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Roma: La Cittá Eterna

By Laura Hough

The second weekend in Italy, I went to Rome with three other girls from my program. Rome is a 2-3 hour train ride from Perugia, and we left at 7 a.m. This was my first experience on the Italian train system, and I was really glad one of the girls I was with had done it before. For a regional train, you don’t even have to buy your tickets early. Just check times online, then get there about half an hour ahead to purchase the ticket. We did make a little mistake — online, tickets were from 9 euro, and we ended up paying 19 euro. We were, however, on a nicer (read: quieter and smoother) train with plugins and comfy seats. Our train ride home on Sunday was much cheaper, but a lot noisier and less comfy. For Italian trains, always, always, always remember to validate your ticket — you do it after you purchase it, in a little machine in the station or out by the tracks. If you don’t, you get a fine. In Rome, we saw St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, and the Borghese Gallery, where many of Bernini’s sculptures are housed. Unfortunately, it was a little rainy, so that definitely dampened our spirits, as well as kept us from doing more of the outdoor activities. We still had excellent pizza and bruschetta one night, and some delicious gelato as well. I really liked Rome, and I can’t wait to visit again. It’s definitely at the top of my list of amazing cities so far. Hope you enjoy my pictures!

St. Peter's Basilica is breathtaking! Even the pictures don't do it justice. Definitely a must-see in Rome, in Italy, in the world.

St. Peter’s Basilica is breathtaking! Even the pictures don’t do it justice. Definitely a must-see in Rome, in Italy, in the world.
We climbed to the top of the cupola, and saw the entire city laid out below us. Definitely worth the 5 euro and 500 steps.

We climbed to the top of the cupola, and saw the entire city laid out below us. Definitely worth the 5 euro and 500 steps.

My favorite picture so far- a night shot of the basilica.

My favorite picture so far- a night shot of the Basilica.

Every where I went in Rome, I felt like everything I saw was ancient. These ruins (which, my apologies, I have no idea what they're called) were in a  piazza surrounded by shops.

Every where I went in Rome, I felt like everything I saw was ancient. These ruins (which, my apologies, I have no idea what they’re called) were in a piazza surrounded by shops.

The Vatican Museum has a whole room dedicated to vehicles the Pope has ridden in through history. This was my favorite.

The Vatican Museum has a whole room dedicated to vehicles the Pope has ridden in through history. This was my favorite.

The famous statue is in the Vatican Museum. I'm not very well informed on the subject of art history, but even I recognized this.

The famous statue of “The Thinker” is in the Vatican Museum. I’m not very well informed on the subject of art history, but even I recognized this one.

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The beginning

By Stephanie Hornstra

Packing — my absolute least favorite activity to partake in. Needless to say packing and I have been butting heads for quite some time. So naturally, I began the process of packing for my five-month trip, the night before I left. DO. NOT. DO. THIS. I was on track until we weighed my enormous suitcase in at whopping 55 pounds, five pounds over the limit. I had practically air-tight sealed it with clothes, none of which I was willing to part with, so I was forced to unpack my entire bag and re-pack it into a lighter, smaller suitcase. Keep in mind this is all about an hour before we needed to leave for the airport. Finally, I accomplished the impossible feat of squeezing my clothes into a smaller bag and managed to make it to the airport on time, thus enabling my inner procrastinator. It was a close call, but I made it! And with everything I needed (except for headphones, all of my summer shoes, a backpack and swimsuits…). Moral of the story: Plan ahead, save yourself the time and stress!

After falling victim to the airport scam of overpriced headphones ($25.00? Is that even legal?), I boarded my flight. Ironically, the choice of movie was “Taken 2.” I’m sure the people over at US Airways all had a good laugh about it. The flight was long and boring — let’s just say if solitaire became an Olympic event, I’d take gold. The Amsterdam airport is clean and modern; everything was well labeled in both Dutch and English so I had no trouble getting around. The Dutch are extremely helpful and have very good English, they were happy to answer any questions I had. It took two trains, a bus and a short walk to get to where I live in Maastricht. I am still sore from lugging my bags around and my shoulder is slightly bruised (wimp alert).

