by Rachel Abbatiello
Friday- March 1st, 2013
I have been to Charlotte-Douglass airport before, so I was pretty comfortable with checking in. On the plane it was cool to see some of the other students who are first time flyers react to take-off and landing. It seemed like everyone at on point of another was trying to brush up on some last minute Italian. I am reading Eat Pray Love which was recommended to me by my voice teacher. The main character travels the world for a year to find herself and her first stop is Rome, Italy and her goal there is to indulge in the pleasures of life… In the form of food. I feel like all you do on an airplane is wait for the next snack to come, and they are constantly bringing them, so there really isn’t even much of a wait. After we connected in Philadelphia, I met a girl named Nina who sat beside me for the plane ride. She is a year younger than me, but she is well-traveled, especially because she comes from a military family. She added me on face book though, which was cool.
Saturday- March 2nd, 2013
It is weird to me that we left at 12pm on Friday and we arrived at about 9am on Saturday. I was really thrown off my that. I fell asleep on the bus ride to the hotel, which wasn’t even a long ride, but I was drained. We dropped our stuff off at the hotel, got to brush our teeth and use the restroom, and then we were off again. We met our tour guide Giorgio, who is a very animated, tall Italian man. Giorgio really knows his stuff, and he talks CONSTANTLY. He talks while we are walking, while we are riding on the bus, when we sit down to eat, when we are touring a building, when and while we are crossing the street. But he seems to know a little bit about everything there is to know, which is cool. Conversation is never strained. We got some pizza at the pizza place right beside the hotel and I got a rice ball. We saw the train station today and had time to walk around there for a while. We walked back to the hotel after a while so we could get dressed for dinner. Tonight is a dinner that is included in the tour. We walked such a long way to get to the restaurant, and it is at this point that I start to regret not wearing tennis shoes. What can I say, I am vain. We got to the restaurant and they brought us out a full plate of food and it was a variety of different things for us to try and after we finished that plate, I was pretty full. Apparently that was our appetizer. They proceeded to bring 3 more pizzas, some pasta, and some gelato. I think that looking back on the trip, this was really appropriate foreshadowing of what the rest of the week was going to look like for me. We walked back to the hotel, and then most of us went out to a bar down the street from the hotel, and just hung out and talked. After we finished at the bar we were really hungry so we went on a food hunt. The only place open was some Mediterranean food place, and the food there was cheap and easy to eat with your hands because it was fried. It really hit the spot. We wanted to wake up early for a mass service in the morning, so we decided to head in after that.
Sunday- March 3rd, 2013
We woke up and tried to make a mass service this morning because my voice teacher told me the experience was one of the best memories she has from her trip to Italy. The service didn’t start until 8am and we woke up for a 7am service. Breakfast was a lot of bread and pastries. There was no meat, but there were a lot of options for coffee. We visited the Coliseum and the Roman Forum. We passed a couple of street performers that I really wanted to stop to watch, but the tour guide was on a mission. I was really pleased with the pictures that I took today. The more places we go, the more I realize how much I love taking pictures. Yesterday and today we saw Trevi Fountain. Gelato here will change your life. We saw the Spanish Steps and there was a road full of designer stores right across the street. We had wine and canola (which I learned is the singular form of “canola”, even though we use that in the states as the singular form of the pastry) in a bar at an intersection. The house red with everywhere is really good. Most have been a Chianti. After trying about 3 or 4 red wines, I finally tried some white wine, which as usual, I didn’t like as much. It was very good though. I also tried tiramisu today. I have eaten most of these before, but I wanted to be able to compare our American versions with the authentic Italian dish. I have no idea how I am going to eat all of the food I want to try this week. My guess is I am going to have to suck it up and deal with constantly eating delicious food all week. Most of us that are here have walked down the street and hung out at a bar before bed. It has become a trend to go to the Mediterranean restaurant down the road after we finish at the bar. We got lost riding the bus today and ended up wasting an hour and a half because we were impatient. We should have just waited for the right bus. No matter where you go, there is always someone offering you roses. In the beginning it was awkward to say no, but it is getting easer to make it known that you want to be left alone. I love how many opportunities there are to get espresso and gelato. I can’t wrap my head around how many places I have been in the past 2 days. I feel like a touring machine. We tried these balls of rice and mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce that is rolled together and fried called suppli and I have convinced everyone that they need to try it!
