a closing thought. or seventeen.

What am I doing right now? I am sitting in an airport in Newark, watching August Rush, sipping a Heineken, enjoying my layover before hopping on an eight hour flight to Munich, Germany. After spending an entire day in Munich, I will board another long flight to New Delhi – my home for the summer. But that’s not what this blog is about. I can’t talk about that here. I need to close out my Italian adventure before I move on to this other crazy escapade and forget all the amazing things I learned last semester.

Last we talked, I was sitting next to the Colosseum in Rome (or reminiscing about sitting next to the Colosseum in Rome, I suppose). It was a beautiful Spring day, and I was at peace. I left the scene completely immersed in my own thoughts and quietly took the train back to Orvieto. It is always wonderful to come home to an apartment full of fun-loving, incredible people. I love that I was so quickly able to call that place my home and my roommates my family. After all the chaos of travel, no matter how fun and inspiring, I always felt so happy – so relieved – to just be home with the people I love. Anyway, that night we set up a final ‘family dinner’ with a new crew. We invited our professors – Alpa, Tony, Marina, and Serena – over to our apartment for a final meal all together (although I think I used the term ‘last supper’ at least three more times before I actually left Italy).

Kirby had been cooking all day and was loving it. I helped a little bit when I got back but could take very little credit when it was all said and done. I’m trying to remember what all we had – I know we started with garlic knots and salad, and then I think we had chicken with olives and rice? And wine, of course. Oh, and Marina supplied the dessert – a sort of Italian candied fruit cake. I don’t remember the name, but you must toss aside all negative thoughts brought to mind when someone mentions fruit cake in America and trust me when I say, it was absolutely delicious.

Honestly, the whole night was really good. It was so nice to spend time with my professors outside of the school setting. Despite our differences in the classroom, I truly appreciate each of them as people. Tony was hilariously awkward in a room of girls, but just as fun as I remember him being in the beginning of our trip. Alpa loosened up a little bit and shared plenty of information about India with me, which I am sure I will be very, very grateful for here in about 24 hours. And then Serena and Marina were just as wonderful as ever. They are seriously two of the nicest, most sincere people I have ever met. I can’t stand the thought of never seeing them again. It doesn’t seem possible that you can gain such respect and build such a rapport with people, then say goodbye for good. I don’t like that at all.

283844_10200206693108420_1741678207_n << the girls with Serena and Marina.

Once pictures were taken and we said our goodbyes for the evening, the five of us girls got dolled up and met everyone else out at Clandestino. The highlights of the night had to be getting serenaded with Beatles songs by the town drunk and Ashley letting a stray cat into our apartment. I also took a picture with a giant lemon. Yes, a lemon. It was huge. So that was fun.

Ashley and Brendan left for Barcelona the next morning, so we started Friday, May 10th with family photos on our front ‘porch’ and goodbyes. Kirby and I went for a walk on the Rupe. It was as beautiful as ever. I didn’t realize how much it transformed over our four months stay until I looked through my old pictures a few weeks ago – completely different, but equally as exquisite. The goodbyes continued with our final program dinner at a little place in Orvieto that I didn’t know existed. We ate antipasti after antipasti, gnocchi with truffle sauce, cured beef, and a rice-pudding-esque dessert. It was absolutely delicious (as if you were expecting me to say anything else). Tony got up and made a semi-emotional speech, and we gave our last hugs to our Italian professors. I almost cried, which doesn’t happen that often – or didn’t used to… darn it, Italy. The group meandered through town to Bar Duomo and spent the next couple hours there. I am compiling a catalogue of all the people in my Italian story, so I made quite an effort to make everyone uncomfortable with my camera throughout the course of the night. I had to remind them they would thank me in the long run.

954872_10200206876112995_1383603094_n << the fam.

We took one last look at the Duomo at night. I am in love with that thing. It will forever be stamped in my memory – forever making me feel so small, so welcome, so fortunate, so inspired… what else can I say?

(No, I actually have more to say. My apologies.)

Maryam and Cassiday left the next morning for their Eurotrip – leaving Kirby and I as the only remaining Vicolo Pianzola residents. I went to the market for the last time and said goodbye to all my favorites. I also insisted on getting pictures of them for my catalogue. Naturally, some people were more enthusiastic about this request than others. The goofy guys we always bought blood oranges from insisted I get in the picture with them. They made me hold a melon, ha. Then they started talking about ‘la bella figura,’ and the main guy tried asking me out to lunch. I decided it was probably time for me to say my last goodbye at that point, as fun as they were – they didn’t need any more encouragement. I took pictures of the man with the dried fruit, the meat and cheese guys, the girl from Scarponi, and my main vegetable squeeze – although I couldn’t forget their faces if I tried.

Kirby and I toured Pozzo della Cava after the market. I can’t believe we almost didn’t go. It is this cool, privately owned underground cave system with modern interventions and a deep Etruscan well. I was thoroughly impressed. I think I mentioned wanting to live there at one point. The little old man in charge didn’t speak a lick of English, but he was adorable. He made sure we stood on the special glass window in the floor, exposing an open shoot that went tens of feet down into the ground, before we left.

I spent the afternoon on a long walk by myself. I had to venture through the old cemetery and to the overlook with the view of Orvieto once more, since the last time we went I didn’t have a memory card in my camera. It was storming in the distance, so I didn’t stay long – but the sky was incredible. It was a perfectly beautiful day and Orvieto never looked better. The green rolling hills, the tufa rock, the stone buildings, the tile roofs, the bell tower, the Duomo towering over it all… remember when I said it doesn’t seem fair that something that beautiful exists? Well, I still feel that way. It pains me to think that most people won’t get a chance to stand there and see it all for themselves. I am so lucky, and I don’t know why. Why do I get to be so insanely blessed? I wish I could tell you. All I know is that that view on that day put itself in my internal memory book. It’s not going anywhere. I get chills just thinking about it. Oh and there were yellow flowers everywhere! Add those to your visual. They are important.

984069_10200270503783647_193246036_n << my love.

Those of us stragglers still in town had our last gelato together by the Duomo later that day. I took more pictures and did some souvenir shopping. I wanted to go to the olive wood shop on the ‘Magic of Oz’ street, but it was closed – so I went to the little shop right next to there on Via del Duomo. Fate was at work as I ended up meeting the sweetest girl working there. She was so nice. I hope that even once in my life I have made that kind of an impression on a person in such a short meeting. I can’t even explain it accurately, but her kindness and enthusiasm just made my day. I have her name written down somewhere. I need to find that. What a great girl she was.

Following my shopping spree, I ventured to the west end of the cliff to watch the sunset. After the storms earlier in the day, the sky was filled with big puffy clouds – perfect for the perfect sunset. I was supposed to meet Kirby and Nadav, but we didn’t communicate well and I ended up watching it alone. It was absolutely perfect. The clouds were huge and pink, the sunset was clear, the grass was green. The way the light hit the walls of the surrounding buildings is something I can’t describe. You just have to see it. I don’t know what it was about that specific night, but the colors were so vibrant. It was a phenomenal sunset and more than I had ever hoped for.

306937_10200270508023753_793064404_n << the sunset.

The sun finally went down as it usually does, and I made my way back to the apartment to pack. I hadn’t brought my key with me, but I was supposed to be with Kirby so I didn’t think it would matter. Then, of course, we didn’t meet up – so I spent a good couple of hours on our porch/at Nadav’s house (Nadav wasn’t home. JC was a very gracious host) waiting. In the meantime, I occupied myself with slow shutter photography, drawing my name in lights and such. It was entertaining. And then Kirby finally found her way home, and I started packing my life away. I hate packing. I have never been good at it, and although I have gotten much better in the past few months, I will never do it ahead of time. Ever. So I stayed up later that I should have and got business done.

The alarm went off around 5:30 am as Kirby and I struggled to fulfill our promise to each other to watch the sun rise. For a short time I thought we might skip the sunset and go back to bed, but at the last minute we convinced ourselves to go. I threw on some tennis shoes, said forget the bra, and literally ran out the door. We had to run the whole way to make it to the east end in time for the sun to break the horizon, but we made it. Remember when I said my first view of the Duomo actually took my breath away? Well, I lost my breath here, too (and not from running… well, not entirely). We came up the cobblestone hill that marks my half-way point usually, and as we came over the top – this view unfolded. The sun hadn’t quite peaked yet, but in the dawn of the morning enormous, thick clouds of fog were rolling through the valley. I remember so vividly the first time I experienced the fog like that in Orvieto with Ashley on our very first run, and ever since I have been wanting to see it like that again. As God would have it, there it was on our last morning. Look at the picture below, and then multiply your astonishment by 10,000 – that was me. I couldn’t believe our luck. It was like we were floating above the clouds, like we were on top of the world. My heart was I suppose. It was a moment of pure joy, and I was so glad Kirby was there to share it with me.

970317_10200270526744221_78375394_n << and the sunrise.

It took us awhile to tear ourselves away, but we did. We walked through Piazza Cahen, reminiscing about our first impressions of Orvieto – remembering getting off the bus in that very spot, in the rain, and not being at all impressed. It didn’t take us long to realize how wrong we were. We spent the next hour or so walking down the Corso, and then by the Duomo for the last time. That early morning walk was so cool because no one was out yet. It was like we had the whole town to ourselves – like a movie set. We stared at the Duomo for a long time, took our last pictures, and turned and walked away without looking back. I promised Kirby right then that I would be back one day. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but I will go back. I have to go back.

We made our ‘last supper’ lunch at like 9:30 am with everything we had left in the fridge. I think we ended up with pasta and pesto next to a potato hash of sorts. My dad would have been proud. I can’t lie – it wasn’t bad – but I was so full afterwards, nauseous almost. I suppose it is possible I was nauseous about leaving Orvieto. Perhaps it was a combination of the food and the emotions. Whatever it was, we powered through and gathered up all that we could, saying another goodbye. One last glance at the most perfect little front door on the most perfect little Italian street, and we boarded a bus to the funicolare. One train ticket later and we were on our way to Rome for the very last time.

It didn’t feel real. It just felt like another weekend trip that would end with me returning to Orvieto, but I was fooling myself. It was the end of an incredible journey, and I can tell you now four weeks later – that part of it finally feels very real. The ‘it being over’ part. The train zipped on down the line, and Orvieto was gone.

Kirby, Nadav, Gretchen, and I booked a hotel on the beach in Ostia Lido where RJ and I had been the week before for our last night. We spent far too long walking around looking for our hotel in the heat, as my bags were digging into my hands and shoulders. You could say I was less than thrilled, but we finally (and yes, I mean FINALLY) made it. I don’t know how we scored beach side rooms for so cheap, but we did. We spent the rest of the day walking along the water in the sand, then ordered some pizzas and ate our true last supper on our balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. Kirby suggested we sit on the pier to watch the sunrise, so we did. I wore sweatpants in public for the first time in four months that night, and I didn’t care. It was awesome – as was the gelato that followed. I had the very best limone gelato of the entire semester at a little shop on our way back to our beds. Thank you, Italy.

970224_10200270578265509_1623639271_n << the last supper.

The next morning came quickly. A cab ride and a security check later, and we were on our way home.

