Lebanon Valley College Study Abroad

Buenos Días!

August 28, 2014

Hola from Valladolid!

This week has been packed full of change and excitement for the six of us as we settled into our new homes for the next (almost) four months. We arrived on Sunday morning in Madrid after an overnight flight and we brought a bus to the wonderful city that is now our home: Valladolid. Our respective host families were waiting for us in the bus station and as we arrived, we were assigned our home-stays and then we went our respective ways. Sunday was a day to unpack, eat our first Spanish meal, nap, and eventually tour the city. And what a city it is! After spending the afternoon in our new homes, we met with Alberto, our guide for the day, at 10 pm to get ourselves oriented with the city.

Monday brought our first experience with our school. We did not have formal classes, but we received some materials and we were given a run-down of how it functions. Tuesday was the actual first day of classes and the first day of having homework. Wednesday and Thursday followed suit. Class and work need to get accomplished, but there is also plenty of time to explore and discover the city. We have had beautiful weather here: mid to low 90’s as a high but lows dipping down in the 50’s at times. Thus, the mornings are nice and cool, and so are the nights, which allows for ample time to walk the streets. Where we are staying is the historical center of the city. There are churches on practically every corner and museums are scattered in every direction.

As Thursday has passed, we are done with classes until Monday (perk of being in Spain). This weekend, some of the group is traveling to Santander to stay there for a few days and others are planning on hiking some trails near Valladolid. We are excited about our plans for the upcoming weekend and we are beginning to feel at home here in the city.

Hasta pronto!

On behalf of the students studying abroad in Spain,

Matt

Fine della Strada

Well, it’s the final countdown. This post was brought to you from the comfort of the cathedral steps as tomorrow morning, I will catch the most depressing bus ride of my life as I leave my beloved Perugia.

Today I finished packing and cleaning up the apartment. I also took several last walks down Corso Vannucci, each with a different person – Bri, Kristen, Annie – and each time I came back, I found more and more Umbra kids on the steps. I love that you can pretty much always come outside and find someone you know.

I also got my last hot chocolate (which is like a cup of melted chocolate, it’s so thick), and got my last cup of gelato from that place across from Umbra (bacio & fragola, if you’re curious). Annie and I sat in Piazza Italia for a while talking about the semester, and it took everything in me not to start crying because I’m going to miss it so much.Four months ago today, I texted my friend and told her that I thought I was going to die and that I was terrified of coming here. And now here I am, four months later, wishing I could text her to tell her about how I thought I was going to die of heartbreak, for I fell in love with this beautiful country, and that I didn’t want to come back.

But now, I’ve made a ton of new friends from all over the states that I hope to keep in touch with after we’ve all gone home. I’ve traveled to ≈25 different cities in 3 countries. I’ve tried foods like ox tongue and snails, and even had a “waiter’s choice” meal because I couldn’t decide (I did give him 2 pick from, though). I’ve learned a new language, and indulged myself in a new culture, a new lifestyle – where no one is on time, water and bread at restaurants isn’t free, and stairs are abnormally sized and always in abundance.

I feel like coming abroad was very selfish. I did what I wanted to do, what would make me happy, spent way more money on souvenirs for myself than for everyone at home. But if given the chance, I would do it all again and I wouldn’t change a thing. And I suggest you do the same. Studying abroad is going to change you. The time you take here for yourself is just going to make you grow as a person, and you are going to learn so much more about yourself: who your are, who you want to be, and what you really want out of life.

So if you decide to make the same choice I did – to study abroad, whether that be in Italy, or Spain, or New Zealand, or even Philadelphia - take this advice:

  • Pack only what you think you need – then take half
  • If you don’t speak the language, try anyway, even if you butcher it. You’ll be surprised to find how kind and patient people will be just because you are making the attempt
  • Immerse yourself in culture, no matter how different
  • Open your heart and your eyes to new people, new places, and new things. Take chances. Be adventurous. Push your limits. & get out of your comfort zone.
  • Take advantage of every moment. I can’t stress this enough – when you feel like doing nothing, do something. You’ve been given this opportunity; don’t waste it.
  • Document everything – take pictures, keep a blog, whatever! I’ve got these blog posts to look back on, but I also took a lot of pictures this semester (ask anyone in the program!). I’ve taken about 10,000 pictures this semester, and I honestly wish I took more because I know when I get home, I am going to spend my summer flipping back through them all and remembering what a great experience this has been.

