Spending the first half of my summer in Italy is something that I will never forget. I could not have even imagined all of the things I got to see and experience while I was there. I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world because I hold so many treasured memories in my heart of the country and the girls I experienced it with.

I was nervous when I found out that we would have independent travel breaks that we were responsible for booking transportation and accommodations. I was not sure where even to start when looking for hotels, taxis, train tickets, and excursions. I was overwhelmed with the amount of things we could do during our travel breaks and was not sure where to go or what to do. After talking to a few people who had traveled to Italy before, I decided that the coast of Cinque Terre was a great first option for us. I was hoping that the weather would have been warmer in Sansepolcro so traveling to the coast for the week seemed like a good idea. I was amazed that just a few hours from the rolling hills of Tuscany, there were mountainous coast lines with gorgeous ice blue water.

I loved taking our group day trips to neighboring cities. Our day trips to Florence were super fun. Everything was really close together and crowded, so a day trip there was perfect. Our day trip to Perugia was also very interesting, the best part was the chocolate shop we stumbled upon. I think each of us bought twenty euro worth of goodies. I would definitely recommend traveling to Venice to anyone who is thinking about studying abroad. This was my favorite time in Italy! I loved the scenery and the winding roads that felt like a maze of murano glass and excellent food. Spending a day to wander the streets was extremely worth it and making it from one side of the island to the other in a couple of hours was definitely a day I will never forget. My last week in Rome was such a sweet time for me. I was with good friends, seeing amazing sights and savoring my last week in Italy. On a side note – the hard rock cafe of Rome was totally worth the cheeseburger and ranch we were all craving after a month without one…

Last but not least I want to give Sansepolcro credit. This was a great place for us to call home when we were in Italy. It took me a few weeks to begin to form my appreciation for Sansepolcro in a way that I had not treasured it beforehand. The quiet of the afternoons, the amazing pasta and wine bar on the corner, the gelato, our family dinners, and our apartment became things that I treasured tremendously and are now things that I miss. The town was small and quiet enough that each of us felt safe but also busy enough so that we could go and do things without getting bored. Our apartment became home. I’m not sure when it happened or exactly how it happened but it did. I remember sitting on the train on our way back from Cinque Terre and announcing that I was excited to get home. What? Home. But it was… We formed our little Italian family together. We were 11 completely different people shoved into a three bedroom apartment for five weeks. Though some parts of living together were challenging, I cannot imagine it any other way. My month in Italy was MY month in Italy. It was my experience, full of things I wanted to do and see. It was an amazing time for us as individuals to be alone and decide what was important to us outside of the USA and how we were going to make it happen. I found a whole new realm of my personality that I had not experienced beforehand. I know I will probably never get that opportunity again and I will never forget my five week adventure.

Venice & Lake Como

June 8, 2013

The last travel break was spent in Venice and Lake Como. We had from Monday-Thursday to travel independently and we were so excited to start another adventure. This time we traveled in a group of 6. We took the bus from Sansepolcro to Arezzo for an hour and then took the train from Arezzo to Bologna and then Bologna to Venice. We got to Venice around 4pm on Monday. We walked out of the train station to the main street and saw our hotel was only a 2 minute walk from our location. Our hotel was off one of the main roads in Venice and the street was full of shops with Murano glass. Murano glass is a product that Venice is known for. The products are made on the neighboring island Murano and dates back to the 8th century. Glass makers have been famous along the Venice coast for many centuries and became prominent citizens who were given many perks in their communities for their talent.

We settled into our hotel and then took a few hours to wander up and down the street. We met Katie, Laura Beth, and Amanda that evening at a restaurant along the water. The six of us had pasta and wine for dinner and enjoyed the scenery tremendously in addition to the food. After dinner the six of us explored the main street, buying gifts for friends and family, and stopping for a drink along the way. We got back to our hotel early because we had been up early, traveled, and explored. We were hoping to get in bed early because we were spending the next day doing all that we could in Venice. We woke up early the next morning and started off at 9:30am. The 6 of us grabbed a cappuccino and headed to the gondola boats near our hotel. OK- I know riding a gondola in Venice is slightly cliche but I’m sorry, hearing about a gondola ride my entire life and not doing it would have been regretful. So we all were in agreement that we wanted to do the gondola ride regardless of it being a tourist attraction. We met our gondola driver who was a 25 year old Italian named Sebastian. He took us around the water streets and explained some of the major landmarks. The ride in total took about 30 minutes and we got back to the dock around 10:30am.

