Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wild Nights! Wild Nights!

Well, not all of the nights have been wild; that is for sure. Although we have all familiarized ourselves with hot spots downtown, classes have started and now we all get to be awake, alert and ready to learn at 8:00 in the morning. That, at least, is the objective. I’m taking two classes: Business Ethics and Strategic Intelligence. Both courses are really interesting and the professors are extremely accomplished. I wish I could have teachers like this for all of my classes at UGA…teachers like this in the English department of course. The course work is pretty hefty though. There is lots and LOTS of reading…which is a little painful when you’d rather be wandering around cobblestone, but at least I can read on my balcony.

Other than classes we have been getting to know Verona a little more. By now we are all familiar with the different grocery stores and the random times of their Riposo (the equivalent of an Italian Siesta). That did take us awhile, because we just couldn’t figure out why all of these stores were closing from 1:00 – 3:30. Turns out Italians like to take it easy and have a break in the middle of their work day. Anyway, different stores have better products, and of course we go to the fruit, bread and meat stores for our fruit, bread and meat.

We’ve also taken the time to get utterly lost in Verona. Sometimes these lost excursions were at night coming back from downtown, but I got lost in the middle of the day trying to find a currency exchange office. I looked for an hour and a half (mostly for the right bus route) and still came home without Euros. However, now we can pretty much find our way around, and we know which bridges are “our” bridges instead of just taking any of them.

Verona is a lovely city, though. We have toured a few churches, seen ancient Roman ruins, visited countless gelato and pizza shops(which, by the way, is pretty much all we eat, haha), and really acquainted ourselves with the ins and outs of our new city.

Part of an old monastery, a medieval part of Verona.

Weekend Update:

This weekend we (eight of us) are off to Cinque Terre…a beautiful group of five cities on the Italian coast. We are leaving (by train) tomorrow morning at 5:40, and we will arrive around noon. After we check into our hostel we are doing a five and a half hour hike through all of the cities and then spending Saturday on the beach. All of us are so excited and crossing our fingers that it won’t rain.

Cinque Terre

Not all Gondoliers sing

**This is the post from last Sunday. Yes, I know I am behind**

I was thinking today on the train to Venice just how crazy it was that only eight days ago I was at home in Georgia. Eight days. That isn’t long at all, and yet in those eight days I have probably done more than I have ever done. I’ve traveled from Istanbul, to Verona and to Venice. I’ve adjusted to different currencies and tried to at least say ‘thank you’ in the proper language when a waiter brought me my food. This whole week has just been a whirlwind. Most days – when I think back on the morning activities – they seem like they happened at least the day before. So this trip seems like it has lasted forever. While I am sitting here writing this in my apartment in Verona, I really do feel like I have been here a lot longer than just three days. I feel like our fridge has always been stocked with the bare minimum (pasta, wine, fruit and nutella) and that my feet have always been sore from walking miles a day just to get around. I like the feeling though. While it isn’t settled, it certainly feels natural – maybe I am cut out to be a world traveler after all? My five year old self would have been so proud.

Another thing is that it feels unreal that now I have actually been to some of the places that I have only talked about for as long as I can remember. I know I am there when I am there – but on the train home I start thinking, “Wow, I’ve been to Venice.” And yes, Venice was today’s trip.

A little about Venice:

This city is beautiful; I don’t care what anyone says about it. I absolutely loved it. After a late night of celebrating Inter Milan’s victory against Bayern Munich (which is quite a story in itself), Kristy, Emily, Karli and I woke up bright and early to catch a train to Venice (which is about an hour and ten minutes from Verona on a high speed train). We arrived in Venice around 11:00 in the morning and the day began.

The lovely thing about Venice is how easy it is to just walk the city. There are signs posted on the buildings everywhere pointing you to the main attractions, like Piazza San Marco, so all you have to do is pretty much get lost in the city and follow a sign here and there. This is exactly what we did. After a brief stint of trying to follow the maps in our Italy Guide Books we ended up getting advice from a fellow tourist to just “follow the yellow signs and get lost.” To our happy surprise, this worked out wonderfully. We had a full day of exploring winding roads in between buildings older than I can imagine. There would be an occasional glimpse of blue or a putter from a boat hurrying down a canal and then it was back to the brightly colored mask stores and sparkling blown glass decorating storefront windows. I have never seen a more beautiful and unique place.

The four of us took a Gondola ride within the first hour. We asked our Gondolier if he sang, and he just laughed at us. But nevertheless, periodically he let out a little “la la la” from his post on the back of the Gondola.

The side streets were incredible, but by far the most beautiful thing I think I have ever seen was Piazza San Marco. The square itself is lovely, but the basilica…words just can’t describe it. I did almost have a tourist breakdown in the middle of the square though when we realized that we weren’t allowed to wear shorts into the church. All four of us were wearing shorts. After that realization we swiftly donned our cardigans as skirts and made our way, laughing hysterically, through the immense line, eventually getting into the church. But for anyone planning a trip, I would recommend pants. There’s no way to avoid looking like a tourist when you are wearing a sweater around your legs.

Anyway, Venice is lovely. I fell in love with yet another place. I love traveling. And now I am rather sad that classes start tomorrow.

A view of a side "street," just off of the Grand Canal.

One of the seemingly hundreds of mask shops lining the paths in Venice. Most of them were hand painted and absolutely lovely.

This is a view from our Gondola ride. We went through many of the small streets awar from the busy Grand Canal. Along the way (other than the sights) we saw at least a dozen water taxis and a couple of water police.

These were some of the yellow signs that we followed throughout the day...although this one wasn't so helpful, haha.

The four of us on the Gondola ride.

Here I am in front of the Basilica. Unfortunately, some of it was being renovated, but you should Google it, haha.

