Sunday, November 15

Hoşça Kalın

Last night mom and I pushed through our exhaustion and went back across the bridge in search of some true Turkish cuisine. We went to a restaurant mom had found in the New York Times, written up as being absolutely delicious and in a cool area. Even though our cab driver couldn’t find the restaurant, he parked on the street to go in search of it, and he came back to the cab with the host, who brought us back to the restaurant, which was on a tiny street filled with outdoor restaurants. It was amazing. I had grilled eggplant with melted goat cheese for an appetizer, and a chicken dish with almonds, peanuts, date or raisin like fruit, in a creamy ginger sauce with rice. Mom had pureed eggplant (essentially like mashed potato consistency, but eggplant) with lamb and a special sauce. We had wine, and I tried a Turkish coffee afterward (YUM). When we left the restaurant, they helped us find a cab again. The restaurant was off of a road, but not for cars, for the above ground trolley, but the cab came to pick us up there anyway, and it was a mad dash to get into the cab before a head on collision with the trolley (of either direction). Of course.

We made it home (to Maine) safely, with no glitches– and by no glitches I mean NO glitches. Swiss Air was even accommodating, and put us in business class (once you go business, you never go back). We also learned in Switzerland it’s against the law for some who is handicapped to travel alone … so much for peace, love and equality (and independence).

Overall, my trip was so successful. I met THE nicest people, both Turkish and American, and got to see so much in the short time was there. CIEE made everything so easy, and all of their staff was so helpful in making sure that I was able to get up the 13 steps so I could see the blue mosque, or the HUGE stone “ramp” to help me get up to the second floor of the Hagia Sophia, or the two FLIGHTS of stairs to the reception/arts museum. The city is so beautiful, but there is absolutely no way I could have even pretended to do it on my own. So that’s it until my next adventure … Thanks for reading!


Friday, November 13

Spice up Your Life

I could bore you by telling you we woke up early this morning and made our way to the Tokpiko Palace before 10. Or by telling you about its incredible size, intricate tile design, or historical legacy of the Sultan’s reign over the 80,000 square meter grounds. Or even about the Harem, the area where the Sultan kept women, including his mother, one of the most powerful women in the empire, his wives, or wives to-be who were held in a certain section to essentially train to be the Sultan’s sex slaves. I could tell you about our incredible walk from the palace to the Bosporus, where we stopped in store windows filled with baklava and Turkish delight that would make your mouth water. Or about how we stopped under a bridge, filled with restaurants, where we had fresh fish sandwiches, literally a fish, on bread, with tomato and lettuce. I could try and explain the possibly hundreds of stairs we bumped up and down today, just to get from one side of the highway to another, in an underground walking tunnel. Or I could even attempt to explain the spice market, where there were tons of stores selling fresh tea, every spice, nut, and dried fruit imaginable. Not to mention the vendors, who were extremely interested in the fact that we were Americans. I believe one of the vendor’s comments was “Are you lost? Don’t worry … I’m right here!” Or another who said “Are you Miss USA?” and after I responded no, he said “Well, you are mine!” and offered me “Love” tea. Thanks, but no thanks. I felt like I was in some horror movie about super cheesy pick-up lines. We humored them by buying fresh “Relax” tea, and honey and pistachio sweets, but tried to stay away from “Natural Turkish Viagra” or “The Sultan’s Aphrodisiac” – which most of the time ended up just being Saffron.

