Hello From the Other Side Part 2

Everyone from my study abroad program had safe flights back to America, and we are all home safe and sound!

Now that I am back home, I wanted to write one last blog post to reflect on the semester and say a quick thank you to everyone who made it possible!

THANK YOU!!!

So, first, to my family I would like to say thank you so much! I have missed you all so much. Without your support, I never would have been able to make my dream of studying abroad a reality. Thank you for giving me my love for travel and for the confidence, courage, and support to go out and see the world. Thank you for your patience when I could not call as much as I should have and for when my poor wifi connection would mean getting disconnected about five times per call. Getting to share my experiences with you guys was one of my favorite parts of the trip, so your willingness to work with our time difference meant so much to me! As much as Rome has truly grown to feel like a second home, home really is wherever I’m with you!

To my mom and brother, thank you so much for coming to visit me! Spending Easter together really made Rome feel like home for the holiday! I am so lucky that I got to see you guys half way through the semester.

To Kevin, thank you so much for making me feel so loved and supported from half way around the world! Our Tuesday dates were such a fun way to keep in touch. We’ve done looooong distance so I know we can do anything!

To my friends at home, thank you for being so understanding when I couldn’t talk for a while. I missed you guys more than I can express but I know that our friendships will be stronger than ever and I can’t wait to catch up this summer!

To the amazing staff of the Italian campus, thank you for creating such a unique and wonderful study abroad experience. Through your guidance, I have learned so much about Italy. The opportunities you have provided have changed me and my perspective on the world. You truly have made me a “citizen of the world”.

And to my friends at the Italian campus, thank you thank you thank you for putting up with me for the past three months! We have grown so close and I would not change a single experience we have had together for the world. I love you guys!

An Unbelievable Semester

When I look back on the last three months, it is hard to believe how many things I had the privilege to do, the amount of beautiful places I was lucky enough to see, and the differences I see in myself as a result.

When I was first packing to come to Rome, I spend weeks planning and stressing about what to bring and if I would have enough clothes, shoes, toiletries…everything! In Rome, however, I frequently would have to pack for a weekend in the middle of the night the night before departure! It taught me to worry less and gave me peace of mind that I could manage with whatever amount of physical stuff I had because the physical stuff you travel with is not what’s important! Even packing to come back home, I only spent about a day’s time working on packing.

On a related note, at home I am a meticulous planner who flourished under routine and wanted to know exactly what was happening at all times. In Rome, all of these safety nets and comforts of home were stripped away. At first, I felt very scared by all of the unknowns about being in Rome. It was my first semester away from home, and I did not speak any Italian when I arrived. However, as the semester progressed, I learned how to deal with the unknown. I frequently made spontaneous plans and slowly learned that I could flourish outside of a plan. My friends and I put together our spring break trip about a week before we left. We decided what we wanted to do and see as we went, and discovered a ton of hidden gems as we wandered! I never felt like we were missing out on seeing things because we did not plan out every detail. I now understand the benefits of spontaneity. My skills in planning will certainly serve me well in the future in regards to time management, but I also can now appreciate leaving some time open to see where the day takes me. I hope that I can integrate both of these skills moving forward.

I have also learned the importance of being able to laugh at yourself. When you are in an unknown culture, you are bound to make some slip ups and mistakes. Rather than freezing up or being super embarrassed about making one of these mistakes, I became more comfortable with taking it as a learning experience. Instances where I made a cultural mistake were often the times when I learned the most about that culture! For spring break, my friends and I had the rule that once we were in the next country we were all allowed to laugh at something we did! It forced us to get over things quickly and to appreciate every moment as it came and went.

By studying abroad, I became much more confident in my ability to get around. Looking back to my first onsite class, I remember being very nervous about how I would get there and if I could get there in time. By the end of the semester, I felt very confident in using the metro system in Rome, I understood the Italian associated with using the metro (uscita lato destro!), I knew which metro stop would get us closest to the major monuments, and I was able to estimate about how much time it would take. I also had a working knowledge of the bus system for the 906, 46, and 916 busses. Knowing that I am capable of maneuvering a foreign city has given me a lot of confidence. While abroad, I even traveled to London and back to Rome by myself, and I even survived The Pisa Incident (see my post on my weekend in London for that story!). I am now more excited than ever to explore new parts of Pittsburgh!

Something that I think people do not discuss much when talking about study abroad is that you really are living in another country for a semester and not just taking a long vacation. You get to experience the transformation from tourist to temporary resident. As the semester progressed, Italian locals began to assume I spoke Italian, and I was able to give English speaking tourists directions. I no longer needed a map to get around. While I still have a lifetime of learning to do about the rich history and culture of Italy, it really was like I moved there for three months. When I first arrived, I definitely had a honeymoon stage where my time abroad did feel like a vacation. However, I soon realized that I still had all of the same responsibilities that I had at home, if not more! Even though it certainly was a dream to have gotten the opportunity to study abroad in Italy, it does not mean that we did not struggle with everyday issues while we were there. This did not make my study abroad experience bad by any stretch of the imagination…it made it feel challenging and real and authentic!

Being home in Pittsburgh has been great because I get to see my family and friends. However, it has also been a challenge. For example, I have tried to plug many things in using my power converter. I have thought about how I would get somewhere in my neighborhood based on when the 906 bus is coming. I have tried to pay for things in euro, and I have accidentally thanked people in Italian. Also, I am struggling with jet lag and with the change back to American food. I know that with time I will feel normal at home again, but for the moment it feels a bit foreign, which is very strange. So, I want to thank everyone at home for their patience while I readjust. 

I will miss so many things about Rome. From hearing the beautiful Italian language everyday, to being able to purchase paprika flavored everything, to the cobblestone streets, to the historical landmarks around every corner, I have absolutely loved living in this city. My heart soars just thinking about going back someday. The “Romesickness” is real, for sure! This is because Rome really does feel like home! After spring break, coming back to Italy and the convent felt like coming home. That was when I realized how much I had learned about Italy in the short month and a half since I had arrived.  

So, my final thank you is to Rome. Thank you for the most amazing three months of my life. For teaching me so much about the world and about myself. For giving me a new outlook. For giving me confidence and the knowledge that I am capable of whatever I set my mind to. For inspiring me to never stop traveling and seeing the world. I am forever grateful.

With love,

Bailey

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My Last Week in Roma

Our last week in Rome was finals week, so my friend Sydney and I kicked it off by spending a day studying in the Villa Borghese park! It was such a beautiful day.

The next day, my Christian Art class had the chance to do the Scavi tour, which is a tour of the area underneath St. Peter’s Basilica. There are graves of many ancient people, many popes, and even St. Peter himself. The tour was so special! Other than seeing St. Peter’s grave which was amazing, my favorite part of the tour was looking up into the dome of St. Peter’s from below through decorative grates. We could see the baldacchino and all the way to the top of the dome!

Later, some of my friends and I went to see St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. Of the four Papal Basilicas, it was the only one I had not seen yet so I was very excited! (I had already seen St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran, and St. Peter’s.) It was a very huge and beautiful church!

