Friday, August 31, 2012

Lake Como

            My sister and I had two wonderful, sun-filled days in Cinque Terre before heading up to the lake region of Italy. There are so many small towns located along the different lakes, but due to our time constraints we knew we had to pick just one. After doing some research we decided to stay in a small town called Griante on Lake Como. Griante is directly across the lake from the town of Bellagio, which is one of the most popular spots on the lake. Staying in Griante instead of Bellagio saved us money and also provided us with a more dramatic view, looking east instead of west. We arrived in the town of Como, which is located at the bottom of the lake, and then took an hour-long bus ride on a winding road up the west coast of the lake until we reached Griante. The sky was cloudy with a chance of rain but it did not take away from the beauty of the lake. Seeing a deep blue lake surrounded by huge mountains was a sight I had never seen before. 
View of Bellagio from our hotel window
            After a good night sleep at the Hotel Riviera my sister and I were ready to get outside and explore. Though we were both still sore from our long hike in Cinque Terre, we knew we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to hike in the mountains along the lake. From our hotel you could see white church far in the distance up the mountain, so we made that our goal. We knew there had to be a way to get there so we asked our hotel concierge for directions. The church was easier to find than we thought. It took us about an hour and a half to reach, which felt like a walk in the park compared to our hike a few days prior. When we reached the top we looked out at the most amazing view of the entire trip. Blue sky, blue water, and green mountains as far as the eye could see. My sister and I have always been a little adventurous when it comes to outdoor activities so we decided to leave the trail and climb down a side of the mountain that was much less traveled. Looking back this may have been a little dangerous, but we didn’t mind. Everything was so peaceful and so breathtaking. We could have spent all day just sitting there in the grass. After climbing back down the mountain we changed into our swimsuits and walked to the shore of the lake to lie on the rocky beach. It was a great way to spend the afternoon after an active morning.

A view I will never forget

            Since we had explored all of Griante, my sister and I decided to take the ferry across the lake to Bellagio for dinner on our last night. The ferry cost 9 euro round trip and took about ten minutes to reach Bellagio. We had researched some restaurants and easily found one at the top of our list. It was located right at the tip of Bellagio with outdoor seating overlooking the lake and mountains. The menu was a little more expensive than other restaurants we had been to but it was well worth it. We shared a traditional pasta dish as an appetizer and fresh fish from the lake as our entrée. Of course, we splurged on dessert as well. When the sun had set and our plates were clear we headed back to our side of the lake to get some rest before our next adventure.
Fresh Bronzino from the lake

Cinque Terre

            After leaving Florence my sister and I headed northwest to Cinque Terre. This is a destination that is not always on the top list of places to go in Italy, but after hearing great things from friends and family members who had been, I knew I wanted to make my way there. I am so happy that my sister and I fit it in to our two-week trip because it ended up being one of my favorite places. My only regret is that we only stayed for two nights. Cinque Terre is made up of five towns that sit along the northwest cost of Italy. To the north is the town of Monterosso Al Mare, followed by Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. We decided to stay at a hostel in the town of Riomaggiore because it was the closest town to the main train station of La Spezia.
            After a long trip from Florence to Riomaggiore, my sister and I hopped off the train and began walking up hill to find our hostel. This was when I began to regret my decision to pack over fifty pounds in my large suitcase. However, I quickly forgot about the pain in my arms and legs when I saw the view. In one direction we saw colorful houses stacked up the hill, while in the other direction was the crystal clear ocean splashing up against the cliff. Since the day was already half gone we decided to spend the afternoon laying in the sun and jumping off rocks into the warm water. After the hustle and bustle of Rome and Florence, this was the perfect place to relax and enjoy our surroundings.

