Sunday, May 1, 2011

Greek Weekend

It has been a while since my last post, but that is because until this weekend there hasn't been anything too exciting to report.  Marissa and I did go to an AS Roma soccer game before our trip to Greece, and that was quite an experience.  It wasn't a big game, but the crowd cheered, sang and chanted the whole time!  It was very entertaining.  But back to the more fun stuff... this weekend was our final trip of the semester :( and we went to GREECE!  I have been dying to go to Greece for a long time, so I was very anxious and excited for this trip.  7 girls from our IES Rome program, Ellis, Marissa, Ruthie, Neely, Anne, Nicole and I, left Rome at 6:40 am (VERY early) on Friday morning.  We landed in Athens at about 9:30 am.  It was worth it to wake up and travel so early because we were able to have the whole day in Greece on Friday. 

We left the airport and headed straight for our hotel, which was a little resort in Anavyssos, Greece.  This area is right on the coast and about 40 minutes outside of Athens. It has its own little beach, pool, tennis court, and all of that jazz.  It was warm and sunny outside when we got there on Friday, so we decided to stay at the resort and enjoy the sun on the beach and by the pool.  It was so nice and relaxing!  We ate both lunch and dinner at the hotel restaurant, and the food was fabulous!  For lunch, we ate rice with vegetables, chicken with greek seasoning, cheese pie, greek salad and ice cream.  Dinner consisted of chicken soup, pork chops, broccoli, french fries and fruit and a pastry for dessert.  Yum! After dinner, we went to the resort's "Discotech" to play the "Movie quiz" game.  Basically all that we had to do was correctly identify the title of songs that the deejay played and what movie the song was in.  It was fun and easy, and since there were only a few other people playing the game, we won both the first and second prizes!  First prize was a big bottle of wine and second place was an individual sized bottle of wine. 

View from our beach

View from our hotel room balcony
After breakfast Saturday, we headed into Athens to see the Acropolis.  I did not realize how big the hill was!  It was a bit of a climb to the top, but well worth it!  We saw the Parthenon and lots of other ancient Greek temples and theaters.  There was also a beautiful view of the huge city of Athens from the top of the Acropolis!  Once we made it back down, we ate lunch.  In true Greek style, I ate a Greek salad and shared some baklava to satisfy my sweet tooth.  And it was probably the best Baklava I have ever had!  It was so sweet and buttery tasting! 
Going up to the Acropolis
 Theater on Acropolis

Next, we hopped on the metro to go to the port of Piraeus.  Once at the port, we bought tickets to take a ferry over to the greek island of Aegina.  If only we could have had a video camera following us at this moment as we literally ran from the ticket counter down the street, across the road and to the loading docks, trying to find the right ferry with only 2 minutes remaining before the boat was to leave.  We ran from boat to boat along the docks until at last the furthest boat at the gate was the right one.  We made it there just in time, they were pulling in the ramp, but stopped just as they saw and heard the herd of us 7 girls running and screaming towards the boat.  We were out of breath, but we made it on the boat!
Aegina Island

The ride from Piraeus to Aegina was only 45 minutes.  The island itself was very cute!  There were tons of blue and white boats lined up along the docks and shops and restaurants on the other side of the road, facing the sea.  We strolled up and down the coastline and found that this island is particularly well-known for its Pistacchio nuts.  There were stands selling them everywhere, and they let us sample them as well!  We then stopped at a beach club bar right on the beach, overlooking the sea to have a refreshing drink before having to get back on the ferry to Piraeus.  We picked the best place because I have never seen fruity cocktail drinks that looked as beautiful and decorated as these did!  There were chunks of colorful, fresh fruits along the rims of the glasses, and the drinks tasted just as good as they looked! 

Aegina Island

It was Saturday evening by the time we got back to Piraeus, so we rode back into Athens.  Back in Athens, we grabbed a quick bite to eat, a delicious gyro, and then went back to the resort.  Sunday, today, is Neely's 21st birthday, so we toasted to her and went to bed.  We left Athens around 12 noon and arrived back in Rome at 2 pm.  It was a short trip, but very enjoyable.  I wish that we could have spent more time in Greece so that we could have seen more of the Greek islands with white buildings and blue shutters.  But our trip was just filled with lots of beautiful sites and memorable moments with friends! 
Aegina Island

Now the hard part of the semester is here.  I have to write 4 paper before my final exams in 2 weeks.  So, I am going to be working hard for these last 3 weeks of the semester!  Wish me luck!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pompei and the Amalfi Coast

Well it has been another exciting weekend of traveling in Italy!  The school took us to Pompei, Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Naples for the weekend.  A group of about 30 IES students got on a charter bus and headed for Pompei early Friday morning.  We arrived in Pompei around lunch. The school arranged for all but one lunch for us the whole weekend, and our first lunch was a traditional Italian meal with 4 courses.  So after we ate that huge meal, we met up with our tour guide of Pompei.  She took us through the ruins of the city and explained what many of the buildings were used for and such.  We saw the theater, homes, Basilica, forum, Mount Vesuvius and the famous brothel.  It was so neat to walk through the streets because everything was so well preserved.  It was easy to imagine what life would have been like for the Pompeians.