Monday- March 4th, 2013
This morning we had to wake up really early to go to the Vatican. I was really proud of myself for being the first one downstairs. Apparently I function at a higher level over-seas. The Vatican was breathtaking. The art, sculptures, and architecture was almost to much to take in. I felt like I couldn’t absorb it fast enough. We go to go to the Sistine Chapel, which is awesome since we thought we wouldn’t be able to go due to the conclave that they were preparing for. We went to St. Peter’s basilica and I could literally spend all day there. I have been many beautiful places in my life, but that might possibly be the most beautiful. We went to the catacombs and we got there early. We all took naps on the benches and in fields. When I woke up I walked over to the vending machines, which only held coffee and candy. I got an espresso, and it was also at this point that I began my love affair with bueno bars by kinder. Once we went down into the tunnels I was surprised to see how many different hallways there were, and how small the spaces were that were supposed to hold the bodies. We saw the Jewish ghettos and it was a really good representation of the way Rome has built on top of its ruins. There were ancient ruins attached to modern structures like apartment buildings. We then grabbed some street food and went back to the Vatican to walk to the top of the dome and the line was insane! There were 551 steps but we got there so late that we had to buy tickets to go some of the way up on the elevator. Before you walk up the last bit of stairs, you walk on a ledge that circles the circumference of the top of the dome. I got to watch a mass service from the top of St. Peter’s basilica and it gave me a whole new perspective on the service… Literally. The walk up was awesome. Actually it was more like the run up, because I like to run up stairs. The walls start to slant the closer you get to the top, which made it increasingly more difficult to run. I am also mildly afraid of heights, which made me a little on edge when I got to the top. No pun intended. A lady dropped her camera over the railing while we were up there, which was also interesting. We went to the shopping district by the Spanish Steps to buy some stuff but we didn’t have a lot of time because we promised the other group that we would meet them at the hotel at 7:30. And without cell phones, you can’t change your plans! We ate dinner right down the road from the hotel and I went back and fell asleep with my shoes on.
Tuesday- March 5th, 2013
Today we left the hotel early in the morning and departed Rome for Florence. I slept really well on the bus even though I went to bed early last night. I woke up when we stopped for espresso and our first lunch. That is one of the differences between Italy and the U.S.; Italians will eat meals before their meals, and somehow they are all smaller than us. Dr. Sabo was right when he said everyone wears neutral colors too. We can always find Dr. V.A. in a crowd because she is the only one wearing a kelly green jacket. I ended up buying some candy while we were stopped at the rest stop. We played catch phrase on the bus, which was hilarious because it was me, Dr. V.A., and Jamie against Dr. Sabo, Giorgio, and Patrick. When we finally got to Florence, it was raining and kind of miserable, but we immediately headed for the Duomo. The outside of the Duomo was so elaborately crafted that it looked fake. We had a break for lunch and I got some pizza and after lunch, the restaurant gave us complimentary Limón cello. We met for our tour and saw the Baptistery across the street from the Duomo. The baptistery is there because there used to be a rule that you couldn’t enter a catholic church unless you had been baptized. We then walked down the more expensive shopping roads and then a road full of jewelry that was right along the river. We went to a leather making factory and I got a free leather swatch with a gold kangaroo that I printed on it myself. I also bought a purse and got my initials stamped in real gold flake. I got Madeline a scarf and a leather key chain that looks like an owl. We got some free time and decided to shop for a little bit. We went back to the hotel and got lost going to our room because the hotel is 2 buildings that are connected, and the room numbers do not match the floor that you are on. We didn’t have much time to get ready, but we went downstairs to leave for dinner and got lost again. Jamie didn’t want to walk 30 minutes so we called a cab. We had a delicious dinner that was included in our tour. We had bruschetta, ravioli, steak, bread, wine, and some delicious kind of cream puff covered in fudge and cocoa powder. We ordered more Limon cello after dinner and then we walked around Florence and stopped in another bar for drinks. When we got back we had a bottle of wine to share between a few of us, but everyone in the group was still awake so we all shared it! The more, the merrier! We all hung out and then played catch phrase for about an hour. That may be one of my favorite memories with the group so far. It was nice to just sit around, talk, and laugh together. We had to leave because apparently the hotel was setting up for a birthday party at 12am. We then decided as a group that we were really hungry and needed food. The man at the front desk told us that the only place open was McDonald’s and that we would need to take a cab to get there. Both of which were not true. We got to McDonald’s and there was no beer, which is something that we were looking forward to, because McDonald’s over there carry beer. I get a cheeseburger and fries which were delicious. They didn’t taste as greasy as our McDonald’s food does, but maybe it was my imagination. Needless to say, we walked back.
