Friday, February 27, 2009

Snowboarding in the Swiss Alps!

Last weekend was the best weekend that I have had in Europe thus far! Thursday night my roommates and I headed to the train station to meet the Bus2Alps crew to head to Interlaken, Switzerland. It was a 12 hour bus ride from Rome to Interlaken and we stopped in Florence to pick people up on the way. All of our guy friends in Rome and our friends in Florence were all on the bus too. The bus ride was quite miserable but so worth it once we pulled up to our ski lodge-like hostel. The hostel was called Balmers. We arrived around 7am so we took naps and then headed out for some Swiss lunch. Molly and Raf met us at the hostel coming from Seville! Friday during the day we walked down the streets in Interlaken we saw the most magnificent views of the Alps. We had hot chocolate at the top of a hotel overlooking the city and then rented all of our ski/snowboarding gear for the next day. Friday night we went on a night sledding adventure. We were driven up the mountain only to take a 15 minute gondola ride straight up the mountains to sled down. It was pitch black and we had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into. Once we were at the top of the mountain, we were given plastic sleds to sit on and glow sticks to put around our necks. After a five minute lesson on steering and safety we were off to sled down the Alps. It was such a great experience. We were basically going down the mountain in a big spiral and it was amazing. We also saw a frozen waterfall when we stopped midway down the mountain. At the end of our sledding, which was about an hour total, we had a traditional Swiss dinner. It consisted of cheese fondue with bread, hashbrowns, and a fried egg. All I have to say about that is good thing I am not studying abroad in Switzerland, because I would definatly come back 50 pounds heavier since hashbrowns are the national dish. Not to mention after that dinner we tried some Swiss chocolate, it was amazing!

Never fear, the next day we worked all of that off learning how to snowboard. Courtney was lucky enough to teach Molly, Michele, Raf, Solley, and Erica all how to snowboard. She was one lucky instructor. When we got to the top of the Alps, we were literally above the clouds confident that we would never learn to snowboard. The easy runs were cliffs that people just skied right over. It was really nice to see the toddlers zipping past us on their skis as we were just trying to walk in our snowboarding boots. After checking out the maps and looking down the mountains in fright, we came across the bunny hills! This is where we learned to board. For the first two hours the six of us learning looked like animals flopping around on the snow with a board attached to our feet. We were honestly dragging ourselves across the mountain dying in laughter for hours. (That's me!!) Snowboarding was tougher to pick up than I had imagined. However after Courtney taught us the basics most of us were able to snowboard, stop, and try to turn. Our lunch in the ski lodge consisted of some more carbs, a plate of fries and a small salad. It was either that or wiener schnitzel. We also got hot chocolate and sat outside just taking in the beauty of the mountains. We then headed back to our hill to continue boarding. I had so much fun learning to snowboard, I can't wait to try it again next winter. The day flew by and the next thing we knew we were at a Swiss restaurant eating another plate of hashbrowns for dinner. We spent the whole night dancing in the bar in the basement of our hostel. We ended up changing into t-shirts and sweatpants and there were about 15 of us girls from U of I just having a blast together.

The bus ride home was depressing; no one wanted to leave Switzerland. It was snowing and so we had to take a few detours and it took us 14 hours to get back to Rome. Overall it was such a great weekend and it was so much fun to hang out with people from home studying in other cities. I will for sure continue snowboarding, and hopefully I will make it back to Interlaken again some day.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Carnival 2/14

Hey! So last weekend my roommates and I went to Venice for Carnival. Our flight was only about 2 hours and we arrived at our "hotel" at about 8pm. We walked into the front room of the hotel only to find that it is in fact a hostel. And the man at the desk proceeded to tell us that we would be staying in another building of the hostel. He then brought us to a sketchy apartment building and led us into a room with bunk beds. The area that the hostel was in did not look very safe and the accommodations were terrible. We felt like we were in a horror film. So we went to argue with the man at the desk to get our money back and find somewhere else to stay. Courtney and Alex went across the street to another hotel and found that they had openings at a sister hotel. So Jen and I argued with the man explaining that the website read that the hotel had a mini fridge, tv, and private bathroom in each room and what we were taken to was nothing like that. The owner of the hostel came to speak with us and eventually agreed to give us back our money.

After thinking that we were going to have to spend the night in a horror movie, anything seemed better. So we made our way over to the sister hotel of the one across the street. The owner of that hotel was so kind and gave us a discount for the weekend. The hotel was called Hotel Nice and it was the cutest hotel I have ever seen. I had the best shower that I have had in a month and the best sleep that night. Friday we met up with Michele and Jacki coming from Florence and we spent the day exploring the city of Venice. This was the day before the start of Venice Carnival so it was nice to see the city without all of the maks and parades. Venice is the most beautiful city that I have seen in Italy thus far. That night we just got wine and dinner at a cute restaurant and got home early so we could be up for Carnival on Saturday.

