and at times, truly remarkable, and I am so glad we got to meet this semester.

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Photos, Quotes, Travel

But Suddenly, A New Contender Has Emerged… London.

“The best bribe which London offers to-day to the imagination, is, that, in such a vast variety of people and conditions, one can believe there is room for persons of romantic character to exist, and that the poet, the mystic, and the hero may hope to confront their counterparts.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

SONY DSCFor those who understand the title’s reference: 1. this is probably why we are friends, and 2. I am speaking not of the biggest idiot in the room, but of my favorite city. Rome, I mean no disrespect. We’ve become quite close over the past few months, I love you, you’re the first European city I ever traveled to, your art and history are unparalleled and you feed me wonderfully. Hell, our communication has even gotten better these days. You’ll always have a special place in my heart. But my God you’re dirty, you never do things when you say you’re going to, and frankly, you creep me out sometimes. But London…I belong in London. Look at me: how much sense does this picture make? I’ll tell you: all the sense in the world. A year or two is about the maximum Rome and I could go before we really started grate on each other’s nerves. London and I could be happy together for a lifetime.

This past weekend was my favorite weekend of this semester of incredible weekends (besides Eric weekend, but that’s his fault not London’s.) London is unequivocally my favorite city I’ve visited, and the one I want to return to first. I had no choice but to treat the four days I spent there as if I would have, at some point, a significant amount of time to explore it. There’s just, like Paris, too much to see in four days. Except unlike Paris and like New York City, this fact left me feeling invigorated rather than rushed and ultimately unfulfilled. Why such a strong love for a city that Italians look down on, a city without the culture of incredible cuisine I’ve been accustomed to, a city which, when I scrolled through quotes about London, had more bad than good? You could blame it on the weather (I froze in Paris), except you can’t, because it was cold. Really cold. And cloudy except on Sunday. I mean, it’s London. I will give some credence to the explanation that hearing people speaking English all around me was one of the most unexpectedly wonderful feelings. I immediately felt more comfortable, more at home, thrilled to be able to eavesdrop on strangers once again. Besides, I love the English language and I don’t care who knows it.

“The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane.” Stephen Fry

All that, and I haven’t even mentioned the beauty of the British accent. Little kids shouting things like, “Everyone’s running!” “Uncle Joe are we going to Trafalgar?” and “Cheers!” brought me infinite joy. I’ll also attribute some of my love of London on the children running around everywhere. I don’t know why, but for some reason there seemed to be exponentially more kids running around in London than in Paris and Rome combined. Am I crazy? Maybe, but that’s certainly what it felt like. And it was wonderful.

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The Thames. Let’s talk about it by way of comparison. I had drawing class today underneath Tiber Island, right up close with the Tiber herself. Our professor very helpfully informed us that the best way to depict water is not with wiggly lines, but with reflections. Unfortunately, there are no reflections in the Tiber. The thing is a cesspool. The Thames looked like you could go for a swim in it. In the heart of Rome, the Tiber is about 300 feet across. The Thames? 700. It was magnificent.

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 3.48.08 PMI know London isn’t exactly known as the food capital of the world, but I could not have been happier with what I ate in London this weekend. Starting with chamomile tea, clotted creme, and the most amazing scones I have ever eaten. Are we not the most adorable little wannabe Brits you’ve ever seen? But actually my first meal was Mexican—fajitas at Las Iguanas. And it was a magical Mexican food reunion for all of us. The next day (just before the feast pictured here), we ate sushi, and it too, was magical. Saturday we went classic pub food with cod and chips and beef pie. But that night, Lily and I stumbled upon Dehesa, a Spanish/Italian tapas place that was so delicious that I’m about to recount exactly what we had word-for-word from the menu: “1. Grilled & Marinated Lamb Leg with Spiced Squashes, Cavolo Nero, Brown Butter and Capers, 2. Cornish Crab and Prawn Croquetas with Crustacean Aioli Confit, 3. Something solely referred to as Classic Tortilla, which was basically a frittata with cheese and potatoes and onions, and 4, the holy grail, Old Spot Pork Belly with Rosemary Scented Cannellini Beans.” It all got a little bit out of control, particularly that hunk of crispy pork belly. (Eric it reminded me so much of Longmann & Eagle! Anyone else: Go to Longmann & Eagle.)

