An American in Paris

November 7th-10th

This past weekend I traveled to Paris, France with Alejandra! We both have been there before so we planned on a leisurely weekend strolling down the Champs-Elysees drinking hot chocolate and eating Lauduree macaroons. Although we did both, we actually did quite a bit else. Friday was a little rainy and very cloudy so when we landed in the morning we headed right to the Louvre. After fighting through the usual crowd of people surrounding the Mona Lisa, searching for Hammurabi’s Law Code for far too long and marveling at the beauty of Aphrodite, we left in search of crepes: the first of many. Crepes in hand we walked along the Seine, stopped at the famous lock bridge and headed to Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter for dinner.

loving the Louvre

loving the Louvre

After dinner –Greek food- we went to the Eiffel Tower and sat staring at it for at least an hour. It’s pretty incredible to go from touring St. Peter’s Basilica Thursday morning to standing under the Eiffel Tower by Friday night. Saturday we toured the Palace of Versailles and marveled at my favorite room in the world: The Hall of Mirrors. We walked through the main street of the town and bought food from the market and ate on the train on the way back into the city. Once we got back into the city, we went to Musee d’Orsay, the top of the Arc de Triomphe, Sacré Coeur, and Moulin Rouge, then spent the evening on the Champs-Elysees. The first time I went to Paris was 5 years ago with my family and with my infamous awful memory, I had remembered little from the trip. When I first came to Rome I didn’t think I would go back to Paris because I had already been, but Alejandra and I found cheap tickets and I wanted to refresh my memory the best way possible. I definitely experienced a Paris I hadn’t been able to at age thirteen.

On Sunday we woke up early again and went to Bastille Market, which is huge, and it’s a lot of fun to interact with the people there. Even though they proceeded to speak fast, fluent, French while I struggled to recall even the numbers from my four years (yes, four) of French, they were so kind and definitely know how to make good pastries. We bought food for lunch and with baguettes in our purses we headed to Notre Dame for Sunday morning mass. On our way we passed Sainte Chappelle –famous for their incredible stained glass windows- and since our admission everywhere was free with our Italian I.D’s, we went in for a quick visit before mass. 

Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle

After church we rented bikes and went to the Luxembourg Gardens to people watch and breathe in the crisp fall air. We soon learned that it is forbidden to ride bikes through the park but you could walk next to the bike, so we did that. Rome has been a little behind in the fall weather department so it was awesome to see true fall colors and in Paris nonetheless! We biked around the area, Montparnasse, after the park until we found ourselves at this cute hole-in-the-wall French restaurant. The kitchen was smaller than my dorm room back on campus and you could watch them cook from your table. I’ve learned that those kind of places usually have really great food, and before I knew it my hypothesis was confirmed and we indulged in French food that I couldn’t spell even if I tried. We had crème brûlée for dessert.

We toasted to an incredible Parisian weekend and headed back for the night because we had to wake up at 3am… ouch…for our 7am flight in order to make it to class at 10am. Other than waking up at that brutal hour of the morning, the trip was incredible and I now have dozens of new memories of Paris to now (hopefully) hold onto.

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A Grecian Getaway

Greece Study Trip: 10/10-10/19

Ten days in Classical Greece was the best trip I have ever taken. We were blessed with phenomenal weather, incredible sites, and an exceptional educational opportunity filled with even better company. The trip began with three days in Athens where we saw the Acropolis in its glory both at night and during the day. The view from the top made it somewhere we never wanted to leave.

The Parthenon, Athens

The Parthenon, Athens

Our first night, we toured the National Archeological Museum and began learning a few words in Greek. The three days we spent in Athens flew by full of amazing new foods and lots of history during our introduction to Greek culture. Our next stop was Delphi where we got to see the temple of Apollo. The views over the Gulf of Itea were incredible from the temple. Arahova was where we stayed and also where we climbed almost 400 stairs to another wonderful meal together. Every meal we shared was in restaurants that had very personal connections to Ioanna. Wherever we went, the owners greeted her with such love and compassion; it was truly amazing. They expressed their generosity through their best wines and kind hospitality that rivaled anything I’ve seen before. We left Delphi for Nafplio, which was my favorite city that we visited in Greece. We climbed 999 stairs up to a castle overlooking the town and got to practice our Italian with a Roman family who owned a gelateria. I loved the layered history within the city limits of Nafplio. We stopped in Mycenae, Sparta, Mystras and Corinth over the next few days. Since our bus ride to Sparta was approximately the length of the infamous film, 300, we decided to watch it on our way there. We pulled into the city right as the credits rolled, and jumped off the bus to take a group photo with Leonidas. This had to have been one of the highlights of the trip for me because of the impeccable timing, and being able to put it into perspective just as I was able to do in Pompeii last month. Following Sparta, we concluded the trip by taking a ferry to Mykonos for the last three days.

The whole group in Sparta at a monument for Leonidas

The whole group in Sparta at a monument for Leonidas

This was certainly the most relaxing part of the trip, as its highlights were having local specialties in Little Venice, and wandering the streets for hours as we window-shopped on our way to our last meal together Saturday night. Right on the edge of the ocean, we danced the night away and celebrated a truly magical week in the most beautiful country.