That night, we (Brittany, Sydney, Deidre, Christina and I) had reservations for a restaurant in the neighborhood Monti called La Carbonara! Since carbonara is my favorite dish, I was very excited! We had buffalo mozzarella to start, and then we all tried their amazing carbonara. It was so delicious! After dinner, we got some gelato from one of our favorite gelato places also in Monti called Gelateria dell’Angeletto. It was a great meal with great friends!

After dinner, we took a walk around the city! We saw the monument to Vittorio Emanuele, the Column of Trajan, part of the Forum, and the Colosseum. It was a beautiful night to take in the city.

The next day was also a ton of fun! Sydney, Christina, Rachel and I went to say goodbye to the Colosseum, then we went to Eataly where I got a buffalo mozzarella pizza, a cannolo, and some pasta to take home to my family! After that, we got on the Lido train to head toward the beaches at Ostia! It was so nice at the beach. Hearing, seeing, smelling, and touching the water was so calming during finals week! The water was freezing but we put our feet in anyway and it was so much fun! I absolutely loved going to the beach.

Just like the rest of the semester, finals week flew by and before I knew it it was our last full day in Rome. On Tuesday morning, my friends Sydney, Brittany, and I went out into the city for a walk and for lunch. We went to the Pantheon to say goodbye, and then we went to the very first place where we got gelato in Italy, Giolitti! Giolitti has my favorite fruit flavors of any place I’ve tried. Having gelato on our last day at our first gelato place in Italy brought back so many great memories from the semester. Giolitti also has a cafe, so I got a tomato and mozzarella sandwich for lunch. After walking some more, we went back to campus to get ready for our final group dinner.

We got changed, and then set out for the great pizza place our directors had selected for dinner. It was located right off of the Ottaviano metro stop, so we got to take our beloved 906 bus for the last time! When we arrived at the restaurant, we found our places set with a postcard of the convent where we lived, a button that says we studied at Duquesne in Rome, and a card that pictures the famous monuments of Rome in a drawing of downtown Pittsburgh! It was so meaningful to see the two cities I considered home rendered together! For dinner we had many different kinds of delicious pizza. During dinner, our director gave a great speech about the semester that made many people, myself included, tear up. Most of our professors were also at the dinner, and they each gave a little speech. My art history professor, Liz Lev, even gave me a small parting gift of a DVD about the Vatican that she has written the script for. It was a very emotional dinner, and it really hit me that I was leaving for home the next morning.

Then, after dinner, my friends and I went to our favorite monument, the Trevi Fountain, to enjoy our last night in Rome. On the way, we stopped at San Crispino for our last gelato in Italy. Then, we sat by the Trevi for about three hours. We were able to watch the Trevi go from very crowded to almost empty. It felt so special to be there so late at night and it was the perfect place to reflect on the most amazing and life-changing semester.

Italy has taught me so much about the world and myself. The highlight of my last week in Italy was sitting at the Trevi on our last night with my friends. It is such a peaceful and perfect last memory of Rome. We got to reminisce about all of the unbelievable sights we got to see and places we got to visit over the semester. The beauty of Italy is perfectly summed up in the Trevi Fountain. I loved watching other people from all around the world experience the Trevi for the first time. I felt so blessed and thankful to be able to have had the amazing experience of studying abroad. Sharing the experience with my amazing friends made us feel closer than ever before. We will always share an amazing set of memories. The low point of my week was stressing about finals. I tried my hardest to balance doing well in school with making the most of my last days in Rome. There was one day of finals week where I had to stay on campus all day and not go into the city, which was disappointing and the low point of the week. However, for the most part, I did feel successful in balancing my time.

Ciao ciao,

Bailey

Rome Weekend!

This weekend, my program had a special Rome Weekend planned for us! We got to do lots of exciting things like visit St. Peter’s Basilica again, have an aperitivo with our program director, do some final souvenir shopping, and go to church and have a sports day at the North American College!

Friday

Friday technically served as a make up day for classes that we missed on Easter Monday. So, I had the chance to sleep in a bit, get some work done before lunch, eat at campus, and then have a make up film class. After class, my friends and I went to Old Bear for dinner. Old Bear is a restaurant just outside of Piazza Navona. At the beginning of the semester, our program gave us a series of gift certificates that we could use at Old Bear. So, we try to go once every weekend to use these vouchers. Old Bear has lots of good traditional pasta dishes to try, so it doesn’t get old! My favorite dish there is the eggplant lasagna. This particular trip to Old Bear was special because it was probably our last! We might go sometime this coming weekend, but since we have finals throughout the weekend, we will probably end up eating on campus or staying closer to campus for meals. It was so sad to experience my first last here in Rome! I had my favorite pasta dish of all time, spaghetti carbonara, to celebrate the bittersweet moment. After dinner, we went to Frigidarium for gelato also for what was probably the last time. In all it was such a great night, but it was hard to begin to say goodbye to two places that are very representative of my time here in Rome!

Saturday

The next morning, we got up early to go tour St. Peter’s Basilica for Baroque class. The Basilica was very crowded and it made it very difficult to find our professor. Once we found her, we still had difficulty getting around in the Basilica because it was so packed. After a bit of a struggle and almost losing the professor, we made it to the Pieta. We were taking notes when some guards began talking to my professor. I assumed that they were asking us to move since we had been in the same spot right in front of the Pieta for a while. When I turned around, though, I found out that we were not being asked to move because we had been in our spot for too long but because BERNIE SANDERS was right behind me??!! I was absolutely shocked! He asked us a bunch of questions like where we were from, what we were doing in Rome, how long were we there, where we go to school, and what we study. He also said that we needed to get home soon because we have an election going on back home! It was so surreal to be talking with a presidential candidate! Regardless of any of our political views, our entire class was freaking out and completely ecstatic! He was there with many of his family members. They were all very sweet. He sounded just like he does when you watch a debate on TV. Between being so excited about seeing Bernie Sanders and the Basilica being so crowded, it was very hard to continue class. So, we attempted to talk about a few more things inside, but cut class short because it was too hard to stay together and find the professor. After class, my friends and I got lunch near the Vatican and then shopped a bit to buy souvenirs for friends and family. After a while, we hopped on the metro to meet our program director at the next to last metro stop on the B line. He picked up me and five other students to go to aperitivo at his house. It was so exciting to drive around his neighborhood. He showed us the square colosseum and a cute park. When we got to his house, we met his dog, Domingo. Then, we took Domingo for a walk. After that, we ate and talked about our favorite parts of the semester. Our director has an extensive art collection from all of the different places he’s been around the world (51 different countries!) and it was so interesting to hear him tell the stories of how he got each piece! Soon, we went back to campus after a great day!

