Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tales of the Pope and his Pope Mobile


We saw the pope today! Ali was randomly walking around near the Vatican, and she saw a huge crowd in St. Peter's Square... After closer inspection, she realized it was a gathering for the POPE! She called Melanie and I straight away, shrieking for us to get there as soon as we could, because he was giving his blessing and then he'd be saying goodbye for the day.

Melanie and I got dressed as quickly as we could, and rushed out the door into the crowded streets of Trastevere, a great local area of Rome where our apartment was located.

We got on and off the tram, pushing people out of our way. We were on a mission from God-- literally! It was usually a 30 minute journey to St. Peter's Square, but Mel and I still maintain that we got there in 15 minutes!

We got there just in time to see him in his bulletproof Pope Mobile, bidding his farewell and waving goodbye. It was still amazing though! As I had already seen the Pope give his blessing during my trip to Rome in 2006, I wasn't that upset. And this was my first encounter with the Pope Mobile, so all was well!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Most Amazing Hike of My Life: Cinque Terre

Wow, what a weekend! We went to Cinque Terre: the most beautiful place in the world, I'm convinced! We did a 7 km hike up and down the incredible mountains, through the five islands of the Cinque Terre, and the view was just breathtaking! At one point we'd be down at the beach of the Mediterranean, and the next we'd be up in the clouds!

There were nine of us that went; 5 girls, 4 boys. It was so perfect. Again, I find myself at a loss for words...

Hiking has become a new love of mine. It keeps me fit, it's fun, and most of all, it makes me feel at one with nature.

We ended up (after a long day of hiking) in Monterosso, where we stayed in an apartment set up for us personally by an angel-- Jerry. You see, Ali and I were stuck planning most of the trip. The week of the event. On the weekend of a special holiday. While everything else was relatively painless, finding accommodation was not! To make a long story short, after hours of fruitless phone calls to hotels, hostels and the like-- trying to book for 9 people no less-- we found Jerry, who worked in a hotel in Monterosso.

Jerry is one of those people. The people who are so nice you can't even believe it. He ended up offering us his own apartment, and a friend's place for the boys! It worked out perfectly, and I give all the credit to our angel Jerry.

Immediately when we ended our 5 hour hike along the cliffs, the nine of us went straight for the local wine shop that Jerry had recommended per our phone conversation. It was amazing, and the people were incredibly hospitable, feeding us cup after cup of delicious wine and cheese-- all homemade!

After this, the girls decided to head for the Mediterranean coast, and told the boys to meet us there with more wine and cheese! They brought the wine, but accidentally bought wax instead of cheese. But it didn't matter; we were in the most beautiful place on Earth! And Jerry was riding his bicycle up to us, ready to show us to his place.

This has been the best weekend so far on my trip... Perhaps one of the best weekends of my life.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tuscany, Flowers, Wine & a Banjo


We went on our excursion to Tuscany today. It was absolutely beautiful. As you can see by the photos, everything was picturesque. I can't even describe it, so I will let the pictures speak for me.

We went to two little villages. The first was great because it was Trinity Sunday (a Catholic holiday), so the streets were covered with decorations made from flowers. There is a parade for the Pentacost holiday that lasts for the entire month of May, and we were extremely lucky to catch the end of the month! The timing couldn't have been more perfect.

The second town we visited (Montepulciano) featured an amazing winery. We had a free tour of the historic place, as well as a free tasting. The award-winning 2003 Rosso di Montepulciano was especially tasty, so I had one ordered and shipped to my parents back in the states.

On the bus ride back to Rome, we stopped at an adorable restaurant on the hillsides of Tuscany. While we were there, Ali and I met some cool people who are going to Cinque Terre next weekend, and they invited us to join! I'm very excited. My brother told me it was by far his favorite part of his trip while he was traveling in Italy.


Last night Mel, Ali, Malaika and I went out for a night on the town. It was really fun. Glad I met these girls. They have made it a lot easier here and keep me from missing home too much. We also had fun with a new friend, Brent. He is great, plays the banjo, has a humungous beard and lives in Knoxville! The real deal.

The five of us went to Piazza Trilussa (right by school) and it was packed with drunk Italians sitting on the steps, smoking, singing, playing drums and guitars... Brent pulled out his banjo and just started playing, surrounded by four American girls, their Peronis, humming voices and bodies swaying to the music. Needless to say, it was an incredible night.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

McDonald's, the Beach & Ancient City of Ostia

Wow. So last night ended up being really crazy! We went out to the Spanish Steps where apparently Travel Channel said the best McDonald's in the world resides! So, despite my prejudice and unwillingness to go in a McDONALD's in ROME, ITALY, I was forced inside because of this Travel Channel nonsense.

