Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Vacation from the Sicilian Life

When you want to get away from it all (it all being Sicily), where do you go?  Other cities in Italy, of course!  This time, I went to Florence (for those of you who don’t know where/what Florence is, it is a Tuscan city about an hour away from Pisa).  I went to Florence to explore a different culture than the Sicilian one and to visit my friends from SMC: Lizzie Murray, Liz Salois, and Courtney Dunne.

My adventure started Wednesday night when I realized my plane left at 13:00 instead of 3:00 pm (the 24-hour clock is confusing sometimes, especially if you aren’t braced for it).  I had to plan around a class and get to the Catania airport in time (1.5 hours by public transportation).  Thankfully, my photography professor was understanding and let me skip class.  I printed off my boarding passes and was on the next bus to Catania!  Through security without a hitch, my flight takes off, it lands, and I’m at the airport in Pisa!  From Pisa, there is a connecting bus that runs every hour or so.  I was lucky enough to catch the bus JUST as it was about to leave!  My vacation was going without a hitch!  I let Lizzie know I was en route.  Florence, here I come!

I finally get to Florence an hour earlier than I anticipated only to sit on the steps of the bus station for about an hour.  It turns out I had entered Lizzie’s number incorrectly on my phone, so she had no idea I was waiting for that long.  It was from here where I turned off my “I have been living in Italy for the past two months” mode and switched into tourist mode.  The next three days were filled with wandering the streets of Florence soaking in the architecture of the city.  The Duomo was one of the most magnificent church’s I have ever seen!  Unfortunately, we got there later in the afternoon and the line to climb it was too long.  Maybe next time!  My favorite scene was the sunset from Piazza Michelangelo.  From the piazza, you can see all of Florence and you get to appreciate the true architectural brilliance of the Duomo.  You also get a view of Ponte Vecchio.

The Front of the Duomo

                                                 ANOTHER ASTON MARTIN

                                             Sunset from Piazza Michelangelo
                                         Ponte Vecchio from Piazza Michelangelo

Lizzie and I also went on a nighttime tour of Florence.  It turns out once all of the tourists go away the city becomes more beautiful!  There city is also much more impressive lit up.  Our tour included the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, a stroll along the river, and a secret bakery.  I don’t fully understand the secret bakery, but their pastries were cheap and delicious! 

The day that I left Florence, Lizzie and I went to the Boboli Gardens.  We just strolled around and enjoyed the scenery offered.

                                               The Duomo from Boboli Garden

Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed the food as well!  Pear ravioli, gelati, pizza…  EVERYTHING was delicious!  The one thing I learned from my time in Florence, going once for a few days is definitely not enough.
                                                           Pear Ravioli!

My weekend was so action packed yet short that I think I have covered everything that I did (I’m sure I accidentally left something out).  That being said, I definitely consider Florence as a city I must return to before I die!  I miss it already…

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Just another Week in Paradise

The week we got back from spring break, some students from Arcadia University were at MCAS for a study abroad preview.  I guess Arcadia University allows freshmen and transfer students to travel to one of their abroad schools for spring break for roughly $600 (a steal considering airfare, hotel, and food is all included).  About 24 decided to preview Sicily.  Most of the week was devoted to making them comfortable/enjoy their trip.  One evening we made “poor pasta” which is essentially flour and water.  However poor it may be, it was rather delicious tasting!  Another main event with the previewers was a wine tasting trip.  During this trip, we also explored the southern most part of Europe.  The real purpose of this trip, of course, was the wine tasting.  We sampled four different flavors of wine: a white wine, a red wine (rosso), and two dark red wines (Nero d’Avola and Syrah).
                                Confiscated Boats Used by Illegal Tunisian Immigrants
                                                           The Vineyard

The previewers left early Saturday morning.  I used my free time to look for the crashed cargo ship off of Syracusa.  Lo and behold, I found it!


On Sunday, a few of us (Nate, Evan, a local named Emaneule, and I) went to a few beaches in Noto.  While driving to the beach, we were able to see an ash plume from Etna.  We also went into the town and explored the area for a bit finding a pizzeria for lunch and enjoying the architecture of some churches.  

                                                    Ash Plume from Etna
The rest of the week was devoted mainly to classes and getting ready for my weekend in Florence!  On Monday, my Mediterranean Ecosystems course and Volcanology course had a field trip to Vendicari.  Here, we walked along the nature reserve and talked about the landscape of the location.  The funniest thing happened when 4 dogs followed us the whole way.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spring Break in the Netherlands

As the semester goes on, I find myself with less and less free time to write a blog post.  Thankfully today I found some time!  I can finally share my Spring Break experiences (Part 2).