Sunday

On Sunday, we got up early to go to the North American College (NAC). The NAC is a school for seminarians here in Rome from the US, Canada, and Australia. When we arrived, Deacon Matt and Deacon John were there to greet us and take us to the chapel where we had Mass with all of the seminarians. Their choir was so large and so amazing! After Mass, we went up to the terrace of the NAC which has a beautiful view of St. Peter’s. Then, we had some homemade bagels, eggs, and bacon for breakfast. Down on the field below the terrace, the seminarians were having their annual baseball tournament, so we watched that for a while. They also had a race around the track that was fun to watch. Then, we changed into comfy clothes and waled to the Villa Doria Pamphilj park. Some of the group played ultimate frisbee which was also fun to watch. Then, my friends and I left to head back to campus. After a brief stop at the grocery store, we got back and started on some work for our last week of classes!

The highlight of the weekend was definitely meeting Bernie Sanders. I hadn’t seen the news the day before, so I did not know that he was in Rome. I will never forget the shock of turning around to see a presidential candidate five feet away. He was so kind to take the time to talk with us. It was interesting because, as a group of college students, we are one of his biggest target groups for getting votes. For everyone in my class, it is the first presidential election where we are old enough to vote. Also, when I was walking away to follow my professor to our next lecture spot, an Italian man stopped a few of us to ask who the man was that we were all so excited to see. We told him that it was a presidential candidate. Having this interaction reminded me how perfect the timing was and how lucky we were that we were right by where he entered the Basilica!

The lowpoint of the weekend was trying to get around in the Basilica through the crowds. It was impossible to move as a group, and my professor frequently got so far ahead of us that our headsets would go out of range and we could not see or hear her. Somehow, we were able to catch up to her twice without hearing or seeing her, but by the time we would find her she had already started lecturing. So, we missed parts of the notes because of the crazy crowd. People were just everywhere and it made class very exhausting and frustrating. I was very glad that my professor felt the same way and ended class early.

With love,

Bailey

Two and a Half Months Later…

I FINALLY SAW INSIDE ST. PETER’S BASILICA AND CLIMBED THE DOME!!!

For Faith and Reason class on Thursday, my professor, Father Radu, took us to tour St. Peter’s, climb the dome, have class in Trastevere, attend an Italian prayer service at Santa Maria in Trastevere, and have a group dinner at Trattoria de Gli Amici. This class was an amazing experience!

Going to St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the top must-see attractions in Rome, so it might seem strange that I had not gone until today. So, let me explain a bit of my reasoning behind waiting. Having attended an Ash Wednesday audience, Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square, and having toured the Vatican Museums on different occasions, I felt like I was not missing out on being in the Vatican by waiting to see inside the Basilica itself. I wanted to wait to tour the inside of the Basilica until I was going for class so that I would have a deep understanding of the art and architecture of the Basilica when I was seeing it for the first time. Also, I thought it would be interesting to save one big thing, like St. Peter’s Basilica, until the end of my time in Rome. The city is full of amazing surprises around every corner, but it was so exciting to have St. Peter’s Basilica be almost like this really big surprise the city had for me as I neared the end of the semester! Also, I will be visiting the Basilica two more times for both my Baroque and Christian Art classes before the semester is over so I will still get to spend lots of time in the Basilica even though that time did not start until now!

When I first walked into the Basilica, it took my breath away. I entered through the main, front door and had a fantastic view down the center of the church. I knew that it was the largest church in the world, but I still did not expect it to be as big as it really was! Each of the side chapels was big enough to be a church within itself and even had individual domes. The first thing we did inside the church was go see Michelangelo’s Pieta. It was amazing to see this beautiful, revolutionary piece of art. Then, we walked to the nave of the church and learned a lot about the different plans for the Basilica and the art that is in the nave and around the altar and apse. It was so crazy to hear about how HUGE everything is. Since the Basilica itself is so large, the art in it is also big, which is what gives you the illusion that it isn’t as big as it actually is.

After taking it all in for a while, we left the Basilica to go climb the dome. We rode the elevator up many flights of stairs, and then walked about 300 stairs all the way to the top! As you got closer and closer to the top, the stairway got smaller and smaller and also began to tilt! It felt almost like we were in Pisa again! Once we got to the top, we got to experience one of the most amazing views of Rome! I walked all the way around the circular terrace and could see the river, many parks, and the Vatican Museums, but my favorite view was out onto St. Peter’s Square.

Soon, we had to climb back down to take a bus to Trastevere. When we arrived, we had a bit of free time to grab a water and a snack. Then, we all gathered together to have an hour of class in one of the classrooms of the Sant’Egidio community. Father Radu is my favorite professor here in Rome, so class was very enjoyable!

After class, we went to the prayer service at Santa Maria in Trastevere. It was really nice because we were all given headsets so that we could hear an English translation of some of the prayers. When the prayers weren’t translated, we were given corresponding page numbers so that we could follow along in Italian!

After the prayer service, we had an experience at our group dinner that particularly stuck out to me. We went to eat at a restaurant called Trattoria de Gli Amici, which means restaurant of the friends. It is a restaurant run by the Community of Sant’Egidio that employs mostly people with special needs. The friends and families of these individuals volunteer to help out in the restaurant to support their loved one who has special needs. It was so heartwarming to see the workers with special needs working right along side their families and friends. Everyone treated them with such dignity and respect. The walls of the restaurant were decorated with art done by their employees and other adults with special needs. The money that the restaurant makes goes back to helping the disadvantaged in Rome and around the world. As someone who wants to work with people with special needs, I found the whole experience very moving. It taught me that I am definitely in the right field!

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In all, I had an amazing experience in my on-site Faith and Reason class!!

With love,

Bailey

And the Walls Kept Tumbling Down in the City that We Love

This weekend I went with Duquesne on our second academic excursion to Campania in southern Italy! We climbed Mt. Vesuvius, toured Pompeii, Paestum, Vietri sul Mare, and Capri, and even toured a buffalo mozzarella farm! And on top of all of that, I celebrated my 20th birthday here on Saturday! It was an amazing weekend!

Friday

On Friday morning, we all got up bright and early to bus to Mt. Vesuvius! The bus drove us about half way up the mountain before we got off to hike the rest of the way up. This was actually pretty scary since the roads were barely big enough for one tour bus but they were two way roads climbing up the mountain! Our bus driver got us there safely though and we were ready to hike! The climb up was actually much more difficult than I had expected. The path was made of gravel and loose sandy ash and the path was very steep so everyone kept slipping! After hiking for a while and stopping to take in the amazing views along the way, we made it to the top of the volcano. It was absolutely stunning! One of the things that I found particularly amazing was that the ground I was standing on of the volcano is likely to erupt in my lifetime (some scientists believe it will erupt within the next ten years!). At the top, we all enjoyed packed lunches and learned some of the history of the volcano from our professors. Then, after taking in the gorgeous sight of the volcano one last time, we hiked back down the mountain to get on the bus and drive to Pompeii! Touring Pompeii was also an amazing experience. The town was much larger than I had expected and the ruins were very well preserved. We saw the theater, the baths, the forum, and even some homes of the people of Pompeii. It was so interesting to walk in their footsteps. One of the most moving parts of the tour was viewing the plaster casts of the bodies of some of the people who died in the 79 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Touring both of these sites in one day made the natural disaster feel so real.