And this...this was our most beautiful attire to get into the Basilica. We were just trying out a new style amongst the stylish Italians.

A view of the edge of Venice from the end of San Marco.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Glimpse at Verona

This is a very small glimpse at the beautiful city of Verona. Don't worry; there will be plenty of other pictures in the next few weeks, but I wanted to post a few shots of my new home.

This is the wall just outside of Juliet's house. People write letters about love and bring them to post on the wall. Although most of them are just the typical "I [heart] so and so," there are others that are really sweet. I'm sure at some point everyone in our group will add a note to the wall.

This marks the entrance to Juliet's house.

Here is a view from one of the squares in Verona. We all really like this one because there is great shopping all the way to the actual square, the architecture is to die for, the pizza is delicious and they have great orange wine spritzers. Pictures just can't capture how quaint and pretty the place is though. It looks like a postcard...except real.

Here is a view from the top of the Colosseum. The white tents are a part of a fresh food festival that is going on. We visit...a lot. Notice all of the colored buildings, though. This continues throughout the entire city - a trend we should pick up in the states? Yes, I think so.

This is the Colosseum in Verona. It is actually older than the one in Rome and apparently better preserved. These days though gladiators aren't prancing around inside the walls - instead it's people like Michael Buble (who sang there last night).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Italia, I Love You

Italia, Italia,

Well, everyone, we are finally in Italy. We have settled down in a little town between Milan and Venice called Verona, and seriously, I am already in love. It is interesting just how different the feeling of this town is from that in Istanbul. Don't get me wrong, I loved Istanbul, but Italy is just utterly relaxing and wonderful in seemingly every way.

The last few days we have all just been settling into life here in Verona. Karli, Sarah and I are living in a lovely little apartment - complete with a terrace and huge windows so that we can have the breeze come through the apartment all the time. Wonderful. The apartments are actually pretty nice, which is good since we will be here for a full month. We stocked up on a few basics in the kitchen today. Since we are here for a majority of the time, we will be cooking most of our own food....or at least that is the idea, haha. So, with the help of Martin (our Group Leader in Verona) we familiarized ourselves with the neighborhood supermarkets. If we stick to this plan (that of actually cooking for ourselves) staying on a budget is going to be easy. Everything is really inexpensive, some things moreso than others. For example, a bottle of wine...0.59 Euros at the least and only about 6 Euros for the pricier ones. Wine is cheaper than Coke, go figure, haha.

The funny thing is that I feel like I have been here so much longer than I really have. Everyone is so very nice. I love all of the people in my little group so far. There are so many funny stories - too many to tell. We spent a lot of today trying to nail down travel plans. This was much, much more time consuming and difficult than we thought it was going to be. But....after three and a half hours in the computer lab....Kristy and I emerged victorious with hostels booked and train routes in mind for Cinque Terre, Italy next weekend. In the process, of course, we totally forgot about planning Venice for this Sunday. Go figure.

Jumping back to Verona, the city is awesome. We have been wandering around the city taking in the architecture and lifestyle of the area. All of the buildings are lovely and it feels like every alley is hiding some kind of secret that is just waiting to be discovered. There is bound to be a cool bar or pizza place or more church spires around each turn. We've been looking at Frescas and sipping wine spritzers, trying to pick up Italian and loving the pizza. I can't wait to discover more about the city and have more funny and wonderful times with my new group of friends.

Italia - I think I'm in love with you, haha.

A Few Last Thoughts From Istanbul...

These are all shots from a huge shopping strip off of Tuksim Square. The last full day that we were in Istanbul was also Turkey's Independence Day. We had a wonderful day of celebrating, shopping, and continuing to buy touristy souvenirs from shops that sold the same thing every few blocks.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pictures and Such from Istanbul

Last night was wonderfully fun. Pretty much the whole group went out. We got a little lost on the way to the first club, but with our practically non-existent Turkish and a lot of pointing some of the locals helped us find another one. Istanbul is so great at night. We met so many nice people. We ended up hanging out at a hookah bar afterward (and no mom, it's not bad for you :) haha), and let's just say we had a very friendly waiter.

Unfortunately , today was just sad. I ended up catching some kind of 24 hour virus or something - so while I attempted to go sight seeing with everyone else, I couldn't do it. Now I am back at the hotel, which makes me very unhappy. I do feel better though - so I will be up bright and early and ready to see things tomorrow. Luckily, our guide from UGA said that there are boat tours going on all the time (which I very hesitantly missed today) - so I will go on one of those tomorrow afternoon.

Here are a few pictures from Istanbul that I took yesterday (but couldn't get to load). Hope you all enjoy.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Merhaba Istanbul

For those of you that don’t know, I decided not to stick around over the summer. In fact, I’m off to Istanbul and Italy and all kinds of fun places for about 6 and a half weeks starting yesterday. This blog will mostly be little snippets and pictures for those of you that want to follow along. I am thrilled about my trip and hope you all enjoy a few of these glimpses at the other side of the world.

As for my trip in ... well, let’s just say it wasn’t smooth. After a two hour delay in Atlanta, I could no longer make my connection in Milan, Italy. Therefore, I was stuck in the Milan airport trying to find another way to Istanbul and apologizing for not speaking Italian for around 6 hours. In the end though, everything worked out despite the almost 24 straight hours spent in airports and on planes. I’m currently in Istanbul, in a beautiful hotel with a great group of people from UGA.

Today was our first full day out in the city. We toured a palace, a mosque, the hippodrome, and the Grand Bizarre. Everything is so interesting here and so different than back in the states. There is no doubt that this is a fascinating city and I can’t wait to discover more about it.

More to come later, but now I'm out for the night.