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Via de Aquila

In response to a call for updates from the study abroad program at the University of Colorado —

In January of 2005, I followed three other students through an arch-covered ally, rolling my large suitcase down the crumbling stone steps that led to our new apartment on Via de Aquila, Perugia, Italia. Two of my future roommates, Crissy and Dave, also hailed from the University of Colorado. Over the next five months, we spent sunny afternoons sitting together on le scalie leading up to the duomo, watched the English movies at the opera house on Tuesday nights, and ate six-hour dinners with our Italian friends. We bonded on long walks to nowhere in particular, and while searching for garbage bags to drape over us as we stood on one island or another, our packs loaded on our backs, and the rain pouring down on us.

Recently, I caught up with my fellow study abroad alumni. Crissy Codi is a full-time yoga instructor in Denver, Colorado. She recently finished her graduate degree in sports and performance psychology and was a counselor throughout graduate school. She eventually hopes to do a mix of counseling and consulting. For now, she does a lot of cycling, snowboarding and yoga. I am living and working in DC after finishing my graduate degree in public health at Columbia University. I am currently serving as a special assistant at the Department Health and Human Services and working on policies related to the implementation of the recently passed health reform law. All we know about Dave Savier “Dave Save,” is that he sometimes appears at Anthony’s pizza in the early hours of the morning.

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Travel Tips for Italy

I am spending part of my Christmas break trying to decrease the number of emails in my gmail inbox to below 3000. Anyway, I ran into this old email about traveling in Italy. Since I still get asked for Italian travel tips occasionally, I thought I would post it here. If you are planning your trip to Italy, check it out. Be warned that all of the advice on where to stay is from spring 2005, so things might have changed some, I cannot guarantee how many of the contacts are still good.

I don’t have a record of all of the amazing places I stayed, but here are a few stops I would recommend, and when I had info on where to stay, I added that too. I strongly recommend the LET’S GO guide book. It has great recommendations on where to sleep and a few hints as to what to see. It is updated every year, unlike Lonely Planet, so the info tends to be a bit better. It is written by Harvard students — so take that as you will. It has recommendations for lots of budgets from hostels to nice hotels.

HOW TO TRAVEL AND WHERE TO PEE
Arriving by plane — be sure you have enough for at least several days in your carry-on. Planes to Italy often arrive senza luggage. My friend’s family came to visit while we were there, and of their 10 bags, all got lost. So pack light and carry-on.

The train website (www.trenitalia.it) — molto importante. And you can get it ‘sort of’ translated to English. Even if you plan to rent a car for part of your trip — trains can often be a convenient and cheap option for some journeys — and they are most definitely a cultural experience. A few words of wisdom though –WRITE DOWN YOUR WHOLE ITINERARY. You will need to know the times and locations of all transfers. The train employees will not speak English and they will most likely not know the answer to your question, even if you can communicate. The tickets will not have this type of helpful information on them. Also BUY YOUR TICKETS FROM AN ACTUAL PERSON IN A TICKET WINDOW. There are machines at the stations too, but I strongly discourage their use as they are prone to mistakes. i. e. giving you a ticket to somewhere completely other than the place you requested, often even in a different direction. (However, you can use these machines to double check your itinerary.) YOU MUST VALIDATE YOUR TICKET BY STICKING IT IN A MACHINE TO GET STAMPED BEFORE YOU GET ON THE TRAIN. Fines for being caught on a train without a validated ticket are very large. I always bought second class and rarely reserved a seat.
Eurostars tend to be the most user-friendly and fastest trains in Italy. But they are also the most expensive and least valuable as far as a cultural experience goes.
As I have said, the trains are cheap — esp. compared to anywhere else in western Europe. However, the infrastructure is leftover from fascism, and little has been updated since, though they system has been ‘sort of’ privatized. DO NOT USE THE RESTROOM WHILE THE TRAIN IS IN THE STATION (or on a ferry if you are lucky/smart enough to get to Sicily). (The Italians will be very upset and make fun of you — just guess about where the waste goes.) Be sure you have water/food/wine with you before you get on the train, because the water on-board is not potable. Most stations have free public restrooms, and they are an adventure. Some bigger stations have pay-per-pee restrooms as well. All cafes in Italy are required by law to have restrooms, but you must purchase something to use them — but hey, who doesn’t like cappuccino?
SCIOPERO — the Italian word for strike. If you see lots of signs with this word on them, opt not to take the train. When strikes start (and there is at least one a month) the train operators just take the train to the next station and stop. However, this is a good way to see lesser-traveled areas in Italy, just be sure to have a good guidebook with you. As far as carrying money goes — fanny packs make you a target. Other than that, you should be good. Keep your money and credit cards divided into two places, like in a purse/pocket on your front and buried deep into a pack or suitcase that is behind you. The best way to get money is from an ATM with your American card that has a pin — you will get the best exchange rate, but bring like a 100 euros for when you arrive, just in case the Rome ATMs are out of money, or the bankers go on strike or something. Be sure you have at least two cards with pins, because in Italia, sometimes things just don’t work. And no one really knows why, but they can usually suggest an excellent bar and a fantastic glass of wine. Money belts are basically unnecessary (and dorky)–but perhaps helpful if you plan to stay in Naples (one of the most crowded cities in the world but also the birthplace of pizza, which makes it worth the stop.)