When I finally made it to my room, I was so exhausted that I took a nap on my bare mattress using my coat as a blanket. It’s no penthouse suite, but my room is nice and spacious. They gave us a short tour of the city, being the oldest city in the Netherlands, it is home to a lot of beautiful architecture. We had a dinner for all of the exchange students afterwards; it’s amazing how many of us are here and from all over the world! Most can tell I’m American the second I open my mouth, as if it was written across my forehead. I’m trying to work on that.

Today I asked the info desk for a map so I could explore the city, they gave me the smallest map they could find so that I wouldn’t look like a “tourist.” It was raining, so the second I went outside the map was useless, but at least I didn’t look like a tourist, right? Not to mention the streets have names like “Wijnandsstraat” and “Vijverdalseweg,” so asking for directions turns into a lot of “Wijnand-what?” and “Vijver-what?” It made me think, how did people ever survive before Google Maps? Finding my way around has been my biggest challenge. That, or finding out that Europe doesn’t have Netflix. However, I’m managing. Pictures to come soon on a day that isn’t pouring rain!

Destination 2: Carpe diem (aka YOLO in Istanbul)

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By John Mitchell

Teşekkür ederim teşekkür ederim” (pronounced Tes-shae-koo-lah) I repeated many times to random Turkish folks who helped me navigate the metropolitan area known as Istanbul, Turkey. Teşekkür ederim, the equivalent of the English “Thank you,” was the only phrase I knew to aid me in my carpe diem (YOLO for you young’ins) moment. I had a nine-hour layover in the city where east meets west and I was going to take advantage! Without proper pre-planning, I left the airport and began to explore (whoo spontaneity!).  The main destination I wished to see was the Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı) , which is one of Turkey’s most popular destinations. The Grand Bazaar is like a huge outside mall, spanning thousands of acres. With stands selling Persian rugs, spices, jewelry, shoes , leather jackets and tea sets — it has it all. But…. I’m getting too far ahead of myself; let me discuss my journey to the Grand Bazaar.

There are a few factors you must know about me: 1) I’m directionally challenged, 2) I’m directionally challenged, 3) I can’t read or speak Turkish PLUS I’m directionally challenged… Put these components together and it equates to a pretty “adventurous” experience.  Before you can leave the airport in a foreign land, you must purchase a visa which gives you access… And it took me forever to find it. After you purchase your visa, you must stand in line and wait for the people to stamp your visa — it was a lonnnnnggggg line. Once you get your visa approved, you probably want to put your bags in a locker, so you won’t have to carry them around in the city and attract attention, right? Well, herein lies what took the longest time to communicate to the airport people. I kept saying, “Does the airport have a locker, so I may put my bags (lifts bags to express a point) there as I travel Istanbul?” Sounds like a simple inquiry, but each answer would take me around the entire airport on a wild goose chase! I finally found the lockers but, of course, I had to find a money converter first. This was the point where I was beginning to become quite agitated with the airport people and just everything in general! Luckily, I repeated to myself “You are a foreigner in a new place, you don’t speak or read Turkish, so don’t fret, all will be fine — be optimistic, this is a learning experience.” The words worked, I converted some money (the U.S. dollar is stronger than the Turkish liras!) and I walked out of the airport ready for the Grand Bazaar!

Istanbul is just like New York City; there are many metros (subways) to take you to your destination, people are always in a rush or busy, and the city never sleeps. I found my way to the Metro and read the directions on how to purchase a coin to ride the metro. The English directions weren’t helpful to me, so I just watched someone else put their Turkish coins in a machine and followed suit. Around this time, I’m feeling pretty good about myself and my steady conquest of this foreign land. Unfortunately, my Cloud Nine mentality would soon evaporate by what seemed to be a million subways! I walked to a random Turk and said “Grand Bazaar” in a forced accent and he pointed to the subway on the right. I jumped on this subway and waited to get off on a transit station, so I could switch subways and get to my destination. Getting off, I saw a fence impeding my way to the next train, which meant I needed to buy another coin. I proceeded to walk toward the machine. As I got closer, along comes a little child, who walks up to me, points to the machine and says, “I help.” I didn’t need help, so I did the universal head-shake for “No,” but he ignored and dragged me to the machine. He placed my coins in the machine, pressed the button and out came my coin. I should have known there was a catch because he then asks for money. I began speaking in French, pretending not to know what he meant, but he stuck out his hand and again said “Money.” My irritation rose and I declined and walk away (you have to be firm and tough in these situations, I realized). When I past the fence, there were two subways. I found a police officer and asked for the Grand Bazaar. He pointed me to one metro and I jumped on. I must have been on that subway for a good 15 minutes when it finally hit me that I had missed my stop. I got off that metro and jumped on another going the opposite way. This continued for another 15 minutes and I finally arrived at the Grand Bazaar!

