3 Weeks

April 10th, 2015

3 weeks

This week I’ve been looking through pictures from throughout the year, organizing my room, and starting to mentally prepare to leave the JFRC in exactly three weeks. I can’t believe it’s already been nine months. Of course it is always this way -I’m not talking about all the other time’s I’ve lived abroad… I mean that every time a year or something ends, it suddenly feels like it all went too fast. But going through the year, time didn’t fly as fast as it seems like it does now. Something that’s stuck out in my head from the very beginning of our time here in Rome, are all the lectures we listened to from our advisors and the staff here at the JFRC. They kept telling us that this would be a “transformative experience”. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with Rome Starter’s who are coming next year, and I find myself telling them this story because I was hesitant to believe it myself at first. Now in mid-April I understand what they meant. It’s been a gradual process but with everything that’s happened –the good and bad- it most definitely has been a transformative experience in more ways than we realize right now. I firmly believe that once we leave, as sad as it will be, that will be the time we can begin to fully understand how this year in Rome has changed us all.

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At the Drunken Cow in Monti 

I find myself wanting to go to my favorite places more, and trying to value my time here to make the most out of the last few weeks we have here. I’ve been focusing on perfecting my travel arrangements for May because I will be traveling Italy on my own for a couple weeks, then meeting up with friends in Sicily and Prague. I don’t want to focus too much on May because I don’t want to miss out on the time we do have left here.

Double rainbow over Castel Sant'Angelo

Double rainbow over Castel Sant’Angelo

In the beginning of the year, Susana Cavallo who is not the Dean of Students anymore, but was last semester, told us that the Rome Starters would be like a family by the end of the year. To be honest, we were all a bit skeptical at first because although most of us got along in the beginning, the dynamics of all our relationships have changed a lot from the start. We have learned a lot from each other despite (some) of our differences and I wouldn’t change that. This experience has been “transformative” partly because of each other.

View from my favorite bridge in Rome

View from my favorite bridge in Rome

I feel so fortunate to have had this experience, and although it’s bittersweet that our time here is ending soon it was an unforgettable year that I wouldn’t change for the world.

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Backtracking to Spring Break

(March 6th-13th)

I’ve had this post written for a while, and am just publishing it now! Sorry everyone! For Spring Break this year, I was able to attend the “Best of the Balkans” study trip offered by the JFRC. This meant ten days exploring Eastern Europe, visiting countries: Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia and many cities within them including Belgrade, Novi Sad, Sarajevo, Mostar and Split. Overall it was an amazing trip and I learned more than I ever could have imagined.

In Serbia we spent most of our time in Belgrade where we visited a couple of museums and learned about the history of Yugoslavia, and we also got to visit the US Embassy. After learning about the history of conflict in the Balkan area from our tour guide, and then from the museum, it was really interesting to speak with the US Ambassador of Serbia to see where the US stands politically today. That was probably my favorite part of Serbia, it was also the first time in a US Embassy for a lot of the students on the trip. 17 JFRC students in total, we all were able to sit in a round table discussion format and discuss with the ambassador. My roommate is an intern at the US Embassy in Rome, and so this formal setting is something she has become quite accustomed to, but for a number of us in the room it was entirely new.

During our 7 hour drive through the mountains in Bosnia

During our 7 hour drive through the mountains in Bosnia

Serbia fulfilled our expectations as we spent most of our time in smoke filled coffee shops, trying to escape the brisk weather, and gazing at the architecture that blended the past and present. In every building that we saw in both Bosnia and Serbia, there contained so much history not only of the conflict in the 90’s but also from who controlled the area before. Seen more clearly when we got to Sarajevo, Bosnia after a long drive through the deep snow-covered mountains, was the combination of cultures blended behind the concrete walls. In Belgrade there were buildings that still hadn’t been restored from bombings, and in Sarajevo dozens of buildings were covered in bullet holes telling the story of all that happened during the conflict. Part of the reason the history of the fall of Yugoslavia fascinated me so much was because of my lack of knowledge of it before coming to the Balkans. It was surprising how much I didn’t know, and being in the places where genocide happened just twenty short years ago was unlike anything I’ve experienced. Of course there’s more than one side to the story, so when we were in Serbia and then Bosnia we heard the perspectives from the locals on the conflict. Naturally, the stories differed. Then when we visited the US Embassy we heard our country’s perception of it, which was again slightly different.

Mostar with Kiara and Alejandra

Mostar with Kiara and Alejandra

After our time in Bosnia, we traveled to Croatia and added another stamp to our passports. The weather was much nicer in Split, Croatia and we all enjoyed a relaxing weekend by the water. Since we only had a few days, no one traveled out to the other islands, but most of us went exploring. By the weekend end, I think I walked most of the entire city, including a hike up the big hill where there was a nice park and flag at the top. Croatia was a relaxing end to a long week of traveling and absorbing the immense amount of history in Serbia and Bosnia.

