Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lunch in the Bastia countryside

This past Saturday, Umbra held an optional field trip for those who were interested in having lunch in the countryside.  I mean who wouldn't want to eat a 5-course meal and drink wine on a gorgeous summer day in the hills of Bastia?  A bus full of Umbra students decided to embark on this eating journey. For about 2 or 3 hours, we sat and ate.  I'm not kidding...I felt my shorts slowly get tighter and tighter around my midsection.  Holy cow I haven't eaten that much is so long!  But hey, saying it was delicious doesn't it even give the food justice.  It was beyond any adjective used to describe food.  And it was free--perfecto! If it's free, it's for me!

Let me give you a run down of what I consumed in those 3 hours:
  • Vino duh!

  • Antipasto: fresh prosciutto, melted Gouda on bread, cabbage salad on bread, green salad, roasted tomato and eggplant, ricotta with honey and a walnut on top, roasted potato, quiche, chocolate croissant (I think...couldn't quite tell!) 

  • Gnocci with mushrooms and possibly onions in a cream sauce
Trust me, it looked better before I ate it!

  • Thick spaghetti in a red sauce with sausage and panchetta (whoops, sorry...didn't get a chance to snap a picture of that one!)
  • A thick slice of pork with roasted potatoes

  • Rich and decadent chocolate cake with a pear glaze (At least that's what it looked like)

  • Expresso

I savored every bite! You don't get many chances to be served a 5-course meal in the middle of the beautiful Umbria countryside.

We could see Assisi in the distance!

Here is a pic of some Conn Coll Camel lovin!

Jayne, Katie, Me

This weekend I am going to the Almalfi Coast with Umbra...get pumped for some absolutely incredible pictures!!


Sunday, September 11, 2011


This past Friday my friends and I went to Assisi for a day trip.  We took the MiniMetro to the train station and then once in Assisi, we took a bus to the top of the hill.  I'm telling you--there are hills everywhere in this country!

Assisi is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life!  It is this old town perched in the side of Monte Subasio.  The town is a province of Perugia and has a very similar feel to where I am located, minus the modernity of my area of the region. 

The girls and I did a lot of window shopping and checked out a lot of the little boutiques that filled the narrow streets.  I also went into the Basilica di San Francesco (St. Francis).  Pictures were not allowed so unfortunately I can't show you all inside.  It was beautiful, though!  I planned ahead and brought a sweater because you are not allowed to have your shoulders exposed.  There was a small mass going on when I first walked in but I wanted to see the tomb of St. Francis. I followed the crowd downstairs and we proceeded to walk around the tomb.  It was SO cool!  There were candles available to place on the tomb of St. Francis and sometime during the year, each candle will get lit.  I gave a small donation and made a prayer.  It was really special experience!

I was in a group of 8 girls and we all had lunch at this mom and pop restaurant.  This was going to be our big meal of the day so some of us ordered a nice glass of wine.  We all asked for a small glass and they bring each of us literally a small pitcher of wine.  I'm pretty sure we all ended up having 2 or 3 glasses of wine each.  I ordered Ciambelle al Camino which was basically 4 huge stuffed gnocci with spinach, riccota, and panna in a delicious homemade red sauce! It was one of the best things I have ever tasted.  Nothing like a true, home cooked red sauce.

Rocca Maggiore

My roomie Alyssa and I

Inside chiesa de S. Maria sopra Minerva Tempio di Minerva

Left:  Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo; Right: Chiesa di S. Maria sopra Minerva Tempio di Minerva

Basilica di San Francesco (St. Francis)

Door of the Basilica

View from the Basilica steps

Oh hey there!

My pitcher of my vino

Delicious stuffed gnocci

The restaurant!

Alyssa and I

Sidewalk chalk drawings

There's not much else to say about Assisi.  It was an absolutely beautiful summer day and I loved being immersed in the culture.  I felt extremely safe there and enjoyed the numerous breathtaking views.  Enjoy the pix!

Oh! Supposedly the Lester Holt interview might be airing on Dateline this week or next...just a heads up!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In the middle of it all...

