Three Friday nights, everyone was required to eat dinner with a host family. We were paired up with different families. The families were supposed to be Italian. The first night we all waited in one of the lounges for our host families to pick us up to take us to their houses. As my name and my friend's name were called, we were greeted by a young boy who was about our age. He also had a friend with him. When we walked out of the palazzo, he asked us what we wanted to do. My friend and I looked at each other in confusion. He meant if we wanted to get drinks before dinner, we could. We decided to just go to their house to eat. We got to his family's flat, not too far from the palazzo, and we met his parents. Shortly after we met them, they left. It was just the four of us. My friend and I asked where his parents went because we felt very uncomfortable. He told us they went to a dinner party. He reassured us that it was not going to be just the four of us. His older brother and fiancé were coming to "act" as the parents.
We sat around until his brother and fiancé showed up. The brother took a shower when he got to the flat. The fiancé was preparing food for us. After the brother was done getting ready, we finally ate. We had waited an hour and a half before we could eat. The fiancé served us our meal and cleaned the dishes. Throughout dinner, we found out the family was from Romania. The parent could not speak any English. The boy our age spoke pretty good English. The brother and fiancé spoke okay English. The friend was Italian and wanted to come to learn more English. During dinner, there were English, Italian, and Romanian languages being spoken. It was very interesting. That night they had cooked an Italian meal for us. It was delicious. For the next time, we requested Romanian food.
The next Friday, we walked to the flat with our new friend. His parents were there, but not his older brother, fiancé, or his friend. His girl cousin was there too. She was about our age as well. Once again, we waited for the man of the house to sit down before we could begin eating. We began with a cheesy pie. It was very cheesy and the slices were huge. Next came the rolled up things. The rolled up things had pork and rice wrapped up in grape leaves or cabbage leaves. They looked similar to egg rolls but not fried. The grape leaf roll was not good at all. The cabbage leaf roll was my favorite. Then out came the dessert. This was not nearly the amount of food we had when they cooked an Italian dish. When we left that evening, our friend told us he was not going to be in town the next week so we could not do our family dinner with them. I have learned a lot from being with a Romanian family. The woman does everything. The man comes home and expects the meal to be cooked. They like to smoke cigarettes a lot. The language is similar to the Italian language too.
The next Friday, my friend and I were assigned to Alessandra, our chef's assistant. She picked us up with her kids. She was explaining that her oldest son was going into kindergarten next year and they were having a celebration at his school. She drove us out to the school. It was a scary drive as Italians drive like maniacs. But we arrived safe and sound. Her son went off with his class to prepare for their performance. We waited around until the performance started and I found out she is from Croatia. She is a very funny lady and down to earth. The performance consisted of the children singing and acting out sayings like "Don't cry over spilled milk" and "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." It was absolutely adorable. After the program, trays of food were being brought outside. There were ham sandwiches, mini pizzas, chips, and all different kinds of desserts. There were so many desserts I couldn't even get one of each. My favorite dessert was the Italian donut dipped in sugar. It is similar to the Chinese donuts you get with take-out. After eating, we drove back into town and went to get gelato after eating all that food! It was neat to see that they teach children the same mottos we learned in the United States. They also like to make a lot of food for everyone. No one goes away hungry. I have really enjoyed the experience of meeting new people and learning about their culture and their food.
Amalfi Coast- San Agnello, Sorrento, Capri, Blue and Green Grottos
I was ready for a break from site-seeing and walking, so were the other girls in my group. We decided to go to the coast. Another group of girls had gone on their first travel break and told us their horror stories on the metro from Naples to Sorrento. We were prepared for the worst when we got off the train in Naples.
The four hour train ride to Naples was not bad at all. We took the express train so we could get there a little sooner. The train arrived in Naples around 5:00pm, rush hour. We walked to the crowded metro and figured out the correct platform. As we waited in the dark and graffitied platform, we stood there in our sunglasses taking note of who looked sketchy and was looking for trouble. Our metro arrived and we shoved ourselves onto the metro. We stood for an hour, as our stop was the last stop, in very close quarters with smelly Italians. Too close for comfort. I was too scared to put down my heavy backpack down but I did it anyway. There weren’t any people trying to make trouble on this metro as we had heard in previous stories. Finally, we were at our stop. A breath of fresh air! The walk to the hostel was not far but I was ready to sit down after standing for an hour. We paid upfront for our room, which was a mistake we made in Rome. The hostel was very clean and modern. The room had ten beds, four bunks and two single beds. There was only two other girls in the room throughout our stay, all travelling by themselves. One girl was from Montana. Two other girls were from Japan and China. The name of our room was “Style.” We all looked at each other, grinned and said, “We are in style!” After settling in the room, we wandered around the hostel and found a roof top bar, with cushioned couches and chairs. Dinner was next on our list. We ate at the restaurant in hostel. It was okay food. Dessert was amazing. I had a fresh, hot brownie with vanilla ice cream. The brownie was so gooey and tasty. After dinner, I went to sleep. That bed never felt so good in my life.
