Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Flying Back Home, Jet Lag, and Reverse Culture Shock

I've been home for over a month now, but I still wanted to recount my experience with jet lag and the very weird reverse culture shock. 

My flight home was definitely not as good as my flight there...maybe a sign I should have stayed.  I flew United home instead of Lufthansa (German airline). It is usually cheaper to fly with an American airline, but if you can I would suggest flying with an international one. The have better service and food. I don't remember what I ate on United now (probably because I didn't eat much). Also, at one point the bathrooms at the back of the plane were occupied and there was a food cart in the way so the man sitting next to me just told me to go to the front. I wasn't thinking about how first class is at the front so I just walk on up there. I see reclined chairs, tablecloths, and very comfortable people...oops. I still walk to the bathroom and one of the first class attendants confronts me. 
"Where is your seat?" She asks me. 
"Uh...21 D," I say. 
"This bathroom isn't for you. It's for first class." 
"Oh, my bad. There was a cart, I'm sorry," I apologize backing up.
"Fine. Use this one, but don't come back," she rudely tells me. 
So I wait. Meanwhile, the attendant is serving the comfortable people dessert, which comprises of a cheese plate, fresh fruit, ice cream in glass dishes, and wine. And then this lady from first class gets in line behind me and the attendant stops what she is doing to say, "You let that lady go ahead of you, okay." 
The lady offers for me to go first, but I insist she does. I feel so out of place and judged by the freaking flight attendant. 
Also, my TV on the back of the seat was working this time so I spend most of the flight catching up on American movies instead of getting rest. My head feels like cotton in a wooden box. 

I land in San Francisco. English! Everywhere! Wait, I don't have to try and speak Italian anymore...but I want to! Waa!

Omg! What in the world time is it?! I am beyond confused. My uncle and cousin pick me up. I complain loudly and then fall asleep in the car, but my cousin understands because she went through this a few weeks before me when she came back from her year in Italy. I get to their house and I have a really bad stomach ache and I eat some unsalted cashews, which reminds me of when I started buying unsalted cashews as Lidl because they were a euro cheaper than the salted ones. My first meal back in the states is a veggie burger and sweet potato fries. 

The next day I leave for the airport again to go home home. I have to take my shoes off at security. Are you kidding me? They are just flip flops (I can where flip flops in public again)! To-go coffee...what?! I try and pay in euros, which I have too many of still. 

The night of sleep at my cousin's house helped a lot with overcoming my jet lag. I had a good 12 hours of solid sleep. I'm still really confused about the time of day at any given moment though for like the next week. And I'm still tired, but I can function. 

Here are some things I can't deal with: 
I don't have to light my stove any more or turn off the gas. It's automatic. 
The confusion with being able to plug my electronics straight into the outlet without an adapter (btw: my computer power cord died the other day, and the computer guy think it was from being plugged into 220 voltage for four months).
I can actually understand nutrition facts again...hmm I'd rather not.
It's like four dollars for a coffee! What happened to the 1.30 euro cappuccino? 
Ice cream! What is that stuff? I just want gelato. 
I did get sick of Italian food in the last month. But all I want now is some gnocchi! 


So the little advice I have on these subjects:
1. Don't worry about sleeping on the plane, just get a good night rest the first night back.
2. Bring your own snacks on the plane.
3. Be aware that you will have reverse culture shock and it's okay.
4. Keep in touch with the friends you made. 
5. Scrapbook.
6. Cook food that reminds you of where you were. (I made gelato the other day!)
7. Enjoy all the food that you missed so much while you were away. 
8. It's okay to be sad that your home and happy that your home at the same time. 

This will be my last post for a while until I develop the photos I took with film next semester. Thanks again for reading! And, travel away! 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Bonjour, Paris!

I make it no secret that Paris is my favorite city. I had the opportunity to fundraise with my high school three times for trips to Europe that included Paris in 8th grade, 10th grade, and after graduation. I didn't really fall in love with Paris until my last trip three years ago. Every since then I have been dying to go back. The food! The art! The architecture! The atmosphere! The gardens! The History! To me, the city is like a giant museum. My best friend, Rachael, began studying in Paris the semester before I came to Torino and my Parents were dying to go back, so we made Paris our last stop.

From Porta Suza in Torino, we took a very fast train to Paris, which took about four and half hours for only around 50 euros including our multiple pieces of luggage (which was the only annoying part). Our apartment was below the 18th arr. and between the 9th and 10th arr.

The first night we tried to eat at one of the top restaurants on trip advisor called 1000 & 1 Signes, which  has Moroccan/Middle Eastern cuisine. Paris has a lot of good ethnic food options from the countries it historically colonized or had influence in. Unfortunately, since we didn't have a reservation, we couldn't get in. But I would still suggest this place (moderate pricing/really good reviews) or trying other ethnic restaurants like Vietnamese, while you're in Paris.