Even though I could go on for days about all of the incredible things we did today, I would prefer to tell you that I saw my life flash before my eyes this afternoon. After about five hours on our feet exploring, we decided to grab a cab home. When we met someone who would give us a ride back to the hotel for 15 TL (Turkish lira, which is about 10 bucks) we called it a deal, crammed my chair in the trunk, and set off. The Turks drive like maniacs: worse then the French, the Italians, and anyone from Massachusetts. After almost getting into an accident because of our driver’s inability to use a blinker, we were inevitably pulled over. We sat awkwardly in the cab, while our driver got out and talked to the “polis”. We couldn’t decide whether we should stay and wait, or get out and find another cab. The fact that we were in the middle of a highway confirmed our decision of staying put. After about 10 minutes, the driver got back into the car, ripped up his ticket and threw it out the window, muttered something in Turkish, and lit up a cigarette. The next 7 minutes became the scariest cab ride of my life. Blinkers, stop lights, and people were minor hindrances, most of the time we plowed through all three, though somehow managed not to kill anyone. We arrived safely back at our hotel, where mom literally threw money at him, and the two of us ran inside before our interaction with this cab driver continued.

At the end of the day, if I could give you some advice about Istanbul, it would be: go to the palace, don’t take a cab, and when shopping, don’t settle for the first price someone offers you.

Turkish Delight

Today was the day of my speech – the whole reason I’m here … remember? This morning we went to a big breakfast with everyone from the CIEE conference, with again absolutely delicious food. And we were going to venture out, but my nerves took over and we decided to just practice my speech and chill at the hotel for a bit. We found an absolutely incredible view of the Bosporus, where you could see Asia, the Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque, it was unreal. I then met Daniel, my resident director from Rennes, Cerise, a woman from Mobility International USA, Chris, another student who studied in Rennes in the fall with Asberger’s syndrome, and his study abroad advisor, in the conference room to set up our power points and go over the order of the afternoon. I was extremely nervous, but somehow managed to keep my cool for the presentation. There were about 30 people who attended, and they were engaged and really eager to talk to me, Chris, and Daniel after our presentation. It was a little after 3 and mom and I had realized that we hadn’t had lunch. We ventured out of the hotel to find a sandwich or something yummy. We were crossing the street, looking for a falafel stand or something quick and easy, when we realized, we were taking our lives into our own hands by crossing the street on our own. Two lanes of the street had stop lights, while the other didn’t. So it was somewhat of a “run or die” situation. A really nice Turkish man noticed our hesitancy and helped us across the street. He realized we were American and spoke to us about his sister living in Baltimore “amazing America city.” We told him about our hunt for lunch and he said “come with me, I show you.” He brought us to his friend’s kebab stand, got us sandwiches, and helped us back to our hotel, first having us stop at his family rug shop for business cards, of course. He is an excellent example of everyone here, so nice. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he was about the 50th person to ask me if I were Turkish? Thank you Mimi for my Greek blood!

I also met some one from a program called Diversity Abroad, which encourages students with diverse backgrounds to study abroad. So, after lunch, he interviewed me for his website, and was really great to talk to about my experience. They are launching a new website in January, and hopefully I will be a part of it. There was then a “Meet CIEE” fair, where all of the Resident Directors set up tables with information about their cities and countries, and lots and LOTS of candy. My mom and I completely raided every country, taking chocolate, key chains, pens, and essentially anything we could find. Everyone was so nice and eager to talk to us about their specific program. I spoke with the directors from St. Petersburg, Seville, Brussels, Ferrara, and Dublin, who all seemed dynamic and interested in their students’ study abroad experience. After getting a stomach ache from chocolate and cookies, we ran upstairs to change before the big cocktail reception at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. Before we went, our rockstar organizers Kate and Jill, gave us a heads up that the lift was broken and the bathroom was small, but how often do you go to a cocktail party in the garden of the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum in Istanbul? We took a van over with a couple guys from CIEE who were super helpful. We bumped up a good flight of stairs, and we were under this amazing tent in the garden with heaters, overlooking the lit Blue Mosque. There was traditional Turkish music (which the Resident Director of Istanbul assured me that she found off the street) and delicious Turkish hors d’oeurves. We had a few cocktails, tried traditional Turkish Raki (which is like Ouzo, tastes like black licorice, and is horrible), and explored the museum. Of course as I was on the lift up to the museum, it ran out of battery, so once again we recruited CIEE man power and made it up the huge flight of stairs, you know … just a day in the life. The museum was very cool - they had Turkish rugs, turban accessories and hand painted tiles from the 16th century. We indulged in appetizers which included dolmas and fried parmesan cheese balls (yeah, they are amazing as they sound), and I chatted with someone’s husband from CIEE who is really interested in feminist film, which rocked. Around 9 we left the party and headed back to the hotel, where we then turned right back around and went to a hookah bar with some of the CIEE staff. We tried apple, grape, and lemon mint, and trust me, it was no Purple Caterpillar. Everyone was really nice, and the Resident Director from Jordon was with us, so she was able to speak Arabic to the bar staff. I was really proud of mom for sticking it out. She and I also had a conversation about being a strong, American woman in Jordon, which was interesting and less scary than you expect she said. After a really long day, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel. We are in for a big day of sightseeing tomorrow. We are hoping to hit the Spice Bazaar and the palace, along with trying some more traditional cuisine. This entire trip is flying by, and I can’t tell you how much fun I am having, and how unbelievably nice everyone is. I’m so lucky to have gotten this opportunity.

