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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Calcio Coming to a Close

Last night were the last calcio matches of the season! My team, Viola, made it to the semifinals and we played Rosa (pink) and lost. Although we were disappointed, the game was a lot of fun to play and we definitely ‘left it all on the field’. When I found out about JFRC’s intramural soccer league, I laughed at the idea of ever playing. My family is a baseball, football and volleyball family; far from soccer or any form of it. I reluctantly signed up as an effort to meet new people, stay active and see if soccer may actually be something I would enjoy! When I first told my dad he laughed for a good minute or two because he didn’t believe me. Then when he pictured me playing, another round of laughter ensued. Little did we both know that I wasn’t actually half bad at the sport (not exactly good either) but definitely able to kick the ball when it came to me.    The season flew by, maybe because I was injured on two separate occasions with both my ankles sprained, and I missed two weeks due to bronchitis, but Viola had its triumphs without me and led us to the finals! I am excited to play next semester.

In Italy, soccer on Wednesdays is ritualistic. Where I’m from, religion on Wednesday nights is the equivalent to calcio for Italian men here. All the fields are full of both young and old Italians playing a pick-up game, or competitively practicing for their leagues. It’s their form of religion. The women don’t play, which I find very interesting but I guess that’s another cultural difference between the states and here.

Overall, the final week of calcio made me think a lot about not only Italian culture, but also about my past four months in Rome at the John Felice Rome Center. I have already learned so much about Italy -Rome in particular- I have learned a lot from my professors and fellow classmates, and I have learned a lot about myself. Independently traveling has given me the opportunity to grow and reflect on my life and  in ways that I never have before. I am an avid writer and love to keep a journal especially when I’m traveling, but even considering how therapeutic writing has been in the past for me, hasn’t compared to spending this amount of time abroad on my own. As I start to pack for returning home for winter break, I fill my suitcase with tokens of my travels thus far, and already am excited to return in January –hopefully with an emptier suitcase- ready to fill it up again with another four months worth of memories.

Calcio semi-finals!

Forza Viola!

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An Austrian Adventure

Vienna and Salzburg (November 14th-17th)

I decided to do a little writing on the train back to Vienna from Salzburg. There’s nothing quite like riding on the train through the mountains in Austria and getting the urge to write about it. I used to write a lot more when I was younger, but lost motivation during my teenage years. I would say that this counts for some pretty incredible inspiration to start writing again. The weekend started in Vienna with Emily and Kiara and because we booked our flights in August, I failed to realize that my return flight was at 5am (rookie mistake). I decided to spend the extra money and prolong my trip by booking a new flight home for late Monday night. By Sunday, we had seen what we wanted to see in Vienna and I was looking into taking a day trip out of the city. Kiara and Emily’s flight took off late Sunday afternoon and I was left with the next two days to myself.

For my entire life my mom has raved about her time in Salzburg, and it being her most favorite European city. I looked into train times and tickets and got on the 5am train this morning to Salzburg. Although there was so much beauty in Vienna, my favorite part of this weekend was Salzburg. I didn’t know that much about the city, so I talked to some of the people I met at my hostel in Vienna before leaving and got a decent list of places to visit.

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In the gardens of the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna

When I got off the train in Salzburg, the city was still asleep, and I think so was I. With no map and a brisk 30-degree walk ahead of me, I headed out of the station and chose a direction. Luckily, it was towards the river and I soon saw the steeple of the duomo off in the distance, along with the Hohensalzburg Fortress looming over the city and I knew right where I wanted to be.

View during my walk into the historic downtown

View during my walk into the historic downtown Salzburg

As I watched children being led by their parents to school, bakeries opening their doors with the smell of fresh pastries wafting through the air, and an old man throw bread for some birds on a park bench, I was already falling in love with the city. It wasn’t even 9am and I had already crossed the country into an entirely new city that was so different than Vienna; this was the Austria that I was expecting. I had talked to my aunt the previous evening over text and she told me that I must take the funicular up the hill to the fortress and that the views would be so rewarding. So, I bit the bullet and paid for the slightly expensive ticket. Once I got to the top, I had no regrets. The castle was surrounded by a small medieval town on the hill, and since it was so early there was no one around except me, some workers and a younger couple (also tourists). There was small Christmas market huts being assembled at the gates of the fortress, and on the other side was a small cafe where I took the panorama picture included below.

View from the Fortress

View from the Fortress

Once I descended from the hill, the city had awoken and I was ready to see more. This was one of my first times traveling on my own and I loved doing whatever I wanted all day (lots of Austrian pastries and walking were involved). I watched the locals set up the annual Christmas markets, as I wrote some postcards. I went to Mozart’s birthplace and residence, saw his little violin and piano and listened to his music. I got to see the Mirabell Gardens, and palace where scenes from the Sound of Music were filmed. I’m so glad I was finally able to see the city my mom constantly talked about even 35 years after her visit. Maybe I’ll be telling this story to my kids in the future, but hopefully I’ll be able to take them here myself because what better way to learn about the world than to see it firsthand.  Although my mom couldn’t give my brother’s and I that opportunity herself, I was glad to have done it on my own.

The steps where part of Sound of Music was filmed!

The steps where part of Sound of Music was filmed!

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Oh the places you’ll go

This weekend I found a new love, in the form of a beautiful city…shonnbrunn

annaVienna – the capital of Austria, a city that speaks a language I understand, that has busses that run on time, and the home of Sigmund Freud. Christmas markets, Wiener schnitzel, glühwein, bratwurst, sachertorte and kürbis suppe, a familiar taste of home, in a city that I had never visited before.

Growing up in Germany has given me a rather hoity-toity perspective on how Christmas should truly be celebrated; evenings should be kiarafilled with warm mugs of apple cider whilst wandering through markets, hoping to find that perfect present for someone special. Fortunately, Vienna had numerous markets and plenty of traditional Austrian-German meals that Kiara, Anna and I could enjoy during our three-day stay in the bustling city. Our evenings were in fact filled with window shopping and exploring, all the while breathing in the delicious scent of Christmas, pine trees and cookies.

emilyAustrian delicacies weren’t the only taste of home we received during our visit to the capital; Starbucks and Cinnabon were a pleasant reminder of America, and a these coffee-cinnamon-roll stops gave us a much needed break from the freezing wind that surrounded us during our strolls through the streets.

After walking the streets we headed over to the older avenues of Vienna and toured the Sigmund Freud museum. We spent the next beautiful morning exploring the local fresh food market and having a picnic at the famous Schönnbrunn Schloss. The gardens were stunning and provided a great atmosphere for a few photo ops! Anna, Kiara and I spent our fair share of time admiring the Neptune statue and the arches built near the end of the property!

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A highlight of the trip happened to be the front row seat I had at a concert on Saturday onerpubnight! One Republic and The Kongos have been touring Europe these past months, and these two personal favorites “just so happened” to be in Vienna the exact dates we were! (Not much of a coincidence actually. Arrangements to attend the concert had been made before us Rome Starters even arrived on campus in August!) Despite missing out on some exploring time with Anna and Kiara, I made sure to arrive at the venue hours in advance, and my dedication paid off; my ticket was upgraded and I had a front row view!

onerepubemily

Of course, no trip would complete without some shenanigans! Anna had some trouble with her plane ticket and ended up staying an additional day in Austria! She made her way to Salzburg and experienced the lively hood of the hills (Sound of Music reference…get it?)! Kiara and I left on Sunday night and got to sit behind the airport desk in order to charge our cell phones! Naturally this called for a secretly taken photo!

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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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