Carnival was ridiculous. We had bought our masks on Friday so once we got on the island we put them on and started exploring. There were people all over the city dressed up in ridiculous and lavish costumes. We had a blast just being in the city taking in the beauty and tradition of Carnival. Venice was a great city that I hope to return to some day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hey everyone! Well it has been a while since I last updated but I’ve been so busy! Two weekends ago Alex, Courtney and I went to London. It was amazing. The city is gorgeous and there is so much to do and see that we were not able to cover everything. We arrived in London Thursday night and checked into our hostel, St. Christopher’s. It smelled like the bar Kams and seemed like a backpacker’s haven. We then found that we hadn’t booked the private room, but instead an 8-person mixed dorm. It was quite a surprise to open the door and see a guy lying in a bed next to mine. Well we introduced ourselves to him and he was very nice, but we wanted to get out of the room as soon as possible. So Alex went down and bought locks for the lockers in the room and we shoved our suitcases in them and left the room. After roaming around London for several hours looking for an open restaurant, we returned to our mixed hostel room… Well our roommate was sleeping with the lights off; it was 11:00pm. Alex, Courtney, and I deliberated in the hallway for about ten minutes trying to decide if we should go in the room or not. We determined that we needed to go in our room and it was not our fault that we had to rifle around in the metal lockers for our sleeping stuff. Well when we settled into our bright red child size bunk beds we all noticed that our roommate had the worst smelling feet possible. Aunt Julie, I cannot thank you enough for the hostel sheet, I was wrapped so tightly in it sleeping in St. Christopher’s. When I finally drifted off to sleep, another roommate wandered in and hopped up onto the bunk bed next to me. My phone vibrated immediately and I saw that Alex had bbm’d me about our new roomie. We were freaked out. Luckily morning came early and we hopped out of bed and got ready in a flash.
Friday morning we set off to see the changing of the guards. We were running a little late so we ended up chasing the guards to Buckingham Palace. What we did see when we got there was so neat. I did take some pretty good pictures of the beef eaters; I have to say. We saw the beautiful golden gate near the palace and walked around the park for a while. We saw Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, and other London monuments. While in London we mastered the tube. The tube is the easiest public transportation system to use by far! We hopped on and off with our day passes to get to all of the major sites. We went to Picadilly Circus and Oxford Street only to see how inadequately dressed and unfashionable we were. Oh and to realize that London is expensive… thus I was not able to make any purchases. Friday evening we got back to our humble abode and mingled with all of the dreaded, tattooed, backpackers staying at St. Chris… or not. But anyways we got ready as quickly as possible to get out of the hostel and we ended up going on a cruise on the English Channel for the night. We met up with a bunch of our friends on the boat that were also in London for the weekend.
Saturday we tried to go shopping again, but London was still expensive. We did get to go on the London Eye though—we were able to see all of the sights from a great view! However, this was the point where we ran into some trouble with our planning. Since our flight was early Sunday morning, like 6am, we didn’t book the hostel for Saturday night. This is when we decided to stake out in the hotel lobby of where Courtney’s friend was staying for the weekend. I don’t know how we were so lucky, but they happened to be in their hotel room so we were able to take amazing showers and sit on a comfortable bed. That night Alex and I went to a club, while Courtney met up with some of her friends from high school. The club was awesome, expensive, and really fun. Alex and I cabbed it back to the hotel and had the most interesting conversation with the cab driver. He wanted our opinions on everything including if we thought China was taking over the world and if we thought Bush was nutty. After meeting Courtney back at the hotel we had to get to the airport. We ended up meeting and talking to a French woman and running to catch our flight. We arrived home safely after a long, but really fun weekend in London. It is most definitely a city that I have to go back to, but maybe next time I’ll stay in a hotel; for some reason I don’t think I’m cut out for hostels.

This past weekend we stayed in Roma, our beautiful city. Michele and some of Courtney’s friend Jacki came to visit for the weekend so our tiny apartment was packed. We luckily found out that our couch is a pull out bed. Friday we couldn’t entertain our guests because we had a class trip to Seina. Siena is a small town about 3.5 hours north of Rome that we took a bus to. We learned all about the contradas in Siena and their obsession with the palio (a horse race that they are devoted to). Unfortunately it was a dreary day and the town was very small. It was interesting to talk to our tour guide and see the city. We were excited to get back to Rome though. The rest of the weekend we did some touristy things with Michele and went out with everyone in Rome. We also had a delicious breakfast that a con man served to us and then charged us each 30 euro.