Because flights home from Croatia were ridiculously expensive, our group opted to take an eleven-hour overnight ferry across the Adriatic Sea. It was quite the adventure. We arrived in Ancona, Italy on Monday morning and took a three hour train from there so upon arrival finally back home to ROME, we were all mentally and physically exhausted. The day was far from over for me and for most others, because classes and my internship had started again that day, so for the rest of the week I still felt like I was trying to catch up on rest. No complaints though, because crossing the Adriatic Sea, even at night was a pretty unique experience, and not one that will likely happen again. Everything that this trip entailed was unexpectedly wonderful. Maybe that sounds a little cheesy, but overall it was a great experience and I feel very fortunate to have been able to see the places I did because I know they were cities that students our age wouldn’t prioritize if they only had a few months to see Europe. It gave me an appreciation for a new culture, one that I hadn’t seen or understood prior to this trip.

Sunset in Split, Croatia from the boardwalk

Sunset in Split, Croatia from the boardwalk

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Falling for Verona

March 28th-March 30th

Kiara and I took the train early Saturday morning to the north of Italy and spent the afternoon in Bologna. It was our first time on the frecciarosa fast trains and certainly will not be our last. We have heard nothing but good things about all the Bolognese specialties and decided to spend half of our day wandering the town and trying out those delicacies for ourselves. After many recommendations we had a great restaurant we wanted to try but couldn’t find it. Because the time of our train departure for Verona was in just over an hour we didn’t get to eat the foods we traveled there to eat. A bit of a disappointment, but we still walked the entire town in the three morning hours we spent there before leaving for Verona. There are dozens of churches that exist on almost every block in Bologna so we were kept busy during our walk. Along with the churches there were many market-style booths and little boutiques that we explored.

Verona

Verona

Upon our arrival to Verona, we walked right into the old part of town; a difference from our many visits to the province of Umbria, where no town is on the same latitude as the train station. There were no funicular’s needed this time around and we both appreciated the ease of walking straight into the heart of the city. During our time in Verona we saw all the main sights but my favorite part was renting two bikes and spending each morning biking down the river. We were blessed with wonderful weather all three days of our trip, and we definitely took advantage of it. We tried some regional wines, new to us, and plenty of gelato sitting by the water. We explored most areas of the old part of town because of how easy it was (and quick) with the added wheels.

Lake Garda

Lake Garda

Juliet’s house has a mailbox on it, and just like the movie Letter’s to Juliet you can write ‘her’ a letter asking for love advice, or guidance or whatever related to love that you wish to say and she will respond! The women who respond for Juliet are called her secretaries, and with some funds from the city of Verona, they respond to every letter. Kiara and I had coffee and cornetti and each wrote her a letter. I think we are both anxious to see if and when we get a response. Considering I wrote my home address as the return one, and won’t be home for another two months, I hope it takes at least that long! Otherwise, I may have some explaining to do to my father.

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The rest of my time here at JFRC will be spent in Rome, until classes end and I travel independently for May. I think seeing and appreciating not only Rome but also Italy is a really unique advantage of this program that more students should use to their benefit. The trains can be relatively inexpensive, and where better to practice your Italian skills than here? I am looking forward to exploring every corner of Rome that I haven’t been able to make it to yet, and continue to see other parts of Italy in the next month. Not many people can say that they stood under Juliet’s balcony, just as Romeo did centuries ago.

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#Visca el Barça i visca Catalunya

Each time I travel to a new city I fall in love. This past weekend was no exception and the beautiful, sunny, ever lively Barcelona stole my heart! From the gorgeous sunshine to the sandy beaches and rolling hills I can’t recall a time that I’ve given my heart away so fast!

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Alejandra, Anna, Francine, Kiara and I went to Spain over the weekend of Alejandra’s birthday and there was so much to celebrate! With the approaching midterms and busy schedules we all have this semester, a weekend in paradise was much needed! Landing in Barcelona on Thursday night gave us the entire weekend to experience the culture and take in the gaudy (Gaudi, get it?) architecture that made this city so unique!

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On Friday our group set out and saw the huge Sagrada Familia, a church that is still being built, and, upon completion, will be the largest church in the world! The inside of Gaudi’s masterpiece looked like a rainbow and the detail was breathtaking! Soon after we walked throughout the streets of Barça and took in more of Gaudi’s famous pieces, the houses reminded me of something from a fairytale and the whimsical style made the city that much more fun! Gaudi wasn’t the only artist we made sure to appreciate in Barça! Our group went to the Picasso museum and I got to see my favorite artists’ work up close and personal!