The next day, we took a private boat tour with six other people from the hostel. There were eleven people in addition to the captain and his mate. The boat left around 9:30. The captain took four of us in the very small, two door car to where the boat was docked. We waited until the other people got there. After everyone was at the dock, we boarded the boat. We set off into the sea. Our first stop was the blue grotto. It was beautiful. I wanted to jump in the water but it was still early and somewhat chilly. As we cruised around the edge of Capri and Sorrento, we were offered beer. Of course we all took a bottle. It was only 10:30. Our next stop, the green grotto. We pulled up and stopped where we could all jump off the boat. The five of us jumped off holding hands and had our picture taken. The water was pretty cold but worth jumping. We swam through the cave. Even though it was a cave, you could see the bottom since the water was so clear and blue. I will never forget swimming in the green grotto, one of Italy’s most famous caves and a major tourist attraction. After swimming, it was time for lunch. We were served fresh tomato, basil, and mozzarella on a sub. It was very tasty. Even though I do not like tomatoes, it is a taste that I will soon acquire.
Next, we were dropped off in Capri for four hours. A boat is the only way to arrive in the city made of limestone rock. None of us brought money so we could not do much shopping or eating. A few people took a metro to the center of the city where the expensive retail shops are located. The five of us walked around in and out of stores to kill time. Shortly after walking around we decided to go to the beach and relax. We walked on the rocky beach to find a place to sit since there were many tourists on the beach. We put our toes in the cold water and decided not to swim, so we laid out in the sun on our clothes since we had no towels. The “sand” was not sticky which was good because I had sand all over me from trying to avoid it. We laid out for about an hour on the beach. Two of the girls and I wanted to walk around some more. We did not really have anywhere to walk to that we had not already been since we did not buy a metro ticket. I decided to buy a few pieces of ceramics with the little money that I had brought. We walked back to the beach to get the other girls. We wanted a snack so we split a pizza which was the best pizza I have had since I have been in Italy. After a little snack, it was time to meet at the dock where we were dropped off. The boat ride back made me realize that most likely I will never come back to the incredible waters of Italy.
The next day, two of the girls and I took the metro to Pompeii. On the way to Pompeii, there were men playing the saxophone and the accordion. At a stop, the men stopped playing and began walking around the metro asking for money. They didn’t receive much money so they got off and hopped to another car. A few stops later, a woman gets on with a baby in her arms begging for money too. She didn’t receive much money either. We all looked at each other thinking how wrong it is to use a baby to get money possibly for drugs. Finally we were at the stop for Pompeii. We got off and had no idea where to go. We found our way to the ticket office, purchased our tickets, and made our way through Pompeii. Pompeii was covered by lava when Mount Vesuvius erupted 2000 years ago. The entire city was destroyed. Now, most of the city has been excavated from the lava and is being preserved. To this day, they are still finding artifacts from the ruins. The whole time I was wandering around Pompeii wondering where the lava was. We found our friends we had met on the boat from the previous day. I asked where the lava was and unfortunately it was not anywhere on Pompeii’s ruins. I was slightly upset about this. But I got over it. The clouds in the distance were low enough to cover Mount Vesuvius so it could not be seen. We could have climbed Mount Vesuvius but we decided it wasn’t worth it since we couldn’t even see it from where we were. I am glad I can mark off Pompeii on my list of places to see.
Later that evening, we walked to Sorrento from the hostel. I bought a piece of in-laid wood. It is so neat with the different pieces of wood. The wood was individually cut to make the remarkable frame. We went to a restaurant on the water. We sat outside watching the sun set with a glass of wine and unforgettable memories. I have never seen the sun so big. With the water and the sun being so tranquil together, I realized that I am determined to come back to this scenery.
Rome and Florence
During my first travel break, a group of girls and I went to Rome for two nights and Florence for one night. When we got to Rome we took a taxi to our hotel. When we pulled up, we realized we were right down the street from the Colosseum. It was absolutely wonderful. We dropped off our stuff and started walking towards the Colosseum. We got to the gates about 6:45pm. The gates were closed but people were still walking around inside. We assumed the gates closed at 6:00pm. So we walked around the outside and saw this man dressed up as a gladiator. We thought it would be cool to take pictures with the gladiator. So we did. After taking pictures with him, he was like okay 10 please. We all looked at each other and were thinking “uh no.” One of my friends ended up just giving him the money so he would leave us alone. We walked all the way around the outside of the Colosseum. The way the sun was setting looked so neat through the walls of the Colosseum. We decided it would be a good idea to come the next day and walk inside it.
