Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Things I have Learned from Public Transportation Travel this year....

A few things I have learned this year from taking Public Transportation....
  • If you help a little old Italian lady with her bag on an Italian train, she WILL talk to you for the rest of the 5 hour train ride and you will not be able to study for your exam. BUT she will flatter you by complementing your Italian (even telling you that she thought at first that you were actually Italian...) and she'll tell you fun stories about her life in Liguria and how much Milano sucks. 
  • Sometimes you just have to rely on the kindness of strangers. Getting on a train with your life packed into a giant luggage? This is not physically possible. But someone will help you, usually a man, and he will usually do it without even you having to ask. When I took a train with all my stuff from Bologna to Rome, I showed up at the train station knowing that if no one would help me, I'd never get my stuff on that train.
  • Bring snacks. Always bring snacks. 
  • The snack cart on Italian trains will run you over if you're in the aisle. (And "snack cart pusher" is one of the worst jobs I can imagine doing...)
  • Just because you have an assigned seat on an Italian train, doesn't mean you'll get to sit there. Get over it.
  • Pick and chose when you pay for bus tickets in Bologna. At night and on Sundays, don't bother paying. But on the weekdays on the buses that go to the train station, you better do it. I got checked 3 times in 1 month, and 1 time the ticket checker guy completely took me by surprise by sneaking up behind me dressed as a civilian (luckily I had paid)
  • There are the same weird smelly people on buses in every country. But they can be fun to watch. But don't let them see you're watching them cause it can lead to awkward situations. 
  • White girl on the mini-bus in South Africa? Foreigner Alert! 
  • White girl on the 3rd class train in Cape Town? Again.... Foreigner Alert!

Things I've Learned From International Air Travel This Year

found this fun themed article a few months ago on jezebel.com and I thought I could do my own version of it since hers was kind of lacking in general knowledge and actually just focussing on travel within the U.S.

So here we go, a list of things I've learned during my 10+ international flights in the past year...

  • Ryanair is a bitch. Any airline that requires you to stuff your purse in your carryon should have their ass kicked. The stress that Ryanair baggage limits puts me through makes me question whether or not the cheap airfares are worth the rise in my blood pressure when I have to deal with them. Other budget airlines are similarly a pain, but Ryanair by far takes the cake.
  • Sometimes you get nice check-in people, sometimes you don't. I got an extra 5 kilos of luggage on my flight from Italy to Turkey this summer, but in Cape Town I counted on them treating me similarly and not weighing my carryon and boy was I mistaken. I had to take out my 2 precious bottles of wine I bought while wine tasting in Cape Town and she still gave me shit about how my small laptop backpack couldn't be my 1 "personal item" because it was too full and I already had a rolly suitcase carryon. I'm sorry lady but I've flown on a handful of international flights with my rolly suitcase as my carryon and my small laptop backpack with my purse stuffed inside as my personal item and haven't had 1 problem. Consistency is not a strong point of the check-in process. This is good when you get exceptions, but its a bitch when you don't.
  • Having someone drop you off at the airport, or better yet to come with you inside to check-in, is a luxury not to be taken forgranted. After many a flight where I've had to make my own way to the airport, via expensive taxi with all my shit in tow only to arrive at the airport and have to lug heavy suitcases around to find my gate, I've had the luck of being able to be dropped off/picked up at the airport by friends lately. I mean I can do anything (I am WOMAN hear me roar and all that stuff...), but to have a guy push your luggage to the check-in counter is just so nice every once in a while.
  • I look German enough to get spoken to in German while on Luftansa flights. It's awkward since I know absolutely no German, so my response tends to be a blank stare and then a quiet "um, English please?" And then hostesses on the Turkish Airlines flights get annoyed if you insist on speaking broken Turkish with them if you are not actually fluent in the language. (see my blog post on the airplane linguistic dilemma) But at least people don't assume I'm a loudmouth obnoxious American? Still strange to not be labeled as your own nationality while traveling.
  • It is apparently a common practice in some countries to applaud upon safe landing of an aircraft after a 1 hour flight. I've experienced this in Italy most notably. I don't get it. I mean, is there another option? Are you applauding because you didn't die? The pilot is supposed to land the plane. And he can't hear your applause from the cockpit. 
  • That whole "please wait until we've reached the gate to open overhead compartments" doesn't apply to Turks. Or Italians. Or to Spaniards. As soon as that plane lands, people stand right up and take down their carryons and start pushing to the door while the plane is still taxi-ing its way to a stop. It still makes me laugh. What's your hurry people? And what happens if some luggage falls on your head since the plane is still moving? OR do I just follow too many rules because I'm American...
That's what I have so far. Anybody else have any to add?? 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy [Fake] Thanksgiving!!