WHERE TO GO/WHAT TO SEE/WHERE TO SLEEP

I say, GO TO SICILY if you can swing it. Sicily won my heart. Trains do travel there; the whole train is loaded onto a ferry and lugged across the strait of Messina. You can get out of the train and watch the crossing and that is AMAZING. The islands of Lipari — off the north coast of the island — make an excellent tourist destination. You can take an aliscarfi (boat with wings..i.e. ferry) from Milazzo to the islands. You can take a train from Rome to Milazzo. Cheap planes also make the puddle jump across to the island — just check the web.

ALSO GO TO PERUGIA. It’s amazing and it will also steal your heart. It is where I lived while I was there. It’s a fairly short train ride from Rome and Florence, but it will probably require a transfer. It is a very short drive from either city. Stay as close as you can afford to the center of town, up on the top of the hill. There are some hostels and hotels in town. Very few of the shop owners/workers speak English. However, there is a huge university for foreigners (Galileo once attended) right in the center of town, so everyone is very use to speaking through gestures.
The museum of the city walls is RIDICULOUSLY cool. It is located in the old papal fort that now holds escalators that lead down to the bus station (there are escalators all over the city because it was built on such a steep hill.) The fort is at one end of the main road in town, Corso Venucci, which is pedestrians only. The fountain and the duomo (the main church of the city) are at the other end. The duomo is fun to see too. It’s dome is not actually finished because the town ran out of money during the plague and never really finished constructing it. It is also fun because it holds the Cristo de Sale, the Christ of salt, which the townspeople erected during the salt war in an attempt to protect themselves against the papal army. There is also a 3000 year-old Etruscan well (etrusco) in Italian. You can actually walk down into it and see the spring water filling it — crazy. Also, one of Rafaello’s first frescoes is in a church at near the fountain, he couldn’t draw feet. The Etruscan Arch is also cool — partly because it was built by the Etruscans but when the Romans took over the city they scribed ‘Agosto was here” across the top of it, and partly because the best ice cream IN THE WORLD is located near the arch, at the bottom of the hill, in PERUGINA — amazing stuff. The chocolate gelato with the red peppers will change your life in ways that I cannot describe. La Botte has amazing 3 euro pizzas. Some of the best food in town is at La Cambusa (via di priori, 78) which is owned and operated by one incredibly friendly family. They don’t speak English, but pizza is an Italian word. Lastly, drinking a glass of red wine on le scale, the steps of the duomo, is an amazing experience. There is a movie theater on Corso Venucci that used to be an Opera house, and inside it, there are “Little Blue Books,” guides to Perugia written by an American who never left.

FIRENZE (Florence)
Where to sleep — I strongly recommend SOGGIORNO PEZZATI as a place to stay. It is the best price in the center of the city for a pretty nice place to sleep. The bathrooms are in the rooms, but the toilets are in the shower — just to be warned. But it makes for an excellent Italian cultural experience. www.soggioropezzati.it tel: 055.291660.
Where to eat — Good food can be sort of hard to come by in Florence, because the place is full of tourist traps. However, I was very happy with Ristorante da Mimmo. Via S. Gallo, 57-59 r – 50129.
Things to see —
1. The uffizi (you have to go because you are in Florence — it’s hugemongous, so study up and aim for things that you actually want to see.)
2. Museo del Bargello — there are the competition panels made by ghiberti and Brunelsci when they competed for the commission to design the panels on the baptistery — fairly easy to analyze. Donetello’s David, and Michelangelo’s Bacchus are there, as well as other cool works by the duo.
3. Galleria dell’Accademia (again, you have to go, because you are there) The only big thing to see is THE DAVID — but it is big, and its worth the cost.
4. The CUPOLA — designed by Brunelleschi — the architecture is amazing. The painting on the interior –mmm not so much, the commission was given as a favor. The view from the top is breathtaking. It is worth the 6 euro fee and the tremendous hike up to the top.

PISA (worth the stop if it is along a train route)
The Cathedral has amazing artwork and entrance is free during the off-season. Pisano’s pulpit (in the Cathedral) is worth a look. The famous tower is fun for pictures, but I have never regretted not paying the ridiculous fee to climb it.

CINQUE TERRE (if you read Rick Steves, you know what I am talking about.)
It’s a fun place. It’s the only national park in Italy right now. Great hikes along the coast between the five towns. Use the boats, not the trains, to get between the towns. It is very touristy, but seeing all of the Germans with their big boots and walking sticks is pretty fun. Stay with Ingrid, in Vernazza — hands down, the best. Via Carattino, 2, 19018 Vernazza. tel — 0187- 812183. Her first language is actually German (fell in love with an Italian, it happens all the time), and Italian and English are next best. So she does pretty well in English, just be sure that you say the month, don’t use numbers, because they do their dates in a different order. Spend the extra money for the room con una vista. Tell her that I sent you and that I wish her well and loved the room.