Wednesday- March 6th, 2013
We didn’t have to meet this morning until 10:30, and even though my room wanted to get up and shop, we all accidentally slept in. I was also supposed to go jog with Dr. V.A. this morning. She said she normally runs about 4 miles, which sounds like a horrible thing to do to yourself at 7am, but I needed to work off all of the cheese and olive oil I have been destroying. When we all finally met up at 10:30 we walked to meet the van that took us to our cooking class in the Tuscan countryside. Dr. V.A. and I sat in the front of the van and got to know the woman whose house we were going to. When we got to her house she showed us up to the roof of the house, which was built in 1146. WE tried hot wine, we made our own ravioli filling, our own taleteller, ravioli, angel hair, and fagiole pieces. WE tried everything as we went, and she was playing awesome music. When we finally sat down to eat, they had put out plates of eggplant parmesan, bruscehtta with sheep’s mild cheese and honey, and a frittole with artichokes. We tried all of our pastas that we made, which were way better than what you buy in a store Then we had some of the most delectable tiramisu that I have ever had in my life. It was so creamy and light. She then shared some really nice vinsanto (holy wine) with us, and I was inspired to buy 2 bottles hen we went out later. We all swung on a swing in her living room and we got a picture of Dr. Sabo in it too!!! WE had to pack up and get our stuff together fast because we had an appointment to go to the Academia gallery where the statue of David is. I really enjoyed the music part of the museum, and I think that the history rekindled my musical fervor regarding performance and history. We left the museum after about an hour because it wasn’t very large, but we did try to go to the central market. On our way I stopped in a wine shop, tried some vinsanto, and bought two bottles after making sure it was what I was looking for. The market was closed but we agreed to get up in the morning to go. Tonight was the family-style inner, and it make me seriously question myself as a person.; I ate so much food that it actually hurt. There was Chianti, Limón cello, vinsanto, beef, pork, veal, chicken, rabbit, lamb, bruschetta, pate, polenta, pasta, soup, cold cuts, cheese, bread, and biscotti. We walked home slowly. We passed some guys from Denmark on the way home that were trying to get us to go to a club. The reason we started talking to them is because Giorgio said that he was 90% sure from the way that they dressed that they were British.
Thursday- March 7th, 2013
Dr. Sabo told us to not be hung-over this morning, and we weren’t. We went to the market, and I bought Parmesano Reggiano, pasta, more pasta, cheap Chianti to make hot wine with, and biscotti for my mom. WE got on the bus and the only thing I had eaten was some little Napoleon from the market, which while it was very delicious, it didn’t really fit the bill as according to my eating habits over the past week. I slept on the bus for a ling time but I kept on dreaming about what kind of sandwich I was going to get from the rest stop. We got off the bus for our restroom/food break and we were surprised with a tour of a vineyard and a wine tasting! We had a meal too that consisted of cheese, salad, break, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salami, prosciutto, lasagna, soup and biscotti. Biscotti comes from the word biscuit, which means “baked twice”, because if you actually makes biscuits correctly you are supposed to flip them over and cook them again so they are crispy on both sides. We tried 10 wines. And they weren’t small glasses either. The guy spoke what he called “crazy” English and he kept refilling our glasses if we liked a particular wine that we tried. We learned how to properly taste, hold, and smell wine. Another cool part of this tasting was seeing which kinds of food we liked best with the different kinds of wine that we were trying. We tried truffle oil, but I knew that I liked that already. What I didn’t know was how much I actually liked truffle oil! It almost felt wrong because it tasted so good. We tried spicy olive oil, and balsamic vinegar that had been aged 30 years. WE also learned that when ordering for 2 people, you don’t order a bottle of wine, you order by the glass. WE played a very animated game of catch phrase on the way back to Rome. When we got to Rome we did the important things, like get suppli, a pasta dinner, and more gelato. Tomorrow we leave :[[[[
Friday- March 8th, 2013
Today we had to wake up to go to the airport. I am sad that we have to leave, but there is also something comforting about knowing that you are going home. I could have spent a few more weeks here though and been extremely content. The only problem is that I would probably have to buy new pants very soon. We got to the airport extremely early, which is better than getting there extremely late I suppose. We had a lot of time to shop around, so I got some lunch, and then spent all of my extra change on bueno bars. I had a lot of extra change. The cool thing about these planes was that they had televisions on the backs of the seats so you could watch movies if you didn’t want to sleep. I did want to sleep for a while though, but when I woke up I watched Argo and Here Comes the Boom. Touching down in Philadelphia was an incredible feeling. It was so nice to know that we made it back to the States safely and there is something comforting about knowing that most of the people that you are about to encounter speak your language as their first language. When we got to Charlotte though, I could hardly contain myself. I had just had a week that was filled to the brim with stories and I could not WAIT to see my mom and tell her all about it. This trip was well planned, and I felt I could not have spent a better week in Italy on my own.