After touring Pompeii, we drove to our hotel which was in Paestum! After checking in, we all got ready for an amazing four course meal! It was so delicious and was a perfect end to an exciting day!

Saturday

The next morning, we set out for Tenuta Vannulo which is an organic buffalo mozzarella farm! I am obsessed with mozzarella, so starting all the way back in January on orientation day when I heard that we would get to a buffalo mozzarella farm I have been waiting to have this experience and just getting more and more excited! Now that it was finally here (and it was on my birthday!) I was super excited! When we arrived, we got to watch the workers make mozzarella and fold it into braids! Then, we got to hang out with some of the buffalo!!!! I loved being around them. The farm tries to treat their buffalo very well, so sometimes they play them classical music and they even have massage machines for the buffalo! Next, we got to see how they make chocolate spread with buffalo milk. After that we got to try mozzarella that was so delicious and so fresh that I could have eaten maybe about 50 pounds of it! We then had some free time to explore the farm, and my friends and I went to their cafe to try some buffalo milk yogurt! I had blueberry flavor and it was very good.

After that, we were off again to tour the Archaeological Museum of Paestum and the surrounding Greek ruins. It was amazing to see Greek ruins in Italy and it was such a beautiful day to explore them! One thing in particular that the Archaeological Museum of Paestum is famous for is the Tomb of the Diver, which is an intact, large scale Greek painting. After our tour, we grabbed pizza for lunch, and then we got on the bus to go to Vietri sul Mare!

In Vietri, which is located at one end of the Amalfi Coast, we had free time to take in the amazing views of the water and to shop for their famous ceramics! Our program director even challenged us to find the tackiest souvenir and take a picture to send to them for a contest. It was a pretty funny competition! Even though it rained a bit, we had a good time!

Soon, we got back on the bus to go back to the hotel for another amazing four course dinner! This one was extra special, though, because our program directors planned a special birthday suprise for me and another student, Anna, whose birthday it was too! When it was time for dessert, all of the lights went out, and our desserts were brought out with candles and everyone sang happy birthday! It was really nice! It made celebrating a birthday away from your family, which was tough, a bit easier!

Sunday

On Sunday, we got up very early to check out of the hotel and take a ferry to the island of Capri! The ferry ride itself was really rough, but when we got to the island it was worth it! The island was much colder than we were all expecting, so almost all of us bought variations on the same Capri crew neck to keep warm. It’s now the unofficial uniform of Duquesne Italian Campus! Soon, the sun came out and we had an amazing time exploring the island city of Capri. The water was so blue and it was stunning. Unfortunately, the Blue Grotto was closed because the water was too rough, but not being able to do that left us more time to explore other parts of the town!

Overall, it was an amazing weekend. This was our last weekend trip, which means that I will be in Rome from now on until I leave to come home. It feels very bitter sweet. I am so excited to spend these next two weeks in Rome and am glad that I will get to spend my last moment in Italy in the city I love so much, but the fact that we aren’t traveling any more really hits home the fact that we are leaving Italy in such as short amount of time. The semester has really flown by!

The highlight of my weekend was definitely the amazing things I got to do on my birthday. I really loved touring the buffalo mozzarella farm and enjoying the most delicious cheese of my entire life. I also really appreciated my program directors celebrating my birthday at dinner that night. I had never celebrated a birthday away from my family before, so I was missing them and all of our quirky birthday traditions a lot. However, my program directors were able to make studying abroad feel a little bit more like home! They are always showing us how much they care about us, and it is so heartwarming!

The low point of the weekend was the ferry ride to Capri. Since it had rained the day before and the weather was still not that great that morning, the water was very choppy and it was very windy. This combination made for a very rough ride. About fifteen students and even one of our visiting professors got severely sea sick and threw up. I had never experienced motion sickness before in my life, but even I was feeling very ill. As more and more people became sick, the smell made the situation worse and would then trigger more people to be sick. The boat ride was about an hour and a half long, but felt like it was much longer. In my opinion, Capri was so beautiful that it was all worth it! However, this experience really goes to show that traveling is not always glamorous!

With love,

Bailey

Sassy Sassie

This weekend I had the privilege to travel to Puglia and Basilicata, two southern regions in Italy, with Duquesne! We explored the small towns of Polignano, Lecce, Alberobello, and Matera. It was a fantastic weekend!

Thursday

On Thursday, we left Rome after lunch to bus down to Polignano. It took about six hours to drive there. When we arrived, we checked in to a beautiful hotel. Polignano is right on the Adriatic Sea, and we had a view of the water from our room! It was so amazing. Soon, we went to find a place to eat dinner. My friends and I stumbled upon a great seafood restaurant and had a delicious meal! After that, we walked around the main piazza of the town and looked out over the sea at night. Then, we went back to the hotel to get some sleep for the big day ahead.

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Friday

The next morning, we got up and went to breakfast at the hotel. After that, we walked down to a beachy area by the water. It was so beautiful! The water was freezing cold, but we put our feet in anyway, which was so much fun. We walked through a small cave tunnel in the surrounding rock to see the water from a different angle. After that, we climbed up a small rock cliff to look out at the sea from there. It was so relaxing to take it all in. After that, the whole group met up under the statue of a famous singer from Polignano. He is the singer who originally wrote and performed the song Volare (which I know from the Lizzie McGuire movie). Our director, Michael, had printed out lyric sheets for us for this song, and he had us all try to sing the song in Italian under the statue. It was really funny! Then, we got on our bus to head to Lecce for the day.

When we got to Lecce, we had some free time to get lunch, and my friends and I got some sandwiches and gelato. Then, we came back together as a group to go on a walking tour of the town. On the tour, we saw many beautiful Baroque churches, a papier-mache workshop, and an ancient Roman amphitheater. After the tour, we got back on the bus to go back to Polignano for dinner. I had amazing seafood pasta and gelato, of course.

Saturday

On Saturday, we had another yummy breakfast at the hotel before we went to Le Grotte di Castellana, which means the Castellana Caverns. The caverns are a long stretch of caves underneath Castellana. We got to go splunking in the caves! It was so beautiful. We had a tour guide to take us through the caves and point out interesting rock formations and types of stalactites and stalagmites. This caving experience was so different from caving in Budapest. In the Castellana Caverns, there were paths for us to walk on, and the caves were artificially lit. We did not every have to squeeze through small spaces and could walk normally the whole time. In the Budapest caves, we were typically crawling or scaling something and the caves were not lit. Besides these differences in activity level, the biggest difference was the type of caves. In Budapest, it was mostly just rock, but in the Castellana Caverns, there were many stunningly beautiful formations. I was really glad to have experienced both types of caving experience while studying abroad.

After caving, we got on the bus to drive to Alberobello! Alberobello is a beautiful tiny town that is famous for it’s Trulli houses, which are commonly compared to Smurf houses. When we first arrived, we had a great group lunch in a Trullo restaurant. Then, we had free time to explore. Most of the houses we saw were used as stores today, but many houses are still residential! Many of the houses have symbols painted on the roof. These symbols can have many different meanings and they reflect the family who lived in the house. Many of the Trullo house stores had panoramic rooftop lookouts that you could go up to to look at the surrounding Trulli houses below. The houses were so fascinating and different from anything I had ever seen before. We even saw a Trullo church (the only one in the world!).