BOLOGNA — Also worth the stop. The Torre (towers) are impressive and fun to climb (worth the relatively low 3 euro charge). EAT TORTELLINI WHILE IN BOLOGNA, IT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND. It’s just about the only place in the world that hand-makes tortellini.

VENEZIA (VENICE) It’s amazing just to walk around and marvel. Buy the Museums of St. Mark’s Square Museum Card (I musei di Piazza S. Marco) It is a good deal for your money and you can go to a bunch of the museums. The prison is neat to see. However, when in Venice — BE SURE TO GO BY PADOVA.

PADOVA — It’s about 15 minutes by train from Venice and considered the birthplace of the renaissance. Go see Scrovegni’s Chapel — a fresco from 1305. There is a great 15 minute movie that explains the history of the art while you wait in a room designed to stabilize the air before you enter the chapel.

NAPOLI AND CAPRI (NAPLES) An interesting stop — Naples is crowded and not as safe-feeling as most of the rest of Italy. THE PIZZA IS AMAZING. Bill Clinton ate at the first pizzaria in Naples, and the line for the restaurant stretches down the block and around the corner EVERY night still today. Well worth the wait.

Pompeii is a short train trip from Naples and it is amazing, and fun to see if you are really into LOTS of ruins. It is huge and overwhelming, so see a few things and then lay on the grass for awhile. Capri is a short ferry ride away from the center of Naples and well-worth a walk and a look in the off-season. I would guess the prices get too high during the on-season to be worth your time.

ROME (when in Rome…)
See the Coliseum, and the Vatican museum. The Sistine chapel really is worth a look. As with everywhere else — stay in the city center.

The good news is that I didn’t ever travel anywhere in Italy I didn’t like — so you are bound to love anywhere you go. These are just the places that particularly stick out in my mind and left prints in my journal.
Other than that — BE SURE TO EAT PASTA, PIZZA, AND GELATO. AND TO DRINK CAPPUCCINI AND WINE. The house wine is almost always locally made and wonderful.

Here is the packing list I sent my family before they came to visit for 1-2 weeks in early May:
PACK LIGHT PACK LIGHT PACK LIGHT
I think a good rule of thumb is not to bring anything you won’t use at least three times. Another way to go is to figure out how big a bag you will comfortably be able to carry up and down stairs, and maneuver down cobblestone streets, and get on and off trains and buses, and pack that until its full… *layering and rain gear are important*
**** Remember to either bring everything carry-on or at least enough for a few days. **
Basically the weather in Italy is completely unpredictable. Worse weather does equal fewer tourists and lower prices though, so that is sort of nice…

PACKING LIST (IDEAS) modify it for guys:
*debit card, passport, camera, underwear, toothbrush, all you really need
*2 pairs of jeans
*2 tank tops that work as an under layer or a shirt for really warm days
*3 casual-ish long sleeve over shirts, that go over the tank tops, works for nice-ish dinners
*1 medium weight shirt that can still fit under a jacket, works as long sleeve hiking shirt
*1 short sleeve shirt that works for hikes
*1 pair of black pants (if you own them) Italians dress a little nicer than us.
*bathing suit
*1 skirt, doesn’t take up much room, and you never know if we will want to look nice
*1 pr shorts
*1 pr work out pants
*2 bras
*1 sports bra for hiking
*week worth of undies
*week worth of socks, plus two pairs (socks go quick)
*polar tech jacket
*rain jacket that can go over polar tech
*umbrella
*Really good walking shoes you can wear in the rain
*Sandals that maybe double as nice shoes
*minimal toiletries, incl. toothbrush, medications, sunscreen, can always buy shampoo and toothpaste here, plus Italians don’t tend to shower as often a we do.
*sunglasses, Italians don’t wear hats
*A REALLY good book for relaxin’ and on trains. Perhaps portable music for trains.
*wine glasses (just kidding)
Other things to bring that you might forget:
*a mix of disposable cameras with flash and nice digital ones between the family. You may not always want to have an expensive camera on you — like at a beach or in the rain or in Naples. Do not plan on buying film or cameras in Italy, they are REALLY expensive.
*Gum, Italian gum is expensive and it sucks, bring enough from home.
*batteries, if you will need them, bring them, Italian batteries don’t so much work, and the ones that do are REALLY expensive.

