Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Scotland and Stuff

Sorry, no semi-creative title for this blog. I am drained. Right now I am in the process of trying to complete a paper for my Flemish art class, which, oddly enough, is about Andy Warhol. Our teacher told us that we could write the paper on either a Flemish artist, or artist from our home country, which just happens to be America. The first person I thought of when she said that, was Andy Warhol, because he's from Pittsburgh, and as any sane person knows, Pittsburgh is the best city in America. Anyways, I am trying to finish the rough draft for that paper today, so that I can focus on my paper for culture class this weekend, which is going to be a pain. It seems as though I have fallen out of the habit of doing real schoolwork on a consistent basis ever since I have been abroad, which is sad, but true. It's just so hard to motivate myself when I get back from traveling, because my mind is not focused, and I am so tired from coming and going constantly. These days, it's as if I'm running from nothing, but I've never been happier. Time has flown by, and even though 10 months is a bit long to be abroad, I am so glad that I have these last few months to enjoy being over here in Europe. Some of us have become a bit homesick, but honestly, I think it's just because this is all winding down, and that finals are approaching. Also, it's difficult to stay focused here when all of our friends are going home soon. Oh well! I'm not complaining. I'm still in Europe, and that's no cause for complaint.

So on to Scotland. Cookie and I went to St. Andrew's, Edinburgh, and the Highlands this past weekend, which was quite a memorable experience. I think we're both pretty drained from all the traveling, but we were so blown away by the beauty of Scotland, which kept our energy high. We stayed with a friend at St. Andrew's, and she's situated literally 2 seconds from the 18th hole of the Old Course. Talk about prime living location. We strolled along the beach and saw the Old Course, which is where the rules for golf were originated. The wind was howling, and we were very cold, but the scenery was impressive. Chariots of fire was filmed on the beach,a nd our friend said that she runs there everyday, which sounds awesome to me. On the way home from our walk, we passed by an American store, where I bought a Dr. Pepper. I miss it so much, so I was jumping for joy when I saw it. Sweet purchase. After this, I stopped by a golf store, where I met an interesting character. The store owner was from the west of Scotland, and clearly had a chip on his shoulder as a result. He rambled on about how he has been to all 50 states, and that out of those, Chicago, North Carolina, Oregon, and Arizona are his favorite places- all for various reasons. He proceeded to say that people from California are just like a bowl of granola: they're either flakes, nuts, or fruits. I thought that was a hilarious politically incorrect joke, especially coming from a Scottish man. Anyways, he kept on rambling nonsense and ripping on innocent people, so I eventually had to invent some excuse to leave.

After our visit to St. Andrew's we headed to Edinburgh, which was a really cold city, but interesting, nevertheless. I thought that the coolest part about it was that castles were situated above the other buildings, so as to make them the primary focus. Also, it had a flavor of England, as it belongs to the Uk, which was another reason that I loved it. However, there is a spirit of rebellion amongst the people of Scotland, which was generated from their fight for independence, similiar to Ireland. On one of our days in Edinburgh, we went on a day tour of the Highlands, which was absolutely breathtaking. Our tourguide was quite the nut. He never hesitated to make politcally incorrect jokes, while flailing around a plastic sword, and almost hitting random wildlife on the road. I really feared for my life at certain points of the trip. He was funny, but really bitter too. He kept telling us how he wanted to hit pheasants and whatnot. He took us to the William Wallace monument, told us about that whole story, the castle from Monty Pithon, a Whiskey Distillery, and around to other small towns and beautiful bits of the countryside. I have always heard that Scotland is very beautiful, but it surpassed my expectations. The rolling green and brown hills, complemented with green spruce trees and vast lakes, made Scotland so memorable for me. My favorite part of our Highlands tour was when we stopped at one of the many lochs for a few minutes. It seemed like a perfect place to just escape the busy world- a place where nobody could discover you. I would love to go back to Scotland someday and take a longer tour that includes the Isle of Skye, Loch Ness, and Inverness. There's just so much to cover there, but I feel like we did a lot in such a short amount of time.

