Lebanon Valley College Study Abroad

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. (:


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


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.


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…


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.



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).


First Couple of Days In Spain

After almost a week of packing, and unpacking, we finally had suitcases that weighed less than 50 pounds. So the journey began with the customary drive down to the Philadelphia Airport where we said goodbye to our parents and went off to meet eachother. We decided that even though we were at the airport, going to Spain still seemed like a dream. Normal airport events transpired and we ended up sitting at our gate for about an hour before the flight was delayed. By this time we had met up with Jake, and after buying our last American McDonald’s for the next four months and sitting around for a while we were finally allowed to board the plane. This is when we realized that people aren’t going to fully understand us and we are not going to fully understand them for the next couple months. Almost everyone on the flight only spoke Spanish, except for a couple of other students who appeared to be there for study abroad as well. After about 20 minutes on the plane, the pilot announced another delay so that we could wait for a connecting plane. After that hour or so, we headed to the de-icing platform and ended up being there for an hour (which is just “several minutes,” according to the pilot). By around 10pm, we were finally on our way to Spain, and very worried that we wouldn’t make it in time to meet the rest of the students before heading off to Valladolid from Madrid. Oh, by the way, Steve’s fear of flying is unrivaled, so at take-off, landing and every hint of turbulence he could be seen desperately clutching the seat to prepare himself for the inevitable crash. However, we made it safely to Madrid after 7 or so hours of nothing but boredom and watching other people sleep. After the journey through the airport (with no sign of escalators or elevators), the man at customs stamped our passports, and thankfully none of our bags had been misplaced. The journey through the airports had been an utter success. As we navigated our way to Terminal One, a tall, dark-haired man came up to us with a folder that said “Universitas Castellae.” This was Alberto, and he was our contact to the university.IMG_9563IMG_9573IMG_9574

We hopped on a bus where we met up with Erin and 6 other students from the school. After the scenic and WINDY ride to Valladolid, we were each dropped off at our respective bus stops to meet our host parents. Valladolid is a beautiful city. There are grand, ornate churches and cathedrals on almost every block. Even our university is located in an awesome building. The building is La Plaza Viejo Coso and it is one of the only octagonal plazas in the city. It also used to be home to el corrido de los toros, or bullfighting. We met Sergio, one of the teachers at the university, and went on a tour of the inner city to see all of the main landmarks, monuments and churches.

Next we went to the parade for Three Kings Day. Basically, it’s like the Christmas that we celebrate in America. The three kings that visited baby Jesus come to Spain on January 6th to give gifts to everybody.   There were tons of people lining the streets in La Plaza Mayor and it was near impossible to find a spot in which we could actually see the parade. However, we managed to locate a spot where we had a decent view of the parade. The floats all were designed around Disney movies. From Aladdin to Peter Pan, these floats covered everything Disney.  Upon three floats were the kings for which the holiday is named. They rose from their floats and walked down a raised platform to a government building in the plaza and stood on a balcony above the on-looking crowd. And boom! Fireworks erupted from the building in brilliant and dazzling colors, all just 20 or 30 feet above our heads.

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Later that night, there were a lot of fiestas to celebrate. All of the locals go out on the 5th to bars and cafes to enjoy the festivities. We decided to go to La Negra Flor, which is owned by a friend of Alberto. The place was packed shoulder to shoulder. After about an hour one of the “kings” (in a cheesy costume) stepped out of the back door and everyone went crazy. For the next hour he walked in and out, throwing out different “gifts” each time. There was everything from party hats to clown noses and each time he returned the shouting got louder and louder, but the best part was when he came out with a pocket English dictionary and the crowd just erupted!

-Steve and Juliana

Assisi e La Vita di San Francesco

A professor from St. Bonaventure University is visiting the Umbra Institute, and because SBU is a Franciscan school, he offered a guided tour of Assisi through the life of Saint Francis.