Wednesday, November 11

How Bazaar...

After a delicious breakfast at the hotel (complete with any sort of cheese you could ever imagine, delicious fruit, omelets, cereals, and fresh honey) we began to conquer Istanbul. Although I do have to mention that I am a coffee drinker and my body is use to caffeine, after two cups my heart rate was so fast I thought I was going to start shaking. Note: Turkish coffee is strong. But my first official day, I can say I love Turkey. Despite the fact that just about nobody speaks English, and I saw about 5 women today, everyone is so nice, extremely helpful, and surprisingly proud. We went on a tour with other conference attendees to the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia (pic on the right). It was raining this morning, but everyone was too psyched to care – yay American tourists. We had a really nice and funny tour guide, and Istanbul native named Bora, who was so helpful and knew everything about his city. The mosque was beautiful with intricate tile design (outside picture on the right). Everyone had to take their shoes off because it was a functioning worshipping place. I even had to switch into a different wheelchair – one that wasn’t wet or muddy from the rain that came this morning. (Inside the mosque on the left). We then walked across the street to the Hagia Sophia, which began as a mosque, then converted to a church, and now sits as a museum. It is one of the largest religious structures in the world, compared to St. Peter’s in Rome, among others. It was built in the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries – which is absolutely unfathomable. There was one pillar which had a big hole in it, and if you rub your thumb in a circle inside of the hole, all of your wishes will come true. It is called the “Sweating Hole” though that shouldn’t turn you off because it is just the illusion of wet that the marble gives off. (Me and the hole on the right). After the tour everyone returned to the hotel, but mom and I decided to venture to the Grand Bazaar. It was so cool. There are over 4,000 little shops selling rugs, jewelry, Turkish goods, and scarves, among hundreds of other things. (Pic on the left). We were told to visit one vendor, Jimmy, who takes great care of our Delta flight attendant friends. The minute we mentioned Delta, he lit up and took great care of us. He walked us around to bag and scarf places, and gave us great deals on his own jewelry. He spoke wonderful English, and had a photo album of all his favorite Delta people, which we are now a part of. He also gave us some heads up about what we should NOT say in English because it means something repulsive in Turkish – like “um.” It was so nice to be taken care of as the Bazaar is very overwhelming. He bought us lunch and called his taxi guy to come pick us up. We returned to the hotel for showers and a quick bite of baklava, (delish tower to the right) and then tonight we have an opening reception that sort of kicks off the conference. Everyone I have met so far is so nice and helpful. The city is extremely inaccessible, the “accessible” vans we have driven aren’t even realistic for anyone in a wheelchair, but if it takes twelve stairs to see one of the oldest mosques in the history of world, it takes twelve stairs. I am having such a wonderful time, but I have to start practicing for my presentation tomorrow! I’m not as much nervous as I am excited. This whole trip is flying by, and I’m just excited to start meeting people who are interested in hearing about my abroad experience. So I’m out for now, but more to come tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 10