Sunset from our Hotel Poseidon, our last night in Mykonos

Sunset from our Hotel Poseidon, our last night in Mykonos

I want to say a special thank you to the Forza Roma scholarship committee for making this trip possible for not only me, but also a number of other students. JFRC alumni do a lot for this community and I wouldn’t have been able to have had these experiences without their support.

ef̱charistó̱ ~ thank you!

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We Run for Hunger

Since 2006 thousands of individuals have gathered together in Rome to raise money and awareness about world hunger. There are hundreds of millions of people throughout the world that are starving or malnourished, and by raising awareness the UN is able to help combat that astounding number and provide aid to countries whose poverty level is extremely high.

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On October 19th, the JFRC had twenty-four students, two of which were Rome starters, participating in this run. The roads around the historic city centre were blocked off for the thousands of individuals who would be racing through the streets starting at 10am sharp. The run consisted of a 10 kilometer competitive race, or a 5k walk run, and an entrance fee of 10 euro was paid and the money went to a t-shirt as well as a donation to the World Food Organization. Times ranged from 48 minutes to an hour for the 10K and Romstarter Katey finished with an amazing time of 53 minutes! The running course offered the participating individuals an up close view of the beautiful Roman landmarks without he hustle and bustle of daily life; runners ran around the Coliseum, Circo Massimo and the Altare della Patria .
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After the run, the members of team USA were invited to the UN Ambassador to Rome’s house for a traditional American bar-b-que, complete with hot dogs, hamburgers and potato salad!

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Finding Spontaneity in Orvieto

Study Trip to Orvieto, Italy October 3rd-5th.

I had an amazing trip to Orvieto with 16 other students and SLA Steven this past weekend. I was lucky enough to get a spot on this trip last Monday because one of my friends couldn’t go; I wasn’t entirely sure what I was in for, but I jumped on last minute anyways. The first day we arrived pretty early in the morning and had a huge lunch at Chef Lorenzo’s restaurant: The Zeppelin. He was the mastermind of our incredible weekend. We also got a chance to explore the town a bit, and most of the group headed right to the Duomo. Featuring 13th century frescoes and an alternatively designed, striped interior, it was definitely worth the three-euro entry fee. But be careful, they are very strict about no photos inside the Duomo and will yell at you in Italian if you even reach for your phone… I definitely learned this the hard way.

Orvieto Cathedral

Orvieto Cathedral

Then we went to Lorenzo’s vineyard and harvested the last two rows of grapes, that he saved for us. Lorenzo gave us T-shirts that had the word “Vendemmia” written across the back, meaning grape harvest in Italian. We had little shears and even with a cool fall breeze, quite a few students gave up before we finished. It’s a much more tedious task than we were expecting. Afterwards, we all climbed on the tractor once the trailer was full and rode back to the farm for a huge dinner with all of his chef interns and employees.

Vendemmia!

Vendemmia!

We must have been at the table for three hours by the time dinner was finished, fresh porchetta -pork- an Umbrian speciality, salads, and many other dishes kept coming. The food was incredible. The following day, we woke up relatively early to go to the local market. Lorenzo met us there with one of his interns, and we sampled the food we were going to buy for our lunch that WE cooked! Everything was homemade and handmade, so we spent two hours rolling pasta noodles with our hands, baking fresh freccasca bread, an excellent peach or pesche dessert and drinking wine the whole time. After lunch we were free for the afternoon so while some played calcio with local school aged kids, my roommate and I accidentally slept the afternoon away. It felt an awful like Thanksgiving back in the states; we ate, slept and then went back to the restaurant for another huge dinner. I was more than okay with it all.

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This time we didn’t spent two hours rolling the pasta and I appreciated it more than ever before. Saturday night in Orvieto was definitely the liveliest of the weekend nights and most of our group went out with some of the interns. Sunday morning we went on a nature hike around Orvieto (mostly uphill, which was not forewarned) but worth the stunning views from each peak. I loved the spontaneous nature of this trip, and how we were free to do what we pleased in between time spent with Lorenzo. Sunday morning was much more adventurous than my Saturday afternoon was. Immediately following the hike, we even met up with the Italian kids again for another game of calcio. This time, I was inclined to play and had a great time -even with a slightly sprained ankle. After our much needed exercise after two days of eating and napping, we had another incredible meal at the Zeppelin before catching our train back to Roma. What an amazing thing to say each weekend I spend away: back home to Rome.

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The Taste of Independence

September 26th-28th. Weekend in Southern Italy.

We have been in Rome for one month now, and with the passing of every day I am constantly overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude. This past weekend was the first independent trip I took with my roommate Andrea, and all the beauty of Naples, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast surrounded us. We conquered Naples in 3 days and even managed to see the Amalfi Coast and the ruins of Pompeii. The first day we did everything my Italy guidebook told us to, and it was an incredible day. The week before I also asked my Italian professor for the best local places that I wouldn’t find in my guidebook, and she came back to me with a great list of restaurants, cafes, and churches that we couldn’t miss. The highlight of our time in Naples was taking the cable car up the hill to Castel Nuovo and watching the sunset from the top of the castle.