Looking north up the coast

Looking up at Riomaggiore
            The five towns of Cinque Terre are all connected by a trail that takes about five hours to walk in one direction. If you go to Cinque Terre you must spend a day hiking the trail! I had heard this from other people who had gone there, and I completely agree. On our second day there we woke up at 7am, grabbed fruit and water to bring with us, and headed for the trail. In order to hike the trail you have to buy a pass. There is a daily pass that costs 10 euro but allows you to hop on the train if you cannot finish the hike. Unfortunately one section of the trail, between the first and second towns, is not accessible due to a bad storm last winter. Because of this we were forced to take the train in between these two towns, so I cannot truthfully say that I hiked the entire thing. The terrain became very difficult about forty-five minutes in to the hike. I was glad that we were warned of the difficulty so we were prepared with sneakers, athletic apparel, and a lot of water. Hiking mostly up hill for five hours in extreme heat was one of the most challenging things I have done in a long time. At the last town we felt exhausted and proud to have finished the trail without taking the easy way out. Our muscles were sore for days but we had such a fun time! It is a day with my sister that I will never forget.
Never-ending stairs
Fourth town of Vernazza
Sunset on our last night

Dublin on my mind

It has officially been 4 weeks since I have returned home to the states and Dublin is always on my mind. I miss the cool 68 degree weather, mist, tea, brown bread, grazing cows, greenery, mountains, coast, and the whole culture of music, poetry, and theatre. Here are my ten most memorable, beloved, and missed moments from my trip:

My first journal entry in Howth, my first excursion out of Dublin.

Seeing the fabulous Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kate Nash!!

Crossing an actual rope bridge in Northern Ireland...the wind made it shake.

Visiting the Giant's Causeway, the most magical place.

Entering free Derry.

The view from the summit of Bray Head...worth the tough hike!

Walking along the "peace wall" in Belfast.

Scaling the slippery, railing-less steps of Skellig Michael to see a 5th century monastery.

Two words: Silent Disco. Galway knows how to throw a dance party!

Biking through Inis Oirr, the smallest of the Aran Islands.

I wrote in my last post how I am trying to live each moment as if I'm still in Ireland, which means exploring, wandering, and not always sticking to a strict plan. This is starting to soak in, but it's definitely something I need to work on, especially as Junior year fast approaches.

My best friend is in Dublin now, which of course makes me long to be there even more. She tweeted, "Listening to Once and Glen Hansard, Walking Around Dublin in the Rain and Tea #irishtweet." Aside from her escapades, I'm constantly reliving my own adventures because Dublin is always on my mind. I've been catching up with friends before they go back to college, and the question "So how was Dublin?" keeps popping up. I think I've gotten my friends to consider studying abroad in Ireland because of the way I gush about it. Drexel in Dublin, run by FIE, was the best study abroad experience I could have asked for. It got me thinking globally, gave me a sense of independence, and took me for a wild adventure. From the warm hospitality to the wonderful culture, every aspect of my trip was a thrill. I highly recommend this trip to anyone and everyone reading this, you won't regret it!

Eireann go bragh (Ireland forever),

A Wonderful Day in Montepulciano

            One of my favorite things about my first weekend in Florence with my group from Rome was where we stopped on the way back. After only being on our bus for about thirty minutes and winding up a long road between grape vines and olive trees, we stopped in Montepulciano. Located in southern Tuscany, Montepulciano is a small town known for it’s Italian culinary traditions, especially wine and cheese. After growing up with a family-run gourmet food store, I have acquired an appreciation for fine wine and cheese, so I was very excited for this part of the trip! Our program director and teachers planned the day so we had a few hours of free time to walk around the town and then a few hours for a wine tasting. 
View from the top of Montepulciano
            While Montepulciano is in the hills of Tuscany surrounded by vast farms and vineyards, the town center was very compact. The streets were narrow and made from cobblestones, as must Italian cities seemed to be. Along the streets there were medieval churches, small stores, restaurants, and homes. We were there on a Sunday and it seemed like the town was deserted. Luckily we followed our ears to the bottom of a hill and found a bustling restaurant tucked away in an alley. We soon found out that the restaurant was world-renown for its Italian cuisine and chef. Everything we ordered was amazing but we tried to save room for our tasting.