Soon, we were back on the bus heading to Matera! Matera is known for it’s Sassi District. The Sassi District is a series of cave houses that people lived in until about the 1960’s. Today, it is a UNESCO world heritage site. When we arrived, we checked in to our hotel, Hotel Sant’ Angelo, which is a cave hotel. Our room was absolutely stunning! (We actually think it was probably the honeymoon suite!) The whole room was a beautiful, white cave. Soon, we got ready for dinner, which was a group dinner at the Sant’ Angelo Cave Restaurant! We had a delicious four course meal and wine tasting. It was a great end to an amazing day!

Sunday

The next morning, we got up and had breakfast at the cave restaurant. Then, we went on a walking tour of Matera! We saw inside a cave house, toured a cave church, and enjoyed the beautiful gorge. Then, we got sandwiches at a small shop in the town before getting back on the bus to go back to Rome, ending an amazing weekend in southern Italy!

One moment that stuck out to me in particular was touring a cave house in the Sassi District. The cave house that we saw was decorated to look as it did when people lived there. The house was one small room that typically would house families of seven to eleven people. The family’s animals also lived with them inside the cave houses, so there would typically be a donkey and chickens, among other animals, living in the cave house. The quarters were very tight and not very sanitary since they were living with their animals and they did not have running water. For a while, the cave houses were known as the “shame” of Italy. The people were forced to move out of their houses because of the unsanitary living conditions in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Since then, the attitude toward these cave houses has totally changed. They have been renovated, and are even a UNESCO world  heritage site. I found it amazing that people were living in the houses until so recently in history! Additionally, I though it was interesting how quickly the public opinion of the cave houses has changed. Seeing these houses taught me to appreciate the living conditions that I am so lucky to have, even when it is a cramped dorm room!

With love,

Bailey

Easter Weekend with Papa Francesco, Mama Bev, and Ryan

This weekend I was lucky enough to have two special visitors…my mom and my brother, Ryan, came to Rome from Pittsburgh to celebrate Easter with me!

Thursday

My mom and brother arrived on Thursday morning. While I was in classes, they checked into their hotel and then went to the Vatican to tour the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s. They both really enjoyed the experience, and St. Peter’s was probably my mom’s favorite site of their whole trip! After I was done with classes for the day, my mom and brother came to campus and i gave them a short tour of where I’ve been living. It was really nice to show them in person the place I’d been talking to them from for the past two months. From campus we went into the city by bus and metro and I got to teach my family a bit about the public transportation system. Then, we went to the Trevi Fountain! I loved watching my mom and brother’s faces as they saw it for the first time. We mad our way through the crowd to the base of the fountain and tossed in some coins and wished to come back someday to Rome together! From there, we walked to Piazza Navona and then went to dinner at one of my favorite places, Lagana. After that, we went to Frigidarium for my family’s first Italian gelato! They both got their gelato dipped in white chocolate and loved it! Then, we went to the Steeler’s bar. At the bar, they have a really large Steeler’s banner, and it is a tradition to sign your name on the banner when you first visit the bar.  My family signed their names on the banner right by where I had previously signed my name! At this point, it was pretty late, so we went to the hotel so that I could see where they would be staying and then I went back to campus for the night.

 

Friday

The next morning, my friend Sydney and I met my family at their hotel and hopped on the metro to go to the Colosseum! We looked around for a little while and then walked a bit down the street to go tour the Roman Forum. This was really exciting because the Forum is one of the places Sydney and I had had class, so we had lots of information to share and loved getting to play tour guide for my family. It was also exciting because a church in the Forum just reopened after being closed to the public for over 30 years and we got to see inside it. From there we walked to Piazza Venezia to look around and then we took a bus to Largo Argentina. My family found it really interesting to see where Caesar had been killed, and since we are cat people they thought it was awesome that the ruins are now a cat sanctuary! From there, we took a tram into Trastevere for lunch at Dar Poeta which is an amazing pizza place. The pizza we had there was my brother’s favorite pizza from the whole trip, which is a big deal because he had pizza for almost every meal! After we ate, we went back to the Colosseum to attend stations of the cross there with the Pope. It was really interesting to hear stations in Italian and it was so exciting for my family to see the Pope for the first time! After stations, we went back to the hotel to have just a few snacks for dinner since we were still full from lunch. Then Sydney and I went back to campus after an amazing day!

Saturday

On Saturday, Duquesne had a short day trip planned to Tivoli and Castel Gandolfo. So, for the morning and the afternoon, I got to explore the beautiful Tivoli gardens and have a Lizzie McGuire movie moment! There was even a short Easter egg hunt for us at the gardens! Then, we saw Castel Gandolfo which is the summer home of the Pope, and we had a delicious lunch nearby while overlooking a beautiful lake at Ristorante Bucci. While I was away, my family took a tour of the inside of the Colosseum and went to the Capitoline Museum. Then, Sydney and I met up with them at the Pantheon and went to another good pizza place for dinner! Then, Sydney headed back to campus and I went back to the hotel with my family to spend the night with them there.

Sunday

Buona Pasqua! On easter morning, my family and I woke up early to head to Easter mass at the Vatican! For breakfast, we tried, among other things, some columba which is traditional Italian Easter bread. Then, we got on the metro to the Vatican. The metro was deceivingly empty because as soon as we got off we were in a giant crowd of people who were also going to the Vatican mass. Then, we waited a while to get through security. It was very exciting because you could feel how happy everyone was to be there. Soon, we got inside St. Peter’s Square where mass was being held. The altar was beautifully decorated. There was a marching band and a fantastic choir that snag all of the music throughout mass. The service itself was very beautiful. The reading and intentions were read in many different languages including Spanish, Greek, Arabic, French, and English in addition to the traditional Latin and Italian. Amazingly, they were able to get communion to everyone who wanted to receive it even though there were thousands of people there! To get communion, you just had to find a priest with a yellow and white striped umbrella at the edges of the crowd. After mass, the Pope drove around through the crows and we got to see him, wave to him, and receive a blessing from him right up close! In all, the experience of attending Easter mass at the Vatican was amazing. It was great to gather together with so many people to celebrate the resurrection!

After mass, we got lunch near the Vatican and then went to St. Mary Major church. This church is a very important pilgrimage church because it has a Holy Door and is a papal basilica. Then we stopped back at the hotel quickly before heading back out for dinner. After dinner, we walked to the Trevi Fountain so that my family could see it again for their last time on this trip! Then, we went back to the hotel after another great day.