But before I left, I really wish I had known what an impact this place was going to have on me. I wish I’d known that this place was going to make itself my home. Tomorrow, my time here in Italy will come to an end, and I will be coming back to the states. Four short months ago, I was terrified of leaving home; today, I feel exactly the same way.

I’m glad to be coming home and seeing all my family and friends – but these people are my family and friends, too, and Italy is a chapter in my life I will always be able to return to. It’s been real. It’s been fun. It’s been real fun.

But honestly? It’s been something unpredictable, but in the end was right. I had the best time of my life. Ci vediamo, Perugia. Until we meet again.

Buona Pasqua delle Cinque Terre!

Easter morning: breakfast, the view from the hostel patio, & the chocolate bunny which contained a small orange egg with a karate-chopping egg man inside

While I was jealous that some of my friends were going to be sitting front row for Easter Mass at the Vatican, I was still excited to spend my Easter weekend in Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre (or five lands)* is a set of villages in southern Italy that border the Tyrrhenian sea. You are supposed to be able to hike from town to town along various outlined paths, but that’s quite difficult when it’s pouring rain, which it ended up doing on the one day we allotted for hiking.

My first day there with my friends was spent exploring the northernmost village of the five lands, Monterosso al Mare, which turned out to be my favorite town. This was probably the touristiest village, as well as beachiest (since the name literally translates to “red mountain at the sea/beach”). But it was still nice to be back along the water again before the rain hit the next day.

Saturday morning, we caught a train to the southernmost village, Riomaggiore. Because it was kind of cold and rainy, my friends wanted to just sit in coffee shops from town to town. I figured that if I was going to be in these towns, I wasn’t going to let the rain get me down. So, that’s where we split. They went to find a café, and I, umbrella in hand, went wandering through the town. I started in the center and ended up at the train station eventually – but I can’t tell you how I got there. I remember the whole time thinking to myself, “If I don’t like this path, I can just turn around.” Honestly, I couldn’t have found my way back if I tried.

Once I got down to the train station, I caught the next locomotive to the next town up, Manarola. I wasn’t as daring with my exploration here as in Riomaggiore, where it had actually started raining harder as soon as I had started to feel most lost.  I did, however, happen to find what seemed to be an easy path to walk, and I could see Corniglia not too far off in the distance. But before I could decide to try to hike to it, I found a fence that permitted me from doing so., and it wasn’t long before I was on another train.

Corniglia was probably my least favorite of the towns, and this is why: When you arrive in Corniglia, you don’t arrive – like most towns – in the center. You arrive at the bottom. And the bottom is 365 steps below the center; so I was forced to either endure them or wait an hour at the train station for a bus. I wasn’t wasting time, and since I’ve become a stair-master over the past few months, I decided to suck it up, start climbing, and count the stairs in dates to make it more interesting. It wasn’t long before I reached “December 31st” and I’d found the top. Corniglia offered a nice view, but once I got up there, it still seemed like to get anywhere else in town, there were more steps involved. Needless to say, I didn’t do much exploring here.  365 steps is quite enough for me. Cue the next train.

My next town was called Vernazza, which easily became my second favorite town. I think this was due in part to the fact that it was here when the rain stopped and the sun started to come out. But it just seemed cute and quaint. There was a giant clock tower in the center of town, as well as Castello Doria, originally to protect the land from pirates, that tourists could climb. Climbing the fortress was a pain, not because of the amount of stairs, but because of the fact that there was only one set of them, and it was only wide enough for one person. At the top, since I had none of my friends with me, I asked a girl in a purple cowboy hat to take my picture for me, and so she did happily. Her name was Grace, and she was studying in Arezzo (a Tuscan town) from Boston University. I also ended up meeting her friends from North Carolina, Indiana, and California. (It was a very touristy weekend, and there was actually a lot of Americans out and about.) After that, I found a tunnel-like passage that led me to the shore of the beach, but of course, I had to catch my last train back to Monterosso to meet up with my friends for dinner.