A few months ago, my half American friend and I came up with the idea that before we leave for travels in November, we should cook a big Thanksgiving dinner. (Yes, we were thinking about Thanksgiving dinner months ago, haha) A few days ago, this dream of a fake Thanksgiving came to be! We spread out cooking over 2 days (pies on the day before, everything else on the day of) and with [surprisingly] good time management, managed to put together an awesome and stress-free Thanksgiving Dinner on our last Wednesday in Cape Town before leaving to wander around the south of Africa. We invited a few friends and my roommates and enjoyed a lot of food that induced food comas just like real Thanksgiving.

The menu

Green Bean Casserole: green beans cooked in mushroom soup with onions

Corn Casserole/Corn Pudding: my favorite, this mix of canned corn and creamed corn with cheese on top turned out soooooooo good!

Mashed Potatoes: they were supposed to be sweet potatoes, but "sweet" potatoes in South Africa are not all that sweet in reality and we didn't have marshmallows (my roommates thought we were kidding about using marshmallows on our potatoes, lol) so we added curry powder instead

Stuffing: when I asked my mom for this recipe, she just gave me a list of ingredients, so I just threw a bunch of stuff together (including SAUSAGE of course) and cooked it around the Turkey and low and behold it came out DELICIOUS

Turkey: just a little Turkey loaf I got at the supermarket

Cranberry sauce: they surprisingly had it here!

Pumpkin pie: from scratch with real pumpkin
Pecan Pie: without corn syrup, but with a LOT of sugar

Happy Fake Thanksgiving!

A Real Cape Town experience: On [accidently] ordering a Giant Gaspy and being Surrounded by Street People

My Icelandic friend that I met in Turkish class in Istanbul arrived today to be my travel buddy for the next two weeks (yes, Icelandic friend….we met in Istanbul…I have an eclectic set of people in my life…haha) and though she got no sleep on her overnight flight from Dubai, we decided the best plan of action was to just go go GO and do a tour of Waterfront and Downtown to see a bit of the city since she will only have 3 days in Cape Town. We had a nice meander down to the fancy and beautiful Waterfront neighborhood stopping along the way at a classy coffee joint I’ve been meaning to try called Origin Coffee where they ask you to pick your own coffee bean (we had Rwandan because I’ve never had coffee from Rwanda before) and they serve you their version of a cappuccino called a Flat White. 

We spent a little bit of time taking in the beauty of Waterfront before taking a minibus back to downtown and wandering over to check out the parliament buildings. 

Before setting out on our walk up Long St. (the main street in town…) we decided to get a snack from a shady little food stand near the train station. The snack we chose was something that neither I, nor my classmate that was spending the afternoon with us had tried: the Gatsby. Various South Africans that live here in Cape Town had told me that I simply MUST try a Gatsby before leaving Cape Town, so I had high hopes for this sandwich. So my Icelandic friend and I ordered a Gatsby made of Boerwores (the South African beef sausage) in a “large” size since we’d all 3 be sharing 1 sandwich. The guy then asked us “how many pieces do you want it cut into?” and we should have realized our mistake there. That would be mistake #1.

A long 15 minute wait later, we receive a GIANT white paper covered roll from the laughing men behind the counter. This was our sandwich. We started laughing uncontrollably. There was no way we could eat this thing! It was only the then that we saw on the menu that there was an option to get a ¼ version. Mistake #2.

So after realizing we can’t eat this ginormous thing walking around, we proceeded to wander around the area for 10 minutes trying to find a place to seat ourselves that wasn’t next to a bunch of homeless beggers, we finally settled on a bench next to the food stand. We began to rip open the white paper and the mess of a sandwich (soaked bread, soggy French fries, pieces of sausage) came pouring out every which way. And as we were trying to figure out how to separate this gastronomic mess into pieces for each of us to attack, we began to attract the attention of a handful of local crazy homeless beggers, a common resident of many a Cape Town street. Before we knew it, as we’re taking messy bites of a less-than-delicious Cape Town street food classic (the Gatsby sandwich I mean), there’s a crazy woman standing next to us staring us down as we look at her. We tell her kindly that we’ll give her leftovers after we’re done and then awkwardly go back to our messy business as she silently continues to stand over our shoulders watching our every move. I really thought she’d stand there staring at us until we finished and gave her the rest of our mess. Finally she gets the idea that we aren’t ready to give her food yet and she wanders away to sit 5 feet from us waving her feet around and rocking back and forth, still staring at us as we eat. Another man sits on a bench nearby and shouts at us “can I have your leftovers??”
We respond yes, after we finish if there is any left, he can have it. He gets all happy and proceeds to laugh and smile and tell us to enjoy every bite. After 15 minutes of trying to somehow get this mess of a lackluster sandwich into our mouths, we all give up and as another woman approaches us asking for a piece, without consulting each other, start giving pieces to various homeless people that have congregated around us as we 3 white girls were trying to eat this very messy food item. After we give away the rest of our 3 pieces, the man at the bench next to us comes over and, since we’re too lazy to try and portion out the remaining half of the sandwich, we just give it to him and tell him “just make sure you share!” to which he says “Yes of course!” takes the sandwich and starts to walk away. [that was Mistake #3…] Another women comes over and starts yelling “NO BUT YOU MUST SHARE YOU MUST SHAREEEEE!!!” at which point we all look at each other and quietly start to walk away very very quickly because we fear we might have started a very nasty fight (think pigeons at a park going after that same little piece of bread you threw out on the pavement for them…)

We walked away laughing and commenting what a ridiculous experience we just lived through and wishing we could have taken pictures with the colorful group of beggers that we’d just given sandwiches to, but since they erupted into conflict over the leftover sandwich, we feared they wouldn’t have obliged us.