Unfortunately I have no pictures to illustrate this, but THEATER. Next best thing to New York, and we took full advantage. Lily and I were so enamored with A Chorus Line on Friday night…that we went to Mamma Mia on Saturday afternoon. We had to sprint back to our hostel and get ready in less than an hour, and it was so worth it. Highlight and the worst part of A Chorus Line was Paul’s speech, which left me crying throughout the entire (fairly upbeat) second half of the show—a reminder that fiction has the sometimes frightening power to bring me to my knees at any moment. Mamma Mia however—apart from “Slipping Through My Fingers,” was as jubilantly ridiculous as expected, and left us giggling and drunk on life before Booze Cruise.

Mom, I neglected to reveal the name of said Notre Dame study abroad boat party when we spoke….but alas, the truth comes out. Booze Cruise. In any case, it was a fantastic time. Danced for three straight hours, so that’s never bad.

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The caption I’d like to use here would not be appropriate for print.

Let’s be cultured again shall we? British Museum. We were feeling so much animosity after being in Athens and watching the poor Acropolis Museum’s video about the Brits blowing up their temple and then stealing all its parts. Acropolis Museum video: “Elgin jacked our marbles, and we want them back. Stat.” British Museum SONY DSCvideo: “The parts were acquired by Lord Elgin and generously given to this glorious museum.” Something along those lines anyway. But truly, seeing them displayed there got to me a little more than a little bit. Also the Rosetta Stone was just hanging out there, and Katie Buck knows hieroglyphs…jealous? 

On Sunday, after waking up bright-eyed bushy-tailed and feeling like I could conquer the world (it’s funny because it’s not true), we made our way to Buckingham Palace, where I was more enamored with taking pictures of adorable children than the royals. But it was still cool. Then, for the absolute perfect ending to the weekend, we went straight Winning London up in this joint. (We had watched it four days prior in preparation for our voyage.) Sadly, I do not mean we made out in an air duct, though that would make all my childhood dreams come true. Instead…

“Do you want to see my favorite spot in the whole of London?”

SONY DSCAdmittedly, I don’t think I’ve spent enough time in London to affirm young Lord Browning’s sentiments, but the Peter Pan statue was a definite high of the trip. The entirety of Hyde Park was gorgeous in fact—it was a beautiful day, seemingly the first in awhile judging from the Spring-ish excitement in the air. We meandered along “Long River,” took a look at Kensington, watched little kids play with swans, and sat down near Peter Pan you know, to think. Hey, if it came out of Jesse Spencer’s mouth I believe it.

Just as I was in the midst of falling in love with a wobbling toddler in a sweater with elbow pads, an older gentleman (I don’t think you’re allowed to call a British male just “man.”) walked up to the statue pushing his very elderly mother in a wheelchair. He said, “I thought you might want to get out and look at the animals,” which to be honest, I had not even noticed were covering the base of the statue. He helped her up the stairs counting, 1, 2… at a staggeringly slow pace, and proceeded to walk her around the statue of the boy who didn’t want to grow up, pointing out each animal in succession. The only next logical step in that moment was to pretend to be taking pictures of Lily so I could photograph them. I had no choice. It was worth it.

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It was just one of those serendipitous moments that I had the pleasure to witness, to pretend I was a part of for just a few minutes. And call it me magnifying something that was really no more than a coincidence (it’s what I do), but that right there was the moment that solidified my love affair with London. It was already pretty rock solid, but that put it over the edge. And I didn’t even know what would happen next. The mother-son pair made their way over to the river (this litte statue sits right next to it by the way), and looked out at the birds perched all the way across. My original infatuation, elbowpad toddler, did the same. With his mom. And alas: my favorite picture I’ve taken in Europe.

“Slipping through my fingers all the time…”


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Oh London, I’ve fallen so hard. In the throws of Booze Cruise myself and another of your admirers had a bit of a gush session, during which she described you as “self-assured.” Just now, another friend (with a personal bias, but he has a point) called you “arrogant.” My thought is that both are true, and for me, that only adds to your appeal. We’re a match made in heaven, and I promise I’ll be back.

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Photos, Travel

Greek People Are The Best People

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If there was a single moment that captured my feelings about Greece perfectly, it was hopping out of our car at the Santorini port after yet another lovely chat with our driver, who was yet another of the kindest people I have ever met. As we waved goodbye and walked off Jack, smiling but serious, said, “Bye! I hope everything goes well for you in your entire life.”

Athens, Mykonos, Syros, and Santorini, and the constant (along with an abundance of gyros) was the overwhelming kindness of the Greek people. In Athens, Phil taught us all about komboloi beads (It becomes a part of you know what I mean?), the waiters always helped Carmel order their favorite thing on the menu, and our good friends at the bead  shop in Psiri struggled to find the English words to match us with our beads, gave us a discount, gave us all a free one, took a picture with us, and then ran out after us to give us their card lest we forget them. As if there was any danger of that. And it just kept going. In Mykonos, Maria and her boyfriend were two of the warmest human beings I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and she told us that her mom said, “If we always had guests like them our jobs would be very easy!” simply because we were always smiling. In Santorini it was all about Giorgio, who consistently and happily provided us with not only the best but the cheapest option for meals, ATVs, boat trips, anything we wanted.