Easter morning, as we sat on the terrace of our hostel in the mountains of a nearby town called Corvara, my friend pulled out bags of Easter candy for each of us because “it wouldn’t be Easter without a chocolate bunny!” We spent the rest of our day on the shore of Monterosso in the sun before jumping on yet another train (several actually) – but of course not before I went swimming for the last time.

Though all of our trains back to Perugia were delayed (and we ended up exploring Florence for two hours waiting for one of them), this would be the last time I was ever on a train in which I would be looking forward to coming home to my Perugia.

*Some of the signs there read “5 Terre” and I always read it as “Five Terre” instead of “Cinque Terre.” That hadn’t changed by the end of the trip. #englishspeaker #tourist

Laboratori Alimentari

What I loved most about Umbra was my History and Culture of Food in Italy course. My professor, Simon (we called all of our professors by their first names; it was very informal), really taught me a lot and the whole course was really interesting. One day, I came into class early and he teased me because while I sat there, my alarm on my phone went off, reminding me to be in class. This happened on a weekly basis. I was always early, and I never missed a class (though I had 3 excused absences if I wanted). This wasn’t just because my morals tell me not to skip a class I 1. don’t have to skip and 2. pay for, but also because I never wanted to miss it. It’s definitely one of my favorite classes, period; top 5 at least.

One of the things that made this class so special was the fact that Simon frequently offered food workshops, or food tastings. We tasted everything from eggplant (roasted, fried with bread crumbs, and fried with batter), polenta (two different fried forms), Sicilian cannoli (cannoli is actually the plural form in Italian), and wine. There was even a workshop where we tried to guess between organic and non-organic apples, bananas, carrots, cheese, and jam. My favorite was our last workshop. Simon bought 11 different kinds of chocolate for us to try:

  1. 100% Cacao (very bitter)
  2. Cacao bean
  3. A cheap form of gianduia
  4. A more expensive form of gianduia that tastes a little less hazel nutty than the cheap version; it’s called “vestri”
  5. Chocolate truffle with hazelnuts inside and a coffee powder on the outside
  6. Milk chocolate with jellied lemon inside
  7. Coffee-flavored milk chocolate
  8. Dark chocolate spiced with cinnamon; it has a very interesting grainy texture to it
  9. Simple white chocolate called “venchi”
  10. White chocolate with a colorful decoration on top and blueberry filling inside
  11. White chocolate made with spicy red pepper

But not only were we all on chocolate overload, he also brought in the fizziest water he could find (which I detested) to clean our palates, and he let us try miracle berries. Miracle berries aren’t actual berries; they’re pills that dissolve in your mouth and make your taste buds flip-flop. For example, Simon gave us each a small tablet, and after it dissolved in our mouthes, he offered oranges and lemons which then tasted like lemonade when bitten into. He also offered us shots of apple cider vinegar, and it tasted like just cider (you just have to make sure you don’t smell it or your brain is going to realize what’s going on and it’ll taste like vinegar again).

But because I was not in the Food Studies Program version of this class, there were a lot of workshops I missed out on – but that’s alright because they were often offered by Umbra for a small price. For example, I went to another wine tasting workshop, a coffee workshop (though I don’t drink coffee nor can I stand the smell of it – but I figured it was a big part of Italian culture, so why not), a pasta workshop (at which I got to mix the dough) and a pizza making workshop!

Food was a really big part of my time in Italy. I got to try a lot of really interesting things, like ox tongue and rabbit, and a lot of very simple things with just a new approach, like pizza and different kinds of pastas. And the Italian concept of a meal is very different. They eat at weird hours (like lunch is around 2 and dinner is at 10), their meals are different (minimal breakfast and pasta and meat aren’t usually in the same dish) – and the meals take forever!

But as the semester is slowly starting to wind down, I am at least appreciating the longer meals because they help to draw out what little bit of time I have left here.

Buon appetito.

Viaggio Opzionale, Parte Tre: Napoli

Our last day was spent as a trip to Naples. A tour guide talked to us on the bus as we came into the city (though most of us were half asleep). And as soon as we got stuck in traffic, I turned to Annie and said, “I think this is going to be my least favorite.”

I’m definitely not a city person because they usually stress me out – which surprised me when I fell in love with Perugia. But Perugia is a different kind of city – smaller, slower, quainter. Naples was a typical city.

