First Trip Outside of Italy

Posted by Madeline on April 22, 2018 in Barcelona, studying abroad, travel

So unfortunately, the wishes of my last post did not fully come true, as last weekend I went to Barcelona and it rained almost the entire two days we visited! To note, of course on Sunday morning when we left, the weather forecast was sunny and 68… perfect timing!! Ah well, we still had a good time and made the most of it! Flying in on the lovely Ryanair, our already late-night flight was delayed an hour, so by the time we got to our airbnb it was almost 2am! My roommate, Jesse, and I went right to bed since we wanted to get up and rolling early the next day. Before our planned 9:30 visit to La Sagrada Familia, we stopped at a place called Granier Cafe to grab a little breakfast to go. They had a deal offering 3 muffins for 1.50 euro, and the muffins were called Magdalenas,so it was fate! They were light, moist and lemony, and we ended up getting them the rest of the mornings of our trip!
La Sagrada Familia was really cool to see outside and in. With construction still going on, the outside is slightly harder to appreciate with cranes and structures blocking the full cathedral though.

Inside felt more modern with the tree-like structures stretching to the ceiling and geometrical stained glass windows moving through the colors of the rainbow with each progressing window. We enjoyed reading the signs about Gaudi too, with his goals to make a bright, inviting church to encourage people to come worship. Jesse and I talked about our own feelings on religion, and how it can be hard to figure out what we believe.
Next on our itinerary was a visit to Park Guell at 1pm. Since it was only about 10:30, we decided to walk there, stopping at a viewpoint of the city along the way and then a supermarket for snacks. We arrived at the park well before 12 and sat on a bench to eat our crackers and cheese. With so much time to spare, we walked to stand under these arches of a cave built into the hill where a 4 man band was playing. Two played guitar, one played a mix of hand held instruments, while another drummed or danced. Their unique energy and style was fun to watch. Right around our time to line up for our time slot, it began to rain, then pour. That made me unashamedly pout, but thankfully the monument part had a covered area, and then the rain let up a bit when we went to see the mosaics.

On our way out, a wall of checkerboard mosaics framed the stairway down and I liked the individual mosaics and altogether as a pattern. It reminded me of quilts.

By the time we left, we were both veeery ready for lunch. We knew we wanted paella, so I googled and found a place near another spot we wanted to see. The restaurant, La Fonda, was right off a famous street called La Rambla, where there are many touristic shops, but it’s a beauriful, wide-set street with two lines of trees surrounding the central walking path.

The restaurant ended up looking much fancier than I’d imagined, but it wasn’t too badly priced for us to split a skillet of paella with clams, calamari, shrimp and pork. It was nice to get a small break from Italian food, even though I love it, don’t get me wrong! But I enjoyed having a different type of food. We sat next to an older couple that I don’t think said a single word to each other the whole meal. Once they left, Jesse and I both commented on how sad that was to see! We both agreed we never want to end up in a relationship like that. They looked miserable, we both hoped it was maybe because of a fight rather than how they are all the time, but I’m not convinced it wasn’t the latter. Next, we stopped at the market nearby along La Rombla. The covered space had many vendors, some selling fruit -whole and in cups to go, or smoothies, others with meats, fish, crepes, nuts, burritos..more than I can name! I got a cup of mixed fruit, while Jesse got one with just mangoes -I think I should have done the same because hers were so fresh and sweet, whereas my mix didn’t seem quite as good! Then we shared a kabob of strawberries drizzled in chocolate:)