            Feeling full form our lunch we rushed back up the hill to meet our group. We met at the Gattavecchi Winery where our tasting would take place. The winery was much smaller than I had expected but not any less impressive. First we were given a tour of the winery, which basically consisted of one large underground cave filled with huge barrels of wine. This was followed by a tasting in a beautiful and rustic room upstairs. Montepulciano is famous for their red wine, specifically their vino nobile, so the tasting included three different reds. We learned about how the wine was made and the proper way to taste it. The first three glasses were served with cheese, salami, prosciutto, and bread. Even though our lunch was delicious, I would have been satisfied with just this. Last we tasted one dessert wine that was served with Italian cookies and biscotti. Again, it was absolutely delicious. After our tasting we had the opportunity to purchase wine, cheese, olive oil, and other products made there. I bought two bottles of wine that I brought back to American to enjoy with my parents. Our day in Montepulicano was perfect.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


            My sister met me in Rome towards the end of the program. After packing up all of my things and saying by to my friends, classmates, and the amazing city that I called home for a month, the two of us headed for Florence. This was going to be my second trip to Florence. During the program our group went there for the weekend. Almost everyone I spoke to prior to coming to Italy said that Florence was their favorite city in Italy so I was very excited to go there. I was also looking forward to being in the birthplace of the Renaissance. During my Italian art class in Rome my professor prepared us for our museum visits. It was great to learn about the pieces we would see to have a better understanding of the context in which they were made and the importance and impact they had on art history. Our first stop in Florence was the Academia to see Michelangelo’s David. This has the reputation of being the most famous sculpture in all of art history, and it certainly did not let me down. Its overall scale and perfection were incredible to see.  There are not many other famous pieces in the museum so we all spent the majority of our time staring at David. The next place we went to was the Uffizi museum. Anyone visiting Florence must go here! It was one of the best art collections I have ever seen. So many important works are all in one place. Giotto’s Madonna and Child was one of my favorites. Seeing it in person is a completely different experience than seeing it in a textbook or online. The famous pieces Birth of Venus and Primavera by Botticelli are in the Uffizi as well as some early works by Leonardo da Vinci, just to name a few. I liked the museum so much that I waited in line to go back a second time when I came back to Florence with my sister.
            Another important thing to see in Florence is the Baptistery with the famous bronze doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Across from the Baptistery is the Cathedral with the famous dome. While the inside of the cathedral is breathtaking, my favorite part was climbing to the top of the dome. The steps were very steep, hot, and narrow, but it was all worth it. At the top of the dome there is the most incredible view of Florence and the surrounding hills.
Florence Cathedral. Under construction but still beautiful!

View of Florence from the top of the Dome
            After seeing the main art historical an architectural sites, my sister and I spent most of our time wondering around the streets. Florence is famous for leather goods, so we both knew we wanted to find something special to take home. There are several outdoor markets filled with every type of leather good imaginable. You can find everything from leather bracelets for one euro to nice shoes and bags for a few hundred euros. The markets can be a little overwhelming, so we ended up doing most of our shopping in stores. After searching for the perfect items for our first three days in Florence, we finally made our purchases on our last day. I ended up buying a leather bag and my sister bought leather gloves and sandals. While we purchased all new items, Florence has amazing vintage boutiques hidden all over the city. Overall, I found that in Florence everything was simple. I mean this in the sense that we could walk everywhere and everything was easy to find. We could walk in to almost any store or restaurant and find something good, where as in Rome you have to do a little bit more work to find the authentic meals and great shopping. My sister and I spent our last night in Florence watching the sunset at the Piazzale Michelangelo, which overlooks the whole city, followed by an amazing meal along the Arno River. The city lived up to my expectations and I hope I return sometime in the future.
Looking down the Arno River at sunset

View of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo