Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Bottom of the W Part 2: Sorrento Seafood Dinner

As previously mentioned, my study abroad friends and I experienced "the Bottom of the W" when we were in Sorrento, Pompeii, and Capri.

The Term "bottom of the W" is the way DePaul study abroad explains culture shock.  Due to my Italian American upbringing, I figured that the differences between Italy and America would not be too bad.  I was wrong, especially when visiting Sorrento.

In our Italian culture class, we were warned that there were cultural practices that differed between the two countries, especially in regards to food.  Our dinner in Sorrento was a prime example of this.  For starters, Italians get offended if you do not finish everything that is put in front of you - to them, it means that whoever prepared the food is not a good cook. 

Additionally, our courses all contained seafood.  Not many of us on the trip liked seafood.  I was a good sport and tried some of it - octopus for example.  Not a fan, but I tried it.

The main course is where some of us lucked out and some of us did not. We were told to choose between assorted seafood and steak. Some of us sat with our Italian culture professor and she ordered us fried calamari and shrimp.  The rest of our group mostly opted for the assorted seafood, and were served fish...with faces. 

In Italy, fish is served with the face still in tact because a fish's eyes determine its freshness (fun fact from one of my cousins!).  However, at the moment this was a horrifying experience.

This dinner, combined with our late night adventures documented in my previous post, brought all 16 of us to the "bottom of our Ws" at the same time.  Unusual for a study abroad group, but it bonded us together.

Sorrento opened my eyes to the differences between Italy and America.  As a second generation Italian American, I thought I knew so much about Italy.  My first full week there showed me that the two countries have many differences.  However, culture shock is completely normal, and only temporary!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pizza, Mountains, and the Bottom of the W Part 1: Pompeii, Sorrento, and Capri

The first weekend my study abroad group was together, we took our group excursion to Italy's Amalfi coast, visiting Pompeii and Capri while staying in Sorrento.  Our weekend away from the hustle and bustle (and tourists) of Rome was quite memorable, and really bonded the majority of us in the group.  

Pompeii - An Archaeological Wonder? 

I was so excited to see Pompeii - I remember visiting the Pompeii exhibit at the Chicago Field Museum during my freshman year of high school and was so excited to see such a cool sight firsthand.  While the tour of the ancient city was interesting, all of the "cool stuff" is not there - it is touring various museums around the world! 

Pompeii was exciting for 20 minutes - once you've seen the basics, you've seen it all.  
Pompeiian garden. 

Capri - Beautifully Deceiving

The day we went to Capri was fantastic. We hopped on a boat on a beautiful morning, and everyone got to take turns driving once we were far enough away from the coast! We had a delicious lunch, and jumped into the Tyrrhenian Sea for a swim.  The scenery was gorgeous and it was a great time to work on my tan.  

Then my friend Sandy got seasick.  We were on that boat for a few minutes too long.  

Once we docked in Capri, we were all excited to sit on a gorgeous beach and explore our surroundings.  However, the following events took place:
  • Using the bathroom costs 50 cents.
  • The "public beach" is filled with pebbles. 
  • Beach chairs cost 8 euros. 
  • The tram to "Capri Alto," the city center/piazza, cost two euros. 
  • Everything is expensive. 
  • It was disgustingly hot.
We decided to get a beach chair for Sandy so she could rest.  Erica, Maura, Steph and I decided to walk up to Capri Alto to save 4 dollars (or 2 euros). Big mistake. Walking up to the piazza was like climbing a mountain.  It was one of the worst experiences of my life and a test of physical endurance. 

Boat tour of Capri.
After making it up to the piazza we celebrated by sitting at the main cafe for a very long time and making friends with our charming waiter who resembled Italian singer Patrizio Buanne.  It was magnificent.  

Until a pigeon flew into the gelato stand - it was terrifying (I hate pigeons).  I lost my desire for a gelato after that. 

Overall, Capri was a humorous experience.  

Sorrento - The Bottom of the W

Sorrento will always have a dear place in my heart. It is breathtakingly beautiful and one of those cities that is quintessentially "Italian." Our first evening in Sorrento was spent at a mountain villa at a pizza making lesson.  We ate the most delicious pizza (second to Nonnas!!) in the entire world.  There was even Nutella pizza for dessert.  Magnificent.  Beautiful. 

The view from the mountain villa!!