And that was my experience with the Gatsby. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Penguins and Whales and Guinea Fowl...OH MY!

What is one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of Africa? ANIMALS!! I'm sure I'll have more to say about the "Big 5" (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, and Rhino) along with the other wildlife of South Africa after my trip to Kruger National Park and beyond later this month, but I thought I'd start local.

Over these past few months living in Cape Town, one fun thing I've experienced is all the wildlife that call this interesting environment home. Despite the surprising similarities between this ecosystem and that of California, the array of wildlife is quite different. Though I haven't had the luck (or lack thereof I guess you could say since they're notoriously mean) of running into one of the baboons that roam campus and Table Mountain park, or come across any wild ostriches yet (though I've eaten their meat a few times...), I have been able to experience a few other animal species that call this part of the world home.

A particular bird with fantastic feathers has caught my attention here. The polka dotted blue headed Guinea Fowl has a super obnoxious birdcall and their funny run will have you giggling. The first time I spotted this creature was at the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens under the shadow of the mountains of Table Mountain National Park. My South African friends laughed at me when I was running around trying to take a good picture of them because they are regarded as a silly annoying bird. Since then I've noticed them all over the UCT campus grounds and randomly around the city.

Next up we have the endangered Southern Right Whales that I saw off the coast of the town Hermanus, which is a bit outside of Cape Town and just so happens to be one of the best whale-watching locations in the world. Back in September, during prime whale watching season (due to the fact that the whales come to this spot every year for 2-3 months to mate), a few classmates and I went out to Hermanus for the day to take a whale watching boat tour. For 2 hours we got up close and personal with the whales, at one point even being surrounded by about 20 of the giant creatures. They're curious and playful, coming right up to the boat as it was lurching up and down in the waves. It's awe inspiring to be so close to such huge living things who call the deep mysterious ocean their home. Female Southern Right Whales can be up to 15 m long (49ft) weigh up to 47 tonnes. I've seen Humpback Whales in the waters of Alaska and off the coast of northern California, but being this up close and personal with some of their southern cousins was really quite an experience.

The third animal I've had the pleasure of encountering here in Cape Town is by far my favorite: The African Penguin! Also known as the "jackass" penguin for the donkey-like sound that it makes, they aren't as brightly colored as some of their Arctic relatives and are pretty smelly little guys, but they are just so darn adorable. Just down the coast from the harbor of Simon's Town in the southern peninsula region of Cape Town, there's a beach called Boulders that these cute creatures call home. On a rainy afternoon back in August, a few friends and I went to check them out. We took a walk behind the beach through their nesting area and saw plenty of them waddling around and napping. I just think they are the cutest things and I wish I could stuff one in my suitcase to have as a pet back home. 

And there you go, a little taste of the wildlife of Cape Town. 
I leave you with a whale tale wave...

Monday, October 31, 2011

On how having too much on your mind can induce writers block...

My uncle ordered popovers
from the restaurant's bill of fare.
And, when they were served,
he regarded them with a penetrating stare.
Then he spoke great words of wisdom
as he sat there on that chair:
"To eat these things," said my uncle,
"You must exercise great care.
You may swallow down what's solid,
but you must spit out the air!"
And as you partake of the world's bill of fare,
that's darned good advice to follow.
Do a lot of spitting out the hot air.
And be careful what you swallow.
~Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

So I know I’ve been bad at keeping up this blog the past few months, but it isn’t that I haven’t been thinking and reflecting on my experiences here in South Africa, but more that I have far too much to say and none of it is very easily shared. I’m almost done with my time at the University of Cape Town (last paper due this week! yay!) and time is flying by. The city is beautiful and I was quick to settle into a routine. Not being able to move around at night on my own due to the danger has been hard to get used to, but in the end I’m only here for 4 months so I can handle it. And luckily I love my home, like the neighborhood I live in, and have great South African roommates, so I don't mind not spending every night out. I started out feeling very isolated in my school bubble, and though I still very much am, I at least feel I can get out a bit from time to time now. So overall, yes, life is good in Cape Town.