Quite exhausted and wanting to get out of our damp clothes, we headed back to our airbnb. We climbed into bed and set our alarms for 1/2 an hour. When they went off, we shut them off and woke up about 2 hours later!! I felt so groggy for the rest of the night! Intelligently, before we fell asleep, we’d made reservations at Taverna Can Margarit, suggested by our airbnb host, for 9 pm. It was right in the neighborhood, (Poble Sec) only a 5 minute walk from our place. Jesse and I went along with a girl named Remyah. While waiting for your table, they offer you a glass of their house wines in barrels in the front room. Their wines seemed thicker and sweeter than the wines I’ve had in Italy. It was a cool idea to hang out and mingle with a glass of wine before dinner. The decor of the place reminded me of a cabin. Where we sat, there was a wood beamed overhang in a large yellow room with wooden, wicker-like chairs, and more wooden antiques hanging on the walls. Jesse and I shared a plate of rabbit stewed with onion and garlic.
The next morning, we hiked up tons of hills and stairs to reach Montjuic Castle, a military fortress with views of the sea. We didn’t really feel like paying to go in, and weren’t sure if it would be worth it, so we walked back down, heading to Granier Cafe once again. I ordered a coffee along with the Magdalena and another pastry I wanted to try for only 2.60 euro! We sat by the window, and while we sat, a little girl with a Mickey Mouse umbrella and her little rain boots on the wrong feet, walked by. We waved, and she waved back, then continued back past us along the window to wave at all the other people sitting behind us! Her mom smiled and rolled her eyes, turning the stroller around to go grab her! That made my morning:)
We got on the metro to go find some of Gaudi’s houses. We saw Casa Battlo and Mila, both with the unique wave-like style outer walls with round windows. Casa Battlo had more mosaics and bright colors, so I liked that one better. It started to rain again, so we chose to give up on site-seeing and shop. We didn’t find anything good, so we stopped and went for nachos and tacos for lunch. Then we felt we had to try the churros at a bakery, and they came as a stack of them to dip in a cup of something in between hot chocolate and pudding!
Jesse and I both love soccer, so we decided to head to a bar to watch the Barcelona vs. Valencia game. We guessed at a stop to get off from the metro, then googled ‘sports bars near me’. I randomly chose Dow Jones Bar. We sat down to watch the game since the bartender was watching as eagerly as the customers. At half time I ordered a June Bug and tap water, the first time I’ve had free water in Europe!! It was fun to watch the game at a relaxed bar, and comment on the game with Jesse. At the end of the game (Barcelona won 2-0 btw) Jesse’s friend, Maddie, who’s studying abroad in Barcelona met us there to show us around a bit before dinner. She showed us the gothic district we hadn’t been able to find earlier and the port area, then we went to a tapas bar: Pepa Tomate. We shared dishes of bread with a tomato and garlic juice sauce, mushrooms in a wine sauce, spinach fritters with honey aioli -my favorite, grilled lettuce hearts in lemon vinaigrette and wok vegetables on rice noodles. After dinner, Jesse informed us that her dad was paying for our meal, what a nice treat!
We decided we also wanted crepes for dessert, so we found somewhere nearby that had giant foot-long crepes:) We walked and ate, as Maddie showed us Plaza del Sol, where she said people just go to sit on the stones at night and drink beers.
For our last night, we decided to try out the famous night life of Barcelona. We went to a club called Boulevard -a multi floor club with many different rooms playing different types of music. We met three guys from Finland who we hung out with the rest of the night. They were pretty funny and one was a hilarious, but pretty decent dancer! Around 3, I was getting tired and wanted to leave. Some of my friends still wanted to stay out, but I convinced one to come back and then the other two followed! We ended up going to bed at 4 in the morning and waking up at 8:30 for our travel I felt out of it the whole day, and went to bed at 8 that night!!
Overall, it was a really fun trip, but one thing I realized is that I shouldn’t judge a place so much by pictures on social media. Before I went, my image of Barcelona was so different because all that was in my head was an unrealistic city full of mosaics and bright colors. It’s easy to forget that the little blurbs on social media are only tiny parts of places that don’t begin to make-up the overall picture and feel of the whole city. My expectations of Barcelona were a little too high, which made my adjustment to reality harder. I still had a great time, but I now know I need to be careful about how much I let social media influence my presumptions since you can’t base your expectations of an entire city off of a few pretty tourist attractions.


Rain, rain Go Away!

