Lebanon Valley College Study Abroad

Un Uliveto

Since olive oil is one of the staples of Italy, I jumped at the chance to visit our guidance counselor’s olive tree grove (called an uliveto) in the Umbrian Town of Corciano. Sure, we were just pruning her trees, and I don’t have much of a green thumb, but it was still interesting!

Olives are picked in October/November, but after that you can only prune them until about April, and there’s kind of an art to it! Branches in the center are cut out, enough so birds can fly around in it, and the rest are left to grow outwards from the tree. The inside is cleared so that all of the branches will be exposed to the water and sun light, and nothing is getting in the way. It reminds me of the way rotisserie chickens spin around on a skewer – to cook evenly. The tree is pruned so that all the olives can grow evenly.

But my favorite part of the day was having a picnic, laying beneath the olive trees, and soaking up the Umbrian sunshine. It was the best way to start the period of midterms that were soon to come.

Perugina: La Fabbrica di Cioccolato

Perugina è la Hershey d’Italia. Perugina is the Hershey of Italy.

When I first found out that Perugia was home to the Perugina Chocolate Factory, I thought it was funny that I would be moving from one chocolate-town (Hershey; well, Annville…but close enough!) to another. I immediately decided that I had to visit Perugina, just to compare.

I was just going to go with 4 friends, but when we got to the bus station, we ran into ten other Umbra students who were also going to the factory; the more the merrier! This tour is almost nothing like Hershey’s. First of all, it has a more elegant and professional atmosphere in comparison to the kid-friendly vibe at Chocolate World. Your tour starts in a theater that tells you about how the chocolate is made and a brief history of the company. After the movie, you get a more in-depth look at the history and some of it’s marketing ploys in The Museum, where a tour guide walks you through multiple wall displays and outlines the Perugina story for you.

Baci chocolates came on the Italian market in 1922, and initially were named Cazzotto, which literally means ‘punch-up’ which came from their irregular, squat shape. It was Giovanni Buitoni who re-christened the chocolate Bacio. The famous entrepreneur felt it much better to make customers ask for a kiss instead of a punch at the store. Around each Baci is wrapped a love note, making it the “chocolate for lovers”.  Every day of operation, more than one and a half million Baci chocolates are made here at Perugina which is only a fraction of the 120 tons of chocolate that flows through the pipes and vats each day. (Deborah Mele 2012)

One marketing strategy the company has is to create one rather large piece of chocolate to display at the world-famous Eurochocolate festival, held in Perugia in October annually. In 2003, their chocolate went down in history. The Guinness World Record plaque in the museum read, “The world’s largest individual chocolate was a BaciOne weighing 5,980kg (13,183 lb)and was made by Nestlé (Italy) and displayed at the Perugina factory, San Sisto, Italy on 26 October 2003,” next to which there was a replica of the creation and it’s original sentiment from inside. Another strategy was the company’s support in 2009 when a man named Giovanni started an online campaign for help in his quest to get a Valentine’s Day kiss from his neighbor, Gaia (watch the story here).

After the museum, you are taken to a room that has only a counter covered in fresh chocolates to sample. Any kind of chocolate you could imagine was there: chocolate truffles, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, 70% chocolate versus 50% chocolate, chocolate with hazelnuts, cookies made with different kinds of chocolate – everything. My strategy was to grab one of everything, and step away from the crowd to enjoy them. That’s when I realized that there is, in fact, such a thing as too much chocolate (but anyone who knows me understands that I wouldn’t let a little thing like that stop me from trying to put what I could into my bag to bring back, #freestuff).

After the sampling, we were taken on a walk above the factory on an enclosed catwalk to watch the production process. We weren’t allowed to take pictures here, but it was still cool to see. There was one area where they had massive pods filled to the brim with Baci chocolates, and another section where they were making Easter eggs as big as footballs. But they better make them now because chocolate is only produced from June to February, and the factory is closed from March to May for maintenance and producing only chocolate to be exported.