For the second part of spring break, a few of us (Nate, Frankie, Katie, Nicole, and I) went to Amsterdam.  Thankfully we were only there for a few days, because that city is a tourist trap!  It was SO beautiful, but everything was really expensive.  Our trip included stops at some very cool touristy things such as the Van Gogh museum, the Heineken experience, and a canal tour.  It was amazing seeing the city from the canal and to understand how the canals work.  The city had more landmass devoted to canals than to actual land it seemed!  While Amsterdam was certainly a lot of fun, I particularly enjoyed the second half of our stay in the Netherlands. 

Between March 7-8, Nicole, Frankie, and Katie all left.  For the rest of our time in the Netherlands, Nate and I decided to bike around the country and see some of the smaller cities that aren’t necessarily as famous as Amsterdam.  Our tour planned on Den Haag, Rotterdam, and Utrecht.  Our first day was a grueling 70-ish km bike from Amsterdam to Den Haag.  Of course, we rented the cheapest bikes available in an attempt to conserve some money, but in hindsight, we should have splurged for the better bikes.  When we finally got to Den Haag, after roughly 7 hours of biking, we were far too exhausted to do any exploring.  It was also very dark, so sight seeing would have been rather difficult. 

The second day was much more enjoyable.  Den Haag to Rotterdam was only 30 km, so a much lighter trip.  The bike path led us along a beautiful canal splitting Holland’s countryside.  On our way, we got lost in the town of Delft, one of the most beautiful places I have seen.  Here, we explored some beautiful Gothic churches.  We finally got into Rotterdam early afternoon with enough time to explore the city.  Rotterdam was very interesting because it was completely leveled in WW2, so it was completely rebuilt during the 1940s.  Compared to the rest of Holland, it was a very modern city.  However, it still clearly had its Dutch roots.  Nate and I found a restaurant in the city center that had typical Dutch bar cuisine.  We ate cheeseburgers with a fried egg on them (something that seemed to be the case with every Dutch hamburger). 

                                                    The City Center of Delft

Our next stop was in Utrecht, but we stopped in Gouda on our way to get some famous Gouda cheese.  It turns out that Gouda was also a very beautiful town that we never would have explored had we not gone on the biking adventure.  For lunch, we bought a sausage stuffed with Gouda cheese.  All I can say about this is DELICIOUS!  Since we took the train to Utrecht (it was misting all day), we had plenty of time to explore.  Utrecht is very popular for students, so it was a relatively cheap place to stay.  Nate and I, along with an Australian named Jesse from our Hostel wandered throughout the streets and canals of the city and went into a museum with many exhibits.  Our favorite was a punk-rock exhibit explaining the roots and rising of punk music in the 1970’s.  Unfortunately, our trip had to end, but before it did, we had one last day in Enkhuizen, a city in northern Holland.  Again, a beautiful landscape and beautiful architecture really attracted us to this location.  Our final Dutch meal was, of course, pankokken (pancakes).

                                                          Utrecht's Tower

I really enjoyed my stay in the Netherlands, and my spring break as a whole.  Although it was crazy at some points, dare I say even stressful, it was a nice change of pace from the Sicilian life.  I really look forward to the rest of the semester as spring break signifies the time when I start traveling more!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Trip to Tunisia

Since spring break was divided into two locations, I have decided to write two separate blog posts on the week and a half we had off. 

From March 1 to March 5, we were in Tunisia.  This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I had an amazing time there!  The first few days were spent in Tunis.  Here, we spent most of our time enjoying mosaics in museums.  The first night, during dinner, we had a cultural show in which Ramzi played some Arabic folk music with his band.  Although I could not understand what was being said (except Nate who speaks Arabic), I really enjoyed the music.  Sure this was a great cultural experience, but I was most moved by walking on the streets of the revolution.  It was amazing to believe that a little more than a year ago, the streets were crowded with people in protest.

                                        The main street of the Tunisian revolution riots
                                          The aftermath of the riots: barbed wire

After our short stay in Tunis, we went to Sousse for a few days.  This part of Tunisia was much more touristy.  Here, we visited Arab markets.  These were wild!  Everywhere, a Tunisian vendor would shout “American, come into my store!”  Some would even grab you by the shoulder and “guide” you into their store despite desperate pleas trying to express your lack of interest.  The next day, we went to a Tunisian coliseum very similar to the Roman one.  Here, we got to ride camels for to and from the bus!  Later that evening, we went to a small village as a change of pace from the lively Tunisia we had grown to love.  Sidi Khalif was one of the most gorgeous sceneries I have witnessed in my life, and the people living there were so welcoming and excited to have visitors. 

                                                 Ramzi talking at Sidi Khalif

Overall, Tunisia seemed like a very welcoming country.  After the Arab uprising, Tunisia has been hard-pressed for tourism, a very important market.  I really enjoyed my time in the country and hope I have the opportunity to return some day.