Posted by Madeline on April 12, 2018 in Lucca, Pisa

Besides just being a nuisance, and depressing my mood, I realized when talking to my friend, Lacey, the other night, that there are even more reasons why the rain puts a damper on the day here. Back home, we basically drive everywhere, so the worst part when it rains is running to and from the car. Here, we walk EVERYWHERE. So, when it rains, you have to deal with it your whole 15-30 minute walk to wherever you’re going, or simply choose to not leave the house! Also, half the time, the umbrella does not keep you fully dry, so you end up with wet shoes and pants, maybe part of your jacket. And we’ve been having LOTS of rain this semester :/
With my rant over, Florence has had some glimpses of amazing weather. Bouts of 60s and 70s with loads of sunshine, which I can feel a complete change in how I feel: motivated, awake, happy to be alive, and wanting to go out and do, do, do! I love those days. It’s shocking how much impact the weather has on my mood and feelings. This past weekend was one of those good weather days. It was perfect, as I was visiting Ubaldo (the family friend’s friend from past posts) who showed me around the small cities of Pisa and Lucca nearby his home.
I arrived by train midday Saturday, where we began a walk through Pisa -across the same Arno River that runs through Florence, along the street: Via Borgo Stretto with loggias on either side, and my favorite part: no cars! In the older section of Pisa, most areas are solely pedestrian access, which made it so much easier and enjoyable to walk than Florence. I also liked how the buildings were shorter, so the streets felt less claustrophobic and the sky and sun were more visible. We went to lunch at a fish restaurant (Pescheria), L’isola Dei Gabbiani owned by a friend of Ubaldo’s. I had tagliatellini with tomato and snapper and a dessert with mascarpone and pineapple. Oh, and white wine, which Ubaldo told me is usually paired with fish.
After, we continued to Lucca. We started with a walk up along it’s walls that wrap around the small downtown area of the old city center. I had pictured the walls to be old and medieval, completely of stone, like a fortress. My image was really off! The walls were much more natural, the outer part was stone, but the paths for walking and biking were more of a dirt trail or pavement on soil, with a grassy park area outside the walls.

We passed people biking, families with kids walking or couples strolling in the sun’s soft afternoon rays. A nice setting for a “passeggiatta” (walk). We walked down off the walls to see the downtown area. Just as in Pisa, Lucca’s city is pedestrian-only with small, beautiful streets of fancy shops and nice restaurants. Ubaldo told me the city was historically quite wealthy. He said families used to marry off their first daughter to a son of another rich family, and the second daughter often became a patron for a church that the father had sponsored the construction. It did appear to still be doing well, for it was clean and well-kept. My favorite part was the circular piazza in the center: Piazza Anfiteatro, located inside a restored colosseum, giving it the circular shape.

We made our way back up to the top of the wall for a drink and apertivo to hold us over until dinner. I had a glass of prosecco and they brought out a tray of small bites. The fresh air and simply sitting outdoors felt so wonderful. That’s one thing I miss living in a city. Although it got chilly sitting there, I was content and felt relaxed outside. Walking back to the car, the colors of the setting sun were mild and gentle. It felt like the setting of a movie.

At home, Ubaldo started making Risotto al Nero di Seppia, rise with squid and squid ink! –Earlier at lunch, I’d mentioned that my dad had tried squid ink pasta on one of his past trips to Italy. Ubaldo asked if I wanted to try it, and I said sure, if he was okay with that. As I figured he would, he agreed, saying it’d been a while since he’d made it!– Before starting to cook, he turned on Spotify and poured a glass of wine with a small bowl of an equivalent to chex-mix, his own little apertivo! The rice was really tasty, but was definitely turning my whole mouth black because when I used my napkin, it came away with black smears! Next, his neighbor Pauola, who he considers his local mom, made us carciofi fritti (fried artichokes) that looked like chicken wings! They were surprisingly good, and nice and chewy! He said he’d forgotten to get dessert, but had some Pana (cream) flavored ice cream and an apple pie another neighbor had made him. I happily agreed. And finally, we finished with a small glass of limoncello, a strong bitter and sweet liqueur that I can only take in small sips!
The next morning, we stopped for the Italian style breakfast of a croissant and cappuccino, on our way to the beach. He took me to a somewhat wild beach at the Marina di Vecchiano only reachable by car. I loved how the distant violet-blue mountains trickled down the landscape to meet the water’s edge.

People were also using the driftwood that had collected on the sands to build teepees! We walked up and down the water then sat for a bit on a log and talked some more. He asked what I plan to do as a nurse, and I explained I didn’t know yet. I talked about how I like the idea of being involved with maternal and newborn health and nutrition to give children their best shot at a healthy life. But I said I’m also interested in geriatrics because I usually enjoy the elderly, but also I’m passionate about taking care of people at such a delicate stage of life, and learning how to treat them in a safe way. I told him how I didn’t think my grandma received good medical care at the end of her life. It was horrible to watch her suffer, and I think some of her suffering was partly due to or accentuated by the choices of those in charge of her care. Because of that, I have an interest in learning more about how to treat the elderly in a way that the horrid side effects of drugs do not outweigh the apparent “treatment”. He listened, and advised me to have an open mind, and simply try to keep learning and gain more experiences to figure out where I belong.