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Saturday was a trip to the famous St. Joseph’s market and fresh fruit, fuet, and fish were abundant! We packed a picnic and then set out to visit Park Qüell, the most stunning park I have yet to experience in my eighteen years of life! The sun made the day that much better and we got to spend the day looking over the entire coast! Traditional Spanish tapas was a must, so after seeing the Magic Fountain we indulged in chopitos, Croquetas and Patatas bravas!

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The city was absolutely amazing and I’m counting down the days until summer when I can go back and fall in love all over again!

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Perogies and Polish History

(February 20th – February 22nd)

This weekend I had the opportunity to travel to Warsaw, Poland with another Rome Starter, Alejandra and an upperclassman, Mairead. We flew in Friday morning and explored the Old Town district after quite the struggle finding our way into the actual city. Two young Polish gentlemen were kind enough to help us, to our pleasant surprise, and they directed us to the correct train platform and even walked us to our hostel –which I’m convinced would have taken more than twice as long as it did to find without them. We were very grateful for them, and the fact that afterward they respectfully left.. A lot of the Old Town was destroyed during both the World Wars but mostly WW2. That’s why there is an Old Town district and a New Town District, in addition to the many other districts across the river. We loved the colorful buildings all connected to each other and filled with people drinking gluhwein, eating many Polish traditional winter market foods, on the cobblestone streets. It was very picturesque, and felt like we went back in time a couple centuries. These are the parts of cities that I enjoy the most, and it reminded me of parts of Germany I got to travel to last November. We had a very Polish dinner and enjoyed the warmth of the restaurant after a long walk outside. We talked about how different of a language Polish is than anything we’ve studied or heard before. It is most similar to Russian, and so the pronunciation of words and general language rules made it next to impossible for us to decipher anything. I have pictures of “wiking” –pronounced Vikings- one of many that we laughed at, because our little English or Spanish mouths wanted to pronounce it how it’s spelled.

Old Town Square

Old Town Square

On Saturday we tried to find the Gestapo Headquarters Museum, but somehow failed. No one had any idea what we were asking about, and so we gave up and explored the area that we reluctantly ended up in. It turned out being a really good experience because we were in New Town, which is where the old Jewish ghetto is. Now, there is a brand new Jewish History Museum and a Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (1943) monument. We spent over two hours gradually walking through the museum and learning a lot about the history of the Jewish people in Poland along the way. This was my favorite part of the weekend because I love history, and especially European history during both World Wars. I gained new perspective on all that happened in Poland during the Holocaust, and as heavy and disheartening it was, I felt a sense of enlightenment because of the unique opportunity to be learning about the past in the place where it all took place. Much more interesting than just reading it in a history textbook, this was a trip that I knew would be filled with museums, monuments and streets that had acquired more character than any streets where I’m from.

Uprising Memorial

Uprising Memorial

In one of two of Old Town’s main squares, there was an ice skating rink and because it was so cheap and Alejandra had only skated once before, we decided to skate. Having grown up in Minnesota and (surprise) on a lake, I grew up on skates and although I still cannot stop very smoothly –or effectively for that matter- I was able to help her. We finished the day with another great Polish meal and exhaustedly headed back to our hostel.

Old Town ice skating

Old Town ice skating

On Sunday morning before our flight we went to the Warsaw Uprising Museum partly because it had free admission. I wish we could’ve had more time there, but we had to catch a 2pm flight so we tried to get through as much of the extensive museum as possible. Another newer museum, but equally as complete and well done as the Jewish History one we saw on Saturday. There were dozens of different interactive galleries, and thankfully everything was in English beneath the Polish. This was another museum experience that left our hearts heavy. On our walk to the museum that morning, we passed by a famous, small monument honoring all the child soldiers whose lives were lost during the Second World War. Named, “The Little Insurgent” it was another powerful sight that has stuck in my mind ever since. Poland was a really cool opportunity to experience a new culture, try lots of new foods, and learn a lot about the past. I’m glad I was able to experience first-hand part of our history that I’ve only just read about until this year.

The Little Insurgent

The Little Insurgent

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Living like the Italians

(February 17th)

This week I spent a lot of time in Rome. I took time every day to leave the green gates of Loyola and do some exploring. I went to a new museum, two new restaurants, and three new café’s. I’ve learned quite a bit since moving here last August and have absolutely fallen in love with this city, all of Italy and Italian culture.