To put it nicely, our second dinner in the costal city was interesting.  Three words: fish with faces. Some of us had the good fortune of sitting with our Italian professor and her daughter, who came on the trip with us - she knew what we were in for, and ordered us fried calamari and shrimp.  However, since we were all worn out and exhausted from our day at Capri, this was the Bottom of the W for our whole group (more on that later!).  The locals were slightly offended.  At least the lemon cake was good. I wanted a second piece. 

Amalfi Coast. 

My advice to American girls visiting Sorrento - always stay in groups.  This is the city in which we learned how much we Americans are "adored" by the Italians.  There were a lot of unwanted whistles and stares.  Our group attempted to go to a "discoteca" named Old English both nights we were visiting.  First of all, they played the exact same music (American pop circa 2007) on Friday and Saturday nights.  On Saturday, a large group of creepy Italian men were also in attendance - luckily the group of us was a mix of girls and guys, we got out of there as soon as any of them started talking to us.  Note, do not enter the dance floor of a sketchy "discoteca." 

Although there is not much to do at night, Sorrento during the day has fantastic shopping and adorable cafes.  We even saw some famous Italians walking around!  It was not the perfect weekend by any means, but it was definitely entertaining! 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Italian Inspiration - My Italy Pinterest Board

When I miss Italy, which is almost every day, I love adding stuff to my Italy Pinterest board!

It brings back fantastic memories.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Roman Basics - Neighborhoods and Transit

On the first day of class in Italy, one of our Italian professors told us that Rome was constructed to confuse people.  Make one wrong turn and you are lost for hours. The city was also not built to accommodate any large motor vehicles - walking in the middle of the street is acceptable, but also life threatening.

Luckily, with an accurate map of the city and guidance from experienced navigators, anyone (and I mean anyone) can navigate the Eternal City. 

Public transportation: the easiest way to get around the city.  Buy a transit pass and use it everywhere - but make sure it's validated!

  •  The Metro: there are two lines, the A line and the B line.  They only intersect at Termini - one of the most    chaotic parts of the city, due to the large amount of tourists and residents that pass through to switch trains. 
  • The Bus System:  the bus system is numerical, just like Chicago.  Each stop lists the route.  Make sure you ask the driver if the bus will take you to your desired destination - most Romans speak English, so it should not be a problem! 

Unfortunately, there are downsides to the Italian transit system.  The metro closes at 9, buses at 11 or midnight. Strikes take place frequently, as the case was on our last full day in the city, which means you are stuck walking or taking a cab (aka you are stuck walking).  The constant need to walk everywhere is why it is also important to know a few major streets and neighborhoods as well!

  • Cipro: The neighborhood in which Vatican City & Castel Sant'Angelo are, off the Cipro stop on the A line. Somewhat more residential and not the Rome you see in the movies, but it has its redeeming qualities. 
  • Trastevere: The least modernized area of Rome, also known as "Hipster Rome" by some of my favorite sorority sisters/study abroad companions. Home to film director Giuseppe Piccioni's bookstore and a plethora of fantastic restaurants and bars, it is definitely an area to wander around in - opposite from the city center on the Tiber River. 
  • Spagna: The center of the city, the historical district. Rome of the movies. Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Colisseum, Roman Ruins, the Via Condotti, fantastic shopping, close to all of the piazzas. Spend most of your time in this area - it's easy to get to the rest of the city from this area.
On getting a cab: Hailing a cab is a foreign concept in Italy.  There is a number to call, or you can go to one of the cab pickup areas in the city. Only use official government cabs. Good luck. 

Navigating Rome may be a challenge, but some of my favorite memories were getting lost and wandering the city streets, finding new favorite places - it makes your experience unique! 

Lazio win Rome derby - Football - Al Jazeera English

Lazio win Rome derby - Football - Al Jazeera English

Just saw this calcio update! I wish the season had been over the summer!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Italy Inspiration - "Rome" by Phoenix

New favorite song, even though it's not so new.

"Focus looking forward the Colisseum...Rome, Rome, Rome, many tears have fallen here"

Just a reminder of one of my favorite cities.

Rome: La Citta Eterna

I arrived in Rome on June 19, 2011. The first thing I noticed was that Rome in real life is not like Rome in the Lizzie McGuire Movie. Red Vespas don't line the streets - Yamaha motos do. Silly as it sounds, the lack of red Vespas was probably the biggest disappointment when I arrived.  