We are in Istanbul! One of the marketing guys at CIEE came and picked us up, and after a somewhat terrifying cab ride through Istanbul, we got to the hotel. It is incredible. The hotel is really swanky, and apparently Ahmenajad was here last night (you know, no big deal). Everyone here is so nice, and while no one who works here actually speaks English, they are so accommodating. The CIEE staff is incredible, surprise surprise. Our room is unreal with two bathrooms and a huge bed, not to mention a cute little sitting area. All we want to do is shower, after traveling all day. Tomorrow we have a tour of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, and hopefully have time for a little Spice Market action? We are also going to meet up with my Resident Director, Daniel, from Rennes, which will be great. I spoke to him for the first time tonight in English which was really funny. Tonight we took a walk to grab some dinner. The city was so busy and it is incredible that there are about three times as many men as women walking around. Everyone is very nice, but nobody speaks English. We found a random restaurant and indulged in some falafel, some eggplant stuffed with vegetables, and some Turkish tea. It was really nice and I’m so excited to explore tomorrow.

Iyi Geceler! (or I guess Günaydın since it’s only 2 …)

Irony in Istanbul

It’s been a while since I have written, but now my travel blog continues! My mom and I are traveling to Istanbul, Turkey, as I have been asked to attend the 2009 CIEE Conference to share my experiences on a panel, as a disabled student on a CIEE program. I will be presenting with my Resident Director, Daniel, from Rennes, and another woman named Cerise, who works for Mobility International USA (MIUSA), a company that helps people with limited mobility travel and study abroad. I’m so honored to be a part of this because CIEE could not have been more helpful when I studied abroad. A large part of the reason I had such an incredible time was because of their staff. The conference will be from Wednesday through Saturday, November 11-14, and my panel is on Thursday afternoon, titled “Local Strategies for Including Students with Disabilities on Study Abroad Programs.”

So my mom and I drove down to Boston Sunday afternoon, in preparation for our flight to Istanbul, with a connection in Zurich. We found great rates on Swiss Air, and I couldn’t believe I could wake up one morning and say “I’m going to TURKEY today.” We checked in and approached the gate 45 minutes or so before boarding time. We were then informed that, even though my mom had called Swiss Air well ahead of time, there was no record of my wheelchair, and therefore there had been no accommodations for a on board wheelchair (to use for the bathroom etc.) and we had not had medical clearance, and we were therefore not permitted to board. Interesting … here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. I have flown internationally and domestically, a lot, and I have never, ever, been denied boarding, or asked to provide medical clearance before a flight
2. I have never heard of there NOT being a wheelchair on board for international flights.
3. The man who helped us was completely unhelpful, and in my own personal opinion, was less than accommodating and actually rude.

So long story short … we were put up in the Hilton Hotel at the airport last night (Monday ... what's today?), including dinner and breakfast, and we are flying Air France to Istanbul this afternoon (Monday) at 4. We will arrive in Istanbul around 2pm their time (8 am or so our time). We will be a full day late and unfortunately miss out on some opportunities we had planned for Tuesday. But looking at this as a glass half full, we get to fly through Paris! And while it is only the airport, IT’S PARIS! We are also going to Istanbul! How can I complain when I have this incredible opportunity? We will arrive in Istanbul with enough time to shower, and then explore the city. I’m looking forward to warm(er) weather, Turkish tea, and a mini vacation. But as my friend Taylor put it, it is ironic that I’m going to speak at a conference about integrating more students with disabilities on to Study Abroad programs and international travel, and I can’t even get there?! Very interesting.

That is all for now, I will keep you all updated with photos and stories these next couple of days – so stay tuned!


Sunday, May 17

Enfin ...

Here is my last post here in France! I can't believe the semester is over already. I have such an incredible time in Rennes and it is extremely surreal that everything is ending. Since my last post I have been to Loire Valley with my program, I went to my family's summer house in Pornic (about 2 hours from Rennes), went to a soccer game Rennes vs. Caen (Normandy), and turned 21!