We then returned to his house, where we had lunch at his neighbors’: Gigi and Nina, along with his two local “parents,” and their son, Luca who is Ubaldo’s good friend. Gigi and Nina invited us for Pasqua, Easter for them was that Sunday because they are Orthodox. Although they spoke in Italian during the meal, Ubaldo at times translated for me, or they asked me a few questions that I responded to in my basic Italian. Even in only sharing a few words with them, they felt so welcoming and kind; putting their hand on my shoulder or smiling. I hugged each of them goodbye and gave the typical Italian two kisses on each cheek. I hope to see them again someday.
Our last event of the weekend was to see the cathedral and oh so famous leaning tower of Pisa. Ubaldo’s friend works there, so he gave us a tour of the church along with some history, and then we climbed the tower.

We sat at the top enjoying the view for a bit, before heading back down. And as many of my trips include, we stopped for gelato at his favorite place in Pisa, La Bottega del Gelato (bottega=shop), even though I was still quite full from lunch! I asked what his favorite flavors were and he said pinoli, pine nuts. So I ended up getting Pinoli and Pistacchio, and we sat up on the wall of the river: “at the best bar in town,” Ubaldo said.


It Usually is the little Things

Posted by Madeline on April 2, 2018 in Florence, Rome, Sicily, Uncategorized

My mom arrived later Friday evening, so our visit basically started Saturday morning. We started off in Florence, so I could show her around the place I know best! Mostly, we walked around and I showed her some of my favorite sites: Michelangelo Square and Chiesa di San Miniato, the San Lorenzo Market, Basilica della Santa Anunnziata, Gelateria La Carraia and Semel (panini shop). Every morning we started off with a cappucino at different bars in Florence and each place we went (mom was struggling with me not having coffee in the apartment since she drinks a whole pot herself at home!!!) That was one of our favorite things during the whole trip, just sitting, enjoying each other’s company with a nice caffeine kick of course:)

Our coffee spot on the patio of our airbnb in Marina di Ragusa

Our last full day in Florence, we rented E-bikes (powered with a motor when you pedal) to go to a winery in the countryside around Florence. The idea sounded fun and relaxing, but actually biking in the city was confusing and stressful with cars and trying to find the bike paths! Even out of the city, there were still cars whizzing past us which was not entirely our idea of a peaceful bike ride in the countryside as we had thought.. We still enjoyed the scenery though, at stops along the way and at the winery. The winery itself was refreshing to feel more in nature and have a quiet afternoon.
Tuesday morning, we left for Rome with an early wake-up call for an 8:40 train. Our first stop in Rome was a bar because at that point mom was really needing the cappuccino by the time we got there!! Then, our first official stop was at St. Peter’s Basilica, to the end of the line wrapping around the whole square. We really didn’t mind the 45 minute wait in the beautiful square, comfortably standing in sunny 60 degrees with fountains and statues to look at.
We wandered about the church, and mom got to see Michelangelo’s La Pieta, an incredibly emotional statue of Mary holding Jesus, although it is slightly harder to admire with the wall of glass preventing a closer look. We continued to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Colosseum and our last stop was Trevi Fountain. Back at the train station, we found our cabin for the night train with two bunk beds. The beds actually weren’t that uncomfortable, but our conductor kept knocking our door to give us blankets and breakfast and check to see if our cabin mates came in, which they never did. We also didn’t sleep as well worrying that at each stop someone might be coming into our room!

Top bunk for me!

After our on and off sleep, we watched the scenery, mainly the glistening sea for the last leg of our trip in the morning. Finally, we reached Siracusa, where we met our bed & breakfast host, Maria (a friend of Salvatore who lives in Ragusa). We dropped our bags at the room and went to the market for lunch: a huge, rich panino that kept us full until 9 that night!

Then we wandered about Ortigia Island (the oldest part of the city of Siracusa) seeing churches and the bright blue sea!

Pretty restaurants along the coast

Small beach tucked between cliffs and the dock

Cute random shop with my cute mom in front

Thursday, we were looking for a bar to stop at on our way to the archaeological park. An older man walking by and said, “You look lost,” I looked at mom and then said, “Well, we’re looking for a good cafe, do you know one?”
He said, “Yeah up here across from my apartment there’s a good one,” and he waved us to follow. He asked where we were from, then said he was from Conneticut, but had been living here 25 years teaching English at a university. At his gate, he pointed us across the street and said if we needed anything, we could come ring his door! An unexpected act of kindness from a random stranger.
After coffee, we continued up the hill to the park. The park had two sides: Greek and Roman. The Greek side was amazing, with caves built into the hill -a waterfall flowing into a pool in one of them, the theatre where they used to perform and views of the sea.