It really happened that quickly. Just as abruptly as it began, my semester was over – and I could not believe it. I still couldn’t believe it when I met my family in KC. I’m sure I was tired, but I was kind of in a daze. It wasn’t until we were driving home after eating at Famous Dave’s BBQ, as I was whispering to myself “I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to be here” that I realized what had happened.

I had gone, and I had returned. I was different. It was almost like I was seeing America for the first time. Everything that used to be normal felt foreign, and I didn’t feel like this ‘new’ me belonged. And since no one I was around was able to see the change that I felt, I couldn’t expect them to understand. It was hard. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me obviously, as I had just had the most incredible experience of my life. I just needed them to acknowledge that I was adjusting, that I was seeing things differently and trying to process it all.

Days went by, and the transition got easier. I learned to re-appreciate, or maybe appreciate for the first time, certain comforts of home. I got to see people that I had missed for so long, and I was able to share my journey with them, reminding myself of all the blessings I encountered along the way. And now looking back, it is hard to understand how I was ever sad.

I am so incredibly blessed, so incredibly fortunate, so incredibly loved. I cannot be sad about that. The promises that God has for my life, the work He has already done – it is all part of my story. My pages are being filled. Tomorrow is blank, but not for long, and as I take each day – one at a time – beautiful, beautiful truths are revealed. This life is so beautiful. My life is so beautiful.

I know that not everyone is going to get to see the things I have seen. I know that not everyone will be able to relate to what I felt while I was away and when I returned, and that’s okay. I don’t expect people to see the world like I do, but I do expect you to take every opportunity to see the world through your own eyes in all its vibrancy. Don’t let it pass you by, don’t forget to seize opportunities, don’t overlook your blessings. The world we live in is so insanely amazing. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t take people for granted, or conversations, or relationships.

Everything has its time, so as sad I was to say goodbye to Italy – I wouldn’t have done anything else with those four months. I have seen my God be faithful over and over again, so I know that His plan for my life is going to continue to unfold. Just as it should.

You may have the universe if I may have Italy? Possibly. Or maybe we should both just take tomorrow, wherever we each may be, and love it for all it is worth. My tomorrow is in India, so I guess I’ll start with that. What will you do?

Ciao per ora, miei amici. I love you more than you could ever possibly know.

Xoxo, Lily

 

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a family vacation.

I should probably apologize for being so MIA the past few weeks. Truth be told, I was not missing at all but taking train after train from town to town to meet up with the beautiful people I am privileged enough to call my family. I am spoiled, and I guess my sister visiting in March was not enough (although I loved every minute of it, and it would have, in fact, been enough) – so, Saturday, April 20th, following our trip to Siena, I boarded a train to Firenze Santa Maria Novella – destination, McDonalds. It was here under the golden arches that I met my parents – still smiling despite their very long and exhausting day of travel across the ocean blue.

It was wonderful to see them in my part of the world, yet incredibly surreal. In truth, it didn’t actually seem like it had been that long since I saw them at home. We have made an effort to Skype regularly since I left in January, and I think having accomplished that, we made it through the semester pretty well. Nevertheless, it was great to see them. Hugs were exchanged, and then the lessons began – starting with ordering train tickets, reading departure boards, and validating tickets. We somehow got separated during the ‘reading departure boards’ segment, and my mother and I were frantically running around the station in search of my father. We met up by our platform just in time to board our train to Pisa, thank goodness. It was an interesting start to their vacation. I suppose it would not be the true Italian experience without a few frenzied panic sessions in the train station.

My parents are incredible troopers, so we went straight from their arrival in Florence to see the famous complex in Pisa. The leaning tower is in fact still leaning, and in conjunction with the church and baptistery – the whole scene was really quite picturesque. I had to keep reminding myself that this was the first of Italy that my parents were seeing. I like having to be reminded of that. I like trying to see things through their eyes, forcing myself to appreciate the beauty of this place over and over again… forcing myself to not become complacent.

935715_10200123594351003_1210687081_n << Pisa.

61953_10200123592150948_443072012_n << top of the tower, taking it all in.

We climbed the tower because you can’t go to Pisa and not climb the tower. Obviously. I found it interesting that you didn’t really feel the lean from the inside, despite how obvious it is when you view it from afar. We also went into the cathedral and took a few touristy pictures because you can’t go to Pisa and not take those pictures… Obviously. And then we stopped at a coffee shop with wireless and had the most incredible crepes. It was actually my first crepe of the semester, so I suppose I don’t have much to compare it to, but it was definitely the prettiest one I have seen.

60561_10200123595831040_881862863_n << gelato on top!

Crepes and coffee consumed, we made the short walk back to the train station and headed to – now one of my favorite places in Italy – Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre literally means ‘five lands’ and consists of five beautiful, quaint towns built into the cliffs along an exquisitely rugged coastline. We stayed in the most perfect third floor apartment in Corniglia (the third town) overlooking the water, town, and terraced landscape. Corniglia is wonderful. It is probably the least populated of the five towns, and everyone there was so friendly. A tiny main street lined with small, sweet shops makes up the majority of the place – and I believe my parents fell in love almost immediately. I should mention that we arrived in Corniglia late Saturday evening, and the view from our place was unlike any I have seen – a view I will never forget. The moon was high in the sky and shining so brightly, reflecting off the ocean in the most ridiculous way. A few wispy clouds, a few lights scattered through the town… amazing.

I spent the next morning on the balcony – with a blanket, a cup of tea, my charcoal pencils, and some water color paper – sketching out the scene in front of me. I was (and still am, quite honestly) determined to create something beautiful with charcoal and water color, so this was my beginning. My mom joined me, and we sat for quite some time, enjoying the serenity of it all.

The rest of the day was filled with hiking from town to town. We started with the long hikes to Vernazza and Monterosso. The trails said they were closed, but when I asked the Italian version of a park ranger – he said, “Well you can see with your own eyes that people are going anyways. Why are you asking me if it’s okay?” So, basically the Italians don’t care what you do, despite the very clear signs that say otherwise. Just don’t blame them if you get knocked off a cliff by a landslide. Deal. So we went, and I am so thankful we did. The whole trail was insanely beautiful, unlike any hike I have ever experienced – winding along the cliff edge by the water.

Although more touristy, I think Vernazza was my favorite of the towns. It is a colorful, vibrant place on the water (of course). We went up in an old tower on the little peninsula that juts out in the water to steal another magnificent view. This was one of those moments that will forever be ingrained in my memory. There are several from the past semester, I realize, but you know how some pictures you just can’t get out of your head? This is one of them. Like a mental postcard that I don’t intend to send.

400614_10200123627431830_1821645231_n << Vernazza.

Monterosso was beautiful, too – more low-key. The hike from Vernazza to Monterosso was the most difficult, I think. There were a lot of steep climbs and steps, much to my mother’s hurting knees’ dismay. That aside, it was pretty incredible. Parts of the hike felt jungle-esque, yet we also got to experience the terraced vineyards and farms. By the time we got to Monterosso, we were fighting the sun and decided to take the train back to the far end to complete the last two hikes.

Nature had other plans, however, as the remaining two trails were closed due to recent landslides. It was a disappointing discovery, but I suppose we should have been grateful that we were even able to hike at all – considering the other two trails were supposed to be closed as well. We spent a little time exploring Rio Maggiore, then took the train back to Corniglia. We found a place on the little main street willing to sell us salad mix and a tomato, and another place that graciously hunted down some balsamic vinegar for us – then heated up some leftover pizza and made a feast of it. I had to leave the next morning (Monday) at 5:00 am to catch several trains back to Orvieto in an attempt to not miss class, so we called it a night shortly after finishing our dinner.

My dad walked me down to the train station in the dark early the next morning. We missed the gate and ended up walking alongside and then across the tracks like a couple of hoodlums. Even better, the automatic ticket machine was out of order, so I didn’t have any way to buy a ticket. The train pulled up, and I frantically flagged down an employee on board who assured me it was fine, and I was on my way – after a very quick goodbye to my father. Corniglia to La Spezia, La Spezia to Pisa, Pisa to Florence, Florence to Orvieto… I arrived a good 6 hours later, tired and unmotivated, and went straight to studio.

I suppose the next week was filled with school stuff. I waited so long to write about this, and I tried so hard not to let school rule my life in Italy, that that part of it all is a little blurry. I do know that my Marco journal was due first. I printed off all my blogs (up to Siena) and created a scrapbook of sorts with all my tickets, sketches, maps, pressed flowers, etc. Several weeks later I would find out that my professor wasn’t as impressed as I thought he might be – I guess it wasn’t really what he wanted us to do, but it is something that I will forever treasure, something that I am so happy I dedicated the time to complete.

Friday, April 26th found me and my fellow K-Staters in Perugia – the capital city of Umbria and home to several Italian universities. I remember our Italian language professor at K-State introducing Perugia as the ‘sexiest little city in Italy.’  I did not really get this impression, maybe it had something to do with the heavy wind and rain or the fact that we didn’t stay to experience the nightlife, but Perugia was delightful. It is small and quaint with a great main street, a famous fountain, and a really cool underground market called Via Bagliona – built in the 1500’s for Pope Paul III. I guess it actually serves multiple functions today – there are museum and store spaces and people selling antiques, chocolates, books, etc. It is really very cool – a wonderful example of modern reuse. You can’t recreate a place that beautiful, yet it would be a shame for it to go to waste.

947119_10200171103938713_662259162_n << the underground market.

I bought two more rings in Perugia to add to my ever-growing collection and ate some gelato. We met at the mini-metro – this awesome little light rail type thing with miniature cars that run every five minutes or so – to go to a square by the train station. To be honest I don’t even remember what it was called… I just remember that I was super underwhelmed and unimpressed. It definitely was not my professors’ shining moment.

It was here that I parted from the group and got on my umpteenth train to Rome to meet my brother RJ! I waited for awhile in the train station by our designated meeting spot, worried that something had gone wrong when he didn’t show up right away. It is in moments like that that I realize how frustrating not having a phone can be. We literally had no means of communicating with each other – I was just hoping and praying he would eventually get there. And he did finally. It was great to see him, again somewhat surreal to have my family in Italy, but so good.

RJ had booked a hostel for us in Rome a few nights before, so we made our way there, only to be told that they “didn’t get our reservation” and were completely full. They tried to blame it on the booking website, but really they messed up and wouldn’t admit it. We spent a good hour trying to find another place, turns out it was a holiday weekend in Rome and almost everything was full, but we finally found a room in a not inexpensive place by the Trevi Fountain. A couple metro stops and a decent walk later, we found ourselves in a tiny, stuffy, HOT, unventilated room on the fourth floor of Hotel Accademia. The best part was when we got there and found the door to our room already open… or the best part might have been the safe that didn’t work but had enough power to beep incessantly as we followed the posted directions. Not a great first impression, Rome.

We were, fortunately, able to find some good late night food. It had been so long since either of us had eaten that we ordered enough food for six people, then left very uncomfortably full. RJ ordered an incredible looking pizza – covered in zucchini, prosciutto, mushrooms, and hard boiled eggs. Yes, eggs. I guess the night wasn’t a total loss.