But the dilemma I’ve been having here is experiencing the sharp contrast between rich and poor, black and white, the haves and the have-nots which has been rattling me to the core of my life vision. In all my travels, even some travels in lesser-developed countries, I have never experienced this extreme blatant contrast before. Beggars who expect you to give them 50 rand everyday and get mad at you if you don’t. Informal settlements built right up next to high-income housing complexes, even right next to the international airport. What’s worse is the postcards of the informal settlements (because you know what you want to send home is a postcard of the homes of people who can’t afford homes…) and the highly publicized tours of townships (so you can go take pictures of these poor people who were relocated during Apartheid to badly located and still inadequately-serviced-by-public-transport-housing-settlements). The city street poverty at every corner is hard to bear when its something you've never really had to face before. And the add in of the racial factor (which as an American, I'm aware of but never speak of...) is extremely uncomfortable. It's one thing to talk about the poor and a very different thing to realize that the "poor" are real people living their lives anyway they can. It's humbling and terrifying and you can't help but feel conflicted about the entire state of the world.

Along with this everyday lived experience, I took a course on Development Theory and Practice in which I learned about how development projects rarely succeed in achieving what they aim to and how many even spread negative results in these communities that so desperately need help. One of the big themes we’ve been debating is what the role we play in all this. What right do I have to go into an “underdeveloped” community and tell them they need education reform? Or even clean water? So we study theorists that promote Freedom as Development (Sen) or emphasize the role of communication and democratic discussion in development (Habermas) and try and get some answers. So should I conduct a democratic forum and we decide together as a community what needs to be done? But what if they just want a handout of food every week or a new TV for the community center? What if they don’t want development? What if they feel entitled to be given all they need by the government just because they happen to be born on South African soil?

What do we do? What role do I play? Where do I fit in this fight? Do I even fit into this fight at all, or am I just an unwanted fool from the world of the suppressers? 

This is just some of the stuff that has been racing through my head. Just thought I’d attempt to share a bit of insight into a deeper part of my time in South Africa. So now you see why I haven’t been the best at keeping up on my blogging here, my brain is exploding with private debates. But now that my time in South Africa is wrapping up and I've had some good talks with people and interesting experiences, I feel I'm definitely understanding where I fit in. And I'm excited for life and excited to do my best to live my life well, contributing what I can to this world to make it a better place.

My last paper is due this week and then I have some interesting travels planned (Krugar National Park, Mozambique, and the Wild Coast) so more to come... J

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The train races on...

Yesterday on the train to my internship in the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town, a kind of scary looking crazy-seeming older woman turned to me and said "life moves so fast, doesn't it?" I said yes it does and turned my head to look out the window to see the city racing past me outside.


Can't believe I've already been in Cape Town over a month! Feels like I just got here, but yet I'm settled in and living life. I've got my routine again. Funny how easy "settling in" gets. I've done it so many times that I feel like a an old pro. Perhaps I should write a book on it? "How to move a million times all around the world and somehow manage to make it work..." or something along those lines. I must blog more, but I'm so busy reading, writing, and holing myself up in the library here at the University of Cape Town that I just haven't found the time to properly put my words on here. I wrote a piece on "entitlement" (a popular concept and topic of discussion here in South Africa...) but not sure if I'll post.

Hoping to have a chance to blog soon. Stay tuned. A photo of the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on a sunny winter day to tide you over some more...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

10[ish] days of summer...

So before embarking upon the blogging journey of my time in South Africa, I wanted to give a brief recount of my summer. Exams for first semester were officially over July 8, but honestly my summer started before that. One of my best friends, who is living in Florence and who I’ve had the good fortune of being able to see quite a lot over the past few months, came to see me the weekend before exams so that we could enjoy my last weekend in Bologna together and partake in the beginning of the infamous July sales. So I spent my last weekend in Bologna with a dear friend enjoying my dear city, eating lots of Bolognese cuisine, and not actually buying much of anything since I lack funds, but still loving life. Then during exam week, I managed to hop over to Parma and Modena for the day to enjoy my region of Emilia Romagna a bit (and do a little bit of shopping outside the city…). In Parma we saw some strikingly beautiful churches, the kind that make your heart drop and your soul ache for something more. Then instead of staying and melting away in the humid hell that is summer weather in Bologna, two friends and I escaped to Ancona to enjoy a little 2-day seaside vacation. We went to the Riviera del Conero and swam in turquoise sea and ate an awesome dinner of seafood pasta and friend sea creatures and wandered around the old port city scattered with Roman ruins and even observed (but did not partake in…) some drunken chaos in an aptly named Piazza del Papa (the Pope’s Piazza). After a final whirlwind day in Bologna, during which I was sick with a nasty cold and felt like dying in the humidity as I packed up my Italian life for good, I hopped on a 6 hour Intercity train bound for Frosinone to spend my final days in Italy with my dear dear crazy friend Carlotta whom I may not see again for a long while. After a few lovely days enjoying the mozzarella di Bufala of the region (if you have never tried this amazing version of Mozzarella, you really must because it is to die for…) and taking in some sun and sea on the Lazio coastline, I boarded a Turkish Airlines flight in Rome bound for Istanbul. Now Istanbul in the summer is just about my favorite thing ever, so to only have 3 days to spend enjoying it was kind of painful, but I made the most of it. I only saw one friend, but my family friends were in town and we enjoyed the Bosphorus, the mall, and a nice long day out on a boat at the Prince’s Islands just off the coast in the Marmara Sea. I may have only had 10 days of summer, but I must have spent at least half of that swimming in the sea. And then, at 7pm on the evening of July 19, a “tan” Giovanna boarded a final plane on her way to South Africa. And thus a new adventure began…