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I am leaving Italy in about two weeks. I am sure that big cars on big streets driving to big supermarkets will all be migraine inducing when I return home, yet, over the past couple of weeks, something completely unexpected has happened. I have begun to look forward to going home. While this may have something to do with having my bag stolen literally right from under me while I was writing a paper at an Internet cafè, I have also actually become appreciative of some of the aspects of American society. Despite all of the problems with discrimination in American society, the discrimination here seems much stronger and more deeply rooted, at least compared to my narrow experience in the American ‘west.’ Most notably, however, I miss the respect that I receive in America as a woman. (Even though I occasionally do feel discriminated against on that basis.) I have gradually become completely fed up with men leaning into my ear until they touch my face and saying ciao as they pass me in the street. I am sick of being stared at so intensely everywhere I go that I feel like I am being undressed by the eyes of men. Italian women, and women of other nationalities, such as those from Latin America, don’t seem to experience this as intensely. I am told that I stand out for mocking because I appear so American. I am told my American appearance is due to my blond hair (which I have always considered brown) and white straight teeth.

These American aspects were pointed out to me by some friends I met in
Santa Margherita Ligure last weekend; they were amazed by both my hair and
teeth. I met them through one of my friends from Perugia. She took me up there
to introduce me to her friends, most of whom go to University in Milan. They
fed us a pizza dinner and showed us around their town. The money we saved
eating pizza went to the expensive, classy bars and clubs. Santa Margherita is
only a couple of miles from Portofino, one of the wealthiest and snobbiest
towns in Italy that regularly fills up with American movie stars. The first
club we went to cost 16 euros but while we were dancing one of the kids from
Santa Margherita leaned over and said, ‘that guy behind you in the white shirt
is on TV.’ The club doubled as a fashion show, and as far as I can tell the new
fashion for Italian men is a white collared shirt and blue jeans, but I think
that the people in this club managed to pay at least 100 euros for their
outfits. After the classy club we headed up the hills, past a more industrial
part of town and went to a free disco that was more our style, full of
students.

Hag Sameach – Happy Passover. My other big experience in the last few
weeks was a Passover dinner. The Jewish students in our program pulled their
resources and crated an amazing, nearly kosher, Passover dinner and invited
their non-Jewish roommates. It was one of the most fun and educational cultural
experiences I have had here. A few kids from Israel showed up to join in and
help us with the details. Two were Israeli-American and one was Israeli through
and through. The ‘true’ Israeli read through some of the Hebrew passages very
quickly explaining that ‘in Israel we go very fast so we can eat.’ Now there
are a few Jewish students trying to stay Kosher in a society that only eats
pizza, pasta, and bread. I wish them luck.

Despite my new found appreciation of some aspects of American society, there are so many things I will miss about Italy and Perugia. I thought I’d share some of them with you guys, just to give you a slightly better picture of
the best parts of Italy. I think I will miss the Italian concept of
time the most. Life is truly slower here. Most people first experience this
when their bags get lost during their flight in. Italians just don’t understand why
anyone would be so anxious to have their bags right that minute. They will get
them to you in about a week. The Italian response is to tell you to clam down
and go enjoy a glass of wine. Dinners last for hours and hours, often going
well past midnight, and everyone takes a long nap in the middle of the
afternoon when the stores close for four hours. I will also miss the sheets
drying in the wind, and sometimes in the rain and cold, because no one can really afford to dry their clothes. I’ll miss the friendliness of strangers, the people that will let you sit on the back of their boat and travel the extra distance to the nicer island for free, and the people in the cafè that will let you take your cappuccino and gelato even if you don’t have enough money because they trust you to pay them back tomorrow. And I will miss my Italian friends Andrea, Matteo and Michele. They took us out to dinner at a little known Umbrian lake around here last week. For ten euros we ate all the fried seafood
anyone could ever want, a torta al testo (like a baked sandwich), and wine. We
are going to play soccer with them again this week. Someone had the brilliant
idea to suggest Americans vs. Italians, I think we’re in trouble. I’ll miss
sitting on the steps of our main cathedral and drinking a glass of wine in the
sun while staring at the fountain that was constructed in 1278. I’ll miss our
Duomo that doesn’t have a dome. I was told our Duomo doesn’t have a dome
because we were stealing the stones from the cathedral of neighboring Arezzo
during a war, which we were winning, but then we lost the war and never got all
of the stones needed to complete the project. I’ll miss smart cars and candy
stores that are filled with alcohol, and the complete lack of liquor laws. I
will even miss the crazy women that works in the Tabacchi near our school. She
has a small head and wears big glasses and is as likely to mouth off to someone
that speaks perfect fluent Italian as she is to mouth off to one of us trying
to speak in nouns and incorrectly conjugated verbs. I will miss the small,
overpriced grocery stores where only the wine, pasta, sauce, cheese and bread
are cheap. I will miss markets full of fresh fruit, chocolate filled crepes,
cappuccinos, gelatos and getting pizzas at places where everyone orders their
own. I will miss people directly traffic (poorly) while talking on their cell
phones, and the random scioperi (strikes) which never seem very effective for
the workers but do create a lot of confusion. Lastly, I will even miss the
Italian government. The country has its regional and national elections in
different years so they had a right prime minister (the infamous Berlusconi)
overseeing a left government, which created the biggest governmental crises in
five years (since the last time there were elections). Since the end of World
War II, not a single government has ever made it a full term without reforming.
So Berlusconi was forced to resign, which he did, but since he was still the
last person to be legitimately elected into the position of Prime Minister, the
President of the republic invited him to form a new government and reinstalled
him as Prime Minster. Despite Italian democratic participation over 80 percent,
Italians don’t trust their politicians at all, and I find the whole thing
slightly amusing. I mean, they elected a person that owns every method of mass
communication in the country — TV, newspapers, publishing houses, etc. as Prime
Minister, in an attempt to rid their government of corruption.