We attempted to go up the Eiffel Tower, but the lines were so long and with so much to see and so little time we decided to pass. We saw Notre Dame, which is worth going in, but we also passed because of the line. We did go inside Sainte-Chapelle, which I highly suggest. The upper chapel of the church is completely lined with stained glass. Go on a sunny day to see the beautiful colors and images of the glass really well. I met up with Rachael for falafel in the Jewish area and then we went to Jardin du Luxembourg, which is one of the prettiest parks in Paris. It started raining (of course), but the park was still gorgeous. The next day, we went Musee d'Orsay. The museum is inside an old train station and has a lovely collection of impressionism, post-impressionism, sculpture, Orientalism, photography, and furniture. We also went to Musee de l'Orangerie, which houses eight water lily murals by Monet and other impressionism paintings. It was very small compared to d'Orsay and especially compared to the Louvre.

The next day, I took my parents to one of my favorite places in Paris, the Père Lachaise Cemetery. You may think it is weird that this one of my favorite spots, but visit and then you'll see. This cemetery is one of the most peaceful, beautiful places I have ever been. It is known for the many famous people buried there, including Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, and many French politicians, writers, composers, and artists. We then went to eat some macaroons, the best French pastry. We went to the popular Pierre Herme where we got flavors like olive oil, green tea, creme brulee, and chocolate and passion fruit. A must do. From there we walked over Pont Alexander III, which is a bridge lined with sculptures and has a view of the Grand Palais and of the Eiffel Tower. We met up with Rachael for Lunch and visited Shakespeare & Company, the very popular English bookstore, and the lock bridge behind Notre Dame.

My Parents returned to America the following day and I stayed with Rachael for another week. We went to Centre Du Pompidou, got gelato, went back a few times to Luxembourg, and saw the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. On the last day, Rachael had goodbyes to say, so I went off to Jadin des Plantes, had a delicious crepe dinner, saw the Bastille, and went back to Pont Alexander III to see the sunset. It was a great relaxing day for my last day in Paris and my last day in Europe and the end of my semester abroad.

Monday, July 1, 2013

My Return to Venice and My Last Goodbye to Torino

Neither of my parents had visited Venice before on their respective trips to Italy, so they really wanted to add it to our trip. I went with USAC for a weekend in February, but I was more than excited to return to one of my favorite Italian cities in better weather. And the weather was much, much better. It was a little challenging dragging our suitcases from Piazzale Roma (the parking area) to our hotel. There are water taxies you can take around all the islands, but we weren't sure how many times we would want to take one and therefore thought the price wasn't worth it. For a one way trip any length is 7 euros per person, but you can buy passes if you will be taking taxis often. Besides walking other ways of getting around Venice is hiring a private water taxi, which I would imagine is expensive or a gondola ride, which depending on how many people take it could cost 14 to 40 euros per person. I don't remember if I mentioned this on my first post about Venice, but to me riding in the water wasn't on the top of my priorities. Maybe if I was visiting Venice on a romantic vacation, but I throughly enjoyed seeing the city by foot. I did end up taking a water taxi after our very tiring day back to our hotel and it was fun.

It was a little stressful finding a place to eat dinner the first night we arrived. As much as I love Venice there is no denying that the city is a huge tourist trap. Any main street or streets around popular areas like San Marco or Ponte di Rialto will have many restaurant options that look very similar: bright menus lining the street written in English, Italian, French, and German that include photos of the dishes (after a while you notice the same exact photos on multiple restaurants). The food may be decent, but don't expect anything amazing or to be siting next to any locals. We winged it with on of these such places. For some reason I ordered fried sardines with polenta. The boney texture was really interesting.

Our hotel was across a canal from the first Jewish ghetto in Europe. I wanted to visit the area last time I was in Venice, but didn't have the time. The synagogues are very discret and you can only enter a couple by going on a tour of the ghetto. We got some pastries at one of the kosher bakeries and we walked to the Rialto bridge where we enjoyed them. From the bridge we walked to Piazza San Marco, which I still believe is the most beautiful piazza I have seen in Italy. We saw the exhibit in Palazzo Duncale called Manet. Return to Venice. It was amazing. We went inside the basilica, I got to see the Four Tetrachs again, and we decided to go up (in an elevator) St. Mark's Campanile. In the 9th century it was a watch tower and in the 1902 it developed a crack, which quickly grew, collapsing the whole tower. Construction started again in 1912. From the top of the tower you could see all of Venice including the farther islands. I suggest asking your hotel (or any locals you meet) for a good, non-touristy restaurant serving typical Venetian food. We ended up at a pretty moderately prized, very small, and absolutely delicious place tucked away in an alley full of locals. Make reservations!


Returning back to Torino was tough. It was weird that I couldn't walk up to my apartment (which I noticed was now covered in scaffolding) and find my roommates or friends where we used to hang out. It made me realize that the program was really over. Friends were really gone. Luckily, two of my friends from Erasmus, Sarah and Nannie, and my Italian friends were still there. I met Sarah and Nannie at Parco Valentino for a bit of sun (unlike my "first" last day in Torino, the weather was beautiful). I went with my parents to buy gianduja, a speciality chocolate from Torino made with hazelnut paste, had gelato from one of my favorite spots, and said goodbye to Piazza San Carlo. For dinner, I ventured out to Sarah's apartment for a pasta dinner cooked by our Italian friends. It was a very needed last goodbye. Again, I couldn't have been happier for picking Torino and I am so grateful for the whole experience of studying and living there for a semester. 