I am really looking forward to this weekend; we are headed to Venice for the Carnivale. It is like Mardi Gras in Italy. This time we are staying in a hotel and meeting Michele and her roommate there and our guy friends and other girls from our program are also going so it should be a blast. I’ll definitely let you know how that trip goes! I have to go study for my two quizzes tomorrow in sociology and Italian, so ciao!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Heading to London...

Those pictures are a few that I have taken in the past two weeks.

Well classes are well underway now; yesterday we had our first Italian quiz! We are starting to use our Italian more in daily conversation. I know some basic phrases like, "how much is that," "where is..." "what is your name," and "where are you from." It is fun to try and communicate with the locals--but it can be very difficult. A lot of the cab drivers and store owners don't speak English.

The weather here is very spastic. When we leave to go to class in the morning it is usually around 50 degrees. Then it will start raining midday and sometimes go into the night. Yesterday it was miserable, the rain was so intense and our food and culture class had to walk outside for about two hours to go to an open air market. The area that we went to was very poor in early Rome, so they have a tradition of eating the intestines and organs of the animals because they cannot afford anything else. So at the market, we were able to see the insides of all these animals.. and a lot of dishes include them at restaurants in this area. It was disturbing to say the least. My choice to not eat meat was heightened at the market. However, we did find some amazing foccia bread and sugary Roman donut holes. They were so much better than any baked good that I have had in the states. And I would know best, working at Morningfields Bakery for two years.. But we did run into a problem at the market; Courtney, Alex, and I tried this unidentified cheese from a lady who didn't speak a word of English and two of the three of us got food poisoning. I was fine though, which is ironic considering that I used to have the weakest stomach. The other two are fine now, with some medicine in their stomachs and lots of rest.

Anyways, our walk home from the market was absolutely miserable. My boots were sopping wet and of course I didn't have an umbrella so my coat was soaked through. We walk so much living here that everyday when I get home my feet are absolutely killing me. I would not reccommend wearing flat boots on the cobblestone roads. So in an effort to ease the pain, Courtney and I decided to search for some cute gym shoes after class. With the downpour continuing we walked down Via del Corso, a major street in Rome, looking for the Foot Locker. On our way to finding our saving grace, we came across about 244432 cute stores that we had no idea existed! We live in a very nice area of town and have only seen expensive boutiques until yesterday. Down Via del Corso we walked into Habbana, Zara, Nike, Miss Sixty, Guess, Addidas, and many more. After about two hours of searching for Foot Locker and popping the newly discovered stores, we finally came across the Nike store. The women's gym shoes were bright purple high tops. We left immediately. The two of us ended up buying similar New Balance kicks, and I can say that they are like walking on clouds after spending the day wearing them today.

The strange fashion in Rome doesn't end at the bright purple high tops though. Today we saw a cluster of highschool girls wearing Timberlands. Yes, gigantic, tan Timberlands. Not to mention, they were emo skater girls.. like every teenager in Rome. No joke, all of the highschoolers wear skinny jeans, skater shoes/Timberlands, and try to be emo. It is very different than in America where that is simply a subculture. Something else that is very prevalent in Rome is graffiti. This is not as big in the area that I live in, near the Trevi Founatin and Spanish Steps, but in Trestevere about 20 minutes out of the main area, graffiti covers every wall. When I first saw Trestevere I though I was in Mexico. The buildings are yellow and pink and there are palm trees everywhere. It is not at all what you would picture as a beautiful area in Rome. The other students in our program all live in Trestevere though, so my roommates and I almost wish we were over near them. However, because we live alone we are getting accostomed to the Roman public transportation. Yesterday we took the metra, which is like our el in Chicago. I have never seen more people commuting in my life. The train is huge, and there are just hundreds of people waiting to board the underground train. What is interesting is that we were leaving for class around 9:30 and we saw so many people going to work and school. So, we're not quite sure when business hours/school hours are for people in Rome. Also when you take a bus or the tram (above ground train) you don't have to pay when you get on. You are supposed to have a bus card to show if someone asks you.. but it is really just based on the honor system. I find this ironic considering it is on public transportation that you are told to watch your purse and not trust anyone. I guess I'll just avoid bus 64.. that is what the gypies go on.

Well, I must go pack now. Tomorrow Courtney, Alex, and I venture off to London for our first trip! Our flight takes off at 4:30pm, which is 9:30am for all of you. I'm super excited and eager to have our first hostel experience. I will obviously update when I return back to Roma on Sunday morning. Hope everyone has a great weekend, and I can't wait to speak to people in Enlgish! Ciao!

Pictures from Roma!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

So we have now been in Rome for six days. It has been a great experience so far. We are still trying to get used to everything. For one, the Italian people do most things much slower. When my roommates and I went to buy internet for our computers, it took about an hour to get everything set up. The process in the US would take about fifteen minutes. Another thing is walking on the streets. The people walk very leisurely. As Americans, we are used to walking at a fast pace and Italians enjoy walking at a slower pace and enjoying the company of others. Speaking of that, it is very intriguing to see Italian men walking arm in arm down the streets; that is surely something that is unheard of in America. Also, someone pulled my hair as I was walking into a store the other day! He also pulled the other girl's hair that I was with. I've been warned that the men are creepy, but this was just strange.

Last night my roommates and I went to get our first cup of gelato. It was obviously amazing. We also made our first trip to the Spanish Steps. There are 138 of the steps. At the top of the steps is a gorgeous church that we saw nuns praying in and at the bottom is a fountain and the beginning of the Michigan Ave. of Roma. Some of the stores we saw were Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, and Prada. We are definitely planning on going back dressed up as American heiresses so the Italians treat us as if we will make big purchases. The street itself was gorgeous and lit up beautifully. Today we visited Vatican City. We had a guided tour through the Vatican, which was awesome, but so long. I will post pictures soon. It was amazing to see all of the ancient artwork and especially the Sistine Chapel. When we left the Vatican, Courtney and Alex and I wanted to stop somewhere to eat. An older lady approached Courtney telling her about this restaurant and she ended up leading us down an alley to a hidden restaurant. We felt bad, so we stayed and ate at the restaurant-- however we were the only customers. The pasta was mediocre and there was nothing special about the place. When we received the bill there was a 9 euro fee for bread and service! No one in the restaurant spoke English and we were already irritated with the bad food so we just paid and left. That has been our only bad experience so far with food in Italy. Everything else has been great! We have been trying to eat dinner at home a lot though. We make mozzarella and tomato sandwhiches and buy fruit at a market right down the street. However, that meal could get old soon..

Well it is almost 9 o'clock here and we are going out to a club called Gilda tonight. I'm sure the nightlife in Roma will beat out Champaign by a longshot...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

FIrst Few days!!

Hey everyone! So today is our third day in Roma, and it is absolutely wonderful. This city is so beautiful and the weather is amazing. The plane ride over here was pretty miserable. We had a 7 hour flight to Paris. Then we were in Paris for a few hours and had a two hour flight to Rome. When the traveling was over, we were taken by bus to our apartment at Via Rasella 137. I am living with Courtney, Jen, and Alex. There are about 32 students in our program, and we are the only apartment that is separated from the rest of the group. The location of our apartment though is amazing. We are right by the Trevi Fountain and near the Spanish Steps. We live down an old street with huge, tall doors and our place is on the third floor. The apartment itself is very small, We all have twin beds that are hard as rocks and tiny rooms with barely any storage space. The bathrooms are crazy small too. We do have a living room though with a kitchen table and couch. But our kitchen is about 5ft by 5ft... it is ridiculously small. We have yet to test the kitchen out because we have not had any time to go to the supermarket or cook our own food. The food in the restaurants has been great though!

Today was our first day of classes. Our apartment had to travel to Gambero Rosso, which is a combination of a cooking school and food and wine magazine/tv network. It is an awsome place to have school, however it took us 2 hours to get there today! We had to wake up at 7 and left our apartment at 7:45 to walk to the tram, take the tram to a bus, and then get lost walking to the school. It is safe to say that we have walked soooo much. We don't mind it though because it is so beautiful and the weather is great. After our food and culture class at Gambero Rosso we had to go back to Scuelo Leonardo da Vinci, where most of our classes are. This is the language school that the woman who wrote Eat Pray Love learned Italian. The teachers are great, but everything moves at such a liesurely pace in the classroom.. there is no urgency at all. We had art history and Italian today. Our Italian teacher refused to speak English to use, which was interesting considering noone speaks Italian in our program. But it is helpful to get some Italian lessons because not as many people speak English as we thought.

The Italian culture here is so different from American. For one, not only do we have to adjust to a time difference of 7 hours, but the meal schedule is so different. Italians eat dinner around like 9pm and go out around 11 or midnight! And like I said, most people are very liesurely about getting things done. Our orientation took five hours, yet everything could have been completed in 45 minutes. Today when we were walking to and from class, it got so hot that I took off my jacket, yet Italians were wearing puffy coats, hats, and gloves. They think that 55 degrees is cold!

Well we are trying to start making our trips now for the next couple of weekends. So far we have Switzerland, Venice, Dublin, and Greece on the calendar. But my computer is running out.. so that's all for now!