It was a really interesting experience to get a new perspective on the chocolate industry, and while I enjoyed touring the Perugina factory, I can’t deny the fact that it made me miss being back at LVC and being able to jump in the car with my friends to spend a weekend afternoon in Chocolate World.

Wishing you all a happy Valentine’s Day with lots of love,
Meghan

Sotto il Sole della Toscana

After Paris, I was worn out. I had nothing planned for the next weekend but to sleep – and of course I decided that since I can sleep when I get back to the states, that I needed to change that and make the most of my weekend.

My roommate, Annie, and I decided that with her lone free Friday, we would make a day trip to Cortona, which happens to be the little town that Under the Tuscan Sun is set in. There isn’t really much to do here, and you can explore the majority of it in an afternoon.

So after sorting out an issue we had in figuring out what train we were supposed to be on, navigating the town we ended up in for a bus stop that would take us up to the top of the hill that was actually Cortona, and trekking uphill into the main square, we were starting to question whether our trip was worth all this trouble. It was.

Cortona’s small, but it’s beautiful. Because you’re high up on a hill, you have some really wicked aerial views of the Tuscan countryside, the mountains, and Lake Trasimeno. The weather was beautiful (something pretty rare for Italy these days, since we’ve been getting mostly fog an rain), so Annie and I had no problem just walking along and sightseeing. We even stumbled upon this organic wine shop, where the owner invited us in for a tasting! (#freestuff)

Back in Perugia after a nice day out with my roommate, we picked up Rebecca (another roommate), went out to dinner at a restaurant right outside our apartment, and went stargazing in the piazza because some astronomers had brought out their telescopes for kids to enjoy. (We saw Jupiter and it’s three moons, and Pleiades!)

I’d probably say that on my list of Top Fridays, that one was probably up there. Thanks to my roommates for making it so awesome; you guys are just two of the best parts of this semester. (:

Parigi

Entirely free weekends are hard to come by for us, Umbra students. But when Rebecca and I found one, we decided to spend it in Paris for my first international trip while abroad!

This one was much more difficult because while I’ve taken a few years of Spanish, and Rebecca is really good at Italian, but neither of us speak French. So figuring out how to get to our hostel after we landed at 11pm Thursday night was quite interesting. But we did get there eventually – at around 12.30/1am. Needless to say, we were ready for our trip to truly begin.

On Friday, we started out by going to the Arch di Triomphe, strolling along the Champs-Élysées, checking out the Tuileries Garden, getting lost in the Louvre (where Mona Lisa is surprisingly small for having such a large amount of fame), and going to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night.

There’s a lot more to do in Paris than in Rome, so I scheduled Saturday to the minute. We got up early to visit Sacré Cœur (dome, sanctuary, and crypt) before heading to the Fragonard Perfume Museum, Musée d’Orsay, Sainte-Chappelle (which might have been nicer if it weren’t for the scaffoldings), Notre Dame, the Panthéon (which we had to run to see before it closed). We spent the night trying escargot which is surprising tasty, and cruising along the Seine.

On Sunday, we were just strolling along, going in no particular direction, when we realized we were headed right towards Notre Dame. We hadn’t been able to climb to the top the day before, but we were determined to do it right then and there! So while our last day only gave us a few hours before we had to catch our flight, but it was just enough to allow us to check everything off our To Do list. But I’d still go back. Anytime.

 

El Campo Grande

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It was five in the afternoon and Steve randomly texted Juliana to ask “Do you want to go to the park and look at the birds?” By birds he meant the pavos-reales or peacocks that live in the El Campo Grande, the main park in Valladolid. Even though we have been in Valladolid for almost a month, we still had not ventured into the center of the park to get a good look at everything. So, we brought along cameras and went for a walk on one of the nicest days since we had arrived.  The pavos-reales were everywhere and we just started chasing them around to get the best picture possible. After we got tired of the birds, we continued exploring throughout the park. We found fountains and various other sculptures.