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Life is a Broken Heart

And so she felt as if she belonged everywhere and nowhere, all at once. So she felt like her heart existed broken so that it may leave pieces of itself in all the places she had loved so dearly. In a piazza in Bologna next to an obscene fountain, on a strait next to a bridge in Istanbul, on a beach in sunny San Diego, there were jet-lagged jagged-edged parts of her heart hidden in the crevices, waiting in the cracks to be picked up again. She learned then that hearts don’t just break for love lost; a heart will break just as harshly, if not more so, for love gained.

Sorry I haven't been blogging. It's been a hectic month of moving and enjoying life and now I lack internet. Will update you all soon.

Much love,

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I heart Roma

Last week I had to go to Rome for the day to visit the South African consulate to inquire about my student visa for study in Cape Town next semester. Now the process of getting that visa [or not getting the visa as it turns out to be] is not something I want to go into here [due to the sheer ridiculousness of that situation], but I did want to talk a bit about my obsession with one of the most beautiful cities in the world: ROMA.
Now those of you who know me well know that I'm not one of those girls that just falls in love easily. But this only holds true for people. Places, on the other hand, have the power to sweep me off my feet. Cities steal my heart in a second. I find myself dreaming about places I love like a 13 year old girl dreams about her middle school crush. And Rome, OH ROME, how I swoon for Rome!
Just as Istanbul is the culmination of Turkey, Los Angeles is California and Cusco is Peru, ROME is Italy. Rome is the Italian stereotypes; the beautiful, the dirty, the men on the streets whispering "ciao bella" as you walk by, the smiling square-sliced-pizza vendors, the friendly directionally-challenged police men, Roman ruins at every turn...Rome is Italy and I love it. Whereas other tourist spots in Italy such as Florence and Venice are overrun with tourists, especially the particularly loud American tourists, tramping on the culture and stealing tastes of the "bella vita" in disgusting mouthfuls of bad pasta, Rome is surprising REAL. I mean of course the Vatican has hoards of tourists pushing their way through the giant cathedral doors and the forum is crawling with gawking foreigners, but wander down streets, even streets in the dead center of the old city, and there are Italians everywhere living their lives. Winding down side streets and sitting in piazzas, you can feel as though you're truly in Italy and truly in the former capital of the Romans, a population that dominated Europe for a thousand years.

This trip, I decided to go to a museum that somehow I had missed during my time in the city: I Musei Capitolini. It is a museum all about the Roman empire, especially its' elite and its' emperors. I'm usually not very interested in Roman statues, but these were definitely the best
Roman statues that exist. There were
giant heads of Constantine that used to sit on bodies and thrones in the old city, a giant horse mounted by Marcus Aurelias, and the official busts of all the emperors. I walked among these faces of old Rome seeing in their facial features images of modern Italians, big noses and curly hair. Beautiful greek statues that adorned rich gardens of senators and tombs of people that lived 2000 years ago. To top it off, the museum has a fantastic view of the forum spread out in front of the hill just as it was all those generations
ago, minus a few pillars and roofs here and there.

One thing that struck me this trip to Rome as I was looking around at all the tourists taking pictures and enjoying the sights, was my complete bafflement on how these people are probably in Rome for the only time in their lives. So many of these people come to Rome for a day or 2 or maybe 3, see the sights, and then leave, never to come back again. I can't do that. Every time I come to Rome, it just makes me want to come back again and again. It's like a drink of the most delicious nectar that I find myself craving more and more of. The idea of never being able to come back to Roma makes me sick. The city gives me this feeling of comfort and wonder at the same time. Despite my troubles at the consulate in the morning, the day in Rome made me feel so good, so refreshed. These past few months back in Italy have made me a little dissillusioned about life here, with lots of frustrations and a general homesickness for my fully-functioning California, but with one day in Rome was enough to reignite that flame of love in my heart and make me dread that day in 2 weeks that I leave Italy, most likely never to live here again.
So here I pledge my undying love for the eternal city, and I promise you, Roma, that I will return to visit you again.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Marina di Ravenna and the Italian summer weekend phenomenon

Coming from California, I must admit, I'm a little picky about my beaches. Nothing really compares to the expansive sand beaches of the Pacific coast, nothing like those huge crashing waves. Yes, the water is a little cold, but by mid-summer, the San Diego beaches are a tolerable temperature and the La Jolla shoreline near where I did my undergrad studies at UCSD is some of the best in the country. And I have also spent some time traveling Europe during the summer; from the Turquoise coast of Turkey to the famous coastline of Croatia to the Cote d'Azur...I have seen and swam in my fair share of beautiful sea.