Never have I felt such strong connections with people who passed in and out of my life so briefly, who live lives vastly different from mine on the other side of the world, who speak a different language, and that is a tremendously beautiful thing. I never felt a hint of resentment, irritation, impatience, manipulation – nothing. And as a fairly loud group of 14 college-aged American tourists…that’s saying something. It was simply a barrage of hardworking, genuinely kind, patient, and overwhelmingly helpful individuals who were happy with their lives and wanted you to be happy with yours. Sending so much good karma to all the people we met – I really do hope everything goes well for you in your entire lives.

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One of the best dinners of my life. Photo cred to Mia

Second highlight? Food. I counted 11 gyros and five Greek salads on the week, and I could’ve tripled both of those numbers without getting sick of them. Italian food is obviously tremendous, but there is a noticeable paucity (CSawyer shout out) of grilled meat, and I am nothing if not a carnivore. The trip also led me to discover a passionate love of feta cheese now that I stopped wrongly associating it with the gross soupy consistency of cottage cheese.

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Why hasn’t America picked up on putting french fries in gyros? That seems like about the most American thing you could do with a pita full of meat. But alas, french fries with paprika dipped in tzatziki is classic Greece. Speaking of which, I’ll take tzaziki over ketchup and barbecue sauce any day of the week—and I love both of those things.

Of course each place we went had its particular appeal. In Athens, the Acropolis was the Acropolis.

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And by that I mean…it was exactly as awe-inspiring as you’d expect the embodiment of the height of ancient Greece and founding of Western civilization to be. The kind of thing that makes you want to break out into Pericles’ Funeral Oration. Only partially kidding. So I’ll break it out right now, because God knows it was just about the only thing that made The History of the Peloponnesian War worth it and it just feels necessary:

“Thus our city is equally admirable in peace and in war. For we are lovers of the beautiful in our tastes and our strength lies, in our opinion, not in deliberation and discussion, but that knowledge which is gained by discussion preparatory to action. For we have a peculiar power of thinking before we act, and of acting, too, whereas other men are courageous from ignorance but hesitate upon reflection. And they are surely to be esteemed the bravest spirits who, having the clearest sense both of the pains and pleasures of life, do not on that account shrink from danger. In doing good, again, we are unlike others; we make our friends by conferring, not by receiving favors. Now he who confers a favor is the firmer friend, because he would rather by kindness keep alive the memory of an obligation; but the recipient is colder in his feelings, because he knows that in requiting another’s generosity he will not be winning gratitude but only paying a debt. We alone do good to our neighbors not upon a calculation of interest, but in the confidence of freedom and in a frank and fearless spirit. To sum up: I say that Athens is the school of Hellas, and that the individual Athenian in his own person seems to have the power of adapting himself to the most varied forms of action with the utmost versatility and grace. This is no passing and idle word, but truth and fact; and the assertion is verified by the position to which these qualities have raised the state. For in the hour of trial Athens alone among her contemporaries is superior to the report of her. No enemy who comes against her is indignant at the reverses which he sustains at the hands of such a city; no subject complains that his masters are unworthy of him. And we shall assuredly not be without witnesses; there are mighty monuments of our power which will make us the wonder of this and of succeeding ages; we shall not need the praises of Homer or of any other panegyrist whose poetry may please for the moment, although his representation of the facts will not bear the light of day. For we have compelled every land and every sea to open a path for our valor, and have everywhere planted eternal memorials of our friendship and of our enmity. Such is the city for whose sake these men nobly fought and died; they could not bear the thought that she might be taken from them; and every one of us who survive should gladly toil on her behalf.”

Seeing the Parthenon, the mightiest monument of Athens’ power, touring the Acropolis Museum, a week later seeing its stolen parts at the British Museum, and now reflecting and rereading this speech—this is what you could call a PLS moment. One of the most PLS moments I’ve ever experienced in fact. Give me a minute…

Not to mention the story Rick told us about the flag atop the Acropolis: on April 27 1941, the Nazis marched up there and forced the flag guard take it down in order to replace it with a Nazi flag. He promptly wrapped it around himself and jumped to his death. A few weeks later on May 31, two 19-year-olds, Apostolos Santas and Manolis Glezos, climbed the Acropolis during the night and tore the Nazi flag down. It was one of the earliest notable acts of resistance against the Nazis, and was one of the bigger stepping stones in my love affair with Greece and its flag, which proudly flies everywhere.