Our tour guide showed us two buildings and a bakery, and then warned us about the smaller side streets and said we should really only stick to two main roads, both lined with shops none of us can afford to shop in.

So then, after wandering up and down these streets for a bit, my friends and I stopped to get a pizza because when you’re in the birthplace of pizza, you’re pretty much obligated to get one. But now – I’m extremely tired of pizza, so my family better not want it any time after I get home.

I went for a little walk after lunch with Katie as close as we could get to the water, but it wasn’t long before we had to get to the bus and head back to Perugia. Naples wasn’t my favorite place, but I think there would’ve been a lot more to do there if we’d had more time. For example, it takes 4 funicollares to get to the highest part of Naples.

We only got to see the ground floor.

Viaggio Opzionale, Parte Due: Capri (e Anacapri)

The second day of our trip consisted of the Umbra staff getting us to the island of Capri and then setting us loose. My friends and I hopped on the funicollare to take us up to the center of town (just like in Orvieto), and from there we split up into two groups – one went exploring down hill, and the other went up hill. I went up (because that meant that I could come down afterwards, and downhill is always the easy part). We passed a bunch of little souvenir shops and small restaurants trying to entice people to come in by displaying pictures outside of celebrities that had visited once before. We found a small church (of course) with a free book stand outside (which I would’ve have jumped for joy at if I were able to read Italian), and then we realized that upwards from there was residential, and so we headed down.

We ran into the first group in the center, and they directed us towards the sights to see on their path.  We descended away from the center and we passed a gelato stand that sold limoncello gelato. Since we seemed to be starring in James Tourists and the Giant Peach Lemon, we each got a cone – with three flavors. Each cone had limoncello as one flavor, but then I decided to also get cioccolato (chocolate) and fragola (strawberry). From here, we kept walking south and ended up at Parco Augusto, which we payed 1€ to enter and get our first really great view of the island we were spending our day on. My friends and I spent some time here taking pictures before we went to meet up with our friends at the center.

The 10 of us walked from the center down to the harbor, and from here we bought tickets for a boat tour around the island. It was so spectacular, and it was a great way to see parts of the island that either 1. weren’t accessible on foot or 2. required more time than we were allotted to access. It was also a really great way to relax: to just sit back, soak up the sun, and let the sea rock you away to paradise.

After the boat ride, we all split up again. Some people wanted to go shopping, some to sit on the beach, and as for me and two other friends – we wanted to go to the very top. Anacapri is like the equivalent of a “township” on the island. The three of us took a taxi up to the center of Anacapri, and from here, we caught a chairlift to the top of Mount Solaro, the highest point on the island.

 

Viaggio Opzionale, Parte Uno: Pompei e Sorrento

Every semester, Umbra offers (for a price) an optional trip for students to take part in to the south of Italy. For us, it was to Pompei, Capri, and Naples.

Our trip began bright and early Friday morning as we all hopped on a bus headed towards Pompei. My mom told me that my dad asked if people lived in Pompei, and I laughed because the answer is no. There’s nothing in Pompei thanks to Mount Vesuvius, and so once we had finished touring what was left of its ruins (and hearing various songs performed in the amphitheater there by other tour groups), we hopped back on our bus and headed to Sorrento, where we would be staying for the next two nights.

Around dinner, my friends and I decided to go exploring, and since we have been landlocked in Perugia, we all headed down to the shore to sit along the water; on the way, we ran into about 15 other Umbra kids with the same idea.

On our way back for dinner, we found a lemon tree grove across the street from our hotel. We walked down this long pathway through the trees only to stop at a single counter where a lady was giving away free samples of limoncellos in hopes that you’ll buy a bottle (or 5). Free limoncellos are a form of a compliment that restaurants often give to customers they enjoyed serving. However, in the southern part of Italy, it is simply a summertime drink as lemons grow very well in that region (so well, in fact, that some of them are the size of little soccer balls).

We eventually managed to make it back to our hotel for dinner and then to crash because we’d already had a very long day – and it was only the first of three.

Lago Trasimeno

This short post is inspired by a 6€ picnic at Lake Trasimeno, which is, according to Wikipedia (one of the more reliable sources of information),  “the largest lake on the Italian peninsula.” It was really nice for the couple of us to just grab some snacks, a deck of cards, and a couple blankets, and spend a nice afternoon in the sun along the water. And, as a fish in a former life, I was thrilled to get a chance to stick my feet in the water after several months of being stuck in a landlocked region.