Following a far-from-restful sleep (I swear it was 85 degrees in that room), the two us boarded another train bound for Florence to meet the ‘rents. Although it rained most of the day, we toughed it out and walked across the Ponte Vecchio to visit the Boboli Gardens and Piti Palace. The gardens were immense; I don’t think we saw but half of them, but they were beautiful. Just like the villas from previous weeks, it was nice to depart from the typical museums and experience something designed outside. We also walked through the Galileo science museum (very cool), and got to see Galileo’s finger… weird.

308641_10200171141219645_174060269_n << there it is. a finger AND a tooth.

The plan was to go up in the dome of the Duomo, but I misread the hours and it was closed by the time we got there – so, we opted to go in the baptistery and up in the bell tower instead. Once again, despite the rain, the view from the top of the tower was exquisite. I LOVE Florence from above. The colors that I raved about after my very first trip to Florence – the reds, the pink, the oranges, the yellows – seemed even more vibrant that day, and I could not help but think it might be the last time I would experience Florence in that way. The mosaics in the baptistery were ridiculously impressive as well, so much so that I thought they were paintings at first. I cannot even begin to imagine the amount of time it would take to put something like that together. Or the patience. I don’t have either of those things – the time or the patience – nor the desire or the skill to try.

417907_10200171144259721_583403311_n << Florence.

We ate dinner at a place recommended by Rick Steves – my mother’s best friend (my dad just calls him Steve). They had an entire truffle menu, which was awesome. I ate potato stuffed pasta with duck and truffle sauce. It was fan-freaking-tastic. We also ordered an artichoke appetizer that I really would like the recipe to. I have never had artichokes that delicious. Ever.

Sunday morning Mom and I went to the Accademia museum, home of Michelangelo’s famous David statue. I hadn’t had the chance to go yet, but I knew it was something that I had to do before I left Italy. RJ and my dad were supposed to meet us there, but we didn’t end up meeting up with them. We didn’t communicate very well I guess, and they ended up at the Palazzo Vecchio where the copy of the statue is. Anyhow, the museum was amazing. All of Michelangelo’s work is incredible. How it is possible to create something out of stone with a chisel and a hammer… I can’t understand it. And it wasn’t just one individual capable of such amazing work at that time – there were many, many artists. It is mind blowing.

RJ and I took an 11-something train to Rome in the hopes of attending the Roma vs. Siena soccer (excuse me, futbol) game. After walking around in the heat for far too long trying to find the ticket booth, and then waiting in line for an obscene amount of time (in the heat) to get to the ticket counter, we were informed that we couldn’t buy tickets because we didn’t both have a photo ID with us. Apparently you need an ID to purchase tickets as well as to get into the stadium. I of course told RJ I hadn’t needed my ID for anything except hostels since I had been in the country. Go me. Needless to say, I wasn’t very happy, and RJ was that x 1000. We walked to the tram, walked to a restaurant, and ate our food in silence. I believe we spent the next couple hours walking around. We went by the Roma team store where there was a sign posted telling people not to forget their ID’s. Thanks for the heads up!

Another train ride later, and we were meeting my parents and stepping onto my home turf – it was Orvieto time. This was the part I was most excited about. Ever since I arrived in Orvieto in January, I knew my parents would love it. There have been so many moments throughout the semester where I couldn’t help but be a little sad my parents weren’t there with me, just because I knew how happy those moments would make them. But the time had come, and here they were! They were staying in B&B Michelangeli, not too far from my house, so I guided them there – a bit indirectly, but we made it. The owner of the place was the sweetest lady. She kept apologizing for not speaking English very well, although I thought she did just fine, and eager to please continued asking “it’s okay?” And it was. It was adorable and more than adequate for the three of them.

We ate at La Palomba, which means pigeon. It is supposed to be the best restaurant in Orvieto, and it did not disappoint. I introduced the family to vino Orvieto Classico, and we ordered a pigeon to share. Covered in a black sauce, it didn’t look as good as it tasted. It was pretty expensive (unnecessarily, I think), but delicious.

I had class that week, so the family spent a lot of time entertaining themselves. They rented a car and went to Assisi and Civita and also spent quite a bit of time in Orvieto seeing the sights and souvenir shopping. I made sure to introduce them to the best gelato(i) in town, my favorite little ‘fruta’ pastries from Scarponi, the baked apple pastries from Montanucci, my favorite salami and Pecorino cheese, Teresa’s fresh bread, the local blood oranges, and all the zucchini you could possibly eat.

Tuesday, after a fun (slash not fun at all) all-nighter, I turned in my seminar project for Tony. I had decided to study two of the entrances to the Rupe, so my boards consisted of a series of vignettes, two large water colors, and two dimensioned plans of each entrance and its approach – all water-colored. I was happy with the result. I wasn’t sure when I started if that would be the case, but I have no regrets. We also submitted our sketchbook, my prized possession, and I received my first and only compliment from Tony. I suppose that was an accomplishment.  I was weary of turning my sketchbook in at all because it was the one thing I was truly proud of, and I didn’t want him to taint my opinion of my work – but it all worked out.

Wednesday evening, my parents headed back to Rome. I stayed behind for a few hours to work on my studio project with Ashley, and then met them later that night. They ate pizza for dinner, but I wasn’t hungry, so I ordered pineapple. I think the waiter thought I was kidding. Nope, just the pineapple, thanks. It was divine.

Thursday morning’s schedule consisted of Vatican, Vatican, and more Vatican. We went on a three hour tour of the museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s basilica. Our tour guide was fabulous, as were Raphael’s ‘School of Athens,’ the Hall of Maps, and the Hall of Tapestries. The crowds, however, were obscene. Like KSU just beat KU in basketball, and we’re all going to kill each other to storm the court obscene. I could not believe it. Despite all that chaos, the Sistine Chapel was just as beautiful as I could have imagined, although very different than I thought. I don’t know why, but in my head all these years it looked very different. ‘The Last Judgement’ is amazing all by itself, but the ceiling is my favorite part. The giant-sized prophets around the periphery that appear to be three dimensional are amazing. Michelangelo thought painting was a silly art, a waste of time. He preferred sculpture, but I suppose you don’t get to tell the Pope ‘no’ – so he made his paintings as sculptural as possible. It is truly an amazing feat. An interesting fact, as you enter the Sistine Chapel, if you look behind you just above the door – there is a figure painted in Hell, getting his penis bitten off by a serpent. This man’s real name is Biagio da Cesena, an enemy of Michelangelo. He was a Vatican official that insisted ‘The Last Judgement’ was unfit for a sacred place. He tried to get the entire thing removed/painted over. Instead, Michelangelo embarrassed him in front of his colleagues, and the painting remained.

308590_10200171189620855_1135279846_n << hall of maps. hall of people.

Trying to see Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ in St. Peter’s basilica was interesting. They had it roped off at first because there were so many people. When they finally took the ropes down, hoards of people started shoving so violently that you had no choice but to follow the crowds. It was a whole mess of irony. We were in the biggest church in the world, surrounded by huge, beautifully yet unnecessarily adorned spaces, created by a group of people that preach humility, surrounded by masses of people who could care less about patience and selflessness, fighting to see something that depicts Mary holding her dying son… it was weird.

Going up in the dome was even more difficult that the first time I went with Rachel. SO many people. It took forever. The stairs weren’t even an issue because we literally inched up them, and then when we got to the top, you could not move. Once it was all said and done, we were fed up and ready for a change of pace. My mother swears she’ll never go back. I can’t say that my sentiments differ too drastically, although I am really glad I got to see it all at least once. If/when I return to Italy, I may be ready for round two. We’ll see how many years pass between now and then.

940999_10200171194180969_1667362284_n << still smiling?

I hopped a train back to Orvieto as quickly as I could. Ashley and I’s project was due the following day, and we were far from finished. I felt awful for abandoning her, no matter how many times she swore it was okay. We worked through the night, and presented something that wasn’t too terrible – although our critiques weren’t far from terrible. Part of me was sad because I really liked our project, the rest of me didn’t care. I was just happy to be finished and ready to sleep.

Saturday, following a good night’s sleep, our group took our last program trip to Val D’orcia – the Tuscan countryside. It was the perfect end to an incredible semester. Up to this point I had the privilege of seeing so many parts of Italy that were unexpected. When I pictured Italy before visiting, I didn’t envision mountains, canyons, or the rocky coast. I always pictured the green, rolling hillsides in Tuscany. And finally, here we were – seeing Italy just as I had always imagined.

We started the day at a peaceful Benedictine Monastery, Monte Oliveto. Marco said it is one of the most important Benedictine populations in all of Europe – one that has gained national recognition for its pharmacy, which has a variety of homemade remedies all made with natural herbs and local plants. I got decongestive juniper nasal drops, hoping and praying I had finally found something to make me feel better. Unfortunately, they made me gag and turned my snot brown (sorry for the graphic), and I did not feel better. I don’t suppose that decongestant contributed to their being famous.

From here we made our way to our last program lunch. We were presented a variety of yummy antipasti, homemade pasta with wild boar sauce, bread, cake, and wine. It wasn’t the very best meal I ate in Italy, but it was still note worthy. It was fun to sit down with everyone for a meal like we did our very first day in Orvieto. This time, however, we were able to reflect on everything we had done, as opposed to being nervously excited about what was to come.

Following lunch we made our way to the church of Sant Antimo, just a short walk from our luncheon location. Marco claims that Sant Antimo “speaks more to the medieval age than any professor ever could.” It was a beautiful, old stone church in the middle of a most insanely beautiful Italian landscape. We timed our visit so that we were able to sit and listen to the monks chant in the church. They do this every two hours, every single day. Talk about true dedication to something you believe in. I admire that commitment. I don’t know if I have ever committed myself to anything with that kind of fervor or longevity.

283949_10200201835866992_1388595804_n << Sant Antimo.

The last stop of the day was Pienza – another quaint Tuscan town with a character all its own. As we got off the bus, Marco stopped us and said in a way that only Marco can, “Please, prepare your cameras and your hearts.” A short walk past this moment, we found ourselves overlooking Tuscany in all its glory. Pienza prides itself on this view – a complete panorama of the countryside, protected by law. As I mentioned before, it was Italy just as I had always dreamed it. It was Italy just as I will always remember it. It was Italy in a single snapshot.

945424_10200201836907018_713343817_n << beautiful, right?

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Pienza itself, but it was a pleasant stay. I tried green apple gelato for the first time and whipped out a sketch in the central square – a very small, very compact gathering space. And then we went home.

I rode the train that night back to Rome, to spend one last night with my parents before wishing them goodbye the following morning. It was hard to see them leave. I had been anticipating their visit all semester, only to realize that them leaving meant my journey was almost over as well.

That Sunday the 5th, RJ finally got to go to his soccer game, and I spent the day seeking out and observing water fountains for my seminar project. I was studying how people use drinking fountains, the location of these fountains, the design, the accessibility, etc. in the hopes of proposing a new design that would maximize use – encouraging people to drink more water on a daily basis, in turn improving the health of society as a whole. So, although it may sound boring (and it was), it had to be done. It rained the whole morning, and my shoes were soaked the rest of the day. I was worried I was going to lose my skin, but don’t worry – I was simply overreacting.