But apart from the unmistakable golden arches and Big Macs, this McDonald's was unlike any I have ever experienced. It was insane. There were statues, plants, a gelateria, and it was quite an experience! The food wasn't great, but the atmosphere was definitely worth a visit.

So yesterday, Ali, Mel and I went to Ostia Beach. It was recommended to us from my American friend who had become a Roman local citizen. He said it was the least touristy and the most beautiful. He was right.

The only bad thing was that Mel got really burned and ended up getting sun poisoning... But it was a good day anyway! Ali and I actually ended up getting towels from a street vendor because neither of us remembered to pack one. It ended up being great bartering experience and a good excuse for a souvenir!

Now today, we went back to Ostia, and went to Ostia Antica. I've been there before, but it was fun today too because we didn't have a guide and were just able to roam around on our own time and explore. It's crazy to see an ancient village from over two thousand years ago. There were theatres, bathrooms with plumbing, apartments, spas, restaurants with signs... A seemingly modern day society! Except for the fact that the city was founded in the forth century B.C. As in before Crhist even existed. It was mind blowing.

And we went with a new friend that Mel met in one of her classes. Her name is Malaika, and she is a really awesome person. I have a feeling we are going to be great friends by the end of this trip!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Blast from the Past: The Beginning of My Study Abroad in Rome, Italy

I kept a journal during my 6 weeks in Rome, Italy. I was studying art history while I was there, and hope you enjoy reading about my experiences there. I know I'll enjoy reminiscing!

Well, I made it to Rome. It was quite a long journey, but we're all unpacked and ready for a good night's sleep. Tomorrow we will go sign up for some excursions, take a look around campus, then start seeing the amazing sights! I'm really excited to be here, but I'm scared that I'll miss home, and there won't be a way to fix it. I already miss my family... We'll see how things go!

Good night and ciao!

Peace out, USA

Ciao, Italia! (With my roomies Ali and Mel)

I'M SO EXCITED! We are going to Tuscany next weekend, and Capris the last weekend! I love it! also, the school is offering two free tours for tomorrow and Sunday... Ali and I think we're going to do both! Melanie probably will too. Mel is our roomie, but I knew her before through my friend Azra. The one tomorrow is of the Fountains of Rome... I can't wait to go to the Trevi and the Spanish Steps! Then Sunday is the Tour of Ancient Rome, so we'll definitely see some ruins and the Colosseum. But it's late and the tour comes early tomorrow!

The beautiful entrance to my school, John Cabot University

Italy looks like a gigantic boot. Or a J. Like the letter J. Yup. That's all.

I called it! Both of the tours had the stuff I thought they would... and much more! Here are some photos:

The Pantheonnnn

Inside the Pantheon

Commodus made this for his dad (Marcus Aurelius) when he died... Gladiator much?

Trevi Fountain

The Trevi up close!

The Spanish Steps

An ancient Jewish Ghetto

One of the fountains on the tour in the ghetto

An ancient theatre near the ghetto where a Caesar was assassinated

The Roman Forum

More Forum

Okay there are lots of cool things about this... first of all main street in Roma (Via del Corso), then it's the place where Napoleon came after his whole dictator thing failed, and Michaelangelo died here. Kind of a big deal place.

Am I ruining the picture... or are the ruins? :)

Me in front of the Colosseum

Rome really isn't that big of a city. Everything is much closer together than it looks on a map. I love it here. And I Skyped with my family, so not nearly as worried about missing people!

We went out Friday night to Campo de Fiori (where all the Americans go), and we went to a bar called Sloppy Sam's. My good friend Mike Z was the bartender! It was so good to see him again, and he gave us half off all our drinks! Good guy :) My advice? Don't go to a club after the bars close; I kept having to push old creepy Italian men off of us while we were dancing. Ha! But overall, it's been amazing!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


New Orleans. The Big Easy. NOLA. Call it what you will, but my trip to Louisiana was one of my favorite family vacations EVER!

The reason we ventured here was for the wedding of my dear friend Jill Dimond (yes, the sister of my backpacking companion Dan)! The couple looked absolutely beautiful. But more on this later.

The first thing we decided to do after arriving in Nawlins on Wednesday evening was attend a wine and cheese party hosted by the bride's parents: Mike and Diane. It was great to see everyone, and build anticipation for exploring the city in the days to come.