I really wanted to share this exciting and crazy news with y'all so you would have it first thing this morning as you perhaps watch the news/TV, but I couldn't stay awake last night to post another blog.  However, I might get this in right under the wire.  Yesterday I had an absolutely INSANE afternoon!  After I got out of my afternoon Italian survival crash course, I heard that NBC's The Today Show was going to be at the courthouse where the appeal trial for Amanda Knox is taking place, which just happens to be a 1 minute walk from my apartment.  The courts had been on holiday all August and re-opened at the beginning of September.  This appeal case is based on new evidence that may help prove Knox innocent.  I won't go into detail of the case because 1. I am unclear of them myself and 2. I'm pretty sure you all have tuned in over the years to this case.  Also, once I told you all I'd be in Perugia, the city where the murder occurred, you all recognized the city because of the infamous and unfortunate case.

So anyway, me and some friends walked down to the courthouse where we saw another Umbra student talking with Lester Holt from The Today Show!  She asked us if we wanted to do an interview with him.  He introduced himself and shook my and hand and I was like "I'm Melissa-Oh I met you like 10 years ago when my family was outside at The Today Show!" HAHA-he pretended he knew who I was and we laughed about it! We agreed to the interview so 4 other girls from Umbra and I all sat on the courthouse stairs and got an on-camera interview with Lester Holt that is tentatively supposed to air this morning (EST).  He asked us general questions about why we chose to study in Perugia and if there were any hesitations from our families and friends about coming to this city.  The camera crew got some wide shots of us walking up and down the streets near the courthouse.  The locals all gathered down by the courthouse and were watching us Americans flaunt our stuff for the cameras.  If we didn't stick out before, we stick out like sore thumbs now.  We probably didn't draw the most positive attention either which bothers me.

We then got to talk to the camera men for a few minutes and one started giving us his take on the whole case and what he thinks went down that November night just about 4 years ago.  He kept naming all these places that we now know of from walking the streets for almost a week.  I asked them if her mom was in court today, he said no but that her dad and step-dad apparently were there.  We hung around for a little bit and then the camera man said, "You know you can go inside and watch the trial right?" WHAT?!?!?! Well, I guess the court system is really different from the American courts.  I was at home when Whitey's girlfriend was in court and I got to sit in a public viewing room at the Federal Court House in Boston and watch some of the trial with my aunt and my mom.  We would never be allowed inside the courtroom back home?  So, one of the women with The Today Show crew told us she could take 4 of us down to the court room.  Some girls had shorts on and they were immediately eliminated.  I got to go in though-thank goodness I was wearing a dress!! Me and 3 other girls gave our licenses to the police officers at the front door.  They copied our info and, in Italian of course, said how my last name is Italian-I was like "Si, si!" because that's all I could say to them.  For cops, they were super pleasant. 

So then the officer took us down these steep and uneven stairs to what was essentially a cellar in the court house.  This is where the court room is located.  He dropped us off and we just walked in through this glass door built into ancient stone walls.  There is a fenced off section where all the important people in the case obviously sit in front of but reporters, journalists, and general public are allowed to sit behind the fence.  You can just grab an empty chair and watch this story unfold.  We only saw the last few minutes of the session because the courts close at 6 p.m.  We couldn't see Amanda Knox at first and then the judge said, "A domani, a domani", or "See you tomorrow, see you tomorrow."  There was a mad rush of people to stand up and start dispersing but we moved up to the front of the fence and saw this tall, blonde woman officer escort Amanda Knox herself out of the courtroom!  The hair on my arm stood up on end! No joke, my body was trembling!  She looked frail, pale, exhausted, and just weathered from the whole case. Compared to pictures of when the trial first started, she looked so emaciated.  She was wearing a gray, silk blouse with her hair tied back.  Everything about her made her look like plain Jane.  One reporter (I think that's who it was...) asked my roommate Alyssa if we were some of Amanda's friends-ummm, NO!  Once we got back to the street level, we saw two big police trucks with blacked out windows and their lights on leave from behind the court house, obviously containing Knox. 