I met RJ following my research and his soccer extravaganza at our old hotel, and back to Orvieto we went. My seminar project was due the next morning, so I let RJ entertain himself as I got to work. Actually, rewind – we hit up the gelato festival in Orvieto before that. We got there with a couple hours left of the five day festival, and I had two tickets that needed to be used. THEN we went back to my apartment, and I got busy.

RJ spent Monday in Siena, and we hit up Charlie’s pizza for dinner. I took him ‘out on the town’ Monday night, and some of the guys met us at Clandestino for a few beers. I miss both of those places so much right now. You just can’t find a substitute for either in the States… at least not to my knowledge.

Tuesday, we sat through Marco’s final lecture. After all his nonsense this semester, I am happy and relieved to say quite honestly that I have no hard feelings. I still truly appreciate his knowledge and passion, and it was sad to say goodbye. I hurried home to RJ, we had a soccer game to catch, and we hustled to print our tickets and get to the train (a later train than originally planned, of course – I take full responsibility for this).

We checked in at our hotel in Rome, and as we were leaving for the game, RJ asks, “You have the tickets, right?” Wrong. I didn’t have the tickets. I didn’t know I was supposed to have the tickets. I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t. So yes, we may be two of the dumbest smart people you know. After the ID debacle the week before, I was thankful to have discovered this before leaving the hotel. I can only imagine how long we would have sat in silence after being denied admission a second time. Anyhow, we were able to reprint the tickets at the hotel, and peace was restored once again. We hit up the Roma store for the necessary gear, and sat down for a quick dinner (this resulted in me accidentally ordering the biggest beers I have ever seen in my life… good thing we were in a hurry…). A liter of beer each later, we left for the game. We met Ashley, Brendan, Gretchen, and Cassiday in Piazza della Repubblica and headed north to the stadium.

The game was interesting. It was a ton of fun to be there, and I am so glad it finally worked out; however, Roma played terribly. The game was scoreless until the last couple minutes, at which point Verona scored. Roma probably had 15 corner kick opportunities, and shot another 20+ … I don’t remember exactly, I just know they had a million opportunities to score, and they didn’t capitalize on a single one. It wouldn’t be a Cooper adventure, though, if they had played well. That would just be too much to ask for.

947195_10200202475242976_1124485878_n << stadio olimpico.

RJ and I said goodbye to the crew shortly after the game and went back to the hotel. We spent Wednesday in Ostia Antica – an old harbor city of ancient Rome that was completely abandoned in the 9th century after a series of attacks by pirates. It very much resembled Pompeii, as far as its state of ruin, yet it seemed much more ‘down to earth.’ Whereas Pompeii was a city filled with wealthy people, this was a normal civilization with lower, middle, and upper class. It is bizarre to think that an entire population just picked up and left an entire city behind. Can you imagine if that happened now? One of the most interesting things I found was that Ostia Antica was home to a Christian basilica, a Jewish synagogue, and a Roman temple. I guess they didn’t put regulations on the religion of their people? Pretty cool.

601907_10200206247297275_160932709_n << one of several baths.

We spent a couple hours following our visit to Ostia Antica in Ostia Lido, on the beach. It was a relaxing, much needed end to a great day. Beer and sand, what else could you possibly want? The beaches in Rome are tricky because there is only a small section of public beach. I have to say I prefer Barcelona in that respect, but I love that Rome even has a beach. I don’t think I realized that either prior to my arrival. I guess it makes sense that it used to be a coastal city. Ostia Lido is very separate from the main city of Rome now, but it is still only a thirty minute train ride away.

We made our way back to our hotel, then set off in search of gelato and a view of St. Peter’s at night. I was told by several individuals that I could not leave Italy without seeing St. Peter’s in the dark, so I took this final opportunity to do so. It was breathtaking, and so much more enjoyable without the hoards of people running around. RJ and I ate our weight in gelato (but seriously, it was obscene), and called it a night.

954789_10200206253097420_833259055_n << hello, beautiful.

Saying goodbye to RJ the next morning was equally as difficult, if not more so, than saying goodbye to my parents. At least with my parents I knew I would see them again soon. I don’t see RJ that often as he lives in California, and I really truly enjoyed having him around. We have always been close, ever since I was little, but as I grow older I appreciate his company and his conversation more and more. He’s a good guy, my brother, and it makes me sad that moments like these are so few and far between.

I enjoyed my complimentary breakfast and hot shower thoroughly, then spent my last day in Rome wandering around on my own. I went to Sant Angelo’s castle, right next to/connected to the Vatican. It’s really very sad how many times I have walked by that on my way to St. Peter’s and paid it very little attention. It is a HUGE complex. Absolutely gigantic. And no one in our group ever even asked what it was. It wasn’t until I walked past with RJ, and he started asking questions that I even considered how impressive it really is. So I took it upon myself to do the tour, and I am so happy RJ prompted me to do so. The view from the top of Rome was one of the best I have seen, and there’s something quite pleasant about wandering around alone with nowhere to be or no one to be held accountable to.

945037_10200206397061019_1427145455_n << thank you, kind stranger, for this.

I the proceeded to get lost in Rome. I thought for sure I knew where I was going, I had spent so much time there in previous weeks, but I got lost. I finally pulled out my map and got my bearings. When it was all said and done, I ended up walking across the entire city of Rome. Before hopping on my train back to Orvieto, I spent a few final moments outside of the Colosseum. This is what I wrote in my sketchbook, “I am ending my adventures in Roma where they began – outside of the Colosseum. Things are different now. The weather is warm, there are many more people… my soul is different. I have seen more of the world than I ever thought possible, and my journey is just beginning. Yet, the Colosseum remains the same. A giant, beautiful work of genius – a historic icon – a place and a time I will never forget. God bless this country and these people. God bless Rome. 5.9.14”

And there I was, all alone with my sketchbook. My family had gone, and surrounded by strangers – I felt very much at peace, very much alive.

CIMG0010

 

 

There will be one more post coming after this. I need to gather all my final thoughts and close out this chapter of my life. Stay tuned.

XOXO.

a taste of rivalry.

Last Sunday, April 14th, found our dysfunctional, not-so-little family trying our hand at a Mexican meal. Aside from a delicious nacho fiasco in Barcelona, I have not had Mexican food since I was back in the States. The boys took on the challenge and produced stacks of polenta, chicken and beef fajitas, rice, beans, and salsa. It wasn’t the giant burrito topped with white queso, sour cream, pico, and guacamole that I plan to demolish when I get home – but it definitely helped tide me over. Cassiday, Maryam, and I sat in the windows up stairs and watched the sunset. I had no idea the view from Ashley’s room was so beautiful. I got to check that off my last minute Orvieto bucketlist – the watching the sunset. I think I actually did it twice last week. I love my sunsets.

The week went pretty quickly. I spent most nights working on my journal for Marco, which is a scrapbook of sorts – filled with my sketches, train and entrance tickets, pressed flowers, this blog, etc. I wanted to have it finished before my parents’ arrival, and as of this past Tuesday – I was up to date. Now that a week has passed, however, I am scrambling to recount the days and add a few more pages (it is due tomorrow).

Thursday we had another family dinner (trying to cram as many in as possible before we all depart, I guess). Leland, Brendan, Brandon, and company graciously cooked Chinese food for 13 of us. We intended to eat in the courtyard outside their apartment, but the landlord showed up and shooed us inside. I’m not sure why the courtyard is there if people can’t use it, but he would not budge. So we crammed inside and indulged in a wonderful meal. I am definitely going to miss having other people cook for me when I am back at school next year. We might have to have a monthly family dinner reunion or something. It has become a regular, welcome part of our routine.

Friday morning we loaded the bus and headed to Siena (apparently it is only spelled with one ‘n’. I was unaware of this until just a few days ago). Siena is a pretty darn cool town (then again, aren’t they all?). It is amazing how many places I go, how similar they may be, yet I appreciate them all individually. I don’t think I could ever get tired of this country and all it has to offer if I tried. Siena is a unique place – a hill town, yes, but there are actually several valleys within the city itself – giving it a character all its own. The inscription above the city gate says this, “Siena makes your heart larger.” It is broken up into 17 districts (or ‘contradas,’ if you will) – each with its own main street, church, fountain, flag, and animal (owl, turtle, porcupine, snail, giraffe, goose, etc.) – providing the basis for a hateful rivalry between districts that goes back Lord knows how long. A few fun facts about contradas – if you don’t marry within your contrada, you must find a church outside of both of the districts to have the ceremony in. Also, death announcements are made by contrada – not by the city as a whole. The color ‘Burnt Sienna’ comes from the color of the bricks used to build most of the city – apparently a color unique enough that it didn’t exist in the color palette before the town was built.

IMG_6064 << Siena from not so far away.

Siena is famous worldwide for its biannual horse race – the Palio. It is held twice in the summer in the main square, on a tufa-dirt (from Orvieto) track that they lay down for the occasion. 10 of the 17 districts compete twice in the summer. Every district is guaranteed a spot once every-other year, and then the remaining spots are filled with names drawn out of a hat. The district flags are displayed in the main square to announce the competitors. It is said that this event turns the locals into barbarians for the day, and Marco warns that you could very likely “get punched” if you don’t know where to stand/what to do. The race only lasts about 90 seconds, but it is intense and dangerous, and the victor gets intense bragging rights – as well as a hand-painted banner by a famous artist to be displayed in the district museum. It’s a pretty big deal.

I can’t imagine being there on race day. Even though there were a lot of people in Siena that Friday with all the tourist groups, I still cannot imagine being packed so close you “couldn’t fall over if you tried” in the middle of July. Sounds somewhat miserable, yet I can imagine it being an enlivening, crazy, unforgettable experience. Maybe some day.

The Duomo in Siena looks very similar to the Duomo in Orvieto. I think they were built about the same time, but I am not sure which was completed first. What is existing today is only a portion of the original plan. The initial design was 3 or 4 times later. I can’t quite understand where they would have put it… although I guess the surrounding buildings we see now didn’t exist at the time.

I dragged 7 of my fellow travelers to Osteria dell Gatto for lunch – where I found Miss Silvia Harri ready to wait on us! Silvia was my aunt, uncle, and cousins’ exchange student when I was in high school, I believe. Her family is from the Siena area, and she lives and works right downtown, so of course I had to visit! It was so nice to see a familiar face in a sea of strangers. We had some delicious pasta, good conversation, and then went on our way. I would have loved to stay longer, but we had another date with Marco at the goose church/museum.

IMG_5982 << there she is! the beautiful Silvia.

The main church of each contrada isn’t meant to be the most beautiful, the biggest, or the most powerful – but it is always located somewhere historically significant. This particular church was built in the main working place of St. Catherine’s (Siena’s patron saint) parents. It is the place where weddings within the districts happen, and where they bless the horse before the Palio – or before “war.” Imagine 400 people packed shoulder to shoulder in a small, intimate little church meant to comfortably sit maybe, 50? Everyone sweating and crying, gathered around this horse – their beacon of hope. Apparently if the horse defecates in the church, it is a sign of good luck… can’t say I would be sad to miss that.

IMG_6041 << Marco explaining the winning banners of the goose district.