After the Colosseum, we walked to the Trevi Fountain. It was gorgeous. There were many people there for 8:00 at night. We pushed and shoved our way to the fountain to take pictures. We each threw in a coin over our left shoulders. I have never seen a fountain so big and ornate. People just sit on the steps to hang out and watch the beautiful fountain.
The next day we woke up at 7:00 am. We took a city bus to the Vatican. As we walked up, I was astonished. I couldn’t believe this was real life. Getting closer and closer to the Vatican just simply excited me. Entering the city and seeing the statues on the top of the walls of the Vatican City was neat. We bought tickets to walk up to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. I think there were over 10,000 steps!! The steps were very steep, narrow, and winding. About half way to the top, I started hyperventilating and was getting very claustrophobic. I stopped at every window or ventilation after that. Once I got to the top, I saw how amazing it was to see across Rome. The view was breath-taking. It was totally worth climbing up all those stairs. I may not ever get a chance to do that again. I was so amazed how the Romans built such a large structure with not nearly the same equipment we have today.
After being at the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, we walked through a museum that led to the Sistine Chapel. The long, winding maze through the museum was interesting but I was ready to see the Sistine Chapel. I could see the ceiling before I was even in the room. Words cannot describe my emotions of the Sistine Chapel. My group found seats on the benches that are on the edge of the walls. I sat there staring at the ceiling for thirty minutes. I could have wondered in amazement longer but my neck was starting to hurt. The detail of each painting was beyond belief that this was painted in the early 1500s. Tears were brought to my eyes from the incredible paintings. I just couldn’t believe I was actually in the Sistine Chapel seeing one of Michelangelo’s most famous pieces of work. I was so overwhelmed from the amazement.
It was about lunch time when we decided to stop at a restaurant near the Vatican Museum. The waiter seemed nice to begin with. After eating lunch, we were waiting around to pay. A man came up and was trying to ask how to say the word “bet” in English. Apparently, he had made a bet with our waiter and asked one of the girls if she was wearing a push-up bra or if she was natural. We were all stunned. But she answered and the man handed out five euro to a few waiters, including ours. It was something none of us were expecting. I guess it is one of those cultural differences.
On to the Pantheon, it was really neat to see the huge, perfect circular, opening at the top of the ceiling. I asked myself, “What do they do when it rains? Do they just let the rain fall in or do they have a cover to put over the hole?” My group stood directly underneath the opening and took a picture of us in a circle. We were looking down at the camera with the hole in the ceiling in the background. It was cool.
After walking around all day, the group of girls and I decided to take a city bus to the Spanish Steps. It wasn’t that expensive. Once we got to the Spanish Steps, there were many people sitting on the steps. There were peddlers trying to sell roses and take pictures to get money. I didn’t find that there was anything special to the Steps. We took pictures after trying to find a spot on the steps where we could all stand. There were simply too many people to even really see the steps.
Back to the Colosseum for a second time, we took a cab. The cab wasn’t expensive but charged three euro extra because we had a fifth person. We made it just in time before the ticket office closed. There was no line for tickets. As we were walking in, I saw steep stairs that we had to climb. I was not too thrilled, but I climbed them anyway. Walking into the Colosseum was so neat. Looking at the detail and how small the bricks and stones that created this historical piece of architecture blew my mind. I just could not understand how it was built the way it was with hardly any engineering equipment. We were going back to Florence for a day so, I went to bed early. I was very tired after walking around for almost literally ten hours that day. I thought my feet were going to fall off.
The next morning, we woke up early, walked to the ruins across from the Colosseum with our entire luggage. There was a fee to walk in and around the ruins so we decided not to do that. Our next stop was Florence. On the way to Florence, one of the girls and I were telling our crazy stories over the past couple of years in college. A guy turned around and says “These are very interesting stories.” We were mortified! Now I know to watch what I say because I never know who can speak or understand English, no matter where I am. I found out he was from Florida. As soon as we got off the train, we walked to the hotel, and immediately went to eat lunch. It was an average lunch. After lunch, we walked around to shop and see things we didn’t get to see when we were in Florence for a day. I bought some pieces of pottery and a leather wallet. Another long day of walking around got to me. I went to bed at 9:30pm. That never happens!
All the exhaustion from walking, site-seeing, and shopping made me want to go back to Sansepolcro, my home away from home. I think I will have spent the most money on this travel break than any other. There were fees to get into almost all the major sites. Food was expensive. At least I’m done with most of my shopping.It was a great experience to see Italy’s most notable sites. I felt so privileged to see these sites in person rather than in a text book or a movie. Learning the roads in Rome was a challenge. Encountering not very friendly people was an eye-opener. Meeting people from the United States in a foreign country is always cool. Rome and Florence remind me of New York City. There are many people everywhere! For the most part, I am glad I am done with the major site-seeing.