Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Compleanno a Milano!

I spent my birthday weekend in Milan. Writing that is really weird, especially because I never expected that to be the case, even while here in Italy. In fact, I really had no intention of going to Milan before meeting my friend David (back in July in Perugia). The city seemed too industrial and cold to me. With good friends like David, though, I had a fantastic time there. Turns out it's a pretty cool place!

My good friend David! 
Atop the Cathedral of Milan (picture below).
Il quadrilatero di Milano, where all the fashion happens.
The Cathedral at night: simply beautiful. This was a great night.
The city of Como, about an hour train ride from Milan.
This beauty--I can't handle it!
A black and white shot to express serenity.
David and his brothers got me this gelato cake to celebrate my birthday on Sunday. It was fantastic, just like the entire weekend.
Their hospitality and kindness made that weekend truly great. I couldn't have asked for a better birthday away from home!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Spain: Stray Observations

If England surprised me in ways I wouldn't have expected, Spain did and more.

  • Spaniards, at least in the Andalucia region, love to use the word for uncle/aunt as an exclamation, or to refer to a person (that guy/that girl). To my ear, most familiar with Mexican Spanish, it's such a weird way to use those words!
  • At times I felt as if I might as well have been somewhere in the Arab world. Arabic influence in southern Spain is in-your-face, especially when it comes to the landmarks in Cordoba, Granada, Malaga, and Sevilla. (Pretend those have the accents on them...)
  • In Barcelona, I felt very lucky to know both Spanish and Italian. It made reading and understanding the widespread Catalan much easier!
  • Europeans love to tan. I mean, at least those in the Mediterranean do -- or, better yet, Spaniards and Italians. You'd be surprised how often I've seen them sporting a shade equal to or darker than my skin tone. 
  • The lisp. Why, why? Hahaha.
  • "Italians are an extreme. It has to be something with Mediterranean culture. At least we know how to have fun." -- A Spaniard on corruption in Spain's government and a comparison to Italy/Greece
  • In Spanish, the word for lighthouse is always masculine (el faro). However, Malaga's lighthouse is referred to as feminine (la farolina).
La farolina.
  • The Great Cathedral-Mosque of Cordoba was breath-taking. It was a lot smaller than I had imagined, but just so beautiful.
  • Eating at American fast-food places in Europe isn't such a good idea if you want to save money. True for Italy, as well as Spain.
  • Spanish churros and tortillas aren't like their Mexican counterparts!
  • Las Ramblas in Barcelona were spectacular. I regret not getting a picture. My favorite was La Rambla del Mar by far. 
  • I think I could live in Barcelona. I wouldn't be too upset if that happened. :)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Tío, ¡qué bien!

After two days of rest after getting back from London, I was off once again. This time, I was heading to Spain for a week. Although I spent most of my time in the south, I did also get a few good days in Barcelona, further north. Here are a few pictures that, hopefully, faithfully portray the country's beauty.

La Sagrada Familia, perhaps the most representative landmark of Barcelona. Arguably Guadi's masterpiece. (Unfinished.)
Park Guell, another of Gaudi's works of art. 
A view of Barcelona from the top of Park Guell.
From Barcelona, I headed south to Malaga (again via Ryanair). This beautiful port city is the home of another good friend I got to reunite with!
This was really cool. I think it's supposed to represent the waves of the ocean. Oh, Malaga...
My friend Belen, her dog, and me near Malaga's historical center.
Sevilla, another gem of a city in the region of Andalucia. This is the cathedral.
This caught my eye. Inside the Real Alcazar in Sevilla.
Reminded me of Grand Rapids. Miss you, Grand River!
Cool bridge, right?
Granada, Spain. A look at the beautiful countryside from the Alhambra's gardens. 
Sample of the flowers found there.
My friend Natasha, who I was luckily able to meet up with in Granada!
Tasha snapped of me caressing the Arabic calligraphy on the walls of the Alhambra.
From outside the Alhambra. Granada is a wonderful city.
The Great Cathedral-Mosque of Cordoba!
I was so excited to see this, and I can say with certainty that I wasn't disappointed!
On my last night in Malaga, Belen and her daughter took a walk with me seaside. It was a great ending to an unforgettable time in southern Spain. One more night in Barcelona from there ended my adventure...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

England: Stray Observations

I think whenever I do some international traveling here in Europe, I'll write one of these posts. You know, just to list off some things that really struck me. And we're off:

  • "Cheers" was used so many times for so many different things. What would the American equivalent be?
  • The Underground: it's fantastic! Getting around downtown London was incredibly fast and, contrary to what I originally thought, easy. It's like clockwork.
  • When it comes to busy/fascinating streets in London, Regent Street and Oxford Street stood out. 
  • The big screen at Piccadilly Circus screamed Times Square in New York. Which came first?
  • Fish & chips, fish & chips! Oh, and English breakfast. What a contrast to the coffee & pastry combination that makes up a typical Italian breakfast.
  • Bridget and I felt like listening to the Stonehenge audio guide was somewhat unnecessary. It harped on how no one knew anything about Stonehenge at all seven posts. 
  • Watching cars drive on the left side of the road was...interesting. You really have to see that first hand.
  • Urinals, right out in the street. The only other place I've seen that was in Spoleto, a month later. I completely understand the concept/reasoning behind them, I just think it might take some time to get used to it.
  • There were a lot of Italians in London. Bridget, Claire and I joked we couldn't get away from them, haha.
  • Once, on the way to Victoria Station, I saw an ad with Bear Grylls in the Underground. Made my day!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cheers, mate

It's been about a month since I was in England (back in September), but I'm going to try and reconstruct some of the highlights either way. The two major sites I was in (London and Stonehenge) were fantastic and I'd definitely like to head back to England sometime in the future.