We spent a good hour and a half in the Campo (main square) with the tallest tower in town – built by the government to show the church who was boss. The piazza slopes toward the center and acts as a large urban, waterless beach. There are people with picnic blankets, people in large groups or on their own, vendors, restaurants, artists… all lounging around in the sun, strewn across this slanted stone surface. It really is a great space. I would love to go to school there and hang out in the Campo daily. It was a great place to sketch. I can imagine taking my lunch and my music there, maybe a good book, and spending all day soaking up the Vitamin D. It really is a genius solution.

IMG_5995_stitch << Il Campo.

I think I’m going to leave this entry right here. More to come, including a wonderful weekend with my amazing parents – yes, they are in Italy! But for now, just know that along with almost everywhere else I have described – Siena is worthy of a visit. I am excited to see the infamous Sienese landscape in a couple weeks. That will be our last field trip of the journey, and then I will quickly thereafter be back home. I am struggling to grasp that concept. Time seems to pass so darn quickly, yet so much has transpired. So much has changed. Life continues, and I struggle to keep up.

Goodnight, my friends. Love always.

a game of catch up.

I am discovering that blogging two weeks after the fact is not my favorite thing, so I am deeming today productivity day. I need to go on a run, but I will not let myself leave this table until I am caught up to today. Ready, set, go.

School started back up as normal the Monday following Spring Break. We were assigned our new and final studio project – a partner project regarding a section of the Tiber River in Rome. Ashley and I have teamed up, and I am really excited to have the opportunity to finally do some cross-discipline work with a landscape designer. I think it will be beneficial for the both of us. The project is being carried out with the help of an organization in Rome called Teverterno, which describes itself on the website as “an international project, which partners to produce cultural events that promote the potential of Rome’s Tiber River. Through public programming, dynamic planning and community outreach, TEVERETERNO seeks to protect and revitalize the urban waterfront. Encouraging responsible development and the river’s ecological health, TEVERETERNO works to restore the historical bond between Tiber and city.” They have done so for many years with large scale art installations of all kinds, but I think they are searching for a more permanent solution, something substantial that can still incorporate temporary art installments – a sort of framework. I do not know if our final designs will have any impact on the future of this section of river, but it is exciting to be doing something possibly influential.

We visited the site Wednesday, March 27th, and several of us stayed in Rome to meet Jordan and Meredith – our long lost friends studying abroad in Denmark! They were still on Spring Break and came to Italy to finish off their trip. We ate a nice, long, typical Italian meal – and then spent the evening in our hotel. Meredith was really sick, and I think all of us were in need of some good rest.

Ashley, Brendan, and I headed back to Orvieto the next morning to go to the market and for Italian class. We picked Meredith and Jordan up at the bus stop in Piazza Marzo late that evening, so they wouldn’t get lost  trying to find our apartment. Friday we showed them around town and did a little shopping, ending the night with a delicious family dinner – bruschetta, homemade gnocchi, and salad! – and a trip to Clandestino. I was insanely tired, but it was still really nice to spend some time with them. It’s crazy how easy it is to forget how much you miss people when you are away from them for so long.

Meredith and Jordan spent Saturday in Florence, so Ashley and I took advantage of the time to go to a spa in Viterbo called Terme dei Papi. It was a WONDERFUL day. Getting there was a bit of an adventure (I am finding that most travel is), but once we figured out the trains to bus to spa situation – we spent the next several hours relaxing. The spa did not provide towels like some of the others I read about, so we bought one and shared it. Everyone else was walking around in robes and slippers – we had on bakini bottoms and tanktops… bare feet. We looked like a couple of hooligans, but I honestly did not care. The 50 euro package included a full body massage and all day in the thermal bath. The massage was absolutely incredible. Once I got over the fact that the Italians are not the least bit shy about anything, and I would be completely naked (with the exception of a very small, insignificant paper thong of sorts) for the massage – I relaxed and enjoyed every minute. We spent the following three or so hours in the pool, laying on our floaties as it rained lightly – steam billowing off of the water’s surface. We ended the day under the waterfall. It was amazing – almost equivalent to a second massage.

The return to the train station was even more eventful than our first experience, but after many a bus ride – we made it, just in time, as always. Meredith and Jordan met us back in Orvieto after a long day in Florence, and we all relaxed for awhile before calling it a night.

Sunday was Easter. The girls had to head back to Denmark early enough that they didn’t get to go to mass in the Duomo like we had hoped. Once we said goodbye to them, we spent the day doing some shopping. The town was alive with people and vendors all day Sunday and Monday. I bought a lot of souvenirs for friends and family. I always prefer buying things for other people, that way I don’t feel guilty spending my money on things I don’t need.

Ashley, Brendan, and I went to Easter mass at 6:00 at the Duomo. It was beautiful. I didn’t understand the words, but it set the stage for me to have my own moment of worship and reflection. The sun was shining through the rose window in the back to cast a beam of light above the altar… I was able to sit in a perceived quiet and have my own little Easter service. It was one of many moments that I don’t plan to forget. A vivid, happy memory.

We scurried around after mass to find any open store that might have something for us to cook for Easter dinner. We found a deli and were able to purchase to meet, cheese, and bread. The result of a combined effort of random food from multiple refrigerators was the following: bread, salad, vodka sausage pasta, au gratin potatoes, and tira misu. We had this misconception that our unpreparedness would lead to not having enough food, but we ended up having more than we needed. We weren’t finished eating until almost midnight – true Italian fashion.

The Monday after Easter is a holiday in Italy, and it is tradition to go on picnics with family or friends – so, our roommates planned a dessert and wine picnic. We took our blankets out to this beautiful grassy area on the west end of the cliff, and spent some time indulging in our sweets and just talking. It started to sprinkle, so they all picked up and left, but I didn’t want to leave. It was really beautiful, and I felt so at ease. I spent some time sketching, laying on the blanket, listening to my music, looking at the sky. If only that were something that I took the time to do regularly… maybe then it wouldn’t be so special, but I think I could lay on a blanket in a field of grass for the rest of my life, and I would be content. The rain finally started to come down with more gumption than just a sprinkle, so I reluctantly packed up my stuff and went home.

IMG_5263 << Easter Monday picnic.

Thursday, April 4th, Ashley and I planned a last minute trip to Castiglione Fiorentino to see our fellow K-Staters. It is crazy to think that they have been so close all semester, yet we haven’t taken the time to go see them. I guess since we have been in the same cities multiple times, it didn’t seem like a pressing matter until now. Now that we only have a few weeks left, I knew I needed to visit – I didn’t want to go back to the States and regret not making such an easy, obvious trip happen. We had scheduled to paint ceramics in Orvieto (so fun!) that morning, so we left after lunch and spent the day.

Olivia, Emily, Kyle, and Lane showed us around town. It is very small, but so beautiful. It didn’t take long to cover much ground, but I was so happy to be there. It is easy to see how they have fallen in love with it. The surrounding landscape is just as green as you can possibly imagine, and the Santa Chiara study center that they both have classes in and live in is really cool. It feels like a boarding school from a movie. They took us to get gelato, which I happily accepted considering my recent forty-day stint without dessert.

IMG_5308_stitch << Castiglione Fiorentino.

The smells from dinner preparation made an appearance late in the afternoon, getting me excited for the infamous dinners I had been hearing about all semester. We sat down to eat at 7:30 I believe, and indulged in all-you-can-eat bread, pasta, salad, roast beef, and fruit. It was delicious – just as good as I imagined. Everyone was worried we would be disappointed since they have been bragging all semester, but I was far from disappointed. That being said, I can’t imagine eating meals like that every day. I think I would miss cooking, and Lord knows I would eat way more than I should – hello freshman year all over again.

Dinner was followed by an aggressive game of Uno. I missed that group so much… these people have definitely become my family over the past four years, and I am so thankful to know and love each and every one of them. Tyler Hiatt showed me the photography studio after several rounds of cards. He has an entire portfolio of pictures he has developed by hand over the semester. It is pretty incredible. Although I love Orvieto more as a place to live, I am jealous of the art classes the students at Santa Chiara get to take. There are a few people in each, and the classes consist of film photography, stone carving, print making, and water color. All of their work is pretty incredible; it is a great opportunity for them.

We said our goodbyes and caught the late train back to Orvieto. I would love to visit again, if possible. I just don’t know that any of us have any free days left. Nevertheless, I am thankful that we made that happen when we did. No regrets.

Friday morning started early with a trip by bus to Villa Lante. I’m sure those of you who have me as a Facebook friend are tired of this phrase, but here it is again – Spring has sprung. The weather here is absolutely beautiful, everything is even more green than before, and flowers are blooming all over. Spring means one thing here for our studies – it is villa season. Villa Lante is close to the town of Viterbo and consists of two houses, an immense spread of gardens, and hunting grounds. The gardens are built into a hill, and were intended to be experienced from top to bottom in a constant state of descent. The design begins in ‘chaos’ – exhibiting the wild characteristics of nature. As you move down the hill, little by little man’s logic and intelligence is introduced. Harmony and order eventually takes over – creating an ideal sense of beauty – the consequence of said intelligence. The journey ends with a square fountain – the symbol of the human. A round island sits in the middle – symbolizing God – stating that the chaos of nature cannot be conquered without God.

IMG_5385_stitch << a small piece of Villa Lante.

IMG_5449 << a gift.

The gardens were a nice change of pace. I really liked Villa Lante, but I think I picked up whatever sickness Meredith had when she was here, so I wasn’t able to thoroughly enjoy the trip as I would have wished.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at Park of the Monsters in Bomarzo. Of the two stops, I preferred this one. It was a wonderfully magical place with plenty of opportunities to get lost and explore. The larger than life sculptures for which it is famous are nestled into the natural landscape and look as if they have always belonged there. The gardens were built in the 1500’s by Pier Francesco Orsini for his wife Giulia Farnese. Pirro Ligorio is given credit for the design, and Simone Moschino is responsible for the impressive sculptures. The garden was neglected through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but it was restored in the 1970’s and is today a well-known tourist stop. I could have spent hours there. It was a bizarre yet serene scene, the result of artistic genius. I loved it.

IMG_5460 << Park of the Monsters.

The roommates spent the weekend, along with an all-nighter on Sunday, finishing up our seminar project for Alpa’s class that was due Monday. Despite my lack of sleep, I was happy with the final product. It is a water research project, and I have been studying water fountains for the majority of the semester – how easy they are to use, how many people use them, etc. I hope to further the study one day to propose the ideal drinking fountain – one that is beautiful, yet accessible – one that encourages users to drink more water, in turn improving the health of society as a whole. We’ll see if it ever gets there. My presentation was a series of ink drawings and water colors. I will build on it for our final submission on May 6th.

Our professors planned a spontaneous visit to Civita di Bagnoregio this past Thursday, April 11. Civita is a small hill town in the middle of Umbria, just 30 minutes or so from Orvieto. It is connected to the world by a long foot bridge, yet sits atop its tufa cliff in such a way that it appears to be completely isolated. The surrounding landscape almost looks like New Mexico or Arizona – very Grand Canyon-esque. Civita is known as the ‘dying city,’ and today only about 30 people live there. Many houses are abandoned or for rent. Two K-State professors actually own a house there, which is crazy, but they only visit on occasion.

IMG_0062_stitch << the majestic city of Civita.