Gondola Ride  Here we are on our gondola at the dock. Sebastian took our photo. 

We decided we were going to embark on the 45 minute walk to St. Marks Basilica which is a famous church in Venice. The walk to St. Marks took about two hours because we were stopping along the way in the shops and stopped to have lunch. We made it to the piazza that the basilica is in and took many pictures. We stopped for gelato and enjoyed that tremendously as our afternoon snack. We decided that we wanted to experience our first water taxi ride in Venice so we took the water taxi back to our hotel. We got freshened up and after doing some research earlier in the week, headed off to find this Mexican restaurant we found. We walked down to a few different streets, and finally found the Mexican restaurant we’d researched. We were excited about this because we have been eating pizza and pasta almost everyday so a new type of food was definitely being welcomed. We had dinner which was alright. I still am a fan of my hometown’s Mi Pueblo. We had a full day so bed by 10pm that night was something we all needed.

We woke up at 6am the next morning to catch a 6:55am train to Milan and then go from Milan to Lake Como. We got to Lake Como’s Varenna around 11:30 that morning and took a 15 minute ferry ride across the lake to Menaggio, the town we were staying in. When we got there we walked up to our hostel, where our rooms were not ready. We quickly changed into our bathing suits and left our luggage in the main area so that we could spend the day outside on the lake. We walked down to the beach which turned out to be a pebble shore. We weren’t prepared to sun bathe here because we obviously didn’t have chairs and our towels weren’t going to be very comfortable on the rocks. We sat for about 15 minutes, taking in the scenery and chatting before we decided to walk to a cafe for lunch. We all got sandwiches at the cafe on the water and after finishing, decided we were going to walk further down the shore. We walked about 5 minutes down and found a dock with boat rentals. Half joking we asked the man how much it would be for the six of us to rent a boat for an hour. Turns out it was only 10 euro a piece so we all agreed to it. The surprising aspect of this was that we were expecting one of the employees to drive us around but after chatting for 2 minutes we realized they were going to turn the keys over to us. We weren’t feeling extremely confident driving a motor boat alone but after a few simple instructions we pushed off and headed out. We drove all around the lake, stopped in certain places to relax, and turned the boat back in one piece after an hour of fun. We walked around the town for an hour and grabbed a couple of pizza’s for dinner. We headed to our hostel to crash. FUNNY. When we got into our rooms, I’ll admit we were in for a true hostel experience. We had to rent bath towels and sleep in “sleeping bag sheets” and metal bunk beds.  The place was more than safe, but it was the quality of the room that made us laugh. We were good sports about it though and found it highly entertaining. Can you imagine the 6 of us squished in one small room? I’ll never forget it, that’s for sure.

We left at 6:30am the next morning and pit stopped in Florence on our way home. A few of our 6 wanted to get a few more leather goods and do a little more shopping. We only spent a couple of hours there before we hopped back onto the train to Arezzo. We got home to Sansepolcro around 4:3opm that afternoon. I was exhausted… 3 cities in four days was a full week. I was in bed by 8pm and dead asleep by 10pm. The week was a blast but man was I tired.

We are coming to a close in Italy. Our last 12 days will be split in half. This week we stay in Sansepolcro and have class all week. We’re all slammed with 8 page papers, journals, reflection essays, and readings. But on Monday the 17th we will leave Sansepolcro for good and spend our last week in Rome. I’ll leave from Rome to Raleigh on Friday the 21st and will arrive to RDU around 9:35pm that night. I am enjoying my time here but am looking forward to getting back to the USA where I can eat my biscuits and drink my sweet tea. I’ve missed my Mama and her cooking so the journey home will be an exciting one. I’ve made some great friends in Italy thus far & am so excited most of us will be living in the same apartment building next year. The end is near!