In preparation for leaving the city we went on a Perugian Pub Crawl. We went to
ten pubs, all rarely frequented by Americans, and all around the outskirts of
the city. Explaining what we were doing, and why we only needed one quick drink stretched my Italian conversational abilities. Once, when the subject of our Americanism came up at the bar one of the Italians leaned over and said, in
accented, though perfect English, ‘God bless America – without George Bush!’ I
nodded and finished my beer.

Una Bella Passagiata – There is this old man who lives by our apartment.
He has a white dog with black spots that looks a bit older than him. I finally
miss my dog so much that I decided to go start a conversation with him
(man, not dog). One day when I saw them out for a walk I came up to the dog and patted it on the head and said, una bella passagiata. Passagiata translates loosely to an evening stroll. The fact that I knew this slightly slang word
meant to the man that despite my white teeth and blond hair I must be nearly
fluent. He began mumbling to me in old Italian man speech, the kind that
doesn’t even involve actually moving one’s lips. It took me ten minutes to gain
anything from our conversational exchange, but I enjoyed what I was finally
able to get, so I’ll share it with you. He said that Lila, the dog, is old, 13
now, and that they use to go up the stairs right there but now that is too hard
for Lila. So they just go walking into the center of town. “Continiamo,
continiamo, (we continue, we continue) until one day, when we won’t continue
anymore.”

Il giorno di liberta. Tomorrow is National Liberation Day. One of the
biggest parties in Italy, the celebration of the resistance forces kicking the
Nazis and Fascists out of several towns in the North, in 1945, largely without
allied help. No one has work on Monday (expect for us, I have an Italian final)
and the Italians have been partying all weekend.

I love you all.
Ciao ciao ciao ciao ciao.

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El Papa e morto

As we were standing at a bar in Sardegna, on the 10th day of our spring break
trip, we saw a newspaper and the headline read that the pope was gravely ill.
We were surprised that we hadn’t heard about that yet, then as we dug through
the stack of newspapers we realized that not only had the pope been gravely
ill, he had died. I’m sure that you have all heard the news and have been
given a recap of his personal beliefs, but here is my quick two cents… I
have some difficulty with a man who wants to end world poverty but refuses to
recognize the values of limiting the size of a family, or the spread of aids,
though contraception. I also disagree that the primary goal and aspiration of
all women should be to be wives and mothers. However, I do appreciate his
progressive stance towards members of other religions. He was the first Pope
to enter a Jewish synagogue and a Muslim mosque, and the first to refer to
Jewish people as Christians’ older brothers. I am impressed that he lived and
studied religion in hiding in Poland under the Nazi occupation and grew up
with Jewish friends. As Pope he traveled to 190 countries.
When Crissy and I mentioned that we had to leave Palau the next day to get
back to class on mainland Italy, the Sardegnan fishermen said that we didn’t
have to leave because we had three days off of school to mourn the Pope. We
were initially very excited, though somewhat doubtful and called one of our
teachers who firmly squashed the rumor. However, the Pope’s death did turn
Rome into a CASINO. On our way back to Perugia we had to change trains in
Rome. Our train was so crowded that there was no place to sit. The seats and
every isle were full of people standing and I was crammed up against a very
polite Italian man. We were relieved at the mass exodus at Stazione San
Pietro.
The Italian government was more organized than I thought though, and the
Protection Civile sent me two text messages on my mobile phone. (All Italians
communicate through text messages as everyone has a cell phone and text
messages are cheap). I didn’t know if I should be proud or frightened that
the Italian government has my cell phone number on file. The first message
said that if you go to Rome (the government had the nerve to address me in the
informal tense) be prepared for organized but very long lines, with hot
temperatures during the day and cool at night. My friends that went down to
see the Pope agreed that the lines were long, but not as organized as
suggested by the government. The people who went earliest in the week had the
best luck and only had to wait 5 to 7 hours, but later in the week people were
waiting at least 10 hours with reports of anywhere from 12 to 14 to 24 for the
very last people. And this was hard-core waiting in line. No one could leave
to get food, water, or use the restroom, which made the lines disgusting and
stinky. The Roman public health workers were handing out water, and paramedics
were on duty, but one man died of a heart attack in line. No one was searched
upon entering the Cathedral and the lines kept moving even while Bush Jr. was
saying his prayer to the Pope. However, the Tibur River was lined with battle
ships, and the Vatican was surrounded by anti-aircraft missiles.
Everyone who’s anyone was at the funeral, except for me and my friend who is
studying in Rome, who said basically that people couldn’t pay her to enter
those crowds. The biggest talk around here was of the four American presidents
that showed up, the chief Jewish Rabbi, and Nelson Mandela.
A day after the first text message the Protection Civile sent me another
message, which was a bit more pessimistic in its outlook. It read that due to
the huge, enormous gathering they have now closed access to saluting Papa
(Wednesday at 22,00 they closed the line). Friday, during the funeral all
traffic in the Rome area would stop and that S Pietro was full. Basically, it
could be translated as please don’t come anymore.
Now the funeral is over and within 15 to 20 days the Conclave will open. No
one knows how long it will be until a New Pope is chosen, or when the Sistine
chapel will reopen.