View from Castel Nuovo, Naples

View from Castel Nuovo, Naples

That same evening we went out to dinner at Da Michele, a famous pizzeria in the heart of Naples. Inspired by Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love, we tried to reenact some moments she had at the restaurant on camera. It was the best pizza I’ve ever had.

Da Michele. Amazed at how much pizza we were each given!

Da Michele. Amazed at how much pizza we were each given!

The following day was spent on the Amalfi coast and although we were surrounded by lots of other tourists, the sights were stunning. Although it was one of the longest days of my life, we managed to see four cities in ten hours. Again, with the help of my guidebook we hit the highlights and tried to get off the beaten (very touristy) path, and were successful! On Sunday, we ended our trip with a visit to Pompeii. After learning about the ancient city every year in history, it was really amazing to finally see Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii, and to put it all into perspective.

Positano, Italy

Positano, Italy

While Andrea and I conquered Southern Italy, the rest of the Rome Start class stayed in Rome but kept busy. Some of the girls went to a wine festival, and some even volunteered to hand out sandwiches Friday night in St. Peter’s Square. The JFRC has some really interesting community service opportunities and I hope to be able to participate in some throughout the semester.

I am grateful for this past weekend, but also for the dozens of other places I’ve seen in this past month. Looking back on my last few months home, I hadn’t even begun to comprehend all that I would experience in the coming year, but I was ready for this challenge and new experience. Classes are in full swing, and everyone is feeling the pressure of exams, etc. We are all trying to plan our weekend trips with such urgency that the calendar seems to be shrinking. Along with all the incredible tastes that Italy has to offer, I have enjoyed the taste of independence the most.

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Papal Audience

Living in the Eternal City has quite a few perks, and one of those “perks” is the ability to stroll down to Vatican City on Wednesday mornings to see our Holy Father, Pope Francis (and maybe get a selfie with him)

On Wednesday September 17th the students of the JFRC could be heard stirring as early as 4 am, in preparation for the downhill walk to Vatican City. The Rome Starters waited a bit longer and began their trek at 6 am, catching a bus down the hill and walking the rest of the way through the gates of the beautiful country.

Anticipation was high and excitement was tangible as we waited for the gates to open! As the hour long wait past, the line grew longer and longer as people from all of the world gathered to see the pontiff, nuns tried to cut the Rome Start group and tourists edged toward the front, but ultimately nothing could prepare the crowd for the Olympic sprint that the JFRC students led to some of the best seats in Piazza San Pietro! (Many of the upperclassmen were front row!)

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After finally getting our seats the Rome Starters settled in for the two-hour wait for the actual audience to begin. At around 10 am (don’t forget that by now we’ve been waiting with anticipation for four hours!) the introduction began! All of a sudden thousands of heads turned and cheers echoed throughout the Piazza as Pope Francis came around the corner in the “Popemobile,” for the next twenty minutes tourists from around the world strained their necks and focused their cameras to get a glimpse of our beloved Holy Father

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Photo taken by Anna Johnson

Pope Francis then proceeded to give his blessing and homily (later translated into English) and the entire Piazza chorused together the Our Father in Latin and held up thousands of religious articles for a blessing from Pope Francis.

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Embarking into Umbria

Orientation has officially ended and that means its time to buckle down and actually read the textbooks we purchased. However, the amazing staff here in Rome wouldn’t unleash us from the lightheartedness of orientation week without some sort of phenomenal ending, and staying true to tradition, that’s what they did. 150 students headed off into Umbria for an unforgettable weekend…

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Umbria, the only landlocked region in Italy, is an amazing destination to experience traditional Italian culture while being surrounded by an ever-modernizing society. The picturesque landscapes and ancient cities are, by far, some of the most beautiful scenes I have come to witness in my eighteen short years, and the orange villas nestled into hill sides seem to come straight out of a movie. Yet, even though these images are ones I will never forget, perhaps the most important part of the weekend was the friendships created through this experience. Tasting wines with your roommate, and getting lost in Spoleto or Foligno with the girls three doors down is the best way to experience a new culture and forge friendships that will last a lifetime.

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Our first day in Umbria included wine tasting, candle making and a trip to a paper mill. The second day was filled with walking tours of the ancient cities of Spoleto and Foligno, coincidentally we happened to be in Folignio just in time for the kick off of their medieval festival, so colorful banners and traditional music were found in surplus around the city. Our final day in the beautiful region consisted of a tour of Spello and free time to roam the streets and explore the beauty of a city that’s been around since the first century. Pork, potatoes and pasta filled our bellies and fantastic wine accompanied each meal, our lively conversation could be heard from a distance and we left the region with the hope of soon returning…

My bee’s wax candle remains (unlit) here in my dorm room, a happy reminder of an amazing weekend.

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Photo credit: Anna Johnson, Katey Lantto, and Courtney Bickle

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