Loire Valley

The weekend trip to the Loire was so fun. We began by going to two chateaus when we arrived in Loire - the chateau Angers, and later in the afternoon, Villandry. It was cloudy the whole time, but it didn't rain which was good. Angers was cool, very medieval, and had this special building for tapestries depicting the Apocolypse from the 13th century (pic on the left)! Next we went to Villandry (pic on the right). We didn't go inside the chateau, as it was extremely small, but the gardens were unreal. They only have nine gardners, but they literally work all the time to keep everything perfect. That night we all went out to dinner, all 40 of us, at a great place in Tours, where we stayed. Some friends and I went out a bit afterwords to check out the city. Sunday, we began at Chenonceau, which was my favorite. The gardens were amazing, and the chateau itself was so well preserved and was used as a hospital during WWII. It was built over the water, so it looked like a beautiful bridge but didn't completely cross the river (pic on the left). It was very secluded and peaceful. We had lunch at a delicious restaurant right by the chateau afterwords, which was really fun. We continued on our way to the last chateau, Amboise, where Da Vinci's tomb is (on the right, not THAT interesting). We were all very tired by this point so on our way home, pretty much everyone passed out. Overall, my favorite chateau was Chenonceau, and the gardens at Villandry. It is just impossible to believe that someone actually lived in these castles!


We had two three day weekends because May 1st is Labor Day and May 8th is a national holiday. They take Labor Day VERY seriously. No one worked, even the public transportation wasn't working. It was the perfect excuse to sleep in too late and do nothing. The next morning my host mom and I drove to Nantes to pick up her mother (who is 95!) from her retirement home and drove to their summer house in Pornic. We met her son and his family there too. The first day we got there and had lunch. Afterwords we walked downtown for ice cream and they showed me downtown. It was very beautiful and reminded me so much of New England and home. That night we had a big dinner before reading to my host mom's grandkids. The next morning was so beautiful. We played outside and went to the market in the morning to shop for lunch (my host mom and her daughter-in-law below at the market). The market was big and busy and we bought oysters and other shellfish fresh for lunch. In the afternoon I did some reading and played outside with the grandkids and talked to my host mom's mother. She is so sharp for her age, and so adorable. She was telling me all about WWII and when she was living in France. Her husband was imprisoned in Germany for 5 years and she had to raise her four kids on her own, while working. She is an incredible lady. I also taught Paolo, the 7 year old, some hand games, and he showed me his English skills, aka singing Jingle Bells, which he was psyched about. We got back home around 9:30 pm and had a quick dinner before bed.


Two things about soccer. One, the weekend of my birthday was the big French Cup for soccer and Rennes was in the finals. So they set up a HUGE screen in town and there were 13,000 people crammed into this small square to watch the game. It was ridiculous. We tried to watch the game there but ended up getting overwhelmed and going to a bar where there was a big TV outdoors (crazy amount of people outside, with Brittany flag outside). Rennes ended up losing, but the other team was from Brittany as well so most people were satisfied. Two, Lindsay and I went to a soccer game the following Wednesday! We found out that I get in free with one companion, so we got tickets for the Rennes v. Caen game. We were so close to the field, and it was fun to see people get so excited for the game. Watching professional soccer is so fun, they are so organized and play with finesse.

My Birthday!

Last, but not least, I turned 21! I had a great birthday weekend. We went to the soccer game saturday night then spent a couple hours in our favorite bar with all my friends until midnight, when everyone sung happy birthday to me in French. The morning of my actual birthday we had a huge brunch at Lindsay's. It was incredible. It was an AMERICAN brunch, complete with pancakes, french toast, eggs, bacon, fruit salad and of course mimosas. Saturday morning we had gone shopping for all the ingrediants, (me on the left at the market) so everything was super fresh. The fruit salad had kiwis, strawberries, bananas, peaches, and apples in it, and our french toast was made with incredible fresh bread. Lindsay made amazing cheesy scrambled eggs, and we also had some of the jam my host mom makes from scratch. Lindsay, Helen and I took a nap afterwords and woke up in time for a shower and dinner. They came over for a huge dinner chez moi. My host mom had made a big dinner for 10 of us! It was me, Helen, Lindsay, my host family, my host sister's boyfriend, and my host mom's son's family. They all gave me gifts, which was adorable and the Paolo sang me happy birthday in English (complete with adorable french accent). They also bought me a huge delicious strawberry cake. All in all, it was a great and relaxing day.