Panoramic View of Lake Trasimeno

Due Giorni, Quattro Città Toscane

Since we had been studying St. Catherine of Siena in my Saints and Sinners class, it was only right that we had a day trip to Siena. I didn’t mind having to go for school; Siena was on my list of places to go anyway.

As we do in every city, we saw the Sienese duomo (no change there), saw the house where Catherine grew up, and we ended what turned out to be a very rainy day in San Domenico, the church in which St. Catherine worshiped. From here, My friend, Katie, and I met up with one of my flatmates, Rebecca, and started on the rest of our weekend Tuscany, outside of class this time.

That night, we went to San Gimignano, and by the time we got there, most things were closed. We did manage to find a small tower to climb in a park with an awesome view of the town – so in a way, I we did get to see the whole city! We also found this little restaurant down the street from our hostel. Rebecca asked the waiter what wild boar (a popular food in Italy) tasted like, and everyone of the restaurant’s 6 tables started laughing. I don’t say this to sound mean – I say it because this cute little place was so small, so local, that everyone heard everything. The food was amazing, too; I split an antipasto of ox tongue with Rebecca (it was surprisingly good and totally normal looking) and got rabbit as my main dish. Winner, winner, rabbit dinner!

The next day was split in half: first by a trip to Pisa during which Rebecca and I climbed the leaning tower (which you can definitely feel lean as you climb) and saw the duomo (of course). The second part of the day was spent in Lucca, a little Tuscan town offers itself to a leisurely stroll around the park that sits atop the city walls. Like San Gimignano, Lucca has a lot of towers, and we ended up choosing to climb one that had a small bunch of trees planted on top. This certainly differentiated itself from the other towers I’ve ventured up; how many towers do YOU know of with a garden on it?

Our time in each city was short, but sweet. None of the cities required much time, but that was just fine for me because sometimes I forget I’m actually a student here, and not just a fortunately avid traveler. This was one of those times because then I remembered that in the next week, the first of my two final papers is due.

Firenze

By now, most of my friends had already been to Florence, and I started to think that I’d have to make a trip by myself. But then I heard Bri was taking a day trip with a class there and wanted to spend the rest of the weekend there – so I offered her my company.

I took the train into Florence Friday morning, and the first thing I did was head to the Galleria Accademia, where Michelangelo’s David is displayed. There’s a copy of him in one of the squares, but it’s just not the same as seeing the real one! He’s much larger than I expected, and so detailed! There’s a vein in his right hand that I marveled at for a while. There was just something about it that made him feel very human.

I then headed to Santa Croce, where the gold-encrusted head of Saint Umilana (an artifact I have studied immensely for my Saints and Sinners class at Umbra) is kept. After I got out, I met Bri – and Annie, who we then had to walk to the train station so she could go back to Perugia. Then Bri and I rushed through the Uffizi (because it was closing), strolled across the Ponte Vecchio, walked through Santa Maria Novella (the church that the main Florence train station is named for as they are neighbors), and had dinner outside the Uffizi at a restaurant we thought was packed with locals that actually turned out to be a French school group.

The next day started with climb up to the dome of the duomo (but not the bell tower because ≈463 steps up the duomo was enough), followed by  a [free] historical walking tour of Florence, and a trip to the baptistery. The outside of the baptistery is completely covered in unattractive scaffoldings, but the inside is one room that is absolutely gorgeous. There’s a square on the floor right in the center that you are supposed to stand in and look up and get the best view of the gold-coated rotund ceiling.

We then met up with our previous tour guide for a Medici-focused tour of Florence. However, we left about halfway through in order to have time to see the Medici Palace. It really wasn’t what I was expecting; it was just a couple period rooms and then an art exhibit. I also wasn’t expecting running into the artist of the exhibition, a little old man who has been doing art for 50 years. He politely have us his autograph and invited us to sign his guest book. But it was no big deal – we had just gotten the signature of the artist currently featured in the Medici Palace. Whatevs!

So then Bri and I went on our way to the station and caught the next train back to Perugia after what was a very short, very busy few days in Florence.