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After an hour of wandering through the park, we found a little lake with a bridge that we wanted to go stand on. While searching for it, we found a flight of stairs; we didn’t know where they went, so naturally we started climbing. The steps were tall and difficult to climb (especially for Juliana), but somehow we made it to the top and we were quite impressed. From the top of La Cueva we could see over the entire park and all around the city surrounded by clear blue sky. Of course we had to take some nice photos…which took us some time considering we were using a phone set on a 10 second timer. After climbing down we were amazed to see that we had been standing on top of a cave, hence the name La Cueva. We set back to our original goal; searching for the bridge, however, after a couple of minutes of searching we realized we had been standing on it all along. It was quite embarrassing…

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Later that night, we decided to show our bored fellow Dutchman Erin the glorious Cave of Wonders in El Campo Grande. By the time we arrived at the park, few paths off the main boulevard were sufficiently lit to be able to venture and view what the park had in store. However, ‘twas not all in vain (said Erin), for there was one path that had a fountain and an empty small amphitheater. The three of us climbed atop the stage and began to perform for our imaginary audience, with sketches varying from Shakespeare to Disney. Right in the middle of a stirring rendition of Mulan’s music, Juliana peered from stage right and saw a man locking the gates. With a mighty shriek from all of us, Erin leapt from the stage followed by Steve and Juliana. After a brisk jog out of that section of the park we realized that the entire park was being locked, not just our personal theater. From the middle of the park we weren’t sure if the main gate was locked yet or not, but it was definitely closed. So obviously, we started to contemplate various methods of escape, such as climbing over the gates. However, the closer we got we came to the realization that the gate was slightly opened, but Valladolid’s finest was just about to close it up for the night. Erin says that their pants were not the only things that are tight; they are strict about their rules too. And so ended our journey to see the glorious peacocks knowing that as the sun rose our journey to Madrid would just be starting….(tune in next week)

-Juliana, Steve, and Erin

Quando Vai a Roma…

Orvieto was my first day trip with my friends, but Rome was my first weekend away.

We started Friday with Nutella-filled croissants outside the Collosseum before exploring the inside. Then we went across the street to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, where I realized what a shame it is that we don’t really have buildings at home like they did in Ancient Rome. Katie and I then went to a church of Saints Luca and Martina (where we found a hidden crypt), saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Vittoriano (a free museum where we ended up stopping for a snack at the roof-top cafe), visited the Pantheon and the tomb of Raphael, saw Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish steps, of course threw coins in the Trevi Fountain, watched fireworks from a bridge over the Tiber River, and that was all just the first day!

On Sunday, we visited the Vatican museums for free because it was the last Sunday of the month, saw the Pope give the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square at noon (where they had a little incident with the dove…), and explored St. Peter’s basilica from the bottom, all the way up to the top, which happens to be a 531-step trek! Afterwards, we made our way back to Roma Termini to return to Perugia.

I thought it was hard to leave the Sistine Chapel and all of its glory behind after 20 minutes. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to leave Rome in its entirety. I’ll be back to catch flights or trains and whatnot, but it’s not the same. Katie and I hit all of the touristy highlights with time to spare, but that didn’t make it any easier to go back to Perugia, for we still had Italian class to attend bright and early the next morning.

Un Giorno a Orvieto

Since we don’t have classes on Fridays, and we all happened to be free of field trips, some friends and I decided to make a day-trip to a little town southwest of Perugia called Orvieto, which is only a two-hour train ride away.

There honestly isn’t much to see or do in Orvieto, and it really only is a day trip, but it’s still worth the visit! The first interesting thing about it is the fact that because Orvieto is up on a hill , you need to take the funicollare to get to the center of town. The funicollare is just like an enclosed ski lift that you can ride up and down the hill to get in and out of town. It’s a short ride, and really nothing special, but you get to see some wicked views of the town below on your travels.