We have been having some last events as a group as well. We had a cocktail party with all the host families, and the other night everyone from CIREFE, so everyone who is learning English at the university, went to a discotechque which was really funI am hopefully going to do a little bit of traveling before I go home, but this is my last post before I go home, which will be bittersweet. This has been an incredible semester and I am going to try my hardest to live it up in Rennes this week before I go home!

Friday, April 24

April in Paris, Chestnuts in Blossom

Spring break ended with Cait's lovely visit to Rennes, in which we had picnics in the park, went to the market, visited the fine arts museum, met friends out and about, ate traditional Bretagne galettes and cider (and of course crepes) and slept in. It was very relaxing and the weather held-off somewhat. On Saturday morning, we went to Paris! Though the weather was nasty, it was so cool to show Cait Paris for her first time. We were so lucky because we met/stayed with my Grandma Fern and her husband Alfred, which was such a treat. We walked along the Champs D'Elysees, saw Arc de Triomphe, grabbed lunch, went to an African Arts museum that was having an exhibit on women, and finally ended with the most spectactular dinner... ever. After dinner we stood outside for a minute to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle. Cait and I had so so much fun, essentially we laughed and ate for about 10 days, it was perfect, and really nice to see a familiar face. Cait left somewhat early Sunday morning to fly back to Rome, and I went to meet my friend Julia (again!) for another wonderful Sunday in Paris. We grabbed lunch and decided to go to an area I had not yet explored. We found beautiful gardens (it is most definitely spring here, the flowers are out in full bloom) and also checked out the Evolution Museum, which was very cool and kind of like a Natural History Museum. The sun came out so we walked along the river to get the BEST ice cream in Paris, right by the Notre Dame where Lindsay and I had gone in January. We sat in a park in the sun, with the rest of Paris, and enjoyed our last time in Paris together.

I am now back in Rennes and it is great to take a break from traveling for just a little bit. We have had some serious strikes since we've been back, including having to be evacuaded from the building twice (leading to class outside ... no to shabby), but our program leaders are moving all of our classes from the University for the rest of the semester because this is getting so ridiculous. I am off to the Loire Valley with my program for the weekend so I will be sure to send another update when I get back!

Thursday, April 23


After a somewhat stressful morning, Cait and I were aboard a train bound for Catania, Sicily. Estimated travel time: 10.5 hours. Something you should know before reading. Apparently, in Italy, there aren’t always seat assignments, so while we were fine, many others were sitting/standing/perching in the aisles, and waiting for people to leave, and at that point they would dart to the free seat. So Cait and I were sitting next to each other, and there was a mother sitting next to me. Her son and her husband were sitting across from me. Not only did she smell, but they argued for the 7 hours they were on the train and decided to make sandwiches with salami and sweaty cheese, which made us quickly loose our appetite for the salami and cheese we had brought as well. Needless to say we slept for most of the ride, and laughed for the rest of it. We arrived in Catania at night, went straight to our hostel, and straight to bed.