Monterosso al mare

May 31, 2013

Week two is over and we survived! Molly, Mollie, Ashlea and I all went to the west coast of Italy to the region called Cinque Terre and stayed in the town Monterosso al mare. We had to travel by train and this is the first time we did this alone. We had to take a bus from Sansepolcro to Arezzo for an hour and arrived at the train station in Arezzo around lunch. Traveling from Tuscany to the coast was a 4 hour journey with 4 train changes along the way. We made all of our connections but the last one but it was fine because there was another train 15 minutes later we caught. We arrived in Monterosso around 5pm on  Monday and the adventures started right away.

The first night was spent relaxing in a hotel we found from walking up and down the street.

The next morning, we slept in and had our continental breakfast the hotel offered. The weather was not very nice in the morning and we put our sweatshirts on to explore the town. But again, we were surprised because after lunch the skies opened up and the sun was shining. The day  turned out to have a beautiful afternoon and we were able to spend it in our bathing suits on the beach. There was a small beach bar that you could rent chairs from and buys drinks & snacks from. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the break. That night we had dinner in the restaurant under our hotel that was rated 4 stars. The next morning was our last day there. We hiked a trail that was close by and then had an afternoon on the beach again. We made it back to Sansepolcro yesterday after a day full of travel.

We have class Friday – Sunday and will head on our next travel break Monday. We are heading to Venice on Monday & Tuesday and then on to Lake Como on Wednesday. We have family dinner again tonight with the same family we had last week and will continue our family dinners every Friday until we leave

Surviving week 1

May 24, 2013

The first week is complete! I am so proud of the 11 of us for surviving our first week in Italy where the language barrier is real and the food is good. Since I last blogged I have adjusted to the 6 hours ahead time difference and started summer school.

We are taking 3 classes while we are here in Italy. Our school is in the same building just on the second floor of the palazzo instead of the 3rd which is where our apartment is. We have “Survival Italian” class at 8:30am in the morning taught by a local Italian Antonio. So far the class has been pretty easy except the early wake up call. We start our Italian culture class at 9:30 and the other Meredith professor who is a local here in Sansepolcro named Sara teaches that component. So far in our culture class we have taken a local church tour by her father who is a town elder. He told us every story about the churches, described the artwork within them, and let us walk all around. The tours were fun but the strangest part about the tour is that in one cathedral, the mumified remains of the Saint Beatro Renieri lay under the alter. We got to see his body which looks like a black scary doll. He is missing one hand because a few years ago someone cut it off and stole it. We also each got assigned a street in town that is named after an important person in Sansepolcro and today we had to show the class our street and tell something about the person being recognized. After culture class we have history of warfare with our American professor. Then we stop for lunch at 12:30pm and the cook prepares us a huge lunch that we all eat together at one table. At 2pm class reconvenes and we are out by 3pm. Most of our afternoons after class have been time we’ve used for napping, grocery shopping, and homework. We actually have a lot more work than I was anticipating.

The biggest thing I’ve done since I’ve been here is visit Florence yesterday. We went to Florence as a group of 15. First we had to ride a bus for about an hour to the neighboring town Arezzo which is bigger and has the train station. The bus ride was ROUGH. The roads are bumpy and the car sickness definitely kicked in. Once we got to Arezzo we crossed the street to the train station and wait for about 30 minutes to hop our train to Florence. We got on our train to Florence and had about an hour ride until we arrived. Thinking back, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a train before so that was weird to realize. We got to Florence and I was surprised how close everything was to the train station. Our professor gave us a short walking tour and showed us where the Duomo was, then we went down the street with all of the shopping and one of the markets, then we walked all the way up to the top of Florence for a panoramic view. Not gonna lie, the walk up the hill was intense and we were dying but the view was beautiful when we got there. After we took a few photos, our professor turned us loose on our own and it was our job to explore, do what we want, and make it home in one piece. Molly A, Laura Beth, Katie and I stuck together the whole day and found this opportunity to stop and eat at the top of the hill. We ate quickly and headed back down to the markets. The markets were full of leather goods that we were all eyeing. We made a few purchases there and headed down the shop lined streets where we stopped for a huge cone of gelato. The gelato is one of the best parts of Italy. I am a huge ice cream lover so I’m soaking up every minute of this. After gelato we continued to explore and found ourselves in a handmade leather shoe store. Laura Beth and I both purchased a pair of handmade sandals and were excited when we left. We decided that we should head back to the train station because it was after 4:30pm and our feet were killing us. We did wear the appropriate foot wear but just the amount of walking we did left us with aching feet. We got to the train station and found a Mcdonalds. Okay – this is going to sound stupid but I was so happy when we found that place. I’ve been eating Italian food for a week and although it’s delicious, it’s also so different. It was nice for me to get french fries and a cheese burger and feel a little more at home in a country so foreign. Never thought I’d say that about McDonalds haha. We caught the 5:35pm train back to Arezzo and hopped right back on the bus from Arezzo to Sansepolcro. I think we got home around 8:30pm last night and we were all exhausted! We went to bed early and started another day of class this morning.

Tonight is something new because we’re going in pairs to a local Italian family to have “family dinner”. Each pair got assigned a local family who is going to pick us up at 7:30pm for an 8:00pm dinner. Some speak English and some do not. Some of our families live outside of the city walls and will be driving us to and from the palazzo. I am a little nervous about going into family dinner because I’m not sure what the menu will be or if they will speak english. But those are just silly details that I’ll get over and push through regardless of what happens. I’m sure these families are excited to have us and I’m excited to experience it.

Tomorrow we are taking a day trip to explore Anghiari, a town about 10 minutes away nestled in the hills of Tuscany and also, Arezzo, the bigger city where the train station is. We’re doing a museum tour at 1pm in Arezzo and then are free to wander about after 2pm.

Monday is our first independent travel break and I am heading to Cinque Terre which is roughly about 4 hours away from Sansepolcro via train. We’re looking forward to getting to this beach town and hopefully getting some nice weather because the weather here has been cold and rainy for days.

Thanks for keeping up with me! XOXO

We are finally here! The trek over was definitely a long one but we are so happy to be here. We left Raleigh on Thursday at 9:30am and flew out to JFK at 1:35pm. The flight to JFK was bumpy and the plane was quite small & after air traffic control was too busy for us to land, we had to make a pit stop in Philadelphia because we needed to refuel the plane. After an hour of waiting (patiently), we headed back to JFK and arrived around 5:45pm. We had a long layover of about 4 hours & didn’t leave NYC until 9:40pm that night. We got lucky because Katie & I were able to sit together along with our Professor, his wife, and baby, in front of us. We made sure to take Dramamine and started watching a movie before we fell asleep off and on til about 4:00am. We only had around an hour and 45 minutes left to the ride and had breakfast on the plane. We landed in Rome at 12:05pm Friday which is actually 6:05am in NC.

After arriving we had to go through passport control which was a terrible mess. People were just in mobs until we reached the agent and were let into Italy. We didn’t even get our passports stamped!! We met up with the other two groups and took at 3 hour bus ride out to Sansepolcro. It’s beautiful here! We’re located in the walls of the city & our house is right off the main street of the city. Everything is within walking distance! We took a quick tour of the palazzo and had a fresh dinner prepared by the cook Margarita. We had turkey, some type of oat/ tomato/ mozzarella cold salad, bread, and quiche. It was excellent! Then 8 of us decided to explore the streets a little and headed down the street to the pub for a celebratory toast. Everyone here is so fun and I’m so excited to spend the next few weeks with them. We left the pub and ended the night sweetly with gelato of all flavors, mine being nutella!

Today was very laid back and quite easy. We had a 2 hour orientation where we discussed rules of the house, got assigned the chores we are in charge of, and were shown the two grocery stores of the city. Then we had a fresh meal again prepared by Margarita. Today the menu was pesto spaghetti, salad, turkey, spinach, potato puree, and vanilla custard with strawberries. The food here is incredibly fresh and we’re loving every minute of it.

The afternoon has been spent re-cooperating from the time difference and jet lag! We’re going on the search tonight for local pizza. I’m enjoying myself, the scenery, and the food!

xoxo

7 days, get real.

May 9, 2013

Get Real – 7 DAYS! I can’t believe how fast the time has come. I’m a little shocked that my junior year has come to a close, I can officially be considered a senior, and I’ll be traveling to Italy in 7 days. It’s starting to get real and a little scary… Don’t get me wrong, I am full of joy & excitement as I embark on this journey but I’ve gotta admit, I am a little nervous about the trip.

I’m nervous about the journey over, traveling to any foreign country can be stressful and taking a redeye is never optimal so there’s my hesitation. Do you know anyone who is a light sleeper? I think it runs in my family. My Mom and I both are light sleepers and taking a redeye is never a fun time for us. I’m hoping with the help of some benadryl the flight will be smooth sailing. We got an email this week explaining our itineraries and because of the late booking, we were split into 3 groups. My group will be flying from Raleigh to NYC and then NYC to Rome, where we will be taking a bus into Sansepolcro. We fly out on May 16 at 1:36pm and arrive in Rome on May 17 at 12:50pm. Never the less, I know I am incredibly blessed to have this opportunity before me and no matter what, I KNOW the reward will outweigh it all. This trip will be optimal in my future & I am thrilled as I prepare to head over.

Although, lets get real. The packing is a little bit worrisome. A friend is giving me a hard time about how much I’m thinking about packing and the amount of effort I’m putting into the planning of the packing, but this is serious business. Fitting 35 days worth of Leia in a hikers pack is going to be a challenge & I plan to accomplish this to the best of my ability. I’m planning things out and making lists like you wouldn’t believe. I’m making sure I dot my “I’s” and cross my “T’s” in this process and I have no shame.

This week will go by in a flash with some very exciting things happening. Friday is my day to have brunch with Dad & movie night with my family. Saturday is my best friend sister’s wedding. Sunday is mother’s day and Karly’s birthday brunch. Monday is my farewell with all my buddies in Raleigh. Tuesday is Karly’s actual 21st and Wednesday is my last night at home before I depart! As I look forward to this busy week, I know that these are special days I’ll cherish with everyone before I head off.

I am so excited to start my senior year at Meredith, study abroad to Italy, start my job this summer & see what God has planned for me. After all, it is only because of him that all of these things have been made available to me.

Please keep me in your prayers as I head to Italy a week from tomorrow!

Things fall into place

April 14, 2013

Oh my! We’re a little more than a month away from the departure and things are falling into place.

I made the comment yesterday that I have NEVER in my life been so full of joy, with my happiness at such a peak. This week I got the offer for one of the internships I wanted… It was such a major offer that I really underestimated in terms of benefits. Not only is the job 2 minutes from my apartment, it is paid and offered to me full time. God is so good! All of the amazing opportunities I am receiving in these next few months are all because of him. This means that not only will I be studying abroad this summer but I will also be employed full-time for a graphic design internship! I couldn’t be happier. I’ve recently been spending time with very special people who make my life full of color and who I’ll miss while I’m abroad. I’ve truly been reminded of the amazing support and community I have, not only in High Point but also in Raleigh. These past few weeks have been so sweet for me to enjoy as my junior year comes to a close.

Tonight I registered for my Italian cell phone. I’ll be carrying around two phones while I’m there, the first being my iPhone and the second is the provided study abroad cell phone. I’ll have an international number that I can receive incoming calls from the USA for free on my Italian phone and my iPhone to FaceTime on. Make sure that if you want to call me, you get the international number!

This weekend has been spent at home with one of best friends and full of good fun and good food! I am so blessed and thankful for this sweet time in my life. Xoxo!

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