Banners from the Olympics still decorated the city. The Paralympics were actually going on during out stay. The colorful banners and flags really gave London a more international feel than usual, I bet. 
One of the first things we did after arriving was take the Harry Potter walking tour offered by the Big Bus company. The tour guide was really into his job, which made the experience so much cooler. He even led us to a store that specialized in making Harry Potter-themed candy.
The Union Jack.
A panorama of some of London's most famous landmarks, including the London Eye and Big Ben.
You'll be smitten.
One of the best parts of the trip was meeting up with my English friend, Eliot, and having dinner at Friday's, where I was surprised with a very early birthday cake. What a night!
Bridget and I made our way to Stonehenge on our second to last day in England. It's a truly beautiful site. It was also a good place to take some (outlandish) pictures!
Shrouded in mystery.
What is heritage?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Even in London

I thought it might have just been a weird coincidence when I heard from a classmate (during August) that there were other Grand Rapidians living in Perugia. Then I realized that, as Sister Cities, that wasn't so weird after all. Imagine my surprise to run into other Michiganders while in London!

The first person we ran into was a woman from Muskegon who was living in London with her English boyfriend. She was sitting by us at a restaurant in London's Chinatown. Then, today, we find out that in our "The Beatles Walk" tour group there was a family from Detroit!

It's like Michigan's trying to make sure we don't forget it, haha. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

In case you forgot...

Today in Monteripido's kitchen I noticed a sign while cooking. After reading it I couldn't help but smile. One of my older cousins once posted a paper in my room with the same message (the only difference being the language).

Here it is in Italian: Questa è la storia di 4 persone chiamate Ognuno, Qualcuno, Ciascuno e Nessuno. C'era un lavoro importante da fare e Ognuno era sicuro che Qualcuno lo avrebbe fatto. Ciascuno poteva farlo, ma Nessuno lo fece, Qualcuno si arrabbiò perché era il lavoro di Ognuno. Ognuno pensò che Ciascuno potesse farlo, ma Nessuno capì che Ognuno l'avrebbe fatto. Finì che Ognuno incolpò Qualcuno perché Nessuno fece ciò che Ciascuno avrebbe potuto fare.

And in English: This is a story about 4 people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ends up that Everybody blames Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

I guess I'm meant to never forget. Still being reminded on a different continent!

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Just kidding. There's no way I am sleeping through this September. My three months at the University for Foreigners have come to an end. As I've come to learn, like most endings this past year, it's a little bittersweet. On one hand, I am glad to have the free time to travel for the next three weeks. Right now, I'm two days away from flying out to London for 5 days with Claire and Bridget...but more on that later.

On the other hand, I've met so many great people through Stranieri that, inevitably, I'm sad that I won't be returning after my trips. In two of my earlier posts, I had listed some of the countries represented here over my stay. Now that my time at Stranieri is over, here's a more complete list: Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, China, Croatia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, England, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Jordan , Kazakhstan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Pakistan, Palestine, Poland, Romania, Senegal, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Turkey, United States, Venezuela, and Vietnam. Personally, I find it impressive that the school hosts so many students from such diverse places.

However, what I really enjoyed about Stranieri is the strength of the friendships I was able to make while there, especially with my classmates. I haven't said anything about this before, but after the end of the July classes, I was especially down. I think working through that really helped prepare me for the third time my friends left in masses at the end of August. If there is anything I didn't like about my time at Stranieri, that would be it.

Life goes on. Everyone returns to their regular lives and I remain in Perugia to start all over again (to some extent). It's not the same anymore, though. I start school at the University of Perugia on the 24th of September, the day after my birthday. From here until then, though, I have a whirlwind of traveling planned.

  • 6 September - 10 September: England (London)
  • 13 September - 20 September: Spain (Barcelona, Málaga, Córdoba, Granada & Sevilla)
  • 21 September - 23 September: back to Italy (Milan)

Fingers crossed for a great time! 

Monday, September 3, 2012


After missing the 11:00 train to Assisi this past Sunday, the day was up in the air. Luckily, we joined another group going to Foligno. Sometimes the best days aren't planned. Eccolo:

The best way to start an afternoon of walking: eating gelato. 
The sky darkens...
With my study abroad buddies, Claire and Bridget! The turtle is just a mutual friend.
There was a Renaissance festival vibe going on for sure. 
Olivier (Belgium), Isabel (Switzerland), and Serli (Turkey): 3 of the 5 people we met up with in Foligno.
Bonding over donuts, haha.
The grand finish!
Playing games!
Tommaso going for it! The object was to break the egg on the log.
Fire makes for cool pictures, when it's tame.
Buying food.
Really cool! Street performers doing their thing. One of the events included throwing daggers. No one was hurt, luckily.
Gourds everywhere.
Foligno at night. Serene and beautiful.