20130323_171732The other lasting win from Athens is my komboloi, which now also happens to have been blessed by the pope and is one of my most prized possessions. If anyone is planning to buy worry beads in Athens, go to the shop on Ag Anargiron in Psiri. Another one of those unexpected connections that could not have been more worth it. My beads are made of camel bone, and make a rather satisfying click when I get down with my Greek self and twirl them around. The lady at the shop struggled to tell me that they are meant for someone who “is going to have a big life,” in her words. I’ll never know what variation of the word big she simplified there, but to me, it was perfect. Here’s my komboloi hanging out on the beach in Mykonos a few days later.

Speaking of Mykonos…lovely Maria informed us that during the offseason there are about 8,000 people on the island. In the summer? One million. And boy were we there during offseason. There were a couple of times I felt certain we were the only people within a five-mile radius. Many of those moments came riding through the mountains on the backs of ATVs. And it was awesome. We eventually made our way through the maze (the town was purposely built as a maze to ward off invaders) and discovered an area with some semblance of humanity and two massive pelicans, but Mykonos was still empty enough that it had a peacefulness about it that I don’t think summer visitors get to experience. We lay on beaches completely alone (apart from Roscoe, the stupidest dog on the planet), and I loved it.

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Me and my girl Katie Buck lookin yachtclubtastic. Photo cred to Katie Nolan

The one day we spent in Syros was a bit of a dark time for me owing to a brutally rocky ferry over from Mykonos which left me dazed confused and nauseous. But a cute town and an equally cute old man that owned our hostel. Side note: Lily I love you. Imminent death would have occurred in these couple of days without you. 

Same deal for the beginning of Santorini, when I luckily managed to stay asleep for the first seven hours and struggled colossally during the last two and a half. Also, there was that time we almost died sprinting off the boat. This seems like an exaggeration only to those who weren’t there. Most of us reported the feeling that we were still on a boat for the next six hours on solid ground. I did on and off for the next two days—I suspect my inner ears broke somewhere along the line in these 21 years. But Lily and I dancing like maniacs on the black beach, riding ATVs in the mountains under a full moon, my first lamb gyro, jewelry shopping, Giorgio, breakfast crepes, and the sunset in Oia more than made up for my struggles.

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Rick Steves says if you can’t get a postcard worthy picture in Oia it’s time to retire your camera…I hope I can keep it a little bit longer with these two.

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Again, sending all the good karma I’ve got to all of our Greek friends. Thank you.

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Food, Rome, Travel

Best Week Ever: Eric, Franny, And A German Excursion

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quiestest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy

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Of course my current literary hero Pat Conroy would step in at a time like this to beautifully articulate how I’m feeling. Yes, Eric left yesterday morning, and yes, I was extremely sad to see him go, but this week is something that I could never forget if I tried, because it was less something I did or something that happened to me than something that will always be a part of me, a microcosm of these entire four months. So I refuse to stay sad, because I’m just so grateful that it happened.

I also just realized that I took 585 pictures…so just from a practical standpoint, forgetting seems rather implausible.

The first few days of the week consisted of La Boccaccia, magic balls, fancy beer at Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa, dinner at Romolo and Taverna Trilussa  – which obviously means artichoke pasta and balsamic steak – and…in non-gastronomic news, some cathedral hopping and Rick Steves walks, because Eric gets separation anxiety without Rick in hand. Let’s talk churches real quick: On Sunday we went to mass at the Pantheon, Wednesday morning we had Renaissance Rome which took us to Santa Maria del Popolo with Tegsy, and we also hit the main basilicas of Rome: the Vatican, Santa Maria Maggiore (where Bernini’s tomb is), and St. John Latteran. I have yet to make it to Paul Outside the Wall, but I will soon.

Wandering through the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere with Rick as our guide also brought us to Santa Cecilia and Santa Maria in Trastevere, but more importantly, to the greatest Italian artisan cookie place in all the land, Biscottificio Artigiano Innocenti (which I also frequented today). Sweet fancy Moses are these cookies amazing. My favorites are the almond squishy-inside dark chocolate dipped ones (sounds better in Italian), and the beignets. I’m so sorry we didn’t get one of those Eric…but damn.

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On Wednesday, we made the trek to Villa Borghese which, even despite the somewhat dreary weather, was well worth it. It is the place where one man almost singlehandedly spurred an entirely new artistic movement: the movement Baroque, the man Bernini. My God, his statues make David look like it was made with PlayDoh during kindergarten recess. Possible exaggeration, but honestly the movement and emotion he is able to coax out of a solid block of marble is mesmerizing.

