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What can I say? I like to travel.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

More Italian Adventures

Homemade Bruschetta

June 22

We had the best day today, which was actually a bit surprising considering that we failed to follow any of the plans we had laid out for that day.

Mr. Pihas had told us that the best time to go to the Forum/Colosseum/Palatine Hill was early in the morning, so Alex, Nancy, Jeremy, Nick and I wanted to use our Saturday morning doing just that. Running on five hours of sleep a night, however, had apparently caught up with us, and every single one of us slept through our alarms and ended up sleeping in until noon.

Church of the Gesu

It was past one when everyone had woken up and gotten ready for the day, so instead of stopping by a bar (as they’re called in Italy) for a caffe and a croissant, we got some pizza for what was it? Brunch, maybe?

Anyway, I decided to be adventurous and ordered a slice of pizza with some unidentifiable slices of meat on it, which turned out to be tuna steaks. It was weird. And fishy, but I ate it anyway! I did try some of Alex’s pizza—she had ordered a potato and cheese pizza, which was very very starchy, but surprisingly fantastic!

Hanging with Jesus in the Vatican Museum

I caught sight of a huge basil plant while were we walking past a floral shop, so we stopped in and bought it for 2 euro! So cheap! We decided that because it was to be a part of the family for the next three weeks, he (the basil plant) needed a name. We’re reading Dante’s Inferno for class, so Nick suggested that we name him after one of the suicide victims who turned into a tree in Hell (long story). So we held a Christening ceremony in which we read said passage aloud to the plant. And now we have a Basil plant named Piero della Vigne.

Panoramic Shot of the Pantheon

View of Trajan's Column from inside Trajan's Market

June 23
We set our alarms again to wake up early to go to ancient Rome—but alas, we slept in until noon for a second time. There seems to be a pattern forming here.

The day passed by quickly—grocery shopping, gelato eating, studying Italian—but in more interesting news, I discovered my new favorite sandwich! Take some bread meant for bruschetta, spread some ricotta cheese and an entire peeling fig on it, then top with prosciutto and a splash of balsamic vinegar. It is just divine. Next time I make it I’ll have to take a picture!

Today is far from over. I still have dinner and a concert in a church planned for tonight, but I’ll have to fill y’all in on that later! Ciao!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Roman Adventures in the Kitchen

I didn’t go out to see any new Roman sites today. We decided to try to avoid the lines and go to Ancient Rome early Saturday morning. After class, we wandered around looking for a cheap, non-touristy, delicious, authentic Italian restaurant—a tall order when you’re wandering around the center of Rome.
            We ended up at a very touristy, only relatively well-priced tourist stop by the Tiber. I ordered a Pizza Margherita—advertised as having great big slaps of Buffalo Mozzarella placed over vivid green leaves of garlic. In reality, this turned out to be regular cheese pizza with some tiny dried basil tidbits scattered amongst the paltry portions of cheese. It was not bad by any means, just not as fabulous as all my previous meals. 

Breakfast Cappuccino 
The highlight of the meal arrived after the bread. In Italy, even though tips are not expected as they are in the States, many restaurants bring bread to your table and subsequently charge a “bread and table” fee. Even if you skip the bread, the fee is non-negotiable. Being the cheap college kids that we are, we were pretty upset with this 5 euro surcharge, and decided to forgo the bread in a type of boycott. After paying, we realized the futility of our mode of protest, and decided to take the bread “porta via”—basket and all.
After getting over the adrenaline rush that fueled our escape from Italian waiters who were puzzled over the disappearance of an insignificant bread basket, our consciences caught up with us. We decided to restore our karma and gave the bread to a beggar on the street.

Zucchini and Red Pepper

Lunch preceded a very lengthy nap (I have been only getting 5 or so hours of sleep the past few nights—there is so much to do!). Our little group decided to hit up the grocery store in a communal shopping/cooking endeavor. I love cooking, but I never knew how easy/fun/delicious cooking in a giant group could be. 

Master Chefs
Zeke was in charge of the menu, and prepared gnocchi with tomato sauce, zucchini, red peppers, and chicken. It was DELCIOUS! I don’t know if it was because we are such great cooks (Ha!) or because the quality of food in Italy is just so much higher. I’m going to go with both!

Tomato Sauce
Dinner was great—8 of the 10 of us gathered around a small table and discussed everything from the nature of love (a carryover from our discussion on Plato’s symposium) to Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” to most embarrassing stories. The conversation is currently still going on—I think we’re talking about the conflict between art and poetry—but honestly I haven’t read enough of Plato outside of The Symposium, or anything actually by Socrates to make any meaningful contributions to the conversation—outside of my obligatory defense of the non-conflicting relationship between science and religion (whoops).