Streets of Pompei 

Forum of Pompei and Mount Vesuvius

After the tour of Pompei, we got back and the bus and headed to our hotel in Sorrento.  The hotel was on the side of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  We had another 4 course meal for dinner and went to bed so that we would be ready to wake up at 7am for touring Saturday.
View from Hotel

Saturday morning, we got on the bus with another tour guide and headed for the seaside town of Positano.  The ride to Positano was almost as beautiful as the little town itself.  The streets wound up and down the mountains along the coast, so as we were riding we were looking down the side of the mountains at the sea.  It was a little bit scary but still gorgeous! We walked the rest of the way down the mountain in Positano to the dock where we got on a boat to take us for a little cruise.

The boat took us along the coastline from Positano to Amalfi.  Along the way, we stopped to see the Green Grotto.  Its a cave inside the mountain where the natural light makes the water appear green and sparkling! I have never seen anything like it!  The boat ride lasted for about an hour and I have never been happier to have my feet on dry land than when we finally made it to Amalfi.  I do not usually feel sea-sick after riding on a boat, but this water was so rough and the waves were huge, which made for a very rocky boat ride.  But it was still a blast! 
Green Grotto

Once in Amalfi, we were given some free time to explore the town.  Theres a beautiful old church and the oldest paper factory in Europe in Amalfi.  And there is the beach of course!  So we wandered through the streets and along the beach for a while.  It was so nice to be out in the sunshine by the ocean! 


The bus picked us up again in Amalfi and we headed back up and around the mountains to the even smaller town of Ravello.  Ravello is at the top of the mountain and is a popular vacation spot for the elite, or so the tour guide said.  Apparently Jackie O loved to visit Ravello.  Ravello is also home to the Villa Rufolo.  This ancient villa has the most breathtaking views of the coast from above and also stunning gardens!  I cannot even begin to describe them, so you will just have to look at some of the pictures haha. 
View from Ravello

 Inisde the Villa Rufolo
 Villa Rufolo
 Villa Rufolo
 Villa Rufolo

Everybody was worn out after all of that sightseeing, so it was a very quiet bus ride back to Sorrento Saturday evening.  After dinner Saturday night, we were able to enjoy a local band in our hotel, which was fun.  We also had some limoncello, which is made and originated in the Amalfi coast region of Italy.  Lemon trees are growing everywhere in this area!  They also have some of the largest lemons I have ever seen!  Some where the size of cantelopes! 

Sunday, we left Sorrento and headed for Naples.  I didnt really know what to expect in Naples, but I was a little bit surprised when we arrived.  After having seen so many beautiful coastal towns the day before, it was a bit of a disappointment to see that Naples was so dirty and full of trash and construction.  It is on the coast and you can seen lots of mountains around it, but it was just not my favorite place.  We did get to have pizza for lunch, which was delicious, and then we headed back to Rome!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dublin, Ireland

This past weekend, Ellis and I traveled to Ireland!  We thought it would be nice to see a lot of green grass since there is not very much in Rome. 

We arrived Friday afternoon, and our first stop was to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. We toured the old brewery and got to sample the beer.  We also went up to the Gravity Bar which is a circular room on top of the building with windows all around which allow you to see most of the city of Dublin.

We ate fish and chips at a pub near our hotel. They had live Irish music, which was nice to hear while we were eating and relaxing.  We immediately fell in love with the Irish song "Galway Girl".  I have not been able to stop singing it since we left Ireland. 

We woke up at 7am Saturday to catch the tour bus from Dublin to the countryside.  The tour took us to Wicklow, Glendalough, and Kilkenney.  The mountains, valleys and lakes were so beautiful!  They were covered in GREEN grass, sheep, cows, and yellow dandilions.  We saw medieval castles and round towers.  Our tour guide was halarious as well.  He told us all about the histories of the different places where we stopped, how his girlfriend had just broken up with him the night before and he even sang many different songs for us along the way!  It was such a relaxing and enjoyable day trip.

Our tour bus

We arrived back in Dublin around 6pm Saturday evening.  We quickly showered and then headed to the popular Temple Bar area of Dublin.  It is just across the river and filled with lots of local pubs, restaurants and shops.  It is such a neat little area of the town and a very happening spot.  Almost all of the pubs had live music, but our favorite place was The Temple Bar.  They had two men playing guitars and singing great songs that were both Irish and American, which was loads of fun!  Ellis and I knew that it was the right place for us to be because there was a picture of "Lady Martha Temple" painted on one of the outside walls of the building.