The biggest attraction is the Duomo, which took 30 years to plan, and 3 centuries to complete! Like almost all Italian churches, it is grand, ornate. and always worth venturing into. However, the most striking thing about it is the facade. This Romanesque-turned-Gothic style cathedral is covered in sparkling gold (ooh, shiny!) and colorful paintings that are sure to catch anyone’s eye.

But the coolest part about our day was that we, in a way, got two cities out of one trip! Below Orvieto, is a collection of underground caves that have existed, for who knows how long? Through a tour with Orvieto Underground, we climbed down stairs, through big open tunnels (and also really tiny, almost claustrophobic tunnels), and even saw this ominous well. The caves were believed to have been used for noble families to escape the city, should the need arise, but also for other purposes such as WWII bomb shelters.

Our time in Orvieto was short, but by dinner time, I was ready to go because from there, I was headed for a weekend in Rome!

 

Churches, Chocolate and Churros

While wandering around one night with nothing better to do, we saw a door slightly cracked open in a dark alley. One of our friends, Tinsley, decided to just open it up and walk on in while the two of us and her sister, Terrill, stood in shock. And so…we had no reason to do anything but follow her. We found ourselves room with two doors, went through the right and realized that we were in a large dark church. There was an eerie silence in the air as we crept to the back pews and marveled at the glory. Nobody wanted to interrupt the people who were silently praying, but Tinsley and Terrill still ventured into the middle of the church to read a book on a pedestal, which may or may not have been the bible…we are still unsure. As we sat in pure silence a woman sitting in a pew to our left coughed and as it echoed off of the high vaulted ceilings, it sounded as if God himself was coughing. After we all took a picture of the church we tiptoed out slowly in order to not disturb the peace anymore. Although we don’t have a picture of the outside of the church from that night, we have an inside shot and some others that we have ventured into since then.

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Another night 9 of us ventured out to a local chocolatería to buy the famous chocolate and churros that everyone has told us about. Once we walked through the front door, there was nothing but chocolate in sight, from gelato to pastry’s.  After the waitress attempted to create a table large enough for our group, we all sat down and read about the healing powers of chocolate. After a confusing conversation with the waitress (because they don’t split bills in Spain), we finally ordered a round of chocolate and a huge plate of churros. About 10 minutes later, she returned with piping hot tazas of steaming chocolate. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, chocolate here is essentially melted chocolate bars with just enough milk to make it drinkable, yummmmmmmm. The churros are exactly what you think they are, and you dip them into the chocolate and it is like heaven. We scarfed down these delectable treats and proceeded to pay completely in change, 27.80 € exactly. Needless to say, we were all on a pretty good sugar rush for the next couple of hours as we took a walk around Valladolid.

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Cucina Italiana

Did you know that most Italians can’t name their national anthem, let alone sing it? This is because over the course of history, Italy has been influenced by two different entities: Communism and Christian Democracy. Communism, in short, is against the idea of nations. The pride was all devoted to the one being: the USSR, and so the nationalism of solely Italy was discouraged. Christian Democracy didn’t necessarily think that Italy wasn’t important, but took more pride in the Catholic alliance than the country. So while in America, you see people hang the flag in their front lawns, celebrate the 4th of July with elaborate fireworks displays, and praise “‘Murica,” Italians are quite the opposite. However, while they do not take pride in their country and it’s institutions, they did so in other things. More modernly, Italians take pride in their sense of fashion and their cars.

Additionally, the Italian soccer team is very popular here – but the team uniforms are blue. Most countries use colors from their flags to decorate the national sports uniforms, but blue is no where to be found on the green-white-and-red flag. However, while not on the flag, sky blue (azzurro) is actually the national color of Italy. Azzurro was the color of the Royal House of the Kingdom of Italy which unified the country in 1861. And so, following it’s first match in 1910, the Italian soccer team – as well as the majority of Italian national sports jerseys – were made blue. That’s still kind of patriotic, right?