We slept soundly that night in our room at the Omni Royal, right in the center of the French Quarter. My parents, Phil (my boyfriend), and I shared a room, while Brett (my brother) and Liz (his wife) were in the room across the hall.

The next day, we went on a tour through the historic cemeteries and homes of the Garden District. My mom and I had been planning it I ever since we finished "The Witching Hour" by Anne Rice. So. On the tour, we saw the homes of Anne Rice herself, as well as Sandra Bullock, John Goodman and even Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor.

After the tour, we were all feeling pretty worn out, and in need of a serious pick-me-up! The tour guide recommended a restaurant called Joey K's, saying it was great for "local Cajan goodness." He was right! Liz and I both got the Southern Fried Chicken with a side of red beans and rice, with spicy Andouille sausage mixed in. It hit the spot, and almost completely debilitated us from moving for the next 2 hours.

In fact, I was only able to move after I glanced out the window to see an antique shop-- these are my weakness. I went in and explored the space, touching everything from 60's style couches to 50's diner booths and retro lampshades. Then I got to the clothes-- these are also my weakness. I spotted a red dress with black buttons, very reminescent of Mad Men's Joan Holloway... I had to get it. And so I did.

That night, Brett and Liz (who I often refer to as Briz), Phil and I decided to check out the famous Bourbon Street. I don't think we realized how crazy this street really is. From magicians to drag queens, tarot cards and Hurricane drinks, it was a night none of us will ever forget!

The magician we met had dubbed himself "Z Daddy," and amazed us with his slight-of-hand tricks, and robbed Phil of $5 (with my help I'm ashamed to say). Phil wasn't convinced by Z Daddy's miraculous abilities like the rest of us, so he challenged Z Daddy. He asked Z Daddy, "Alright. What's my middle name? If you tell me that, I will no longer doubt your powers." Z Daddy looked at me. I looked at him. I mouthed the word "JOE-SEH-FFFF" and he gave a knowing look like he understood. I nodded back. Then Z said, "I'm feeling a J..." (Phil's jaw drops). "A Joe... Joeseph?" Phil was so shocked he had to stand up and pace. He then came back and--before I could say anything-- he had given a happy Z Daddy a happy $5 and that was that! I toyed with the idea of keeping this exchange an inside joke between Z and I (that's what I call him), but my conscience said nay. Nay, Josie. And Phil was a little disappointed in me after that.

We also encountered someone who introduced herself as Ashley the Bourbon Street Queen. I think the picture says it all.

The next day, our family decided to go on a fan boat tour through the swamps of Louisiana, where we fed marshmallows to alligators and got extremely acquainted with our tour guide Kevin. He told us of his unusual hunting habits, from alligators to deer and everything in between. Maybe he got a little too comfortable with us, but we were too entertained to notice!

That night my father took the family out to celebrate a fabulous trip with fabulous people. So it was only fitting that we went to a fabulous restaurant: Arnaud's. The location was right on Bourbon Street, and featured a 3-piece jazz band that came around to each table asking for requests. Our's was "Summertime." The waiter was hilarious, celebrating his 13th year at Arnaud's. He asked if we were hungry. We said yes. He said he wanted to play a game. We said yes. He told each of us what we were going to be ordering, from appetizer, to main course, to dessert. We said yes.

Turns out, he knew us well! We were all extremely pleased with our meals; Brett even enjoyed his turtle soup! My favorite was the Banana's Foster that he chose for me, and then mixed and created himself... even the roaring flames by the table, with which he made sparks fly from burning brown sugar.

After a stupendous meal, Phil and I decided to hit up the French Quarter once more for its well-revered jazz scene. We traveled from bar to bar, street to street... We even stood between two incredible jazz outfits battling for fans! Both had a slue of dancing jazz cats, drinks in hand (yes- open intox is legal there)! We even met up with Angela, a dear friend I met when I was traveling in Nice, France! She's now attending Loyola of New Orleans for law school, but don't worry. She's not afraid to let loose in that city. Then again, who couldn't? All in all, another amazing night in NOLA!

And then it was finally the big day: the wedding! The ceremony was at the famous St. Louis Cathedral. After that, we danced in a second line parade through the streets of the French Quarter to Broussards, a charming restaurant with an outdoor courtyard. This was where the reception was held.

There was another jazz outfit that played for us dancing fanatics, and an open bar to lead us on! The bride and groom were beautiful, and very much in love. All was well!

So there you have it. New Orleans. Now one of my favorite cities in America-- possibly the world!