Monday

On Monday, we got up early and took the metro to Termini to get a train to…Florence! We decided to take a day trip on Easter Monday, which is called Pasquetta in Italian, and decided that Florence was the perfect destination. It was really cool that my family got to experience a high speed train while they were here. We took a short nap on the train and got into Florence at about 08:30. The first thing that we did when we arrived was walk to the Duomo and my family thought it was stunning! Then, my brother and I climbed to the top of the bell tower. The climb was a bit over 400 steps! It was a very long climb up and we felt a little dizzy by the end, but the view from the top was amazing and totally worth it! We were even able to spot my mom from the top (she had decided not to climb and was waiting for us by the entrance to the bell tower). After we climbed back down, we all went into the baptistry which was very beautiful. Then, we went to the church itself which is just as, if not more, beautiful. After that, we went to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, which my family really enjoyed. Next, we got lunch, and then after that we went to the Academia Gallery. We were so excited that it was open because the gallery is usually closed on Mondays, but they were open specially for Easter Monday! Later, we went shopping in the markets. My brother had never had to negotiate a price to buy something before and he really did not like that prices could be negotiated and were not fixed. After we shopped, we walked around the city some more and then went to the Ponte Vecchio to look out on the beautiful river and see all of the love locks that decorate the bridge. We walked leisurely to dinner, then got some gelato (my family’s last of their trip!) and went to see the Duomo at night. Soon, we had to catch our train back to Rome! I went back to their hotel and had to say a very hard goodbye to my mom and brother because the next morning they were flying back home. In all, we had an amazing time together and I am so thankful that I got to see my family! They made it home safely, and I miss them already!

One experience that had a particular impact on me was riding in taxis by myself back to campus. Before my family came to Rome, I had never ridden in a taxi by myself because I was always traveling with some of my friends. The hotel my family stayed at was not very far from campus, but I was always returning too late at night to utilize public transportation. So, I taxied back to campus three times. During the ride, I had to be very attentive. I would read street signs and I was always trying to figure out which route the driver was taking. Each time, the taxi driver took a different route back to campus, so it was a challenge to understand where I was. When I recognized a landmark or a street name, I was very excited by all that I have learned about the city of Rome. One of my taxi drivers was very friendly, and we even had a nice conversation about our favorite places in the city! These experiences reinforced the lesson that being alert and aware of your surroundings is very important. This is especially important when you are traveling in a country other than your own.

With love,

Bailey

Spring Break!!!!

8 days. 4 countries. 3 currencies and languages. 1 amazing Spring Break!

Berlin, Germany!

The first city that my friends Brittany, Sydney, and I visited was Berlin, Germany. When we arrived, we checked into our airbnb and then took the tram into the tourist center of the city, Alexanderplatz. We then went up to the top of the TV tower. The TV tower is the tallest building in Berlin and has windows all the way around. So, when we were up inside the tower, we could walk around one of the top floors in a circle and look out to see the entire city of Berlin. When we were up in the tower, I realized how absolutely gigantic Berlin is and I felt a bit overwhelmed. We were only staying in Berlin for two nights so I was afraid that we would not be able to see very much of the city. (Spoiler alert: we saw tons of things and it was amazing!) After we took an amazingly fast elevator back down from the tower, we walked around the city for a while to try to get a handle on the layout and feel of the city. Then we went to dinner at one of the oldest still functioning dance halls in Germany for dinner. Inside, the restaurant had tables lining the walls with a large dance floor in the middle. Many local couples were doing a variety of different ballroom dances while we were there which was so much fun to watch. We ate wiener schnitzel and had water buffalo meatballs for dinner which were both delicious. After dinner, we went to a been garden to enjoy some beer, pretzels, and apple strudel while we listened to some live music played by a small band there.

The next morning we got up early to grab breakfast before going on a 4.5 hour guided walking tour around the city. On the tour, we saw all of the main attractions of Berlin like museum island, the site of the Nazi book burning, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, the site of Hitler’s bunker, and the Berlin Wall. After the tour, we got some currywurst which is a local speciality of Berlin. Then, we went back to a few places on the tour that we wanted to see again or in more detail. Then we went to a restaurant our tour guide had recommended to use for dinner. We had raspberry beer, a variety of different types of sausages, and spetzel which were all amazing. Afterwards, we went back to the beer garden for some more live music before heading back to our airbnb for the night to reflect on our trip so far.

Berlin was not what I had expected. I do not mean that in a bad way, however. Even though I knew that Berlin was a capital city and that it was pretty big, I did not expect it to be as big as it was and I had still pictured it as somewhat quaint more like Munich or Dusseldorf, which it is not. The city was very urban, modern, and hipster. Even when a building looked old, it was most likely new. This is because of the massive destruction of the city during World War II and the reconstruction of the city afterwards. So, I did experience some culture shock in Berlin. One of the most interesting things about the city was the fact that being there made history feel so recent. The city does not shy away from acknowledging the atrocities of Nazism. It presents it’s history in a way that honors victims and discourages Nazi sympathizing. It was very shocking and disturbing to see places such as the site of the Nazi book burning in person, but it was also very moving and I am glad to have experienced it.

When we woke up the next morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast and went to the train station where we hopped on a train to…

Prague, Czech Republic!

 

When we got off of the train in Prague, something felt a little off. The station itself was plain concrete and was almost completely empty. The few workers we found told us that there were no taxis available to get to our hostel. So, we wandered a bit and (thankfully!!) found a taxi a few streets away from the station. The driver told us that we had accidentally gotten off of the train at the wrong station and that we were in one of the outer districts of Prague, Prague 7, which was a bit of a distance from the central station and the center of the city which consists of Prague 1 and Prague 2. Oops! Luckily, it was a fairly quick taxi ride from Prague 7 to our hostel, and soon enough we were checking in. Then, we walked through the new side of Prague to Old Town Square. We walked around the square and saw the astronomical clock and the surrounding beautiful architecture. There were many street vendors nearby, so we picked up some mulled wine (it was very cold out) and trdelnik pastries which were sooo good. Then, we walked around a bit more before going to dinner. At dinner we had beer cheese, goulash, potato dumplings, and chicken with potatoes. For dessert we had a traditional Czech pastery. That night we went on a pub crawl which was exciting because we met some other study abroad students and made new friends!

The next morning we grabbed a quick breakfast at our hostel before going on a guided walking tour of the city. On the tour we saw both old and new Prague. We visited the Jewish quarter, the statue of Kafka, and the location of the defenestration of Prague, to name a few. After the tour, we took the Charles bridge to the other side of the river and toured Prague castle. We stayed up on the hill for a little while to just take in the beautiful view of Prague down below. It was truly stunning. Then, we made our way over to the Lennon Wall. It was amazing to walk up to the wall and see so much color. As you got closer, you could begin to make out messages that previous visitors had left on the wall. It was so special to see all of the stories of the people who had visited before us. There was writing in more languages than I could count. The wall was decorated in paint, spray paint, sharpie, and pen. Beatles quotes, jokes, messages of peace, and even Bible quotes were on the wall. To the right side, a small portion had been painted over in white as a tribute to David Bowie which was very nice. My friends and I had brought a sharpie so that we could write on the wall too, so we each took turns writing a Beatles quote on the wall. This was definitely one of my favorite moments of the trip. We even ran into some of our friends from the previous night’s pub crawl at the wall and got to talk with them some more. After that, we crossed back over the river and grabbed some traditional open faced sandwiches and plum pastries. Then after some more exploring we went to dinner at one of the oldest restaurants in Prague. We had chicken and fried cheese which was very good. Then we went to a cafe for desert. I thought I was ordering chocolate cake, but it was actually carrot cake which turned out to be super delicious. This was the night of the housing lottery back at Duquesne’s home campus, so we ate our cake while anxiously waiting to hear the news from our friend Caroline about where we would be living next year. The four of us got the apartment together that we wanted and could not have been more excited! It was a great way to end an amazing day.

The next morning we had breakfast, did a bit of window shopping, and then got on a train to…

Vienna, Austria!

When we arrived in Vienna, we checked into our airbnb and were off and into the city as soon as possible. Unlike the other cities where we had two nights in each, we only stayed one night in Vienna so we tried to make the most of our short time there! We walked to the center of the city and first saw St. Stephen’s church which was beautiful. Then we walked along most of Ringstrass, which is a long circular street in Vienna from which you can see most of the big sights. We saw many of the museums, Hofburg Palace, the opera house, and the Mozart house. Then we went to the large ferris wheel (similar to the London Eye) and rode that at night. It was a great way to see more of the city and it was very beautiful all lit up at night. Then we went for a late dinner at a cafe. After that, we walked around the city a bit more and then went back to the airbnb for the night.

The next morning, we woke up early and got a quick breakfast before heading to the Belvedere Palace. We then toured the grounds of the palace which was extremely beautiful. Then, sadly, we had to head to the train station already. Soon, we were on our way to…

Budapest, Hungary!

Our train got delayed quite a bit going into Hungary, but it only made us more excited to arrive! When we got into Budapest, we checked into our hostel as quickly as possible and then we took the metro to the thermal baths. It was much warmer in Budapest than in the other cities we visited over break and the weather was very similar to Rome in that way. So, it was the perfect weather to put on a bathing suit and go to the thermal baths! There were both indoor and outdoor baths, and cold or warm baths. We went to the warm outdoor bath and it was amazing. The water was slightly cooler than a hot tub back at home. We had a great time relaxing in the water. After a few hours, we left the thermal baths to grab some dinner. I had pumpkin soup and a fried goat cheese salad which were both amazing. Then we went back to the hostel and went on a pub crawl to experience the night life of Budapest! Budapest is famous for it’s ruin bars which are old ruins of buildings reconstructed and redecorated to be bars. It was very cool to see this special type of bar. On the pub crawl my friends and I met and talked with some local people which was really great.

The next morning, we got on a bus to cross from the Pest side where we were staying to the Buda side of the city where we went caving! When we arrived, we suited up in giant, coverall suits and helmets with a light on the front. Then our guide lead us out to the caves. I had no idea how intense caving under Budapest was going to be. I had pictured walking around and looking at rocks with maybe a little climbing here and there. This was not the case. Our caving experience was more like mountain climbing underground. At times, we were scaling rocks and army crawling through mud puddles. I even needed to be pulled through a crevice by the guide because I could not move myself through on my own. There was blood, sweat, and (almost!) tears. It was a very scary experience but it felt great to have completed it! Afterward we were completely exhausted. We went to dinner and I had paprika chicken and a traditional Hungarian cake for dessert. Then we went on some nighttime sightseeing and went to the Parliament building, the second largest temple in the world, and the palace, among other things. After that, we went back to the hostel and packed for our flight out in the morning.

In all, spring break was an amazing experience that challenged me in more ways than I could have expected. Physically, it was difficult to keep up with all of the walking that we did. We averaged at least 10 miles per day. It was also difficult to keep the hours that we kept. I’m so very glad that we were almost always out in the cities doing things, but it did not leave much time for sleep. We were out in the cold for most of that time, and I was beginning to get sick, so that was also challenging. Mentally, it was a hard to understand the conversions into two new currencies and to keep all of our train and plane traveling schedules straight. Also, there were many times when we would have been lost or stranded somewhere if we hadn’t paid close attention to landmarks and maps. Even though these challenges and others made the trip difficult at times, I am so glad that I was pushed out of my comfort zone. I leaned so much about myself and about how to handle new or scary situations. This trip made me feel like a “real” adult, and while I still do not think that I am ready to be a Full Time Real Adult, my traveling has given me the tools I need to do it one day. I am so grateful for this experience and am so blessed that I got to do it with two of my best friends by my side.

With love from Rome,

Bailey

 

London Calling

This weekend I went on my most exhilarating adventure yet…London! My friend from home and since birth, Kelly, is also studying abroad this semester in Sheffield, so we decided to meet up in London and tour the city together! It was a wonderful weekend full of firsts, theatre, food, and fun!

Friday

Friday morning I took a taxi to the airport bright and early. I was very nervous because it was my first time flying alone. I had a few issues at the airport. First, my ticket listed the wrong terminal, so a nice security guard helped me figure out where I was really supposed to be. Then, I successfully went through security and passport control. Next, I came upon a second passport control. I was told by a worker that I needed to go through it again, but when I got to the front of the line (3o minutes later) a second worker told me that I actually did not need to go through again and could have gone straight to my gate. It was frustrating, but I still made it to my gate in plenty of time. While I waited for my flight, which was then delayed an hour and a half, I got in some studying for my midterms which were coming up the next week, so the flight delay was probably a good thing for my grades! Soon, I was on the plane and then landing in London after a smooth flight!

When I landed, I exchanged some money and got on a Gatwick Express train to Victoria Station. While I was looking for the train, I kept forgetting that everyone in London also speaks English so I kept trying to say phrases like “thank you” and “excuse me” in Italian! It was so interesting to me that even after being in Italy for a little under a month, those words had become my default! On the train, I sat next to a very nice man from Texas. He and his wife were traveling around Europe with their winnings from an episode of the game show Family Feud! He told me all about the process of auditioning for the show with his family and about their episode. He said that they won the game on a steal from the other family. The question was who do you not want to see running out of the back of a church. The top answer was the priest, but his family stole the question and won the game by answering God! It was so awesome to hear about the show from someone who had been on it and to be reminded of the special opportunity that traveling gives me to meet interesting people all over the world!

Soon, I arrived at Victoria Station. When I got outside, the first thing I saw was a Starbucks! London immediately reminded me of a fancy New York City and I loved it. I wanted to check out the British Museum, so I decided to walk there from the station to see what I could see along the way. I stopped at tons of cool sights like Buckingham Palace, the National Gallery, and many West End theaters, which was so exciting to me because I absolutely love musical theatre. I made it to the museum and wandered for a few hours until Kelly arrived from Sheffield and met me there! It was so great to see her! From the museum, we went out for dinner, walked around the city a bit, and then checked into the hostel for the night.

Saturday

The next morning, we got up and went out for traditional English breakfast! It was surprisingly delicious. I had never had beans on toast before, and I was not expecting to like it, but it was very good. The beans that are typically used around the UK were Heinz brand so it was exciting to see a Pittsburgh brand being used so far away from home! After breakfast, we walked around the city. We saw platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Parliament building, Big Ben, the London Eye, the Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London. On the way to the Tower of London, we passed a marquis in the distance that looked like it had Matthew Perry on it. We were curious (could I BE any more obsessed with Chandler Bing?) so we walked a little closer and found out that we were right and that Matthew Perry was currently starring in a play called The End of Longing. Assuming it would be sold out, we went in the lobby of the theater just to look around. However, when we went inside, the box office worker told us that there were still a few seats left and that they only cost 15 pounds so we got tickets to see the show that night! The seats were on the very end of the last row in the theater but we didn’t care! We were just so excited to be spontaneously seeing a play in London! We continued to walk until we made it to the Tower of London where we saw the Crown Jewels and many other exhibits. Then we wandered around the city, did some window shopping, and grabbed dinner at a pub before the show. The show itself was great! It was a dark comedy about relationships. I was so excited to be able to experience a slice of London theater even in my short amount of time in the city. After the play, we went back to the hostel for the night after a great day.

Sunday

On Sunday, we got up early and checked out of the hostel. Then, we went to a really cute cafe for breakfast. I had some pastries and a delicious mint tea. Then, we went to Shakespeare’s Globe to take a tour of the theater. It was really exciting to learn about the theater. We even got to watch a young theater group rehearse a few scenes from Henry VIII and A Midsummer Night’s Dream! It was a great end to a fantastic weekend. Sadly, I then had to say goodbye to Kelly and catch a train back to the airport.

Overall, the highlight of my trip to London was getting to spend it with Kelly! I had not seen her in a pretty long time, so it would have been great to be reunited at home, but it was every better to get to see her again while we’re both abroad! I felt like we traveled very well together. Kelly had already visited London once, but since there is so much to do in London,  all of the things we did were still things she had never done before which was really exciting! It was just so special to catch up and share our study abroad experiences. The low point of the trip was my flight back to Rome. It was storming very badly, and what I thought would be the last half hour of the flight was very turbulent. Since the turbulence was so awful, I had been counting down the minutes until the plane was suppose to land. I began to worry when we were still up in the air 15, then 20, then 30 minutes after we were supposed to touch ground. Eventually, the pilot came over the intercom and said in English that it was not safe to land in Rome and that the plane was now in route to Pisa. My mind was racing a mile a minute and I was trying to explain what the pilot had just said to the Italians around me on the plane who did not understand the pilot. A few minutes later, a flight attendant delivered the message in Italian over the intercom. It was very upsetting to hear, and people began shouting. We flew to Pisa with more turbulence the whole way, but we did land safely. We were then held on the plane while the flight company debated what to do next. After about a half hour, we were told that a bus would come and drive us from Pisa to Rome that night at 23:00. So, we got off of the plane and I went to grab some food. At this point, the airline workers left so I just tried to stick with people I recognized from the flight. Luckily, I found another girl who was studying abroad and traveling by herself as well, so we stuck together. The bus was about 50 minutes late, so we were preparing to spend the night at the airport when it thankfully came. We then drove through the storm to the Rome airport. The first people off of the bus got in taxis, but by the time we got to the stand they were all gone. I tried calling for one, but got no answer since at this point it was about 03:30. Then, we saw one taxi begin to pull around a corner and we sprinted to it. My new friend and I both took the taxi back to our campuses safely and I was back at about 04:00. The whole experience was very scary and I was completely exhausted but thankful that I made it back to campus safely.

Even despite the Pisa Incident, I had an amazing weekend in London!

-Bailey

San Gimignano, Siena, Lucca, and Pisa, oh my!

This weekend, my study abroad program had our first academic excursion! This means that the staff and our teachers take us to cities around Italy to teach us more about Italian history and culture. This academic excursion was called the Medieval Tuscan Excursion, and we visited four cities in Tuscany in three days! This trip was definitely a whirlwind of travel and learning, and I loved it!

San Gimignano

The first city that we visited on our excursion was San Gimignano. From the second we arrived, I was blown away by the beauty of the tiny town. As we walked toward the center of the city, we could look out and see the rolling hills and mountains of the country side. Then, my art history professor took us on a tour of the most prominent church in the town. After that, we were free to explore for about an hour and a half. My friends and I grabbed a quick slice of pizza for lunch before climbing one of the fourteen towers that are still standing in San Gimignano. The view of the town from the tower was truly amazing! I couldn’t believe the sights were real – I felt like I was in a movie! My friends and I had the top of the tower to ourselves so we stayed up there for as long as our schedule would allow to take it all in.

Right before we needed to meet back up with the rest of the group, we grabbed some gelato. There’s always time for gelato!!

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Then, we piled back on to the bus to head for Siena!!

Siena

When we arrived in Sienna, we quickly began touring! My art history professor first took us to the church where St. Catherine’s head is kept. Then, we toured the Palazzo Pubblico and the Battistero and Duomo of Siena. These tours taught us a lot about the history of Siena and Romanesque architecture.

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Next, we checked into our hotel that we were staying in for the night. After that, we were free to go get some dinner and explore! I had a delicious, cheesy gnocchi for dinner and then – what else? – gelato for dessert! Bright and early the next day we were back on the road headed for Lucca!

Lucca

The first thing we did when arriving in Lucca was walk to the center of the town. It was a great way to start to learn the city. Lucca is known for the fact that it’s medieval city wall is still in tact, so after walking through the city, we walked all of the way around the city on the wall! It was about a four mile walk. Along the wall, there are tons of small parks and benches. We saw so many local people enjoying the outdoors, jogging, or walking their dogs. It felt like we were really seeing a slice of Italian life because it was not very touristy.

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Then we stopped in a cafe and had some panino for lunch before walking around the town and window shopping. Next, we met up with the group to check into our second hotel for the weekend. While we were there, we got dressed up for the night! We went back into the city and attended Mass at St. Martin’s Cathedral in Italian! This was the first time I have been to church in Italian. It was very exciting because there were parts of the Mass that I could follow. Then, we went to a delicious four course meal with the whole group to end the night! The next morning, we were back on the bus headed for Pisa!

Pisa

When we arrived in Pisa, we quickly headed toward the Camposanto to tour the church and baptistry. They were both very beautiful! Then we had free time to take all of our touristy pictures with the leaning tower and to climb the tower! Being at the top of the tower was very scary. You can really feel that the building is leaning! The view from the top made it all worth it, however! Too soon we were back on the bus to come back to Rome, ending a very exciting weekend!

In all, the highlight of my weekend was walking around the city wall in Lucca. This town was so tiny and beautiful. The walk around the wall was so peaceful and you could gaze off into the beautiful mountains that surround the city from every angle. Watching Italian people go about their routines in the parks and on the path around the city made it feel so livable. I really felt like I could picture myself living there! The low point of the weekend was definitely how quickly we moved around from city to city and the structure of the trip. For example, we were only in San Gimignano for about three hours. I loved it there so much and there was so much more to see, but we did not have time. I really wish that we could have stayed longer! It’s ok though – it gives me an excuse to come back one day!!

-Bailey