But what Italy takes most of its pride in is its cuisine. I don’t mean the food we Americans call “Italian” (which is actually only southern Italian food because that’s where most of the Italian immigrants who brought their recipes came from). If you go out to eat here, you better clear your plate or a very concerned waiter/waitress will ask why you didn’t like it. More than likely that’s not the case; I haven’t come across any food here that I didn’t like, but they just assume that if you don’t eat it, you don’t like it. And if you don’t like it, I think you should try to eat it anyway.

As a part of my food history course, we took a field trip. Well, I guess you could call it that…? Our professor took our class out to dinner at a restaurant in Perugia called Trattoria del Borgo. According to him, it’s the best restaurant in town, and it’s supposed to be the most authentic Umbrian cuisine we can find!

Here was our menu for the evening:

  • Antipasto: salumi di produzione propria con torta al testo, bruschette miste con verdure, insalata d’orzo con verdure fritte e pecorino, e barbozzo alla contadina
    assortment of cured meats, mixed canapès with grilled bread and fresh vegetables, pork cheek baked with balsamic vinegar and sage, barley salad with fried vegetables and cheese, and cheese puffs
  • Primi Piatti: chittarini alla norcina (salsiccia, funghi, e tartufo); malfatti di ricotta e ortica al tartufo
    pasta in shape of squared spaghetti with sausage, mushrooms, and truffle; nettle & ricotta dumplings with truffle and extra virgin olive oil
  • Secondi Piatti: maialino alla perugina con finocchio selvatico; parmigiana di melanzane
    roast suckling pig with wild fenil (piglet or boned pork, roasted in the oven with fennel and bacon); eggplant parmasean
  • Contorni: patate al forno e insalata mista
    baked potatoes and tossed salad
  • Dolce: spuma con mandorle caramellate e scaglie di cioccolato
    cream mousse with finger biscuits, caramelized almonds, and chocolate chips

So for my 21st birthday, I got to enjoy a 1. delicious six-course meal that 2. I didn’t need to cook and 3. lasted for 3 hours. Most meals in Italy take that long, but with amazing food and great friends, it was well worth the time.

Dancing Penguins

Our university, if that’s what you can call it, is 3 different “buildings”, which are about a 20 minute walk from each of our apartments. Within these buildings there are 2 classrooms, a computer lab and three professors. It turns out that we only have two of them, Patricia and Sergio, but they are both awesome. So far the classes have been really interesting and we are learning a ton of Spanish and other fun things. Just the other day the last student arrived, so now we are 12 strong.

Plaza del Viejo Coso-location of Universitas Castellae

Plaza del Viejo Coso-location of Universitas Castellae

First of all, we should probably explain that the Spanish youth are used to and even expected to stay out extremely late (at least according to American standards). Around 1:30, we ventured to a discoteca close to La Plaza Mayor where we expected to see a room packed full of locals dancing like crazy. Much to our surprise, this was not the case. Although the music was bumping, hardly anyone was dancing and there were less than 20 people. However, we didn’t let that bring us down and we went in there and rocked the place. All 11 of us danced for an hour and a half, showing off our Soulja Boy dance moves (which everyone seemed to enjoy, especially the DJ).

Every year in Valladolid there is a huge festival of pinguinos, which are not actually penguins…they are motorcycles. Hundreds of motorcycles line the streets as people flock from all corners of the world to partake in this festival. Everyone walks around in full leather gear, carrying helmets and admiring the other bikes. These bikers stay in a large field outside of the city, and come into the city every day to see the churches and cathedrals. On the last day, everyone gathers in a large park, campo grande, to see a show in which professionals ride quads and dirt bikes around in circles popping wheelies and doing crazy stunts. People were climbing trees and statues and trashcans in order to see the event. Juliana had to stand on a longboard just to see over the people in front of us (short people problems).

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