Cheers! ( Back to work for me!)

ps.- this is a shoutout to uncle ron...thanks for all the comments!
also, I had a great time with my uncles and dad on their visit to Belgium :-)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

When The Moon Hits the Sky Like a Big Pizza Pie..

I just got back from a Loyola sponsored tour of Italy, and even though I was sick for most of the trip, it was absolutely wonderful. After a flight cancellation and a connecting flight, we made it to Florence on March 25th. We stayed there for three days and four nights, which was definately a good amount of time to be there. On the first day, we went to the Uffizi Gallery, The Academia, and the Duomo. I have been to Florence before, so I had seen all of these things, but this time I feel like I soaked it all in a bit more. My favorite thing was probably seeing the David again, because I still think that it is one of the best sculptures in the world, as well as one of the most beautiful. We also got gelato and hiked up to some gardens, where we got a great view of the city. It was about 65 degrees, the sun was out, and we just sat on a ledge and gazed over Tuscany and the city for a while. It was really relaxing after doing a lot of touring. The next day, Loyola took us on a tour of two wineries in the countryside of Tuscany. Our tourguide's name was Todd, and he owns a company called "Tuscan Trails". He met his wife in California, and she convinced him to move to Tuscany, where she is from, so he eventually agreed, and then decided to become a Sommolier ( I probably got the spelling wrong on that) in Tuscany. Anyways, the first winery was in the Pazzi Palace. This palace belonged to the second most powerful family is Tuscany next to the Medicis, so it was really cool to actually be inside of it. Todd explained the history of the castle to us and then took us into a room across the street, where we tasted some wine and olive oil. He taught us how to taste wine, which initially perplexed me, but then eventually made some sense. I guess I have never really appreciated the fine qualities of wine until his lesson. After this tour, we had a delicious lunch, complete with even more wine. Then, we headed to a second winery, where we guessed it...more wine. It was all so delicious, but I have to be honest and say that I was about to fall off of my chair by the second winery! I started making ridiculous conversation with Todd. I asked him if he knew how to surf and some other funny things. Everybody in the group was laughing hysterically at me, which isn't uncommon, but was still amusing for me anyways haha. We all passed out on the bus home. I did, however, catch some beautiful scenery on the way home, and all throughout the day. The cyprus trees were so beautiful with the background of the rustic hills. The sparse landscape was dotted with a tan brick villa with an orange roof every here and there. Todd told us that they rent out these villas to vacationers. I would love to rent one of those some day!
During the res tof our time in Florence, I was sick. I developed a really bad cough and then I got pink eye in both of my eyes, which was no walk in the park. We had a tour of San Lorenzo during our last day, which was really awesome, considering that Michaelangelo's grave was inside, in addition to several memorials. I was coughing so hard that I had to go back to bed and lay there all day. I was miserable. Luckily, during the last day, we didn't do too much, so I guess I didn't miss much.