Civita is an anomaly of a place, and so, so cool. I would never have known it was so close to Orvieto if someone hadn’t told me. I definitely plan to take my parents there when they visit in a couple weeks. We wandered around for an hour or so – then Ashley, Brendan, and I settled in a small, central piazza with our sketch books and a cold beer. The sun was shining and the sky was so deeply blue. I think my chest, the bottom half of my legs, and the top of my feet got sun burned – but I was enjoying the warmth too much to care. The worst days of my sickness (congestion, fevers, headaches) had passed, and I was able to truly enjoy the day.

The bus took us then from Civita to a winery called Madonna del Latte just outside of Orvieto Scalo. Before ever having been to this country, I pictured Italy like this winery. The vineyards, the horses, the wine cellar, the olive trees… the perfect end to the perfect day. Leon, our tour guide and host, was one of the most knowledgeable people I have met when it comes to wine. He told us all about the harvesting processes and the fermentation processes, the science and logistics of it all. They have 22, 000 plants in their vineyard, and all the labor is manual. He said it takes him about one month to cycle through all 22, 000 plants, and this is just for step one of seven. So as soon as he completes one run through – he starts over, and it continues like that year round. Making good wine takes a patience and precision that I do not have. I truly admire the dedication he and his step mother and father have to making their business both personal and successful.

IMG_0162 << the vineyards.

My favorite of the three wines we tasted was the white. The rose was a little too sweet (never thought I would say that), and the red was too spicy/peppery for my liking. It was a great afternoon of community. It was really nice to be able to sit down and talk to our professors on a personal level, to joke around and have a good time with people that we so often keep at an arm’s length. Marina came with us on this trip, and her personality makes me smile. She is full of life and passion. I truly appreciate her.

Friday morning we took the bus with Marco to Villa D’este in Tivoli – just outside of Rome. Of the villas and gardens we have visited – Villa D’este is by far my favorite. It is also composed of a series of terraced gardens, making their way down a large hill and capped with a beautiful villa – a beautiful example of Renaissance architecture and the Renaissance garden. The villa was built in the 1500’s by Cardinal D’este and was extended and repaired in the 1600’s. Marco mentioned that a true Renaissance garden does not have flowers – that the designers of the time only included permanent elements – such as water, trees, and statues. Flowers are too fickle, too impermanent, incapable of making a statement. I found this interesting, since flowers seem to be such an important part of any garden you visit today. In fact, they have also become a modern addition to Villa D’este – there are flowers everywhere.

The entire complex hosts over 500 water jets and fountains. The yellow tulips and daffodils are in full bloom, and the whole thing is absolutely amazing. There are HUGE fountains and remarkable, large shade trees, as well as small details and little patches of wild flowers scattered throughout. It is a huge place, impossible to see in its entirety in such a short amount of time. I want to go back. I want to spend days on end there. There is so much to see, so much to feel, so much to hear… so much to experience. And the weather was perfect. 70’s with sun, blue skies, a light breeze. How in the world did I get so lucky?! I say these things out loud, and it sounds like a dream. Sometimes I think maybe I am dreaming. It doesn’t seem right that I get to experience so many wonderful things. I am so undeserving, but so very, very thankful.

IMG_5649 << Villa D’este.

We also toured Hadrian’s Villa and Richard Meier’s Jubilee Church in Rome this day. Hadrian’s Villa is equivalent to Pompeii in its state of ruin and expanse of territory. It is the inspiration for many an architectural work, including the Villa D’este. We didn’t, however, spend enough time there I think for me to really appreciate it as it should be appreciated, which is too bad. The Jubilee Church in Rome was a breath of modern air. We haven’t seen much modern architecture at all, so it was kind of nice to see something different. Of Meier’s work, it is one of my favorites – ‘sculpturally’ different from anything else I have seen. It is, unfortunately, in a terrible location – completely walled off from its surroundings. It doesn’t fit into or engage the context at all. I’m not really sure why.

IMG_5767 << the Jubilee Church.

And FINALLY (yes, we are so close!) – yesterday, Saturday, April 13th – Cassiday, Tyler Jacobson, Chris, Christy, and I went on a hike in the direction of our trip the day before, hoping to get the same views we saw from the bus of Orvieto from afar. We walked up an adjacent hill through this incredible terraced cemetery. It is a huge place, almost entirely shaded by giant cypress trees and umbrella pines, filled with mausoleums, head stones, and large burial complexes. It sounds overwhelming, but it wasn’t. It was so peaceful, and each grave is so well tended to. Fresh flowers on every one. Some even had little lanterns. This is something I have noticed since I have been in Italy – a stark difference from America – cemeteries here are given so much more attention. It seems as if culturally, the Italians respect and remember their ancestors with more dedication and frequency than Americans. I have yet to visit a cemetery that isn’t completely adorned with flowers, flags, lights, etc. It is a unique experience.

We continued up the hill to an overlook we visited the day before by bus. It was here that we happened to meet up with another group from Orvieto that also went hiking. We sat on the wall for probably an hour or so, just looking at the vast expanse of Italy in front of us. It breaks my heart to think that I have to leave this place in just over three weeks. How is that possible? How has the time gone so quickly? What if I never get to come back here? This is my home. Orvieto has become my home. It is a place that has changed my life in so many ways – the people and the experiences I have had here are unforgettable and irreplaceable. I don’t want it to end. I am close to tears now typing this… I have never been able to attribute so much happiness or personal growth to one segment of my life… until now. I guess all I can say is that I planned to fall in love here and I have. I have fallen head over heels for a place and time in my life in which I have experienced true joy, immense learning, and the opening of my eyes to so many beautiful truths. I can’t imagine tearing myself away from that…

Alas, now it is today. I have told you all I can think to tell about my life up to this present moment in time. It is a relief, yet it makes me a little sad. Or not sad, per say, but nostalgic. Nevertheless, I am eternally thankful. And I am going to keep living each day to its fullest – focusing on the present moment – making the most of the time I have left. My parents will be in Italy in less than a week, my brother in two weeks. I couldn’t be more excited to see them. A little piece of me is always missing when I am away from my family. I pray they bring that with them.

I love you all, more than you’ll ever know. And don’t worry, we’ll meet again soon.

Ciao per ora, miei amici. XOXO.

P.S. I apologize for not providing pictures of our excursion yesterday, but I left the house without my memory card. Here is a sketch of Orvieto from afar, as well as a picture of the wild flowers we picked along the way. They will serve as my ‘photographies’ for the day.

IMG_0198

IMG_5814

a short Italian excursion.

By the time Rachel and I reached my apartment in Orvieto, it was late. I threw together some pasta, we talked to Cassiday and her sister for awhile, and then it was bed time.

We started moving first thing Friday morning, as there was a lot to do in a very short amount of time. Our day included a walk around the Rupe (of course), walking by the Duomo, a tour of the Orvieto Underground, going up in the Torre del Moro, and a general walk around town. The view from the top of the torre is so cool. I wish that I had done that earlier in my time here because it gives you such a different perspective of Orvieto. It is high enough that you can see for days, but not so high that you lose sight of what is happening on the ground. The view down the Corso and of the Duomo from above – fascinating. The rooftops also pop out in an unexpected way. I love the roofs from below, but from above their colors and textures take on another level of beauty and complexity. We also had the entire overlook to ourselves, which was a nice change from the other crowded towers and domes I have been in. The bell’s ringing two feet from our head was a shock, but despite the temporary deafness – it just added to the uniqueness of the experience.

IMG_4989 << looking down the Corso from above.

IMG_5014 << it is unreal how much I love and miss this girl.

I also had to make sure Rachel tried all things Italian, so we (and by we, I mean she ate and I watched) went by Scarpone for fruit pies, the fancy chocolate place on the Corso for Italian hot chocolate (literally melted chocolate), and the gelateria by the Duomo for gelato.

IMG_4979 << gelato by the Duomo, topped with some delicious panna.

We had a plan set to catch a 5:00-something train to Rome, so we grabbed Rachel’s suitcase around 4:30 and headed down the Corso to the funicolare – the sound of wheels on cobblestone resonating obnoxiously the whole way. And then the fun began. It turns out Orvieto’s public transportation system decided to go on strike that day, so not only was the funicolare not running, but neither were the buses. In other words, we had no way to get down the hill to the train station. I tried calling a taxi, but my Italian phone was out of credit, so after a panicked run around in pursuit of English-speaking Italians – we admitted defeat and made the trek back to the apartment. I then used Kirby’s phone to call a cab and order Charlie’s pizza (another staple of Orvieto), and to the train station we went.

At this point, we were catching a 7:00-something train scheduled to arrive in Rome around 9:00 pm. From here we wandered to our hostel, which was not far from the train station, yet we still managed to have a hard time finding it. Alas, we finally made it – the man at the desk informed me that he thought I only booked for one person, even though the reservation definitely said two. Luckily they had another open bed. We left our stuff and set out to see St. Peter’s at night – something I have been told I must do before I leave Italy. Tired as we were, it was just a train ride away, and I knew it would be worth it.

Well wouldn’t you know that Rome’s metro system would be on strike that day, too, so we nixed the St. Peter’s plan – settling for a walk to the Colosseum. It seems ridiculous that at the time I was disappointed… disappointed that I had to “settle” for a spectacular view of something as incredible as the infamous Colosseum. Gosh, I’m spoiled sometimes.

Despite my obscene loss of perspective – the Colosseum was, as always, a sparkling gem in the blackness of night. The walk to get there was a little unnerving, not a lot of people around, but once we got close – the life of the city reignited itself. I think Rachel was glad she got to see it in this state, even if she was unsure about walking around a strange city at night with just me to protect her.

Nighttime came and went, with some sleep in between. We ate the breakfast provided by the hostel and went on our merry way. First stop – the Capuchin Crypt. I wanted to do some touristy things, as well as something that would be new for the both of us. This was our ‘new thing.’

The Capuchin Crypt is a series of small rooms under the church Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Piazza Barbarini in Rome. That sounds normal, right? Wrong. The rooms are ‘decorated’ with the skeletons of 4,000 Capuchin friars. The builders transported the bodies in 300 cartloads, after at least 30+ years of decomposition, and filled the crypts with them. Skulls, femurs, vertebrae, scapulae… more than you can imagine, everywhere, in every direction – many of them arranged in intricate patterns that from afar appear truly beautiful. Everything is made of bone. It is seriously one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen. One of the rooms is literally called the ‘Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones.” I guess there is no sense in trying to fantasize a name for something so obvious.

On the one hand, it felt disrespectful – so many people dug up and exposed, given no respect or identity. On the other hand, it was humbling in the way that most cemeteries are – knowing that one day we will all be reduced to bones and when that day comes, it isn’t our body that holds our identity. When a soul has gone and moved on, the body that’s left behind is just an object, a symbolic representation of a being that used to be. How much of a person once you have really gotten to know them is the body they inhabit? A slim fraction. A very, very small piece.

After many a “that was freakin’ crazy” from my darling sister, we hit as many important stops as possible in the short amount of time we had available, including: the Trevi fountain (wishes were made), the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and St. Peter’s. Somewhere along the way, we stopped for lunch, and I made sure Rachel ordered gnocchi and eggplant parmesan. I excitedly did the same. I also made sure we stopped to get her a freshly filled canoli… in retrospect, I made her eat a lot of sweets. But she had to, I mean “you only live once,” right?  Good thing she likes dessert!