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La Vacanza di primavera

We had ten days off school for Spring Break. My roommate, Crissy, and I took
12 days and went on a mini-tour of Europe. We went to Gimmelwald, Switzerland,
Amsterdam, Barcelona, Girona (on accident), and Alghero and Palau on the
island of Sardegna.
We bought our train tickets to Switzerland at the train station in Perugia. We
asked very specifically if we needed to reserve a seat or a bed, and how much
that would cost, but the women in Perugia informed us that there was no way to
know what the train would look like before it arrived in Florence. So we got
our 55 Euro tickets and headed out of Perugia to Florence. When we got to the
train in Florence we were told it was full, and that we couldn’t take it to
Interlaken. The men we were talking to tried to tell us we would have to spend
the night in Florence and try again tomorrow. Apparently our 55 Euro ticket
was only a ticket and not a reservation, and thus, not worth a spot on the
train. After a brief moment of panic a woman came over and helped us figure out that for an extra 20 euro we could take the train most of the way to Interlaken and then make a few transfers and arrive in Interlaken in the morning. We were thankful to be able to get to Switzerland, we jumped on the train and slept.
(This type of situation has occurred before with the train system in Italy, as
it always seems a little disorganized. The tickets for the trains in Italy
contain very little useful information. The time the train leaves, or arrives,
or what transfers need to be made, are not written on the ticket. You must
look it up on line before leaving, or hope that the person at the ticket booth,
once asked in near perfect Italian, will be nice enough to print off an
itinerary, which is occasionally correct. )When we arrived in Switzerland (at
a Swiss train station) we were in for a pleasant surprise. When we got
off the train, we were greeted with a recording in four languages, including
English, which told us how to make our transfer and which track our next train
would be arriving on. There were digital signs along the platforms containing
the platform number, train destination, arrival and departure time. Even the
trains had digital screens ON EACH CAR with their destinations. It was so
easy, it almost felt like cheating. We returned from Spring break thankful
that the Italian system is cheap, particularly compared to the German one, but
a bit disenchanted with its services.

Gimmelwald
Upon arrival in Interlaken we took another small train to a smaller station, a bus from the station to the bottom of a gondola, and a gondola up a sheer cliff face to Gimmelwald. Gimmelwald is SMALL. Of course, it is built on a
cliff and accessible only by gondola. There are three places to sleep and one
place to eat in the whole town. The local population can’t be as high as 100.
There are a few farms with some cows that make excellent yogurt and cheese, a
brother that makes candied almonds and a sister that makes cookies. Despite my
best efforts I think that my parents must have worn off on me a bit. I think
that Gimmelwald may have been my favorite stop. I enjoyed the clubs of
Barcelona and the beeches in Sardegna, but hiking the Swiss alps was probably
my favorite. We spent two days walking in the mountains and returning to our
tiny cliff side pension in the late afternoon. The weather was glorious and I
think we got more sun drinking a beer on our balcony in Gimmelwald than
sitting on the beech in Barcelona. I spent the evening hanging out with a
crowd of Germans that were staying at the hostel next to ours. It was a group
of 30 friends who rent the place out for a week each year. I met up with them
on the middle day of their vacation which meant that groups of them were in
competition to win some prizes from the people that had organized the trip.
The competitions involved water balloons, drinking, and skits with men
clothed in dresses (notably, not the last time we would see men in dresses on
our trip). They all spoke terrific English, though I discovered that German is
actually very similar to English in its formation, and I was able to
understand a considerable bit considering I haven’t studied it a day in my
life.