Marina di Ravenna is not one of these classically beautiful seaside locales. When you look out into the water, the color is a muddy brown green. The waves range from non-existent to miniscule. The water is a strange chilly temperature. When you enter, you can't see your feet below the surface. As the Italians say, "fa schifo" (it's gross) and I must say, I kind of have to agree. But Marina di Ravenna has 2 things that a lot of places on the coast don't: a decent sand beach and a distinctly Italian nightlife. When combined, this creates a particular phenomenon that makes for a great mini-vacation weekend getaway. And this is indeed how many Emilia Romagna region residents spend there summer weekends starting in late May. Many locals own summer houses or just simply drive for the day/night to this seaside hotspot tailored to draw you despite the fact you won't even want to touch the water once you are there. The city is hot and the air is humid, so crowds flock to the fresh sea air to indulge in a little summer fun.So this weekend, some friends and I went camping at Marina di Ravenna in search of our own little Italian summer vacation. My one friend and I took the train earlier to spend the day on the beach while the others came in car later. With traffic and campsite set up, the others were ready just in time for something called Super Happy Hour. This is a fun Marina di Ravenna tradition at a particular "Bagno" called Toto. (a "bagno" here means a private beach club. Beach spots are privately owned and all along the coast there is beach club after beach club with fun names like "Baci Baci" and "Saint Tropez") At Bagno Toto from 6-7pm, drinks are buy 1 get 1 free and there are fun Italian classics blasting on the sound system. No American music, no Eurodance...only Italian goodies! And as you know from my previous posts, Italian music is a bit "special". So Italians, who don't dance and are notoriously particular about their clothing choices (boots in May just because it's not technically summer yet? pants and coats in 80 degree weather??) are jumping around in their skimpy bathing suits, barefoot and enjoy the summer. And thus is the Italian beachside experience. All along the seaside, Marina di Ravenna provides happy hour after happy hour until the entire thing closes at midnight and the party moves to the center of town. (We skipped that part and spent the late hours of the night sitting on the beach and enjoying the fresh sea air) All I could think the entire night was how very Italian the whole thing was, and I couldn't help but smile. And then we had fried fish from a street vendor for dinner and my smile got even bigger.

The next day we sat on the beach some more, surrounded by baking brown people of every body type and Speedo color, before heading back to the heat of the city and the heavy air.
Ciao Marina di Ravenna, magari ci vediamo presto...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Friends in Faraway Places

Most of my travel this semester in Italy has been spent visiting friends rather than exploring new places. I’ve taken a few trips this semester, but instead of discovering new lands, I’ve focused on seeking out my faraway friends in their new homes. I haven’t stayed in one hostel or eaten any bad touristy meals. From Dublin to Florence to my most recent trip to the French Riviera, I’ve been spending my limited time in Europe this year balancing my desire to travel with the fact that I simply miss my friends!

During the first few days of June, I had the pleasure of being able to visit some friends I made in Istanbul last year who now live in Nice, France. I’ve been to Nice before, but every place is different when you’re with locals. We ate lots, drank lovely wine, and got to visit a cute hilltop town in the Provence countryside.

I get spoiled when I visit friends. While traveling around to new places is invigorating, staying in hostels and getting lost and falling into tourist traps gets tiring. Visiting friends means that you not only get to hang out with people you rarely see and really like, you get an automatic local guide to the city.

My friends in Nice, Maite and Çağdaş, were with me during my time in Istanbul, so seeing them was like reliving a small part of Istanbul. When you spend time in places with people, whether a week or a few months or a few years, they will forever be a part of that place for you. Seeking out faraway friends thus becomes a game in seeking out memories of those places. It’s a special kind of friendship and probably my favorite part about life abroad. People and places become intertwined, not one is the same without the other, but you can still enjoy both and get a taste for a time that once was when the place and the friends were joined. So instead of sharing a Taksim hamburger at 2am, we get gelato in front of a church in Nice and enjoy our small world.

I have many faraway friends whom I unfortunately can't see all the time, but at least I know that for the rest of my life, I’ll have friends to hunt for all around the world during my travels and this is a beautiful thing.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Dublin (part 3): on the Irish Catholic

I frequently forget, due to my extensive amount of exposure to Italian Churches and Italian Catholicism, that other varieties of Catholicism exist. The term “Irish Catholic” is something very well known in the U.S due to the massive amount of immigrants that came during the devastating famine of the 1800s, but I never really thought about what that meant. Over the years after the English religious Reformation under Henry VIII, Protestants and Catholics have been at constant odds. Irish Catholics were forced to change their Church practices in the 1600s as well as endure endless persecution under the English. Violent unrest due mostly to religion has marred the island for centuries, only ending in a ceasefire between the north and south in 1994. An interesting result of this can be seen in the emphasis on “peace” within the Irish Churches. For example, in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, on the back of a prayer bench there was written the saying “may peace reign on Earth” and every morning at the cathedral there is a prayer for world peace in an old corner.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the church dedicated to Ireland’s patron saint, is located next to a lovely park in which lies the traditional spot thought to be where the well exists from which St.Patrick baptized many local celts thus leading to Irelands Catholic identity today. The church decorations have a lot of pagan and Celtic influence, especially in the floor tiling and use of animals in church decorations. I thought this was a fantastic treat. I get so caught up in the classic Italian churches that I forget other places approach their churches differently. I love that though there is only one Catholicism, every culture still puts itself into its practice of their religion. The Celtic influence, the pride in their past, was really interesting in Ireland. The result is this beautiful deep hodgepodge of pagan tradition and catholic religion that can't help but interest you.