IMG_5038 << she threw two coins, so one day she will return!

St. Peter’s marked the end of our journey. We didn’t have time to go through the Vatican or see the Sistine Chapel, much to Rachel’s disappointment (I still feel bad about this), but we did go into the Basilica and up in the dome. 555 steps to the top – the most I have climbed consecutively since I have been in the country. Vatican City, like anything else, is darn cool from above. We weren’t lucky enough to have the whole overlook to ourselves this time, but despite the crowds of people – I think we both were happy to experience the view.

IMG_5113 << Vatican City.

We made it to the train station with 20 minutes or so to spare before needing to get on the bus to the airport. We unfortunately spent all 2o of these minutes running around the train station trying to find the ticket booth. Apparently for this particular bus (for which I had bought round trip tickets when we landed from Barcelona two days prior, only to discover Rachel flew out of a different airport) you just pay as you get on the bus. Of course no one was able to tell us this when we asked them for help, but we miraculously got on the bus just in time. As we were pulling out of the station, I received a text from Cassiday (she was already at the airport with her sister) saying that Rachel’s flight to London had been cancelled. I wasn’t sure what to do at this point, but seeing as we couldn’t get off the bus, we rode the 45 minutes to the airport to see what we could do.

They got Rachel on a later flight, so we sat down for some dinner in the airport – at which point I get a text from Cassiday saying that the last train from Rome to Orvieto that would get us back in time to catch a bus up the hill leaves at 7:35. It was after 6:30 at this point, so without any warning, I was left with no choice but to get on the very next bus back to the train station (they didn’t take card, and Rachel and I barely had enough change to get my bus ticket). This led to a very sudden, very quick goodbye between me and my sister. I felt awful leaving so abruptly, and I still wish I had had another hour with her – but there was nothing I could do. I was left with a 45 minute bus ride to feel sentimental and to re-cap the entirety of our trip in my mind, hoping and praying that she didn’t have a completely awful time. She assured me later that she loved every minute and wanted to come back, but in my hurried state of panic I was sure I had ruined her European experience with my ‘slave driving.’

I walked right on the train to go back to Orvieto, and Cassiday and I breathed a sigh of relief. Spring Break was officially over, and we were both in one piece with only a few traumatic events to discuss – things that seem so trivial now.

And for that I am truly thankful.

a-live.

I’ve been sitting at my kitchen table for, oh I don’t know, three hours? Wasting time, putting off writing this post. I’m not really sure why. Barcelona was an incredible four days of my life. I just think the more time that passes, the harder it is for me to know where to start. But I promised myself I would get this done before I go to bed – so I guess if I’m going to sleep, I should give this a try.

Barcelona started and ended with sunshine. Our flight made it in safely after a late, snowy start from Geneva. We hit the ground running as soon as our bags hit the conveyer belt. A train ride and a short walk later, we found ourselves in the Mediterranean Youth Hostel – the cleanest I have stayed in thus far, with the nicest staff and a great location. Map in hand, we took to the streets.

We began our tour of the city with a walk down Passeig da Gracia and Las Ramblas – the main pedestrian ‘drag’ that consists of a huge, tree-lined boulevard that heads southeast to the beach. We got to see Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and Casa Mila from the street on this walk, as well as vendors, tourists, and locals alike. It was a good introduction to Barcelona – a first look into the incredible liveliness such a city has to offer.

Our first real stop of the day was Palau Musica Catalana – an exquisite concert hall, influenced by both Spanish and Arabic architecture. It hosts over 500, 000 people a year for musical performances, and the performances range anywhere from symphonies to jazz to contemporary individual artists. We got there just in time for the next guided tour in English. The concert hall itself is crazy beautiful – complete with a stained glass ceiling, for which the building is famous. They fondly call it the glow worm – but it truly represents the sun and the sky. Palau Musica Catalana is the only concert hall in Europe to be lit entirely during the day by natural light. Artists mark it as one of the most incredible and unique places they have had the privilege of performing in. I can’t even begin to imagine what that must be like. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I pursued other things instead of architecture, music being one of them. I can’t fathom being talented or famous enough to be asked to play/sing in a place of that magnitude. What a honor it must be.

IMG_4044_stitch << inside the concert hall.

We continued the afternoon with lunch at the local market. Now, there are markets, and then there are MARKETS. The market in Barcelona is my favorite market (marketmarketmarketmarket) that I have been to to date. The first thing I saw was the fresh fruit. EVERYWHERE. And it was so cheap. Fruit cups, fruit juices, fruit trays. Strawberry, pineapple, mango, papaya, guava, kiwi, grapes, melon, blackberries, pitahaya (this bright pink fruit that supposedly tastes like kiwi). If you can drag yourself away from the fruit displays – you’ll find fresh fish of all kinds (really, really fresh fish – eyes, teeth, and all), dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, meat, meat, and more meat, empanadas, breads, spices, cheese, olives, vegetables, rice, beans, cow stomach, cow tongue, cow heart… all on display, all fresh, ready for purchase. I believe I had fresh fruit, empanadas, dried fruit and nuts, and a kiwi-coconut fruit juice that first afternoon.

IMG_4096 << market time.

We ate outside of the Barcelona Cathedral in a lively little piazza before moving on to the MACBA – Museum d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona – by architect Richard Meier. Our luck continued as we hopped right into an English-spoken guided tour. The tour guide was young and very knowledgeable. Passionate. I really appreciated her. It’s often difficult for me to understand modern art, even if I like it, because of its bizarre qualities or the innate simplicity of it – but she gave me enough valuable information to help me really see the pieces differently.

One piece, for example, was literally made entirely of chocolate and paper. The artist wanted to create something that wouldn’t always be. He insisted that it not be preserved, so the piece will continue to decompose until it is reduced to nothing. Not only can it not be ‘timeless’, but it is always changing. Every day it is different, every month or year probably visibly so, and it will continue to change over its lifetime. Another piece was a series of photographs. The artist started out with over 200 photos of influential characters from the ’50s, I believe, and removed all women and artists – those individuals thought to contribute very little at the time. The final display shows maybe 30 white males? The last piece I will discuss was from the feminist movement. The piece consisted of maybe eight images, four of which were popular black and white advertisements of scantily clad women. The artist then tried recreating the images, using herself as the model – showing the viewer the skewed reality of the original images. Advertisements are dolled up and tampered with to make women think they must be something that doesn’t exist. Truth be told, before PhotoShop, advertisements were a type of mixed media – containing the perfect hands of one women, the lips of another, the breasts of another, and the eyes of yet another… creating the so-called “perfect” woman, making women everywhere feel inferior. The eight images I mentioned earlier were all framed in colorful, icing-like frames – symbolizing women as lusted-after objects, covered in icing until their real self no longer exists. It’s all an act.

IMG_4114 << the chocolate sculpture.

At this point in the day, we were all exhausted. Not only had it been a long day, but museums tend to zap my energy. We headed back to the hostel and put our feet up. I may have taken a nap… I don’t remember. And then we ventured out for some Catalan food. I ordered the Catalan version of bruschetta with Catalan sausage and beans. We also ordered a pitcher of white sangria to go around. It was delicious. Rachel’s head started to feel “fuzzy”, so she declined a second glass – leaving Olivia and I to finish it off. Our dinner turned into a three hour conversation, a sort of heart-to-heart, if you will. It was lovely to catch up and talk to Olivia about life, school, friends, and the like. 11:00 pm rolled around all too quickly, and we figured we should probably let the restaurant close. It was bedtime anyways.

Tuesday was Gaudi day. We began with La Sagrada Familia – an incredible cathedral started in the 1200’s but taken over and transformed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi in the late 1800’s. The cathedral is still under construction today. Funny side story – my senior year in high school Mrs. Kaveler asked us to write a paper about where we would be in ten years. I said I would be an accomplished architect working to finish La Sagrada Familia (a suggestion from my older brother, I believe). I suppose a girl can dream. Anyways, La Sagrada Familia is the most unique, detailed, BEAUTIFUL space I have ever been in. Antoni Gaudi is a genius. I like to say he is my infinitely more talented architectural soul mate. I can’t comprehend taking on a project so huge and giving it so much heart and attention, but I can feel his passion – I can see his vision. I don’t know how to give you a written visual, but I can say that despite the crowds – it was a transcendental experience. Gaudi derives the entirety of his inspiration from nature. The columns resemble both bones and trees simultaneously. The stained glass floods space with color, almost like the canopies of a forest. Every detail is intentionally articulated. It is truly incredible. I could have spent all day staring in awe, discovering something new every moment, around every corner.

IMG_4150 << La Sagrada Familia.

We paid to go up in the towers, of course. After all, you can’t ______ … appreciate a city until you get above it, right? This in itself was an experience. We cycled through four adjacent tours, each the same inside but providing a different, spectacular view outside. We were able to get a different perspective of the mosaic towers and sculptures around La Sagrada from here – the up close and personal tour. I loved every moment, despite the confusion concerning which tower to descend.

AH. What an experience. I couldn’t rid myself of those visual memories if I tried. They will forever be engrained in my memory.

We took on the long hike to Park Guell next, another Gaudi genius. Park Guell was built in the early 1900’s and is essentially a very large garden up on a hill composed of intricate mosaics and organic architectural elements. Olivia was in landscape heaven, as were Rachel and I. There were a ton of people in the park, many groups of children, but I didn’t care. We wandered for awhile, took lots of pictures, discovered the site of a famous America’s Next Top Model runway show (Carridee’s season), and sat in the largest communal space. The sun didn’t let up the entire day. It was wonderful.

IMG_4371 << Park Guell.

Apparently my eyes needed more candy, so we ventured south to the beach following Park Guell. We spent a good amount of time sitting by the water, watching the waves hit the shore, squishing our toes in the sand. The waterfront in Barcelona is FULL of life. There are so many people running, people playing volleyball, people playing, people relaxing. There are some really cool buildings along the coast, too, as well as a beautiful raised ‘boardwalk’ of sorts, lined with palm trees. We walked the length of this before splurging on an amazing seafood dinner. I ate seafood soup and vegetable paella (a traditional Spanish rice dish), while Rachel tried swordfish for the first time and Olivia ordered the largest plate(s) of seafood I’ve ever seen – mussels, swordfish, prawns, flounder? A worthy excursion, for sure. The sun set on our second full day, and we dragged ourselves “home” to bed.

Gaudi bled into Wednesday with a tour of his Casa Mila. Casa Mila is famous for its apparently sculptural roof terrace. The cool thing about this roof terrace is as sculptural as it appears, each piece is actually a chimney, vent, or staircase. Casa Mila is the perfect example of detailing/beautifying every piece of an architectural work. How often do architects ignore these things? We add a parapet to hide the services, but what if we gave them this kind of attention and created something fun and interactive? It is multifunctional, it is famous, and my rave reviews of Gaudi’s work continue. Casa Mila is eight floors high, we were able to access four. The attic is not only a beautiful display of the ribbed, brick, structural vaults supporting the roof terrace, but it is a museum filled with models – both structural and conceptual – for all of Gaudi’s famous works in Barcelona. Guilty – I ‘nerded-out’ here for quite some time. Rachel has pictures to prove it. The insight into Gaudi’s process was fascinating. It gave me even more respect for the man, if you can imagine that.