The Finished Product
It’s past midnight here, and we’re going to have class IN THE VATICAN tomorrow, so it’s probably time for me to get some rest! Arrivederci e buonanotte!

Alex and her Roman Bread

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ciao, Roma!

I’m in Rome. I’m IN Rome. I’m in ROME. It’s a simple sentence, but one that I have forgotten many, many times these last few days. I’ll be sitting, drinking some coffee in a little cafĂ©, lost in my own world when BAM! I step outside and nearly run into the Pantheon. THE Pantheon.

St. Peter's crowd before Sunday Mass. Hey, is that the Pope? Nah, just some Priest.
  It’s only been three days, and I feel as though I’ve seen so much already, but yet not enough. Day one of my journey consisted of dragging my jet-lagged self into my Roman apartment at 8:30 in the morning (2:30 am Houston time), buying my first (and not even close to last) cup of gelato, taking a bridge over the Tiber, and checking out Castel Sant’Angelo—the Mausoleum of Hadrian turned fortress turned museum. Our apartment is literally right next to the Vatican, on the Via Vaticana. We pass by St. Peter’s everyday on our walk into town.

19th Century Mall
Day two consisted of attempting to see Pope Francis at Sunday mass at St. Peter’s, the a looong (4 mile) walk to the Fontana de Trevi, Pantheon, and then back to home base. One of the coolest parts of the day was befriending this Italian guy named Carlo. He was selling pictures on a road between the Fontana de Trevi in the Pantheon. Carlo recommended this fantastic sandwich shop for lunch, where I had the Napoli—buffalo mozzarella, basil, tomato, and basil. The basil is SO fresh everywhere. I love it so much!
Street Performers by the Fontana de Trevi
  The entire class (all 10 of us) were invited to Mr. Pihas’ (one of our tutors) place in Rome for dinner. He and his Italian wife Francesca fed us a fantastic dinner of fine Italian salami, cheese, pasta, and nut-covered gelato (pine nuts and ice cream are a surprisingly awesome combination). The conversation was great, but the food was even better. Alex, Jeremy and I learned some helpful Italian phrases from Francesca (il chibo e multo buono).
Fountain outside of the Pantheon

Today was the first day of class. A few of us woke up early to eat some breakfast (conetto e caffe latte) before catching the 8 o’clock class to the Visconti, an old Jesuit school that’s loaning us a room. St. John’s classes are student-led and discussion-based, pretty similar to my Plan II World Literature class last year. We discussed Plato’s Symposium, and we actually voluntarily ran over the time limit because we all had so much to say! Hahah I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before…St. John definitely has a unique educational culture, and I think (or rather hope) that it’s rubbing off on me a bit.

Inside the Pantheon
 After class, a number of us—me, Alex, Nancy, Matt, Nick, Jeremy, and Cho—walked around looking for a cheap and good spot for lunch, and eventually had to run in and ask some random hotel concierge for a recommendation.  He sent us to a delicious, but not so cheap restaurant where I ordered pasta with the best pesto I’ve ever had in my life.

Egg Pasta with Pesto, Tomatoes, and Cheese 

At 2 o’clock today we had our first Italian class. To our surprise, the ENTIRE class is conducted in Italian—no inglese allowed! It was difficult to keep up at first, but class soon became a long string of games—hangman with Italian Pronunciations, false identities, and tongue twisters. Also surprise! We actually have homework. And a final. And I’m not even taking the Italian class for credit…

One of the many Vespa-drivers scooting around the city
 Alex, Jeremy and I headed over to the Spanish Steps after lunch, which honestly weren’t too exciting. We then walked to the Ara Pacis, which, to our dismay, is closed on Mondays. We ran into this post modern artist outside the Ara Pacis, however, who had set up all these individual statements about consumerism. My personal favorites were a broken umbrella labeled “Gucci Bending Umbrella, 2500 euro” and a bowl full of face-painted rocks labeled “Narcissus”.

Honestly, I have no idea what this is. But it's pretty. 
My impressions of Rome so far? I love how all the fountains and public drinking spots are powered by aqueducts, but find it odd that we actually have to pay for water in a restaurant. It was also a shock to realize that Rome exists as an actual living and breathing city that's moved on from its context that I am used to--ancient history. Don't get me wrong--history is everywhere; it's just strange to see a McDonald's in one piazza and an imported Egyptian obelisk in the next. I haven't made it to the Ancient Rome Section--the forum, Colosseum, and Circus Maximus, but I am SO eager to! There is just so much to do and only so many hours in a day! Well, I'm off to dinner now. Arrivederci!