Amsterdam
From Gimmelwald, we took a night train to Amsterdam. Amsterdam was a blast. The people of Amsterdam celebrate Easter with a carnival, which had a great haunted house and Ferris wheel. Weed, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and
prostitution are all mostly legal in Amsterdam. We spent some time in coffee
houses, which are establishments that sell weed at the bar (chosen and ordered
from a menu) and allow their patrons to smoke it. We met up with some of the
coolest people we would meet on our journeys while wondering in the red light
district. There were some guys running around in dresses, kilts, and costumes
(scooby doo and superman) so we started talking to them. They were a rugby
team from Cambridge, England and they invited us to their game the next day,
they said they shouldn’t lose by more than 100. So we went. They arrived in
dresses and costumes. They had toured the Heineken factory that morning and
had each “tasted” about three mugs full of beer. Their warm up consisted of
drinking a few pitchers of beer and smoking a joint. The other teams wore
things like uniforms and warm-up suits and tossed a ball and ran drills for
warm ups. The guys from Cambridge were right though, they didn’t lose by more
than 100, they only went down by 80. We spent the evening dancing with them at
the Rugby club. Then, we all headed back into Amsterdam. For the night, one
guy put on a grass skirt, and only a grass skirt, but no one in Amsterdam
seemed to notice or care — go figure. We didn’t spend ALL our time in
Amsterdam partying, Crissy and I did see the Anne Frank House which has been
made into a great museum.

Barcelona
From Amsterdam we headed to Barcelona. We took a train from Amsterdam to
Frankfurt to catch a flight out of Frankfurt. We had enough time to drink a
German beer and take a walk along the Rhine. In Barcelona, we met up with
one of my good old family friends, Sean, who is studying there. He oriented us
in the city and showed us to our hostel. We spent the first day on the beech
and ate dinner with Sean and a few of his friends in the evening. We went out
to several clubs and got back to the hostel around 5am. Crissy spent day two
on the beech, but I, being the nerd I am, went to the Catalan History Museum.
To a history major, the museum was impressive. The exhibits were explained in
four languages and covered the history of the people in the region from
nomadic hunters and gatherers to the year 2000. We ate lunch at a Tappas bar
and drank a traditional, cultural Spanish beverage, Sangria. Time passed
faster than we thought and we had to make a dash through the metro to the bus
station to try to get to the airport in time for our flight to catch our
flight to Sardenga. We took the metro to the wrong bus station, got to the
airport 7 minutes after they had closed check-in, and missed our flight.

Girona
Exhausted, we decided to take the next possible flight the next day and we
took a bus from the airport to the nearest city, Girona. Girona provided a
relaxing break from our hectic travel schedule. The town is beautiful, full of
intellectuals and students. The modern city with the train station is
separated from the historic center by a river. I went to a Jewish museum
which explained the destruction of the Jewish quarter of the city during the
crusades. I also visited the Cathedral, which sits some 900 steps from the main
square. It has more steps than any Cathedral in the world. I also walked along
the impressive city walls, which had been converted into a park. We were
finally able to eat some traditional Spanish paella for lunch. We left Girona
in PLENTY of time to make it to the airport.

Sardegna
We arrived in Alghero, a major city on the north-west corner of Sardegna. We
wondered along the city walls (a pattern) which bordered the sea and ate a welcome-back-to- Italy pizza. Early the next day we headed to Palau. We stayed in a Bungalow at
a camping village on a beech. The atmosphere was friendly, relaxing, down to
earth, and not at all touristy. Unfortunately, after great weather during our
entire trip, as soon as we arrived in Palau, famous due to its world-
renowned beeches, it started to rain. It rained for the full two days we were
there. We spent one day hiking around the nearby La Maddalena Archipelago,
where Garibaldi, the famous liberator of Italy, and Bill Gates both visited
frequently. Garibaldi died on the island. We also spent lots of time talking
to some local fisherman and the families of the men that run the camp sight,
as we all spent lots of time in the restaurant at the camp sight in order to
get out of the rain.
We left the island late Monday night on a night ferry and were back in Perugia
in time for classes Tuesday, but in desperate need of a vacation.
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Mia amica ha visitado

One of my greatest friends, Caitlyn, just flew out from Colorado to spend her Spring break in Italy. We met in Rome, and then traveled to Naples and Capri before returning to Perugia. We spent the first night visiting the Trevi Fountain. The fountain lights are beautiful but the place was packed with tourists, even during the off-season. We threw coins over our shoulders into the fountain and made our wishes. Hopefully the fact that the coins were American quarters (and truly not worth any European money)doesn’t mean that our wishes won’t work. At the fountain we spoke to two Italians who were about to finish University. But they said that “Italy ci chiama” (Italy called) and they have to serve in the military for a period of time once they graduate. They seemed less than thrilled with the arrangement. Italy recently held its regional elections. Because it’s Italy, and slightly illogical from time to time, it doesn’t hold its regional and national elections during the same year, so the national elections won’t take place until the spring of 2006. Anyway, the regional elections showed a strong and surprising move to the left, away from Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. Word
on the street is that Berlusconi will pull all Italian troops out of Iraq
prior to the national elections in a year if he has any desire to maintain his
position as prime minister. Thus, most Italians expect their troops home
within a year.
After our night in Rome, Caitlyn and I traveled to Napoli (Naples). Naples is
the third largest and most densely populated Italian city, and you can feel it,
it’s a true “casino” (Italians use the term to mean crazy place). Cars and
people are everywhere. We escaped the city and traveled to Pompeii our first
day. We ate pizza in Napoli for dinner. Napoli is the birthplace of pizza.
Several of the pizzerias are marked as “vero pizza napolitano” (true Napolian
pizza) it indicates that the pizza was prepared and cooked according to
traditional standards. We ate at the same pizzeria that President Bill Clinton
visited, and it was GOOD. Our second day we traveled to the island of Capri.
We managed to meet up with a middle-aged Italian couple who showed us how to hop the closed gates to get down to the beeches. They showed us the path which led to a beech that costs 2500 Euros a day to sit on. (So, that’s what the
Mafia does with its money…) We sat on the rocks across from the beech, drank
a Pina Colada and ate a wonderful lunch in the sun.
We spent our remaining three days in Perugia drinking beers on the sun-
drenched steps of our Duomo and visiting a few of the famous sights. We saw
the Museum of the City Walls (cooler than it sounds), the old papal fort, a
3000 year old Etruscan well, and a painting by Raphael. I struggled to fit all
of the culinary delicacies of the region into the available meals, with all of
the pizza, pasta, cheese, bread, oil, wine, gelato, and chocolate filled
crepes.
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Non nevica in Sicilia