Finally spending time with my study abroad group was so exciting - and seeing my friend/sister, Erica! We hadn't seen each other since the going away dinner some of our sorority sisters threw us so that was fun. Looking back, another part of my arrival in Rome was significant, although I didn't realize it then.  I had a hard time opening the door to the apartment/hotel room five of us were living in. Luckily, one of my roommates heard me struggling and opened the door for me - it was none other than Maura, who is now one of my sorority sisters as well! Sharing a room with someone for five weeks can be good or bad; luckily it worked out well for the two of us!

Via Candia, the street I lived on!
And my first photo of Italy.
This was a great balcony because it had better WiFi than the rest of the apartment. 

We all went to dinner at one of the only restaurants opened late on a Sunday, and apparently made a bunch of cultural faux pas.  Here is the list:
1. We asked for olive oil and cheese with our bread.
2. Cappuccino after dinner.
3. Tipping - not such a bad faux pas for the restaurant, but it's not common in Italy, especially for students to do so.

That night, we went on a late night walk around our neighborhood - Cipro to be exact - which was a ton of fun (and I had a great time being the translator!).

At the time, Cipro was a boring neighborhood to stay in, and I would never suggest someone spend a ton of time there, but now I would do anything to go back! That night was the start of a ton of great memories for my study abroad group - I am glad that most of us keep in touch today!

Feste di Sant'Antonio - Feast of Saint Anthony

Another one of my favorite experiences in Valenzano was celebrating the feast of Saint Anthony with my friends and their community.  Feast days are a HUGE deal in Italy.  In fact, a lot of people celebrate their "name day" or patron saint's feast day more so than their birthday.

Here's an example to explain feast days/name days.  My brother's name is Joseph, and he was born on March 25th. St. Joseph's Day is March 19th, so he gets to celebrate on the 19th as well. 
Valenzano's All Saint's Fair in 1998. Not exactly like the feast I attended, but close!
Photo credit:

Saint Anthony is one of the patron saints of Valenzano - the church in the center of town is named for him. Additionally, Antonio is the name of my Nonna Carmela's late husband (and my friends' father and grandfather) - so it has special meaning to them. 

Valenzano celebrates the feast with a big outdoor party in the piazza by the church. Food, drinks, music, dancing.  Different community groups, such as my friends' theater organization, sponsor booths and raise money for the church.  

I really enjoyed meeting my friends' neighbors and friends. It definitely helped me practice my Italian, and telling a ton of people involved with theater that I planned on studying film in Rome made me feel cool :)

We headed to an "American" restaurant for a late dinner - apparently American food is trendy in southern Italy.  Italians know their food, and the Italian spin on American fare is definitely more delicious than it is at home - with the exception that it is popular to mix ketchup and mayo for your french fries! 

I'll always remember my time in southern Italy, it was a fantastic mini-vacation before classes in Rome started! 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Alberobello & Bari Centro

Aside from driving and walking through the towns near Bari, Alberobello and Bari Centro were fantastic places to visit!

Alberobello is a small town in the provence, known for its huts, or trulli.  It is quite the tourist destination in Puglia - the trulli are now set up as shops that sell a variety of items such as pottery, pasta, wine, and sweets! I was even able to climb up to the top of one of them, the view of the rest of the town was fantastic!

Alberobello trulli.
Photo credit: famous

If you ever visit Southern Italy, I highly recommend a day trip to Alberobello!

Bari Centro is downtown Bari, right on the Adriatic Sea.  The port city is beautiful, mysterious, and exciting all at the same time.  While it is not the size of Rome or Milan, there is something about it that made me wish I had more time to explore the city (even though I'm not so sure there is much to explore).

Piazza Sant'Oronzo at night.
Photo credit: virtual

Piazza Sant'Oronzo is the center of everything on a Friday night. Bars, pubs, and cafes are filled with people enjoying the weekend.  The piazza is a central part of a young Italian's social life - hanging out there on a weekend night is quite the experience!

More Musings on Southern Italy

As stated in my previous post, my weekend in Southern Italy helped me adjust to living in a new culture.  It was also so surreal.  I dreamt about Italy for years before actually having the opportunity to experience it; I had to keep telling myself I was there! 

I enjoyed spending time with and getting to know my Italian friends better and getting a taste of what life is like in their part of the world.  My friend Antonio showed me around a few of the neighboring towns, which was really fun! I enjoyed seeing a part of Italy that is not normally on the agenda for an American tourist.  

I really wish I took pictures of the towns surrounding Bari.  One in particular that I enjoyed was Pogliano a Mare - I have a mini snow globe as a reminder of the gorgeous town on the Adriatic sea! 

The beach I visited in Pogliano a Mare! 
Photo credit:

I hope I have the opportunity to return and visit again!