Now I am back to the work and grind of school in Rome, but it was so nice to be able to get away from Rome for a more peaceful and relaxing weekend in Ireland!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Spring Break in Florence, Venice and Rome

Sorry that it has been so long since my last post.  This is the end of my spring break, so I was busy taking midterms before mom and dad arrived on Saturday to start off my spring break.  They arrived early saturday morning, we ate lunch at the famous pizza restaurant Dar Poeta, and then we had a private guided tour of the Vatican with the Keims on Saturday around 2 pm.  It was so nice to have th guide take us through all of the museum area of the Vatican to point out specific pieces of artwork and then through the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basillica.  She was very knowledgable and a great guide!  Saturday night, we ate at my favorite restaurant in all of Rome so far (and it just so happens to be in my neighborhood), Da Gildo.  We ate with the Keims and the Oates, which was very entertaining, and as always, the owner of the restaurant gave Ellis and I huge hugs when we left because she is so used to seeing us haha.  (she also now gives us a discount!)  Ellis and I then led the crowd to our Chocolate bar for chocolate shots!  Couldnt believe all of the parents would be willing to take one too, but when in rome...  Then we capped the night off with toasts at the cheap bar.

Sunday, mom, dad and I slept until about 12:30pm!  I guess they were catching up on the sleep they had missed in the previous 30 hours.  So we had more of a lazy day sunday.  We ate a late lunch at a restaurant in Campo de Fiori and then walked down Via del Corso to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish steps.

Monday we had to wake up super early to catch the train to Florence.  But it was worth it to have a full day in Florence on Monday.  The only down side was that it was raining most of the day Monday, but that didnt stop us from doing or seeing the things we wanted to see.  Our first stop was to Santa Maria de Fiori which is the Basillica with Brunelleschi's Duomo.  The outside of the Church is just as magnificent as the duomo!  There is a tower on the church which has over 400 steps to the top. For some reason, mom and I thought it would be a good idea to climb all of those steps to the top of the tower!  Dad just played along.  Well we didnt end up making it all the way to the top, I am sad to admit, but we got about 2/3 of the way. There was a great view of Florence and the Duomo from the tower.

Next we walked down to San Lorenzo for the church and the leather market.  I have never seen so many leather goods in one place!  The whole street was lined with vendors on both sides!  Mom and I had a great time shopping down that street hehe.  After that, we headed towards the Ponte Vecchio.  This bridge is famous for all of this gold, coral and jewelry in general.  The stores are all built on top of the bridge, which was neat to see.  We did a little bit more touring on Tuesday before catching the train from Florence to Venice.

Of the places in Italy that I have seen so far, Venice has been my most favorite!  There is no other place in the world like it!  As soon as we stepped off of the train we were looking at the Grand Canal with all of the buildings and shopped with little docks and boats in front of them.  We took the water bus down the canal to San Marco, which is the main island of Venice, to our hotel.  Even our hotel was decorated in the antique Venetian style with chandeliers and fabrics on the walls. 

We got back on the water bus to go over to the island straight across from us which has the monastery on it.  This monastery also has a tower that you can ride an elevator to the top of.  At the top, you could see almost all of Venice!  It was stunning and the weather was perfect since it was sunny and warm!  We then set out to find somewhere to eat dinner.  We ended up picking a restaurant on the Grand Canal, right down from the Ponte Rialto where we could sit next to the water.  All of the boats, stores, hotels and such along the canal were lit up at night, so it was the perfect place to eat with a great view! 

The next day, we toured Saint Mark's church on San Marco.  I have never seen so much beautiful mosaic work in my life!  The entire walls and ceilings on the church, inside and out, were covered in mosaics which gold backgrounds!  We then toured to Doge Palace right next to Saint Mark's.  It was interesting to see how that palace was set up and used as both a place for the sort -of governor to live and also as a political assembly building.  The prison that is connected to it was a bit creepy but I guess that is common for a prison haha.  Last stop in Venice was shopping on the Rialto bridge and market for Murano glass!

Then back on the train to Rome again.  Thursday, we woke up and headed to the Colosseum, Palatine hill and Roman Forum.  Again, the weather was perfect for us to be touring these outdoor places.  It was about 70 degrees and sunny.  Friday was more of a relaxing day as well.  We went in and up to the top of the Castel Sant'Angelo to look out over Rome and the Vatican.  We also bought artwork from a local artist in Piazza Navona.  We enjoyed drink in the Piazza de Santa Maria in Trastevere and dinner before calling it a night and week!

Mom and dad left for the airport early this morning (saturday).  It was hard to say goodbye since we had such a wonderful week together!  I am so glad and thankful that they came and I could share my spring break with them.  I could not have asked for a better way to spend my spring break than traveling to Florence, Venice and Rome with them.