The next morning we were hoping for sunshine and beautiful scenery. We set out into the market, which was loud, and full of fresh food, including fresh meat which was hanging everywhere. We managed to find our way around and bought the works for a picnic. We found a beautiful piazza and had lunch in the sun. After lunch we began our quest for the beach/the ocean. We found a concrete walkway, train tracks, a railing, and the ocean. No sand. No beautiful beach. Staying positive we walked back to the hostel for a nap. On our way back to the hostel we had a moment, looked at one another, and practically simultaneously said “I want to go home!” The Duomo was pretty, and the weather was nice, but the area was sketchy, dirty, and there was nothing open. Caitlin immediately wnt to the train station (actually, she was driven, thanks to the cook of the restaurant/bar that was attached to our hostel) and tried to switch our tickets. In the end, we either left early Sunday morning, or Tuesday (when we were leaving anyways). We decided to stick it out, and it ended up being a great decision. That night we ate at an amazing restaurant recommended by someone at the hostel. We were eating gnocchi with swordfish and tomatoes, and the Mafia was eating in the next room. Seriously. Really well dressed older men all wearing matching pins on their lapels … come on.

Sunday was Easter, so we got dressed up in cute Easter dresses, and attended the mass at the Duomo. It poured rain all day, so we went out for a long lunch, took naps, and watched a movie for the rest of the afternoon. That night, we went back to the same restaurant and back to the hostel for a Rasta DJ. We danced to Bob Marley and chatted with people from Paris, Brazil, the states, and Denmark.

Monday, our last day in Sicily, and we took a shuttle about an hour and a half north to a city called Taormina (view from the top on photo right, great piazza, below on left). It was the most adorable city. It was packed with tourists, but it was all the way up on a cliff and had an amazing view of the beaches and Mt. Etna! (the largest active volcano in Europe). We found a great pasta place, and sat until the rain went away. Afterwards we found gelato and sat in the sun in a piazza and people watched, with commentary of course, for over two hours. It was so fun. We decided to go to a different restaurant that night, but had an amazing day and got lots of sun.

Tuesday our adventures in Sicily came to an end. We did some shopping for snacks for the train, but we were back on the train to Rome (another interesting experience). All in all, I wouldn’t go back to Catania necessarily, but the people were nice and other part of Sicily I would more then willing to explore. Also, it makes every bit of difference who you are traveling with – Cait and I laughed the entire time, when we could have been completely miserable, yet it was one of the best adventures I’ve had in Europe.

Roman Holiday

Early Tuesday morning Lindsay headed to the train station with me as I began my journey south and she continued to Prague and Berlin. I took a nice train ride to Rome - where I met up with Cait! It was so so nice to see a familiar face. She was with another friend from high school, Becky, so we had coffee with Becky before she continued her Euro-trip as well. Cait and I headed back to her adorable apartment, which she shares with 3 American girls and one Italian student. We cooked pasta and made incredible caprese salad. The next morning Cait didn't have class so took me to her favorite piazza, the Pantheon, Spanish Steps (photo on the right), and we had sandwiches by the Trevi Fountain (photo on the left). We took a quick break in a park which use to be an old villa called Villa Borghese. A bottle of wine later, we sat in the sun, and began our way back across town. We met up with a friend of Cait’s from the program to have what Cait claimed to be the best carbonara ever. The restaurant was located in the old Jewish Quarter, which was a really cute area. Oh, and she was right about the pasta. We had drinks afterwards (and people watched, of course) in a huge piazza covered with restaurants and bars, frequented by Americans.

Thursday Cait took me to Vatican City, but had an Italian quiz, so I walked around the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel alone. It was a beautiful day, but there were tons and tons of people. The Vatican Museums are a bit like the Louvre, it is completely impossible to do everything without feeling completely overwhelmed. I did another Rick Steves tour of the Sistine Chapel, which was amazing. I learned so much and even snuck a photo of Michelangelo’s Day of Judgment, the painting on the wall that completes his murals of the history of the world. It was very cool, and doing an audio tour is the only way to go. I continued wandering around, including grabbing a peek of the Raphael rooms, which included School of Athens, and just as amazing. I grabbed a quick gelato before meeting Cait for a tour of St. Peter’s. We entered the wrong way and found ourselves in the basement, where the tombs of past Popes were held. There were many people praying and standing around the tomb of Pope John Paul II. We then found our way upstairs and began yet another Rick Steves. St. Peter’s is massive and incredible. It was hard to see everything because of mass and all of the people (of course I choose to go to Rome on the highest Catholic holiday). The tour ended with Michelangelo’s Pieta, which was very cool, and Rick had a lot to say about it which helped our understanding of the entire statue. It is the only signed piece of Michelangelo’s. We left Vatican City and headed to Cait’s favorite neighborhood called Trestevere. Note: Every person who works at St. Peter’s is male, younger then thirty, and among the most beautiful men I have ever seen in my life. Trestevere was really cute, and we were able to walk around the river on our way there. We had a quick drink at an outdoor bar which was really cool. On our way home to go grocery shopping, we got lazy and stopped for dinner. We went home at a reasonable hour as we had a full day of traveling ahead of us …