Later that night, and then this morning, I started researching the case and all the newspaper stories etc.  I saw video clippings from earlier that day in court because I saw that gray blouse.  I was so drawn in and kept reading story after story trying to form my own opinion of the whole case.  I had never paid too much attention to it over the past 4 years.  I didn't want to know much about it over the summer either considering I knew I would be here for the semester.  But after yesterday and last night, I had a hard time falling asleep and staying comfortable asleep because the whole experience was just so eerie.  I wish I hadn't researched all that material.  The University for Foreigners of Perugia, where Amanda Knox was studying, is relatively close by and her apartment was very close to that school.  Knowing that her situation could happen to any of us at Umbra is beyond frightening. 

I think my experience yesterday was so incredibly awesome but at the same time really weird.  I was telling my story to someone today at lunch and they asked what parts makes it the most eerie for me now rather than before yesterday.  To answer, knowing how close she was didn't bother me before.  But being maybe 20 ft. from her in a courtroom after only having ever seen pictures of her creeped me out beyond belief.  I didn't know I would react like that!  The courts say a verdict is expected at the end of the month.  If she walks away innocent, Perugia will go crazy.  She could walk out the front door of the court house 1 minute from where I live.  However, the prosecutors apparently can appeal again.  This appeal happening now is the appeal from Amanda and the boyfriend she was with at the time of the crime. 

I do have to say that Lester Holt has a pretty sick job, as well as the camera crew.  We were asking them what they're favorite location and story to cover has been in their own careers.  Very interesting stuff!

Only in Perugia!  Hope you guys get to see me on TV! If they do decide to air our footage, I will find the link online and post it here!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Culture Shock!!

Yesterday I went grocery shopping for the first time with my roommate Alyssa and our friend Alex at the COOP, the equivalent of a Market Basket or Stop and Shop here in Perugia.  There is a small store right near our apartment, but we needed to do a big basic shopping to stalk up our shelves.  Now, this bigger store is down the hill of Perugia a ways.  The only way to get there without walking for 45 minutes is to take the MiniMetro, which is essentially a small tram that rides on a rail up and down the hill.  It's kind of like a mini roller-coaster through the hilly city.  The three of us didn't do any research regarding which stop to get off before we hopped on, so we ended up riding all the way to the bottom.  We had a feeling that we took it too far so we got out and asked a police officer where the COOP was but he didn't speak a lick of English.  Luckily, he was chit-chatting with a restaurant waiter who did understand our dilemma and acted as our translator.  I find myself becoming annoyed with the language barrier*.  We ended up having to backtrack 3 stops back UP the hill.  The officer motioned that it would be safe for us to walk (trust me officer, I wasn't planning on it!) so he escorted us back on the tram. 

We finally made it to the COOP!  Once we got there, I instinctively went for a shopping cart, however here you have to pay for them.  Alyssa and I figured that a basket for each of us would suffice.  In my head, I thought back to my kitchen at home and all the basics.  On my budget, though, getting ALL the essentials for every possible cooking occasion will be impossible.  I figured I'd have to stick to the absolute bare essentials for now: butter, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, onion, tomatoes, bread, salami, cheese, pasta, sauce, lettuce, eggs etc.  After a while, my basket was getting extremely heavy and started to crack! Alyssa and I each had an overflowing basket, except once we unpacked back home it turned out to not be much at all unfortunately.  So, we made it up just about every aisle and got into line.  A nice Italian man let Alyssa and I go ahead of him as he saw us struggling with lifting our baskets.  In the meantime, Alex hadn't gotten a basket when we first arrived so she had a pile of groceries in her arms.  Two older Italian men asked if they could help her and they filled an empty basket with all her groceries for her.  How nice!  When it was my turn at the register, I felt like an idiot.  For any piece of produce, you have to put it on a scale and punch in a number which will assign the correct price for the weight of the item.  Well, I successfully did that for everything except the bananas.  I tried to say that I didn't really need them, but the cashier was already up and out of her seat going to get the sticker.  Seriously? The line was into the middle of the store and all eyes were on the 3 American girls who knew nothing about grocery store etiquette.  Awesome!  Also, you have to pay for plastic bags in Italy, so I had brought along a reusable bag, which I had to filled to the brim and beyond just to carry my things home.  So, from there we lugged our stuff bag into the MiniMetro and rode that back to the top of the hill and proceeded to walk home from the station (which mind you is still uphill). 

By the end of this experience, we were such a hot mess!  Refusing to take the stairs, we rode our elevator up one floor to our apartment-haha.  It was such a traumatizing experience for Alyssa and I that we went to the American bar near our apartment and got a drink to go and had it with our dinner.  Our plan was that we were going to make grilled chicken and salad.  After that afternoon I was NOT in the mood to start cooking.  I felt like my mom after a long day and switching dinner plans at the last minute.  I totally appreciate that now-love you Mom! So instead we had bread with salami, cheese, and olive oil.  Not a bad second choice-absolutely delicious!  I could eat that every day if I had to. 

This experience was the only bit of culture shock I have yet to experience, minus the obvious language barrier.  *We started our intensive week of Italian yesterday and already I can speak a little and order what I want in a coffee bar.  Vorrei un cappuccino e un cornetto cioccolato...I would like a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant.  This is a standard breakfast for Italians. Of course I don't mind this at all, but I think my love handles will start to hate me!

Keep checking in with me! There's much more to come.  I have an exciting story that I will share with you tomorrow!!  I'm not here a week yet and there is so much to take advantage of and share with y'all.  So many things here are just so different than in America.  My Italian professor said something very intriguing today, "I think the Italian way of life is more human" and I couldn't agree more! 


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Settling in

I finally unpacked my suitcase and am pretty much settled in, which is great because the clothes in my suitcase had turned into a giant clothes ball.  Me and my roommate Alyssa (love the names right?) split the drawer space which is minimal.  The size of the drawers are big enough to maybe fit a single folded sweatshirt.  So as you can imagine, I have folded my clothes in tiny squares and squeezed in the essentials.  The rest is under my bed divided between my suitcases which are acting as storage units for now.  I don't know where else to put my clothes-HA!  There is some closet space in the "dining room" to where I might start migrating my clothes.

All the drawers we have...and my shoes ;)

On a different note, in the past three days I have seen 3 different weddings going on in the piazza right down the street from my apartment.  The brides and their grooms walk out to the fountain in the center of the piazza and they take pictures while they're families and the rest of the city stand in awe of them.  All the brides I have seen have the most beautiful dresses.  The first day we were here, the car carrying the newlyweds honked at Alyssa and I as they passed us on our street and the bride and groom waved.  It was adorable!  Tonight, while we were in search of some pizza, another bride was just chilling at the corner of a street with her groom not far behind her.  It was so picturesque!  I wanted a picture so badly so I started to pull out my phone since I didn't have my camera with me but then she started to turn around and her groom came into sight.  I shoved the phone back in my bag-I did NOT want to be the creepy American.  Awkward!


The fountain up close and personal

Today wrapped up orientation where we had a lot of meetings to hear about how things run at Umbra, academics, safety etc.  The Perugia policeman who spoke to us about safety in the city reiterated pretty much was everyone back home was telling me about safety in Italy.  He asked us what sport Italians play and someone answered football (soccer), obviously.  No, the preferred sport of Italian men is "Ladies".  This is exactly what he told us.  I thought it was funny the way he phrased it!  Comforting right? It is true though.  My new friends and I all went out last night for our first real big night out and as we walked into the center everyone's head turned.  They knew we were American.  Some even clapped.  We are easy targets.  As Italian as I am and look, I am walking around with some blondes and some fair-skinned girls.  The cop said that Italian men love American women so much because Italian women are mean.  They will ignore the men and just not engage in their game. Interesting!

Anyway, tomorrow we start our week of intensive Italian class.  We have our language class everyday, all day this week.  The afternoon portion of the class will give us the opportunity to practice and apply what we learn in the classroom out in the city.  We will go out in the streets of Perugia and learn important survival skills for living here.  I can't wait-I think it would be amazing to be somewhat fluent by the end of this semester! 

The language barrier is definitely difficult because Perugia isn't like Rome and Florence where there are so many tourists and there is a high chance that store owners speak English.  Most store owners here speak minimal English so it has been hard to communicate exactly what I want but somehow it's been working.  In some stores, Alyssa and I will try to be all cool and attempt to converse in basic Italian.  We say "Ciao" and point at a pastry and say "Due" or two.  The person working behind the counter often sees right through us and will try to say in broken English what we are trying to say.  My goal by the end of the semester is to be able to converse with these locals on a regular basis. 

Yesterday, however, Alyssa and I went to get our first gelato at a little store right on the piazza.  Alyssa went first and the store owner spoke some English, so when it was my turn to order I said what I wanted in English.  The store owner said in his thick Italian accent, "Ah, you look so Italian!" and I of course told him that I am Italian but I just don't speak it.  I told him I would be learning all semester so that I would be able to come back and talk to him in Italian fairly soon.  He asked me what parts of Italy my family is from and I told him the specifics from where my dad's family is from in the north and where my mom's family is from down south.  He said, "Yes! You look like you are from the South!"  He was the first person to recognize that I am Italian-SO COOL!  Maybe once I can speak Italian, I'll pass as a local-I'm crossing my fingers :)

Well I need to go catch up on some sleep.  The days here feel so long.  Jet lag hasn't been terrible.  I don't think I even really experienced a true jet lag experience.  Yesterday I suppose was the worst because I was so exhausted from traveling and sitting on a plane for 8 hours and a bus for 3 more. 

Happy Labor Day to those back home!


Saturday, September 3, 2011

My apartment!!


We are finally in our apartment and it is absolutely beautiful! It is so airy and spacious.  The view from me and my roommates bedroom is unreal.  You know those postcards where a narrow, cobblestone street is shown with tall apartments on either side? Yup, well that's my street-Via Bartolo.  Perugia is just so picturesque.  It's everything I have ever seen in movies, books, and postcards.  It's so funny-my roommate and I are so giddy and excited we keep like freaking out!

Last night, we finally ate our first Italian meal and it was delizioso! We started off with real Italian pasta and red sauce followed by salad, chicken, and potatoes, which were all really good.  But dessert was the icing on the cake: chocolate mousse.  A whole glass of it garnished with crushed walnuts on top.  The perfect end to the longest day of my life.

After dinner, me and the group of girls with whom I had dinner all went out for our first drink at a little family run pizza joint right up the street from our hotel.  Our waiter became our first Italian friend :)

Via Bartolo- looking down my street

 View from the center of town (top of hill of Perugia)

Right out of a postcard??!!

Down our street

View from my bedroom window

More from my bedroom

One last view from my bedroom!

Looking down at our street

Enjoy the pictures!! My apartment is decked out-washer, huge drying rack, TV, 2 beautiful bedrooms, a shower (thank goodness!!) to name a few things...


Friday, September 2, 2011

I have arrived!!

(I was supposed to post this last night...)

I finally made it to Perugia! It is the most surreal thing I think I ever experienced.  I still can't believe that I'm going to be living here and studying here for the next three and half months!

Jet lag has already started to kick in and I am absolutely wiped.  I am beyond confused as to what time it is and what it is.  So, for however many hours I've been traveling has been a whirlwind adventure.  I kicked off my travels with a quick flight from Logan to JFK.  After a few hours of sitting around and finally meeting my school group, we took an 8 hour flight from JFK to Rome.  I have never been on an international flight so this was all new to me.  The process didn't seem much different than flying domestically but knowing where I would land was making the whole process that much more thrilling. 

Even after landing in Rome, I still hadn't reached my final destination.  After passing through customs, which was just a man who just waved at us, we sat around and waited to board a bus filled with Umbra students that would take us to Perugia.  By the way, the bus ride was 3 hours longs.  Oh, and another thing, the A/C was barely working so the temperature said the bus was 31-34 degrees Celsius which translates to roughly 95 degrees Fahrenheit. I think i now know what it feels to suffocate.  The only thing I could do was to sleep so that I wouldn't have to feel the pain of heavy, moist air.  We made a pit stop at a small store off the highway and I had a brioche filled with what tasted like Nutella.  Delicious!

We checked in to the Hotel Gío for the night.  I met one of my roommates and she seems really sweet.  I really want to meet our other two roommates.  We are rooming all together tonight.

So now, me and my other two friends from Conn are sitting in my hotel room updating our blogs.  Dinner is scheduled for 8 p.m. and we are all starving!  I hope they feed us something yummy :)

Tomorrow we move in to our apartments! I'll keep you guys updated and send some pictures!