When we arrived last summer, much of our little neighborhood of Balduina was closed due to the holiday –in Italy most Italians take a couple weeks off in late summer and leave the city due to the heat, and desire for a vacation. It gave us all a chance to fall in love with quiet little Balduina, until all the Italians came back to liven things up a bit. The stores opened and life was added to the streets of Monte Mario. Now when I walk down these streets I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

Our street! Via Massimi

Our street! Via Massimi

On Thursday morning I gathered all my books and headed down the hill a ways to a little café -actually named Petit Café- to get some work done. As I drank my cappuccino and ate my chocolate cornetti, I listened to the quickly spoken Italian being conversed alongside me, and it was a nice, but brief distraction from my abundance of reading that needed to be done. I love listening to Italian and even more so, watching Italian’s speak because of their excessive use of hand gestures. To them, it’s crucial to the conversation. Something that hasn’t changed since I arrived in Rome is how beautiful the language is to me.

I had a friend ask me the other day something I learned since I moved to Rome. I was quick to respond about all the personal growth and educational experience the administration had promised me upon arrival that was now true, but realized that there were dozens of details about Rome itself that were far better to hear about than any of my personal achievements. For example, the Italians dress for the season not the weather. I find myself ripping off my heavy coat after running to catch a 990 due to the rise in my body temperature, but the Italians won’t undo one button because to them, looking good is more important than comfort. Another example is that the pace of life here is much different than what I’m used to back home. It should drive me crazy that the buses don’t run on a schedule –and sometimes it does- but you learn to just take everything as it comes. There’s no use rushing or being worried or anxious all the time. The Italians stand for an hour drinking their coffee and talking with one another. They take time out of their day to eat meals with their family, and we often do that in the States too, but I’ve found it less and less common as the years go by. This is a lesson that I was hesitant to learn at first, because it differed so much from what I’m used to, but ultimately needed to. It’s important to not rush things all the time, whether that means just giving yourself more time to do certain things I’m not sure, but what you lose in efficiency you gain in quality of life.

When I have to move back to Minnesota come May, I will miss the little things that have made Rome what it is to me. These small details are just part of the reason why I have fallen in love with this city. It’s a good reminder to appreciate the small parts of our daily life here, to make the most out of this experience –rather a blessing- living here in Roma.

View from bedroom window one morning

View from bedroom window one morning

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Budapest my, my Hidden Treasure Chest

(January 30th-February 2nd)

I went to Budapest, Hungary this past weekend with some other Rome Start girls. We booked our tickets the middle of last semester for really cheap, and we didn’t really know much about the city. Sometimes we book on impulse (motivated by cheap airfare) and in this case it worked out in our favor. People call Budapest the “Paris of the East” and I don’t know if it can be put on the same spectrum of Paris, but it’s equally amazing in it’s own ways. We flew in early Friday morning and spent the day wandering around trying local foods at the Great Market Hall, and soaking our feet in the rain filled streets. We found our way to the iconic Chain Bridge but at the fear of getting trench foot we decided to hide out in a little bakery for a while (maybe that’s a tad dramatic). The architecture in Budapest is enough to keep you enthralled as you wander the streets, and that was how I wanted to spend my time in Budapest; staring at the buildings and marveling at their structures including all the history that lies within the city. There were countless monuments, plaques and memorials associated with many of the main attractions where we were most often. When we branched out from the most popular areas, we found little streets filled with Hungarian people going about their every day life.

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Heroes’ Square

We didn’t completely fill our days with activities just so we could appreciate being in the city itself without rushing from museum to museum. Part of our long walk through the city led us to the Pest side of the Danube River. There is a memorial called the Shoes on the Danube Promenade and it is subtlety placed but certainly a powerful dedication to the lives lost in Budapest during WW2. There are 60 pairs of cast iron shoes from the time period that are attached to the stone; many of the shoes have objects like candles or flowers near them. I am fascinated by WW2 and it’s one of my favorite subjects to study in history, so to be in Europe and have these opportunities to see the places that I’ve learned about my whole life, has been a great chance to learn even more in the original setting of the tragic events.

the shoes

the shoes

Castle Hill is also a very important area, and it was quite the trek up to the top with the stairs covered in a mixture of slush and snow but definitely worth the views. At the top we actually met a large group of students traveling from John Cabot University here in Rome, which was cool running into them all the way in Hungary. A large group of other JFRC students went to Budapest this weekend too, so we ended up seeing them in various places all over the city –another cool thing about traveling with a lot of people in several parts of Europe.

View from top of Castle Hill

View from top of Castle Hill

The thermal baths were incredible. We went to the main/most popular/largest ones, that were called the Széchenyi Baths. We lazily floated, swam and mostly sat, chatting in the warmth for hours. We arrived in the mid-afternoon so we were able to experience them both during the day and at night. When it did get dark, the lights came on and our hair turned frosty because of the added crispness to the air. We continued to sit and enjoy just like people have been doing for centuries. That evening we finished our trip with a wonderful Spanish meal at Pata Negra, in good proximity to our hostel. We shared tapas and toasted to a successful weekend in a new country!

Chain Bridge

Chain Bridge

PS: “Budapest” by George Ezra was played on repeat the entire weekend.

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