After Florence, we headed to a small town called Orvieto, which is located on a mountain in between Florence and Rome. It was such a cute little town with a great view. We took a tour of the church, but because it was so dark and cold, I had to leave. Afterwards, Dr. Burger, our director, offered to pay for a scavi tour of the city, but I decided that this would be a bad idea for my health and walked around town instead, which ended up being pretty pleasant. Fortunately, the sun came out, so I was able to absorb some vitamin d and warm up a bit in general. I stopped into some nice shops, and then sat in the sun for awhile, then rejoined with the group at the end. After this, we continued onto Rome. After we loaded our stuff into the hotel, we took a night walk tour, which was one of my favorite things that we did in Rome. All cities are so different at night than they are during the day, so its always nice to get a good glimpse of them during the evening. We walked up Palatine Hill, saw the Forum, walked to The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and got some Gelato at the "best" gelateria in all of Rome. St this point, I did not have a sense of taste, so I really couldn't tell you if it was the best gelato in Rome. During the next few days, we took tours of St. Peter's Scavi, the Vatican Museum, The Borghese Gallery, Coliseum, Forum, Spanish Steps, Piazza Nevona, and walked around the other major sites again during the day. My favorite tour was probably the Scavi tour. Underneath the vatican lies a city that was built by the pagans to bury their dead. Originally, Vatican Square was used by emperor Nero to torture christians, which is why St. Peter's body was found in that area. Anyways, this necropolis was excavated, and basically there is a bunch of burial chambers to be explored underneath the Vatican. I was in utter amazement as we walked through 1,500 year old chambers with lavish mosaics and inscriptions. These burial chambers had two floors, one being the burial floor, and the other being the party room, where there would be wakes. Our tourguide pointed out which graves were those of the extremely wealthy, and those that were taken over by the poor christians after Constantine came into power. The christians would scrape off the face of the pagan grave and just re-use the casket. It is interesting to remember how the Christians used to be poor and persecuted. It puts everything in perspective.
I also really enjoyed the Borghese Gallery tour a lot. My favorite statue inside was Apollo and Daphne. I was so amazed at how beautiful it was, and how life-like it was as well. Bernini is probably my favorite sculptor. I did not realize how talented he is until I saw this museum. It blew me away.
During my free day in Rome, I went with my cousin Emma on a tour with her college of some churchs in Trastevere. I really enjoyed the church os St. Cecilia. We got to go underneath the church and see where she actually lived years and years ago. I think the most fascinating thing about Rome is all of the layers that are there and the ruins that are exposed at each and every turn. I haven't been to a single other city in all of Europe that has the history and romance of Rome. It may be my favorite city yet.
On our last night, we had dinner with the Loyola Rome kids and the food was amazing! We got a free pizza, tiramisu, cappucino, and limoncello. Every piece of pizza that I ate in italy was the best pizza in the whole world, so I really can't say which was better. I liked it all. The morning after, we took a tour of the two Jesuit churchs in Rome, which was a great end to the trip. We saw the actual chambers where St. Ignatius Loyola used to live. There was a short, elderly priest there that led us around and only spoke Italian. He just started telling us all about the chambers, even though we had a tour previous to meeting him. I don't think he realized what was going on, but he just kept talking. At the end, he gave us some pamplets and kept telling us to come back. You could tell that he was a little bit lonely. I wish I could have brought him back to the states with me haha. One thing that I love about Loyola is the jesuit priests there. They are all so nice and well rounded too. I haven't met a single one yet that I have disliked. Most of the times it is hard to relate to priests a bit for me, but I have made some really awesome connections with priests at Loyola over the years. It was nice to be able to meet one overseas as well.

My six days in Rome were some of the best this year, even though I was sick, and it took all of my effort to get myself from place to place. Ther eis just something about Rome...I don't know if it's the people, the food, the sights, or the general aura about it, but it has something unique that rivals every other city in europe. There is a reason why they call it " the eternal city".

After Rome, we headed down to Positano for our last three days of Easter Break. We had to get to Naples and then Sorrento in order to finally arrive in Positano, but ti was worth it. I was swept away by the view. Our hostel was on top of the mountain and we could see a great portion of the Mediterranean from there. It was a small coastal town with palm trees and small multi-colored houses reaching high up into the sky. At the bottom was a mosaic church with beautiful beachy colors. Apparently it is a lot like Greece. The weather was pretty crappy while we were, but it was altogether really relaxing. We talked a lot and spent some time drinking wine on the beach, which was fun. We swam in the ocean, but it was absolutely freezing cold. On the last night there, we went to a restaurant that Rick Steve's recommended, and it was awesome. I had Gnocchi and it was the best I've ever had. They brought out limoncello and cake too because it was my friend Ruth's birthday. At the end, we were ready to head back home to relax and get our lives back together, but we were sad to leave such a pretty place at the same time. It is nice to be back in leuven now, but I have so many papers to do and I am trying to arrange my schedule for next fall at Loyola. I am going to be really busy during April with schoolwork, but I know that it will be worth it, because May is going to involve the last of my trips and some of th ebest as well. Also, my dad and two of my uncles are coming to Belgium tomorrow, so that's going to be a ridiculous blast. There's so many things to look forward to's hard to get bored or anxious.