The Grand Bazaar was packed with people of many different walks of life bargaining and scavenging for the best deals. I didn’t stop, stare or get close to any item more than 15 seconds because the merchants are like flames and I am a moth, being lured in for the kill! Also, because I couldn’t speak the language, I chose to window shop instead of buy, thinking I’d be cheated out of a deal. This went on for a good 30 minutes and when I looked up from the many items, I realized I had not been watching where I was going. I was lost yet again. My window-shopping turned into a hunt for the exit because it is a labyrinth and it was about to close! I honestly felt like Theseus, racing for the exit before the Minotaur (aka “time”) caught me. I did what I knew best from the previous experiences — follow others, which led me to the exit! As I was walking toward the exit, I decided I would wait until I returned in May when I would be mentally prepared to shop like a mom racing for the last Christmas ham. The trip back to the airport was easy, since I had learned (through trial and error) to find my way.

I learned a few things about this spontaneous adventure: 1) Sometimes you shouldn’t live life in serendipity — you should prepare for things, 2) This was the first time I’ve ever felt like a foreigner — confused and gullible in a new place, 3) you have to keep a positive attitude and joke about your mistakes or you’ll surely fall victim to frustration and depression, 4) I should learn more Turkish words, 5) The Grand Bazaar is a cool place, just don’t get lost! Onward, I hopped on my last plane to my final destination: Amman, Jordan. I cannot wait to tell you my adventures there!

Teşekkür ederim for reading my posts!

Positives and negatives

By Laura Hough

Despite Italy being a Western European country, there are some differences that seem pretty strange when you first arrive. A few examples:

  • Energy (electricity) in Italy is much more expensive, so they don’t use as much here. That means only keeping the heat in your apartment on for about seven hours a day. This makes your apartment pretty chilly.
  • Most Italians also don’t have dryers, because of the energy cost. My jeans took a week to dry in the chilly damp weather. That was a little bit of a setback for me.
  • Pizza is everywhere here. It’s acceptable to grab some “al taglio” (by the slice) or “da porta via” (literally, ‘to take to the street’) at lunch, dinner or anytime in between. Pizza is usually eaten with a fork and knife though, especially at dinner.
  • Italians eat late, by American standards. Most places don’t open for dinner until 7:30 p.m., and don’t get busy ’til 8:30 p.m.
  • Italians have excellent coffee  I mean way better than Starbucks coffee. But be careful when you’re ordering  “un café” will get you a shot of espresso, not a cup of coffee. “Un caffe americano” is a little closer  it’s basically watered down espresso, which is more like a cup of joe from Starbucks. But don’t order “un latte” unless you enjoy drinking warm milk!

Most of the differences are small, but they start to add up, especially when you add the language barrier. I’m really glad I knew some Italian coming in, because otherwise it might have been too overwhelming, instead of a (mostly) interesting challenge. It’s handy to know some food words, like when you’re at the grocery store or ordering at a restaurant. And just about the time you think you’re getting the language, someone speaks really quickly and you don’t catch any of it.

It gets a little frustrating. The best way to look at it, I’ve decided, is to concentrate on why I decided to come — to experience a new culture and learn the language. If everything here was the same as it was back home, then studying abroad wouldn’t really have a point, would it? Staying positive is difficult when you just want to microwave the tea, instead of boiling the water on the stove and waiting and waiting for it to get hot enough, or you just want some French onion dip to go with your chips. It’s even more difficult when people around you insist on being negative about the differences.

It’s definitely up to you, though. I have had to make a conscous decision and effort to embrace the differences, and take them as adventures, not awful experiences. Those are the reasons I came, after all. I think this attitude will get me a lot further and give me better experiences than being angry. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Ciao, ciao from Perugia!