Dublin (part 2): on Beer and more beer...

More on Dublin!

So I can't blog about a trip to Dublin without talking about the pub culture and the beer. The Irish drink a lot. This is one of those stereotypes that exist for the reason that it is actually true. The beer and general drinking culture of Ireland is impressive. While Americans tend to stop binge drinking upon graduation from university, Irish people continue their whole lives consuming more booze than I find comfortable to think about. But there is good reason...their beer is good and their pubs are awesome.

The pubs and pub culture is a huge part of Dublin, and Ireland in general. There was literally a pub on every corner, and more in certain hot spots in town. On our first night we went to a brew pub called the Porterhouse in Temple bar and tried some "particular" dark beers, including an oyster brewed non-vegetarian beer and the Porterhouse red. Throughout the rest of the trip we went in to numerous pubs and were continuously awed at how adorable all of the locales were. Every pub, while having a similar "pub"-like atmosphere, was decorated in it's own special way.

A beer highlight of our trip was the Guiness Factory tour. The Guiness Factory was a fun informational amusement park for beer lovers. I really grew to appreciation the smooth "black stuff" like never before and actually found myself enjoying the pint that I learned how to pour myself during the tour.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dublin (part 1)

Last weekend I found myself in a place in which I had honestly never thought to travel to at this point in my life: Dublin, Ireland. One of my best friends, a crazy Italian girl that travels around the world much more than even I do, is doing a semester of her master program in Dublin. My friend Kelly and I decided to make our way there for a long weekend because honestly the only way to see this dear friend of ours is to physically hunt her down. But she could have been anywhere and we would have gone. So we went to Dublin with the main purpose of having a lovely fun girls weekend filled with Irish beer and some surely some dancing.

Ireland had other things in store for us, though. From the first hour I was already enamored with the city and after our Friday daytrip to the incredible cliffs of Moher on the Atlantic Coast in the west, I simply fell in love with Ireland. The breathtaking color of the green countryside, the castles, the old abandoned monasteries, the city parks, the cathedral, the abundance of traditional Celtic patterns, the friendly people, the beer, the cider, the Irish stew, I could go on forever! Everything we did was great! It’s rare that I go to a place and feel like everything I did was fully worth my time and money, but Dublin and Ireland was definitely one of those places. Strange how places you never even thought to travel to can end up being your favorite places.

I can’t really pick a favorite activity, so I’ll just tell you about a few different highlights.

On our first full day in Ireland, Kelly and I went on an organized tour to the complete other side of the country to go to the epic Cliffs of Moher while our friend Carlotta had class. We stopped by an old abandoned monastery and drove through beautiful green countryside. The day was long, but very much worth the 6+ hours spent in the bus driving. In this case, the pictures say it all.

There was one annoying thing about our trip to the cliffs, though. At the cliffs, there were an insane amount of these nasty little black flies that just kept flying into us! The closer you got to the cliffs, the more flies there were. And once they stuck on you, it was very hard to shake them off. Here’s a picture of Kelly’s back covered with them.

You can even see the black spots in some of the pictures of the cliffs when you zoom in.

More about Dublin to come…

(and more pictures here)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Istanbul: Calm in the Chaos

To me the most striking feature of Istanbul, besides breathtaking Bosphorus views and 2000 year old city rubble, is the massive amounts of people moving, living, eating, and just generally inhabiting every corner of the city. With approximately 15 million people, from the business districts to the Bosphorus shore neighborhoods to the ever-bustling Taksim, the crowds of people never cease, the masses never part. For most people, this is an annoying feature of a city. The normal reaction is to avoid the crowds; to go where there are less people, stay in on a Saturday night, wait out the rush hour. And many Istanbul-ers do just that. I have friends who avoid the crowded young city center of Taksim like the plague. I know people who refuse to take public transportation because of the crowded nature of the Istanbul bus. Many go to inland cafes on beautiful spring days rather than braving the horrific traffic for hours to arrive at a waterside coffee shop in Bebek.