Following my first Italian train ride, our first stop was the Basilica Papale di San Francesco (Basilica of Saint Francis), which was built to house St. Francis’ body. Construction started in 1228 when the first stone was blessed by Pope Gregory IX the day after Francis’ canonization. His body was moved here from what’s now now part of the Basilica of Santa Chiara in 1230. The three-level Basilica is built into the hillside on the site of Assisi’s gallows. The upper basilica is adorned on both sides with the frescoes of Francis’s life painted by Giotto and students. The middle basilica is decorated with other frescoes of Giotto and his master Cimabue, including the fresco of Francis reputed to be the best likeness of him. The lower basilica, or crypt, houses the remains of Francis and is probably the most inspiring space in Assisi.

Unfortunately, the only thing you were allowed to photograph inside was the nativity scene. But the church was absolutely amazing! The paintings and the stonework were so ornate, and to think that everything about the building was handmade because during its construction, compared to what we have available today, technology was severely lacking.

The lower basilica was just breathtaking. Everything below is just as beautiful as above, but there was something about being there that was so moving. I sat down among the other people and observed the tomb that sat at the head of the room, and I’m not afraid to say that I teared up a little. I’m not religious to any extent, but I felt almost honored to be in St. Francis’ presence, and to see so many others in that room who have such a strong faith in him. There was one other gentleman I remember who was down on his knees before the tomb with his eyes shut tight and his hands firmly clasped before him. It was almost as if he was not simply praying or asking, but begging St. Francis for help.

St. Francis was captured and imprisoned at random after fighting in a battle between Assisi and its neighboring city, Perugia. During a year of waiting for his father’s ransom,  he began receiving visions from God. After his release, he heard the voice of Christ tell him to repair the Christian Church and take on a life of poverty, and he did just that. St. Francis left his life of luxury behind and devoted his life to Christianity. Later, Francis would reportedly receive a vision that would make him the first person to receive the stigmata of Christ (marks resembling the wounds Jesus Christ suffered from crucifixion). St. Francis was canonized in July of 1228, and become a joint Patron Saint of Italy along with St. Catherine of Siena. St. Francis is also regarded as the patron saint of animals and the environment. In addition, Francis was credited with the creation of the first nativity scene in 1223.

It was a shame to have to move on because you could spend days examining the Basilica, but I knew that Assisi still had more to offer. So off to Santa Maria Maggiore we went! This was the main church of Assisi where Francis renounced his father’s wealth and authority by removing his clothes and returning them. This was also the place where St. Clare, discussed later, was handed the Palm as a sign of approval by Bishop Guido to join St. Francis and his brothers.

Our next stop was the Tempio di Minerva, which is simply a beautifully preserved Roman temple in the center of Assisi that now acts as a Catholic Church. This was also the same place where I realized that rule number one about walking into an old Italian building is to look up; the ceilings are usually pretty fantastic, too. We then visited La Chiesa Nuova (The New Church), which was built on the site believed to be the birthplace of St. Francis. Then off to the Basilica di Santa Chiara (Basilica of St. Clare)!

The Basilica of Saint Clare was built onto the original chapel where St. Francis went to school, and where he was originally buried while his Basilica was being built. St. Clare, who was one of Francis’s first followers, was buried here under the main altar where her body was discovered in 1850. Inside, off to the right, is a smaller chapel which houses the original San Damiano crucifix that “spoke” to Francis. In the lower part of the basilica, you can see the Santa Chiara’s crypt housed in glass, and other relics that had belonged to her and St. Francis.

The last stop on our tour was the Santa Maria degl’Angeli (Saint Mary of the Angels) and Porziuncola (Little Portion). This site was Francis’ favorite place and home for many years. The church is a huge structure which encloses this tiny little chapel of the Porziuncola. It was in the small chapel in 1208 that Francis heard the gospel which was to be his earliest Rule, and it was here that the Poor Clares were founded when Clare received her habit from Francis.

It was then that we all headed back to the train station to return home after a long day in our neighboring town of St. Francis; now all aboard for Perugia.

Note: Rule number two about walking into an old Italian building is to watch for “no photography” signs.