It doesn’t snow in Sicily.
This Thursday it was snowing in Perugia (AGAIN) so we left and went to Sicily.
We got on the bus to the train station knowing only the time our train left for
Filigno, to go on to Rome, and then to Milazzo, a port town in the north of
Italy. Unfortunately Florence was getting 2 feet of snow (virtually unheard
of) so all the trains were late, and we got on our train in Perugia an hour
behind schedule. Luckily, they knew that everyone was going to Rome, and held
the train in Filigno. We got on the train in Filigno as it was pulling away. In
Rome, our train was delayed two hours due to the snow in the North so we went
to get dinner. We came back an hour later to learn that they had found a new
train and it was leaving, so we ran down to the tracks and just barely got on.
We arrived in Milazzo 14 hours after leaving Perugia.
Our destination was actually a small archipelago of off North Sicily. The
archipelago has several famous islands. Lipari, is the largest and most
developed. Vulcano is small, with a large ACTIVE volcano, a small village, and
hot springs in the ocean, and Stromboli is also the home of an active volcano,
which actually still has lava flowing from it that lights up the night. We had
to decide which island to go to, so we bought tickets to Vulcano. We boarded
the aliscarfi (boat with wings) with our hands full of corona, lemons (lemons
grow everywhere in Sicily so drinks are always paired with them, as opposed to
limes) and salt. One of the crew members, Guiseppe, was so impressed with our
provisions that he let us sit outside, on the back of the ship in “primo posto”
(first class). We were the only people allowed to sit outside, but we had to
duck so that the captain didn’t see us. Guiseppe asked where we were going and
when he heard Vulcano, he said, “why go there, there is nothing there, go to
lipari for the night life” He would let us ride the extra distance for free, so
we agreed. As it turned out, his mom conveniently rented an apartment on the
island. We took a look at the place and got to stay in the apartment with 8
beds (there were 5 of us) 2 full kitchens and two bathrooms for 15 Euro a
night.
We were told to take a 30 minute walk to check out the famous Spiegga Bianca
(white beach). All of the volcanic islands have black sand beaches, and you
forget that most beaches actually have tan colored sand. We walked for an hour
(Italians always underestimate walking times) and finally came across a
completely deserted beach full of black sand with a few white rocks, with a
large sign that read Spiegga Bianca. A few of us headed back to the nearest
town to get snacks, drinks and a lighter, and the others gathered firewood. The
next two evenings were spent facciamo un bagno (swimming) off a deserted beach in the Mediterranean and enjoying beverages around a fire. True freedom.
The second day we took a day trip to Vulcano intending to hike to the top of
the vulcano and swim in the aquacalda (hot water from the sulfer deposits in
the ocean). It rained all morning, and during the off-season they drain the
touristy pool that is filled with aquacalda during the summer, leaving only the
“aquacalda” ocean. We could see the steam rising from certain spots so we threw
our clothes on the beach and jumped in. Hot springs in an ocean don’t work as
well as one might think. There were spots where we burnt our feet on the hot
rocks, but generally the ocean was only mildly warmer than usual. We quickly
put our layers of clothing back on. Mine still smell like sulfer.
After warming up in the only open bar on the island we hiked to the top of the
volcano. Looking into the crator of an active volcano is quite an experience,
but requires holding one’s breath to avoid passing out from the gases that rise
from the center. They use to lead tours into the crater, but in the 70s it blew
again, and now there are some half-hearted Italian signs at the trail-head that
warn tourists to stay away from it.
The third day we rented scooters and a go-kart and toured Lipari looking for
the most amazing panoramas we could find, and there were plenty. The go-kart
was not much smaller than most of the European cars which passed us on the
mountain roads.
We returned to Perugia early Monday morning. And it has been sunny, if not
warm, the last couple of days. We anxiously await spring and the opening of the
home-made gelato store on corso venucci.
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