But not I. I love the crowds. And not only will I brave them to go downtown, but I actually adore the massive amounts of people making their way through this city, individuals moving as one, pushing their way to various end points. There's a sort of beautiful calm that comes over me within the chaos. There are so many people to watch, so many small social phenomenons to study as I stand squished in a sweaty metro. An hour commute by way of public transportation passes more quickly than you can imagine when there is so much to observe. Besides observing others, one must also be more conscious of oneself. I focus on my feet, my hands holding the bar, the people getting too close, my location in regards to the shady old man on my right. I must focus on not dying while crossing busy streets filled with psycho honking taxi drivers, watch my bag as I navigate the crowded passageways, weave between business women in high heels and old village men with bushy mustaches, between Turkish-born gypsies and clueless European tourists. The chaos, the noises, the smells, it all gives me this strange sense of calm that I have yet to find elsewhere.

There is of course something beautifully relaxing about sitting in a meadow up in the mountains, or watching the sunset from a quiet cliff next to the Pacific Ocean, or even just sitting alone in your empty home. But the solitary calm I feel is different than the calm I feel when I am one among many in the crowds of Istanbul. To be alone, but not alone. To see and feel humanity around you, to breathe in society...there is nothing like it and it's actually rather addicting. I find myself dreaming of being lost in the flock, of stumbling around the city surrounded by strangers.

There is, of course, a time and place for all types of calm, and of course preference plays a part in this feeling that we seek. I suppose if I grew up in the Istanbul crowds, I might not like it as much. I grew up in a city, of course, and actually a decent sized city at that, but no crowds really. So every time I make my way back to Istanbul, I can't help but enjoy the calm that I feel in the chaos.
Calm as a result of chaos....what irony, huh?

Friday, April 22, 2011

On the linguistic dilemma (specifically on planes)...

İ have always been amazed by people who can look at someone and immediately know which language (out of their extensive repetoire) to use with that person. At the Grand Bazaar in İstanbul, for example, I'm always impressed with the speed and accuracy with which the men selling their wares attempt to draw customers in by yelling in the tourist's native tongue. Walking through the market you hear Spanish and English and İtalian gallore, salesmen who speak 10 languages but have never been outside of İstanbul. İ once talked to a man from the Bazaar (in Spanish) who spoke with a perfect Spain Spanish accent. İ asked him if he'd studied in Spain or spent some time there. He laughed at me and said no, he'd never left Turkey; he didn't even have a passport!

Now Americans are usually pretty easy to spot. So are İtalians. And Spaniards. İ suppose İ've gotten pretty good at identifying people's nationalities myself over the years, but to pinpoint their language with a 90% accuracy and start speaking it to them is just beyond me.

But me. What do İ look like? What language should these people be speaking to me in? İ apparently cause a bit of a dilemma. First of all, İ tend to travel by myself, so the immediate reaction to listen to what language İ'm speaking to those around me is not helpful. İ look American, okay, but apparently İ also look German. And on rare occasions İ'm told İ look like a light Spaniard. And when İ'm very tan, İ can get the benefit of the doubt to be Turkish or İtalian when İ'm in those respective countries. The confusion is furthered when İ'm traveling/wandering around with foreign friends speaking other languages. İ remember being in the Grand Bazaar in İstanbul with 2 İtalian friends speaking İtalian and then conversing with the salesmen in Turkish. The salesman all of a sudden turns to me and goes "But where are you from????" He was actually annoyed that he couldn't fıgure out the answer himself! İn the Florence market a few weeks ago shopping with some international girlfriends, we actually happened upon a very sweet salesman who immediately spoke to us in İtalian and said that we looked like foreigners, but he could tell we were foreigners that lived here and definitely spoke İtalian. Then he tried to woo us with his pretend Arabic. He told us that all we had to do to speak Arabic was add a "walahaaaa" to the end of everything...

But honestly, I do try and avoid speaking English when İ can. İ prefer conversing in public in İtalian while abroad because it's more secretive. And İ defintely try and speak the local language as best İ can. During my travels in İtaly, Turkey, and Peru, İ always used the local language in my exchanges. Even when the other person tries to speak in English, İ always insist on using the appropriate language to the best of my abilities.

This leads me to the dilemma of airplane linguistics....

Air hostesses are quite good with languages, of course. They all know English along with whatever other relevent languages are necessary for their flight. They are also just as good as the market salesmen in deciding which language they should use with which customer. But what language am I supposed to respond in? For example, on my most recent flight from İtaly to İstanbul, İ flew with Turkish Airlines. The hostess, of course, spoke to me in English. İ responed in Turkish. But she continued to speak to me in English, so İ finally gave in and just responded in English. But on a long Luftansa flight a few months back, the hostesses kept speaking to me in German. Every single time they would speak to me in German, İ would respond with a blank stare (because İ speak absolutely no German whatsoever) and they would just stare back confused. Haha. So what language should İ be speaking on these planes? As someone who tries my best to blend in and be respectful of cultures while İ wander this great big world of ours, İ feel strange about the language dilemma. Should İ just cave and play the American and speak only English? Do İ keep up my attempts at speaking the other language? Do the stewardesses just think İ'm weird for trying to speak to them in my non-native tongue?

Who knew that knowing more than 1 language would create such complications...

Just for fun, I leave you with an image of the city İ am currently visiting. Guess where İ am?