Alps driving back to Torino
Piazza San Carlo
View from Sarah's apartment

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Emilia Romagna a.ka. the Region of Food

Bologna was one of my top places to visit within Italy and the top reason for that was the food. Bologna, among other things, is known for its cuisine. As I learned in my Italian cuisine class this semester, there is no such thing as Italian cuisine because each region has its own specific culinary traditions. Emilia Romagna is known for its parmigiano, proscuitto, tortellini, bolognese, and balsamic vinegar. Being the food lover I am, I could not live in Italy for a semester without visiting and tasting the capital city of such a region.

We arrived in the late evening exhausted. We asked our hotel for dinner suggestions and the restaurant they suggested turned out to be one specializing in Tuscan food. The food was great, but considering we came mostly for the Bolognese food...

There are many less sights to see in Bologna than Florence for example, but that just meant a more relaxed day in a nice town. We climbed the scaffolding of the Basilica (and went inside the church) for a panoramic view. You can also climb one of the famous towers, but we were two exhausted to be bothered. We visited the old Jewish ghetto and the Jewish museum because that was the only one open on a Monday. (To my great disappointment the Gelato museum right outside the city was not open.) We did some shopping and hunted down a very popular gelato shop. It was nice having a much more low-key day. It reminded me of the pace I would go in Torino.

Riso & Cannella e Pera
For dinner we went to a typical Bologna restaurant and I had the tortellone in a butter and sage sauce. Perfection. And that was why I came to Bologna.

Now the second top reason, I wanted to drive through Emilia Romagna was to visit the city of Ravenna. Yet another place I learned about in Art History, Ravenna is known for its amazing mosaics. If you are interested in art or churches in the slightest I would suggest taking a trip here. My Dad was not really excited about making a stop here, but it turned out to be one of his favorite parts of the trip.

I think Emilia Romagna would have been a great region to spend a week, traveling around the country side, tasting the food, and exploring the culture. Just another place I have to go back to.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Under the Tuscan Sun (when it wasn't raining)

When I would think about Italy before I came to study abroad in Torino, an image of Tuscany would appear. To me, the region of Tuscany was the epitome of Italy. Rolling green hills, amazing food, tall thin trees, small cities, and of course sun. I didn't get to experience the sun the whole time, but Tuscany definitely didn't disappoint.

My parents decided to rent a car in Torino for our trip so we could go on our own time and enjoy the scenery better. We learned by the end, that a road trip was probably not the best idea. It probably would have ended up costing less to take trains (the rental fee, GPS fee, gas, tolls!), and faster because we wouldn't have spent time getting lost. Of course, being able to leave the cities when ever we wanted was nice.

Anyway, the first stop was Pisa. And we basically just went to see the leaning tower, which looked exactly how it does in all the photos. It was pretty cool to see it, but if you don't have time, don't fret about missing it.

We headed to Florence and almost got a huge fine for illegally entering the city without a permit. We also got embarrassingly lost driving in circles. Here is the deal. GPSs do not work in Florence. Don't even try. And on top of that, you have to have a permit to drive in the city center. We ended up getting a cab to lead us to the hotel and then the hotel's parking arrangements made it so we didn't have to pay the city a fine.

I loved Florence, but I am glad I didn't decide to study abroad there. So many Americans. The city was so beautiful though. We got the museum pass the city offers, which if you go to more than three museums or important religious buildings, it makes a lot of sense. The first day we hiked up the cathedral with a grand total of 463 steps. The views were stunning. We also went to the Accademia di Belle Arti to see Michelangelo's David and then to Palazzo Della Signora to see the fake David and many other statues. We also went to the Uffizi Gallery, which is full of famous works including the Birth of Venus by Botticelli.

The next day we went to Palazzo Pitti, which was definitely the highlight of Florence. We spent most of the time exploring the Boboli Gardens, which also offered an amazing view of the city. Of course we also saw Ponte Vecchio many times along with the famous good luck boar, il porcellino.

I ate duck, wild boar, pear and gorgonzola gnocchi, and passion fruit gelato.

Our last stop in Tuscany was Siena, which is where I highly considering studying abroad before I heard about Torino. Again, as much as I enjoyed the city, I am still happy with my choice of Torino. Sienna is known for its architecture, art, and the Piazza Del Campo. I walked up the 400 steps of Torre del Mangia to see another incredible view. I also was very excited to visit Palazzo Pubblico and see the frescos called the Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government, which I studied about in Art History. I ate ricotta and fig gelato.

Since I rubbed the head of il porcellino I will be coming back to Florence and therefore the rest of Tuscany, so I'm not very worried.