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I’m even a little bit upset by these pictures because they don’t even nearly do this masterpiece justice. The work is Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, depicting Apollo post-Cupid arrow to the buttocks attempting to rape the beautiful Daphne, who prays to her father to save her and thus is transformed into a tree. Bernini manages to capture that entire sequence of events, in one single statue. Starting from the back of the statue, you see love-stricken Apollo chasing a woman, who as you continue around to the right begins to take shape. As you continue to circle it, you begin to the see the roots growing from Daphne’s feet, the leaves from her fingertips, her strained but flawless facial expression – it’s not a still image, but a transformation that you are watching unfold. How a human being could stare into a block of marble, see this and bring it to fruition is so beyond me I can’t even pretend to comment, but experiencing it was one of the greatest pleasures I’ve had among all the art I’ve seen here.

SONY DSCBut of course, even that magnificent experience was nothing compared to CLAVE 2013. Because obviously, the election of a new pope becomes infinitely cooler when you abbreviate it. Exhausted post-Villa Borghese, Eric and I decided that the effort required to make it from our Testaccio B&B to the Vatican was quite necessary, and my God was it. For most a once in a lifetime event just to witness the election of a new pope, we actually witnessed the election of a new pope. The atmosphere was indescribable – the multitude of sisters tearing up in the midst of one of the greatest moments of their lives, the Italian woman with her young son in front of us joking that the pope must be Italian, because if he was German or American he would’ve shown up by now, all of us Notre Dame kids huddling together for warmth and shelter from the rain, the South American priests behind us crying tears of joy and telling us what Papa Francesco was saying…it all amounted to one of the most moving experiences of my life. No matter what you believe or how you feel about the Church, it was impossible not to be affected by the historic magnitude and emotional involvement of the event. If there is any experience in my life I can accurately describe as humbling, that was it.

Munich

20130314_104509Thursday morning meant an impossibly early wake up and taxi to the airport but a worthwhile early arrival in Munchen, which is apparently what Muncheners call their own city, as the Deutschland is their country. Who knew?

Our first hour in Munich was an experience in itself. We arrived at the train station at the exact moment the train was supposed to arrive. We followed signs that pointed us toward the bus we had to catch in the most clear and efficient way possible. We boarded said bus, buying tickets in about thirty seconds from the driver, and it departed at the precise minute advertised. The bus was almost silent. We whispered so as not to disturb the somewhat eerie peace, a word I have never in my life used to describe public transportation. We walked the absolutely pristine and for the most part silent streets, and no one tried to sell us anything, asked for money, sketched on me, or accosted us in any way. We were walking around in a sort of mystified silence until one of us finally commented on the startling cleanliness of the place – Just then, we passed a shopkeeper sweeping invisible dirt from his sidewalks. There may have been five pebbles. At the most. Compared to Italy, it was just so strikingly civilized, so…comically German.

20130314_113034We hit up the Viktualienmarkt (complete with Maypole) for some morning wursts and beer – When in Germany right? The consensus came out: bratwurst delicious as expected, weisswurst a little bit…creepy. Sure I’m glad I tried stark white squishy boiled veal sausage that you have to peel the casing off, but I think once will last me a lifetime.

In Italy, climbing their tallest buildings involves medieval stairs on stairs on stairs, complete with sometimes impossibly slanted angles, odd curves, and uncomfortably low ceilings to emerge onto a balcony thousands of feet in the air with nothing but a waist-high wall between you and imminent death. In Germany, you take a modern elevator to a fully enclosed landing. Oh how the contrasts abound.

Aside from the mandatory Rick Steves walk, encompassing the center of Munich, its Old and New Town Halls, the famed glockenspiel, and St. Peter’s basilica, the day’s main attraction was the Munich Residenz, where those pesky Wittenbachs’ lived for some inordinate amount of time. My favorite was most definitely the massive wall sculpture composed entirely of shells, complete with shell women, from whose bosoms’ wine used to flow. I assure you do not jest. Observe.

20130314_153531The treasury also featured some interesting pieces including a prayer book that belonged to Charlemagne’s nephew, crowns on crowns, a gold reconstruction of Trajan’s Column, and several pieces of jewelry I requested as belated birthday presents. Who doesn’t need a massive pearl-encrusted stomach piece?

As the German food odyssey continued, Augustiner-Brau was the absolute perfect choice for dinner. We tried their dark beer and a Radler, which is light beer and lemon soda (surprisingly, not my favorite). However, the food was out of control: pork cooked in beer gravy with a potato dumpling, and the glory that is spaetzle. I have to tell you, while nothing about cheesy potato pasta with fried onions on top sounds bad, it also sort of sounds like a special at TGIFridays rather than a national delicacy. I could not have been more wrong.

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Following our incredible meal, we braved the hordes of Japanese tourists in mickey mouse ears at where else: Hofbrauhaus. Apparently, I only like dark beer in Germany – my palate is really authentic like that. There were also pretzels. Always pretzels.

Fussen

On Friday morning we boarded a train to the picturesque town of Fussen, which would be our home base for visiting the castles of Mad King Ludwig – first his boyhood home Hohenschwangau (High Swan Land) and then his dream palace, the made-famous-by-Disney SONY DSCNeuschwanstein (New Swan Stone), which is just as fantastical on the inside as its exterior. And considering the plan for the building was drafted (as an homage to Richard Wagner no less) by a stage designer rather than an architect, that is a fairly impressive feat. This quote from a letter from Ludwig to his buddy Wagner adds substance and meaning to the incredible sight that is Neuschwanstein.

“It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau near the Pöllat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights’ castles, and I must confess to you that I am looking forward very much to living there one day […]; you know the revered guest I would like to accommodate there; the location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world.” -Ludwig II

It also makes it all the more tragic that poor Ludwig spent almost 20 years working on the castle without coming close to finishing it, and only lived in it for 172 days until his mysterious demise. On June 13, 1886, just a couple of days after being declared insane, Ludwig went on a walk with the very doctor who made the assessment, and neither was ever seen alive again. Bruises on the doctor’s neck seemed to indicate that Ludwig murdered him and then killed himself. However, Ludwig was 6’4″ and a strong swimmer, the water he supposedly drowned himself in was something like three feet, and there was no traces of water in his lungs. Many – including, I think, the people who run the castle tours today – believe their crazy king was murdered and framed.

“I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself and to others.” –Luddie II *Cue creepy music*

SONY DSCFollowing my very first and quite monumental love affair with snow amounting to over 100 photos, it was time for a
freezing cold Rick walk around Fussen. I learned some things…saw some pretty sights…some body parts froze off…and then, out of the midst rose my salvation: Greek food, a preview of my week to come and but a distant memory for Eric. Thank God for Kelari, run by a couple who had their own restaurant in Athens before moving to the Munterland. Nothing better than stumbling across people who will feed you paprika-ed french fries with tzatziki when your fourth toe on the right side is about to break off am I right? Classic situation.

Salzburg

SONY DSCAnother day, another train with individual garbage cans for each pair of seats. Oh sweet German civilization. I couldn’t possibly summarize Salzburg better than Rick Steves did when he said, “While Salzburg’s sights are rather mediocre, the town itself is a Baroque museum of cobblestone streets and elegant buildings—simply a touristy stroller’s delight.” That I am, and that it was. And the phrase “touristy stroller’s delight” ran through my head on a loop as we strolled into platz after platz after connected platz. Neither of us being Mozart- nor Sound of Music- crazy, we saw a few sights, but mostly just wandered through Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich’s attempt at a “Rome of the North” and soaked it all in.

A personal highlight was my four-Euro grilled fish sandwich straight off the bus at a Rick-recommended place on the river. I may never know what that white sauce was or how to make it. Hell I might never taste it again. As Eric said, it was just a magical fleeting moment in time I’ll have to cherish the memory of forever. Yes, it was that good.

SONY DSCOther prime moments include taking an elevator up the side of a cliff – because again, that’s how Germans roll – to witness this view, ducking into a packed Rick-recommended bar and taking housemade and surprisingly smooth fruit flavored shots, speeding through the woefully unexciting birthplace of Mozart, and witnessing a huge gash taken out of a wall by an American general who tried to drive his tank to a (still open) brothel. The red light was on and everything. We didn’t make it to the fortress up on that hilltop there, nor did we ever find the mysterious chocolate place, but it didn’t matter. I could not have had a better time doing any of those things with anyone else.

SONY DSCAs our final day in Germany arrived, unwelcome and startling, we traipsed through Munchen’s English Gardens to the Chinese Tower where we found – what else – a German biergarten which served the brats we craved and Hofbrahaus brews. Also, this sugar-coated doughnut-like concoction, the taste of which floods back to me just by looking at this picture. Fighting sadness, I had the feeling that our last German beers, last wursts, and last pretzels of the weekend, wouldn’t actually be our last.

And that was kind of the beauty of this week for me. Because even as I was living it, I felt its place within the broader context of my life, and it didn’t feel like just something that I did one time. It felt like a significant memory of a first. Although I’ve reacapped everything here for my own recollection in (I’m sure) painstaking detail, none of it was ever about what we did or saw or ate. (Except maybe the fish sandwich; it really was about that.) But truly, the week was romanticized and the uncomfortable travel bits removed immediately in my mind because though they certainly happened, they never really interfered with the active contentment of being together and exploring places together and reveling in that. And that’s why the importance of all of it, no matter if we were gaping at a Bernini or getting poured on or being blessed by the new pope or complaining about blisters or eating delicious food or strolling through a palace, was never lost on me for a second. So at risk of publicly displaying affection because I feel confident no one but you made it through this entire novel of a post… I love you Eric, and I can’t wait for more adventures with you.

And if anyone else made it, I’m sure I love you too.

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Food, Rome, Travel

Sicilia: A Vacation Within A Vacation

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Yes, I did just call my semester of study abroad a vacation. And I realize that it isn’t, and I do have classes (which I do attend and enjoy), and I am learning – probably more than I ever have in a semester, mostly outside of the classroom. But it feels like a vacation in the sense of my mindset: I don’t think I could describe my head space as nervous or stressed since the day I got off the plane. I almost never know what time it is or where my phone is, and I rarely care. I’ve never been one to stress about school, but this isn’t just that – it’s a complete lifestyle change. I’m often exhausted, but always feel at peace. I guess it’s that elusive contentment. Here, I never feel like there’s something I’m forgetting, something else I should be doing, an email I need to send, a text a need to reply to, a meeting I’m missing. I just am wherever I am whenever I’m there, and feel okay with that. Hence, my mental vacation.

But Sicily… now that was a real life beach-filled Champagne-drinking Turkish bath-going arancine-eating verified girls trip vacation. See that view up at the top there? Yeah, that’s the view from our apartment terrace, featuring Mount Etna just four days before it exploded. Of course before we made it there, we experienced a happy mishap which brought us Ostia Antica on the Friday we intended to depart. 

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As Pompeii was quite possibly my favorite experience of my first trip to Rome with la mia famiglia, Ostia Antica was high on my Rome priority list. It is a massive archaeological site that was the port city of ancient Rome – in fact it may have been Rome’s very first colony. So far they’ve found ruins that date back to the 4th century BC (and they’ve probably only found about two-thirds so far), and was inhabited until it was finally  abandoned in the 9th century because they kept getting sacked, which sucked. Luckily for us, an incredible amount of the ancient city was preserved thanks to silt. There were some beautifully preserved frescoes, though unfortunately Ostia’s crowning fresco at the Temple of Neptune was temporarily covered when we were there. It made us extremely uneasy.

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But after that brief excursion, some Jewish Ghetto fried artichokes, and apertivo-hopping/backpacking in our own neighborhood, we arrived in Palermo to one of the most beautiful views we had ever been lucky enough to eat pastries within view of.

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We saw the necessary Palermitano sights – the Palermo Cathedral, the Palazzo di Normanni with its (gaudy) Cappella Palatina, the botanical gardens, and the Teatro Massimo. But if we’re really going to be honest here, we chilled and we ate. And boy did we eat. Just a few of our standout meals:

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  • Arancine: A Sicilian specialty, these fried balls of rice with meat sauce or prosciutto in the center may be the world’s crowning street food.
  • Seafood risotto at a restaurant on the beach in Mondello. It was as amazing as it looks.
  • Squid ink pasta
  • Swordfish cooked with tomatoes, capers, and olives (just like my mommy does it! One of the best meals I’ve ever had) at Trattoria ai Cascinari, the best restaurant in Palermo according to several sources
  • Brioche filled with gelato…exactly what it sounds like

I know what you’re thinking (or not): You went to Sicily and didn’t have any cannoli?!? I am extraordinarily saddened to report that we went to the alleged best place for cannoli in all of Palermo…and I didn’t love it. I don’t blame the cannolo: I blame a lifetime of exposure to the very thick, very sweet, very chocolate-chip filled, Americanization of the cannolo. But regardless, it just didn’t do it for me. I am so sorry foodies.

If you’re wondering what Mondello is from that name drop there, it’s Palermo’s main beach town, about twenty minutes away from the city. It’s also drop dead gorgeous. And made me feel like this:

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We frolicked along the beach in skirts and sundresses as the Palermitans huddled together in hoods and blankets, seemingly unaware that 65 degrees is reason to celebrate. And to finish up the ultimate girls trip, there was the Turkish bath, Hammam. We doused ourselves in buckets of hot water while sitting on a giant marble slab, stifled uncomfortable laughter as a woman entered in nothing but a paper thong, were doused in another bucket of hot by the Hammam lady, sweated in a sauna so full of steam you couldn’t see a foot in front of you, got exfoliating massages, chilled out in the jacuzzi, and lost five pounds. Simultaneously exciting and relaxing, it was a perfect ending to the perfect mini-vacation.

 

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Travel

Paris: Distant But Not Dissatisfied

20130223_232106Oh Paris. Our tryst was beautiful but fleeting, passionate but shallow. You were charming, surprisingly friendly, and often delicious, but we just didn’t connect on a fundamental level. We didn’t quite get past casual banter over crepes, never pondered the deep questions of life together or asked each other’s hopes and dreams. Despite the way you warmly helped me navigate your streets, I was persistently, profoundly aware that I was a vistor on them. Sure, we had some moments — channeling Midnight in Paris on Rue Mouffetard that first night, sipping wine in the fairytale-esque bar of Ladurée, marveling over your art, a moment of beautiful silence in Sacré Cœur, but something was always missing.

To preface, we had a great group of people in Paris, saw all the sights, relaxed, ate onion soup and macaroons, drank wine, laughed, experienced the art, walked the streets, went to Versailles, walked the lock bridge…for the three days we had, we really did it all. And certainly it was my complete and utter lack of French that helped to make me feel like such an outsider. And maybe that’s not even a bad thing. Maybe sometimes it’s good to view a culture as a pure unbiased observer looking in. I just want to make it clear, this feeling I have isn’t Paris’ fault. Nor is it mine, or that of the people I was with. Sadly, I think we just didn’t have enough time to really get to know each other deep enough.

That first night, a group of us wandered into a random restaurant on Rue Mouffetard, and I was greeted with the
realization that in Paris, French onion soup is just “Onion Soup.” And it’s delicious. I followed that up with steak frites, also quite good. We met up with the rest of the gals and meandered back down the road a ways for some dessert and wine, mine being chocolate cake filled with pure molten chocolate. I didn’t hate it.

Our first daylight in Paris brought us to the Louvre, with some pastries on the way. Oh and this.

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Good morning indeed. Now, if anyone knows how to do a museum, it’s me and Lily. Part subservience to the almighty audioguide and part in-depth analysis the likes of which cannot be publicly disclosed, it’s always a great time. Two happy surprises: 1. the Louvre houses the Law Code of Hammurabi. Like, the actual, 18th-century-BC, legible law code. Nuts. 2. Here, I made a connection. My favorite canto in the Inferno, definitely one of my favorites in the entire Divine Comedy, is Canto V, the second circle of the lustful.

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“When as we read of the much-longed-for smile
Being by such a noble lover kissed,
This one, who ne’er from me shall be divided,

Kissed me upon the mouth all palpitating.
Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it.
That day no farther did we read therein.”

It’s impossible not to feel their pain, which, I realize, makes Paolo and Francesca the subject of art on art on art. That fact doesn’t change my excitement when I saw this, the 1855 version (the third of its kind), of “Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta appraised by Dante and Virgil,” by Ary Scheffer. If you didn’t feel it already, you should now. Shout out to PLS and JRo, who facilitated my love affair with this courtly love tale within a courtly love tale within a courtly love tale.

We also hit up Notre Dame, which as a Domer I hate to admit didn’t quite hit me like I thought it should have. Dinner though, at good ol’ Ernest’s house (apparently Hemingway actually lived there), did the trick. Duck, salmon, and Prosecco are never bad things.

The next full day we made it to Versailles, but not before visiting an animal exhibition of its namesake…not on purpose. That’s a story for another time. And yes, Versailles was elaborate and over-the-top and beautiful, but without the gardens in full bloom or even weather that was warm enough to walk around them in, it just felt lacking. Our next stop however, did not. Sacré Cœur was awe-inspiring inside and out, and the rare silence in a tourist destination was welcome and peaceful. (I am choosing to ignore the Godforsaken coin machines.) I lit a candle for family, and it was lovely.

Our little band of ambitious travelers then commenced what turned out to be a five-mile walk. Seriously. Check it.

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It was cold but full of lights, long and tiring but absolutely worth it. On the way we grabbed dinner and later, some drinks and dessert at the famous Ladurée. And at the end of course, the Eiffel Tower and its light show greeted us. That was a bit of a moment for Paris and me, watching the lights from across the Seine. Our final day in Paris, we visited the Musée d’Orsay which, happily and sadly, might be my favorite museum I have ever been to. Sadly, because I definitely did not spend enough time there.

Some day in the future I plan to return and pick up where we left off, this time not only with memories that will give me a feeling of connectedness, but with time to not just see Paris, but live it.

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