IMG_4636_stitch << Casa Mila.

Lunch at the market again left me full and satisfied. We spent the next few hours in the area of town by the famous Barcelona Pavilion and the Museum of National Art. From here we made our way back to the hostel to rest before getting ready for (brace yourselves) … the MUMFORD AND SONS CONCERT! Life is good, and they just happened to be performing in Barcelona at the Sant Jordi Club when we were in town. I splurged on tickets a couple of months ago. Thank goodness I did because the concert was PHENOMENAL. Mumford was even better live than they are on their album, if that’s possible. How many artists can say that? Not many. It was crazy. So many people, packed ridiculously close together. The girls behind me were apparently talking crap in Spanish about my being tall the whole time. Sorry ladies, but I’m not sorry. Everyone was singing along – the instruments were SO good – the vocal harmonies = practiced to perfection. The energy in the place was CRAZY. All four of them play multiple instruments. The lead singer played lead drums while singing lead vocals. There were guys playing horns. AH, I can’t even describe how amazing it was. I will see them in concert again, hopefully sooner than later, I guarantee it.

Afterwards, I offered to pick up our cameras from coat check (they wouldn’t let us take the big cameras in the concert), and I almost got trampled. People were pushing and shoving like we were fighting for back stage passes. It was bizarre.

We met some people from Ireland and England outside of the concert near Calatrava’s tower. They took our picture, then talked to us for awhile. One of the girls’ accent was so thick I could barely understand her, but I always like meeting people from different places – they were super friendly and fun.

IMG_4824 << the Calatrava tower.

We met up with Devin, Bryce, and Maryam at a bar following the concert – but didn’t stay long. My idiot self didn’t feed Rachel dinner, and after a few sips of beer – she was sick. I felt like I failed as a mother… it was not good. She tried downing some bread and an apple, but couldn’t force herself to eat, so we headed back to the hostel. She wasn’t in bed five minutes before running to the bathroom to throw up, at which point she said she felt much better. Nevertheless, I felt awful. I guess you live and you learn. I won’t ever let that happen again – I have to take care of my beebee!

The next morning came quickly. I got up and went for a run along the beach, discovering some beautiful gardens along the way. I had promised myself I would run on the beach before we left, and I am so glad I did. It was WONDERFUL. Also, since I’ve been huffing my way up hills in Orvieto all semester, running on flat ground was glorious. I felt like I could run for days. I made it back to the hostel in time to say goodbye to Olivia before she left for the airport, showered, and got ready for the day. Rachel and I decided to take it easy for our last few hours in Spain and spent the morning in the gardens I found, as well as in the sand by the water. It was a memorable end to a fantastic trip.

IMG_4868_stitch la playa.

We sprinted, of course, back to our hostel – to the train station – and to our plane. I thought we might miss it, but we made it with enough time to spare for lunch and a bathroom break. We landed in Rome successfully, took the bus to the train station, the train to Orvieto, and it is there that I shall leave my story.

Don’t worry folks, slowly but surely we are making progress.

Ciao per ora, miei amici. Sweet dreams.

a whirlwind.

Why would I want to go to Switzerland? – one might ask. Well kids, I really needed some Swiss Alps in my life, the lake was calling my name, Geneva just so happens to be located directly west of Venice, and I found a ridiculously cheap flight to get us there. So to Geneva we went – Olivia, Rachel, and I – the evening of Friday, March 15th. Little did we know that our rushing to get to our plane on time would be just the first in a series of unexpected, chaotic happenings.

It is important that I mention something here that actually happened in Venice but will explain a minor panic attack later in this story. I originally booked a cheap hotel a little ways out of town to stay for three nights, but after receiving a positive CouchSurfing response the day before – I called that hotel before we left Venice to cancel my reservation for Friday night. For those of you who don’t know, CouchSurfing is an online… forum, I guess? That people sign up for all over the world to host other travelers in their house for free. It sounds sketchy, I realize, but people set up detailed profiles, including references, reviews, etc. The guy who responded to my CouchSurfing request had 60+ positive reviews, and we decided to try to save a little money traveling by staying with him for a night. We called the hotel in Geneva to cancel, were put on hold for 30+ minutes, at which point the clock chimed 6:00 pm, and we weren’t able to cancel our reservation without a fee. I immediately e-mailed the hotel, telling them about our predicament and hoped quite naively that it would be taken care of.

Following the failed phone call – we sprinted to the airport, got on a plane, and landed in Geneva around 10:30 pm. Our CouchSurfing host (Nyan) had promised we would be able to catch a train to his flat at this time. Unfortunately, the train maps in the Geneva airport make no sense at all, and the very few people left in the airport at this time either spoke no English or were not helpful. The buses stopped running at 8:00 pm, so our options were virtually non-existent. Olivia and I made the executive decision to take a taxi, despite having been told it would be expensive. The cab driver dropped us off in a sketchy looking part of town… there were scary looking men everywhere. Our cab driver said a quick, “Don’t worry, they just want to sell you drugs,” shut his door, and drove off. He wasn’t kidding. We started walking one direction, realized it was the wrong direction, and hurried back the other way – finally stumbling upon the correct address.

We got up to Nyan and his roommates’ flat and were welcomed by a bumpin’ party. He had warned me via text earlier that this might happen, but I was unprepared. We got settled, as much as we could, in an open room filled with mattresses (and another CouchSurfer from India, trying to rest before a long ski trip the next day). Nyan was very nice and very hospitable, but the circumstances were really just unfortunate. We were all pretty frazzled at this point. I felt so badly for Rachel. The poor girl was experiencing Europe for the first time, and here we were – seemingly unprepared, un-rested, and uneasy. I think she was pretty shaken.

The party continued until 6:00 am, loud music and all. 8:30 or so rolled around, and Olivia and I decided it was time to get out. The next two hours consisted of several frustrating phone calls to rude receptionists, one of which told us that since we didn’t show up at our hotel the night before – our reservation for the entire weekend had been cancelled. They of course did not receive our e-mail, and when I sent her a screen shot with a time stamp, she dismissed it. Therefore, not only did we not have a place to stay for the next two nights, but I had been fined for one night’s stay in a room we didn’t sleep in. PERFECT.

Olivia, close to tears at this point, tells me that she’s going to do something I won’t like, but that it has to be done. She then booked us a hotel in the city center. I cried about this later, as it was pretty expensive, and I hadn’t planned on (nor could I really afford to) spend that kind of money on a hotel. I also wasn’t going to let Rachel pay for it, considering this was not at all what she signed up for. After 15 minutes of feeling sorry for myself (and some encouragement from Olivia), I let it go, and we moved on. It was an excellent lesson regarding my inability to control every (or any) situation. As often as I read or pray about being able to let go and live, being able to look for the good in every circumstance, I still tend to not respond appropriately a lot of the time. In the end, however, it all worked out for the best. As expensive as it was, the hotel was the cheapest available, and we were able to do much more in and around Geneva than would have been possible if we stayed elsewhere.

After scurrying away from our CouchSurfing debacle and settling into our new, very nice hotel – the three of us took on Geneva’s Old Town. The weather, as gray as it was, was surprisingly nice – and it turns out that Geneva is far less scary in the day time. We went through a museum that had a HUGE model of Geneva in the attic, as well as a sort of video presentation on the history of Geneva and its lake. It was really quite interesting and well done. We also played a game of life size checkers in the park, alongside many old men playing chess – probably the highlight of my day. In an effort to save a little cash, we went to a Coop (pronounced co-op, although I prefer to think it is actually my grocery store) and bought groceries for dinner, as well as breakfast for the next two mornings.

IMG_3496 << chess in the park.

A delicious shrimp and sweet corn salad, bread, and wine were the result of our shopping spree – and we ended the night with a little Pitch Perfect and a good night’s sleep.

Sunday began early, as we hopped a train to Chateau Chillon – a medieval fortress on the shore of Lake Geneva. This was a suggestion from Olivia’s aunt who used to live in Geneva, and it was much appreciated. The Chateau was absolutely beautiful. We toured the entire thing – including the dungeons, storehouses, courtyards, main interiors, watch towers, attic, etc. We also spent a little time sitting on the rocks by the water before our train departed. I managed to whip out a quick sketch before my hands got too cold.

IMG_3682 << Chateau Chillon.

Our next stop of the day was the incredible little town of Lausanne. I will mark this as a highlight of my entire study abroad experience – although there have of course been many. I read a little the night before on the cathedral of Lausanne – their Notre Dame – so we climbed up the many hills in town to go see it. The interior was lovely. It held the most exquisite organ I have ever seen. They were preparing for an orchestra concert that evening, but we unfortunately were unable to attend. The view from the top of the tower, however, was the icing on the cake. We almost didn’t get to go up, as it was almost closing time, but we promised the very kind woman at the desk we would hurry. I will always be thankful for her kindness – the view of Lake Geneva, the foothills of the Swiss Alps, and the town sprawled in all directions… my goodness. I could barely speak it was that magnificent.

IMG_3746 << view from the tower of Lausanne’s Notre Dame.

Side note, we had Kabobs for lunch either Saturday in Geneva or Sunday in Lausanne… I don’t exactly remember. I do know that they were delicious, but poor Rachel got a nose bleed in the middle of lunch and bled on her falafel. Good times.

Another fun fact – almost everything in Geneva is closed on Sunday, so we were forced to settle on pasta salad from Starbucks of all places for dinner. It turned out to be surprisingly delicious, but I wouldn’t say Geneva won in the food department. Scenery? Yes.

Our final night in Geneva concluded with a walk along the water front at dusk. Remember what I said in my last post about seeing a city at night? Granted our first evening experience in Geneva was a little frightening, but this time around – it was just as wonderful as I ever could have imagined. The famous Jet d’Eau fountain on Lake Geneva was not running that morning, but they turned it on just in time for us to enjoy it. The swans were out in full force, and the city lights reflecting off the water produced an image I don’t think I will ever forget. It was a remarkable end to a hell-of-a trip – bumps, bruises, nose bleeds, and all.

IMG_3948_stitch << Lake Geneva at night, Jet d’Eau.

Our flight left Monday morning at 6:50 am, so we had to catch the first bus at 5:00 am to the airport. It started snowing almost as soon as we got to the bus stop, and it did not stop for several hours. Consequently, our plane to Barcelona was delayed, but I was thankful in that moment to have had good weather for the majority of our stay.

Geneva was a city of lessons. I am definitely learning patience and flexibility through this journey, as well as trust and endurance. It gave me amazing perspective on family vacations. I have taken so much for granted when it comes to planning, paying for things, making sure everyone is happy, and marking the vacation as a success. I guess I might be picking up a few parenting skills as well – although I don’t plan on implementing those for another… 20 years? 🙂

Well it’s about that time, my friends. Keep your eyes open for a lively, exciting post about the vibrantly colorful city of Barcelona, Spain. You won’t be disappointed. I know I wasn’t.

XOXO.