Next was the Cave of Dionisus -which later when we met up briefly with Salvatore, Stefania and Francesco, Francesco explained that the cave used to hold slaves and Dionisus had a small hole at the top where he could listen in to see if any slaves were planning an escape!

Opening of the Cave of Dionisus

The Roman side was interesting to see its theatre as well, but was not as impressive as the Greek.
That night, we planned to go out for dinner because I really wanted to try fish. We checked the restaurant we were going to, but it looked empty, so we decided to look for an apertivo. We found a small shop selling local meat and cheese products with a sign for apertivo. We stopped in and ordered our glasses of wine and got a board of samples of their products, but it was big! We didn’t feel like eating a full dinner after, so we debated, and decided to just go grab two pieces of cake for dessert -a nice alternative!
Friday morning was a bit rushed as we prepared to leave on a train to Ragusa at 11. Planning ahead, we got a panino at the market…the craziest I’ve ever seen. The panino maker, Andrea, was so fun to watch. He had an art with the ingredients, as he sniffed and chopped and tossed them together,
so entertaining to watch him at work. As he made the person ahead of us, I decided we wouldn’t get meat because the sandwich was huge. Expecting to have the same as their’s, but without the meat on top, we were shocked when he went to the back to slice a different cheese, laid it out and put pulled mozzarella dipped in lemon juice with herbs and sliced orange on it, then wrapped it up and put all THAT on the panino!! Mom and I were just laughing in amazement.
Then we ran into Maria at the market who said she’d spoken to Salvatore that morning and he’d meet us at the station in Ragusa! At that point I worried we might not be eating the panino for lunch considering the hospitality I’d received from him on my last visit! I was right, as he drove us to his home and offered us a special torte of the Easter season, lamb, cheese made that morning, a pear and wine. He then put a bunch of tomatoes, the rest of the cheese, a pear and two bananas in a bag for us to take along to the airbnb!
I finally got some fish for dinner that night on a recommendation from our airbnb hosts to go to Il Delfino.
On Saturday, I was determined to swim! On our way out, Nello (the father of the family of our airbnb) said buon giorno, and asked if we were going out for lunch today. He didn’t speak much English, so I explained in Italian that we had food at home for lunch, but we were going to walk at the sea and I wanted to try to swim! He asked some other questions in Italian, slowly, and I was able to respond in a way we could understand! It was exciting and I felt proud 🙂 Outside was warm, but the breeze was a bit cool, but I eventually got in anyways..I was determined!
That night, we went to dinner at their second recommendation: Trattoria da Carmelo. Walking to our table, we saw the couple who arrived earlier in the other apartment at our airbnb! They also didn’t speak much English, but we both laughed and said hello (caio)! We ordered a Sicilian specialty with bucatini and sardines, then a plate of mixed grilled seafood. Our neighbor came over before they left and said “molto buono,” gesturing how my Italian teacher had taught us for yummy: twisting the pointer finger at the corner of the mouth. -Again I was excited to understand!
Our last day was a slight wash with packing and it was so windy out!! It was not enjoyable and tired us out to be in it! A little before 3, we went to the main house of the family to return a plate and offer them the many leftover tomatoes we had from Salvatore. Nello, Giovanna (the mother) and their son (didn’t catch his name) were finishing lunch, and Giovanna waved us to come inside. The son spoke the most English, but still not very much, and Giovanna couldn’t speak any, so most of our communication was me deciphering their Italian and gestures! Giovanna offered us a “dolci di Pasqua,” a cake with ricotta, lemon zest and cinnamon on top..delicious! She pointed for us to sit, but mom said no, trying not to put them out of their way, and then she continued to pull mom over to sit down!! They offered us pepsi, wine, beer and coffee. So we also ended up with a little wine and two espressos! Mom and I both truly enjoyed the family and how content they seemed -Nello was kind and accommodating for me during our conversation, so I could understand, the son was friendly, and Giovanna was a character fitting the welcoming Italian mother I’d pictured in my head. Our main host, Valeria, wasn’t there when we left, but she had been really nice and energetic on our arrival! A happy ending to our adventurous trip.
Today has been a bit of a loss, as I figured it would be. Getting used to my mom not being here when she was for a week straight is hard to adjust to, so I felt a bit depressed and unmotivated! Tears were on and off most of the day, but getting back into the flow of my Florence life and school will help me settle in again.