Ciao Italia!

My adventures in Italy began with a full day of travel with Lindsay, in which we took every form of transportation: metro to train station, train to Paris, taxi to bus stop, shuttle bus to airpot, plane to Trevisio, bus to Venice, boat to Hostel (photo on the right), literally every form of transportation. We arrived in Venice around 10:30 or so at night, extremely tired and extremely hungry. We didn't stay on the main island, but at a small one about a two minute boat ride from St. Mark's square. Needless to stay there wasn't anything open. There was one small restaurant open at that hour on our island so we checked it out. Turns out the kitchen was closed, but the waiter insisted we stay and the chef would make something for us quickly. The restaurant was so cute, very modern, small, and definitely family run. We started with two glasses of delicious red wine, after we got Orecchiette ("ear" shaped pasta) with fresh tomato sauce and freshly graded mozzarella cheese. They topped it off with homemade tiramisu, which had been the special dessert. Lindsay (photo on the left) and I laughed the whole time about how surreal it was, but how the best meal we will had was at 11:00 at night in our sweatsuits/traveling clothes. For the rest of our stay in Venice, the resturant was never open - seriously. The lights were never on again, the tables were never outside again - making us think we just dreamt the whole thing.

Sunday was our first full day in Venice. We started off heading towards St. Mark's Basilica, of course it was mass, so we wondered across the canal to grab lunch and kill some time. We walked around a small market, and had lunch in the sun (we totally lucked out on the weather the whole time). We ate fresh fruit on the canal, and headed back to the square. We were able to cut the line and were let in the side door, the church was beautiful inside, and extremely ornate (photo on the right). We had downloaded tours of the basilica for free off iTunes with Rick Steves, so we each had our iPods and were able to take a free tour! (photo on the left) Gelato and people watching were in order afterwords. We walked all around the island, hoping to get lost and find a quiet area, but no luck that day, tourists were everywhere. Around 6:30, we had found a really cute small church, and given it was Palm Sunday, Lindsay took me to my first Catholic mass. The church was beautiful, the mass was very cool (and in Italian) and it was nice to be away from crowds for a couple hours. We grabbed dinner afterwords, and headed back to the hostel - not much was open on Sunday and we hadn't been home for almost 13 hours!

Monday in Venice was incredible. We met a girl who is studying in Rennes, but lives in Venice who recommended we leave the main island and look for Campo Santa Margherita. It was where the university is, and she said it was cheaper and less crowded. She was so right. We got off the water taxi, and just started walking, we had found the real Venice. We walked passed bakeries, and lace stores, it was very residential, and we never heard English. We crossed a bridge into the campo, and it was so nice. It was like a huge square, where all the restaurants had tables outside, and it was close to 75 degrees. With Lindsay's Lonely Planet "Europe on a Shoestring" (aka our venetian-bible) we had the most amazing pizza and gelato for less then 5 euros! There were some tourists but mostly just students. We stayed in the camp all day, looking around shops, people watching and sitting in the sun. We headed back to the hostel for a quick nap/shower, and had a quick cocktail hour, prosecco by the canal, then went back to the campo for a delicious dinner.
View of St. Mark's from our hostel
Cool view of a canal and a typical bridge Me and Linds on the docks