Archive for January, 2011

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Andrea: Rocks and Water

January 25, 2011

Several years ago when I was taking an introductory art history course covering works from prehistory to the Byzantine era, I saw a picture in my textbook of a group of arranged rocks known as Stonehenge. I never would have thought I’d ever get to see the megalithic ruin that has baffled scholars and excursionists alike for centuries, but whaddya know…

It was very cold on the Salisbury Plain because there is nothing around for miles to break the wind. It was also quite cloudy with short bursts of sunlight here and there, which only added to the mystique of the site. I have to admit that it wasn’t as large as I believed it would be, but I’m not complaining. There are many theories as to who constructed the site and why to keep me interested. Some believe that the druids were responsible. Although it’s been proven that Stonehenge was created before their time, they still would have seen it and possibly used it as a temple. Others say that it was used as an astronomical observatory. Of course, there are also those few who believe that aliens were involved and will return to Stonehenge someday.  Hmm…

Afterward, I made my way to the city of Bath, a World Heritage city where I saw Bath Abbey, and of course, the Roman Baths.


I know that one of Bath’s famous inhabitants was the writer Jane Austen, who actually didn’t like the city. I’ve never read any of her novels before, but I’m definitely inspired to now. The city is incredibly beautiful and I’d love to go back someday. Oh, and I also loved the performing street artists which were pretty much everywhere!
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Anna: Gelato & great views

January 25, 2011

I finally completed my first week of class. It does not feel like I am in school at all because all my classes are once a week except for my Italian. I switched out of a class that assigned us a 15 page paper and into watercolor. I know I know, I am probably lazy…but now at least I get to spend my time painting outside of the classroom instead of writing a huge paper! I haven’t water colored since Mr. Beaman’s junior high art classes so this should be interesting, but I have heard great things about the teacher.

We ate dinner last Thursday as a huge group. We were lucky enough to sit with our super nice CAPA staff Lorenzo and Guido. They were very funny giving us tips about where to go out. He gave us some names of places near where I live that he said we would enjoy. The dinner was a trio of pesto with penne, gnocci in a cream sauce, and meat and cheese ravioli. It was delicious! Groceries here are so cheap. Fresh mozzarella is only 1 euro! Delicious bread way under 1 euro and the produce is so cheap too. I hated sandwiches back at home, but here they are some of my favorite meals.

I am finally starting to feel like I know my way around a little more. I found it’s alright to ask questions if I find myself lost because it probably will help my Italian anyways. Also, the lovely Allie Hynan (Katie Hynan’s sister) provided me with a huge list of tips. As I read it a week in I know where certain places are, have visited quite a few of them, and I love that I know if I am getting ripped off of gelato!

My apartment
View from Piazza Michelangelo

This weekend I went to the Uffizi. I have heard it will take me many many times to get through the whole thing, but I ended up seeing a little over half of it! Plus I have my art history course that will take us there. It is truly remarkable to see work that was created so long ago. I also took a walk with a room mate and we found that our backyard (a little up a ways) is where the famous Piazza Michelangelo is. It overlooks the ENTIRE city of Florence, so so beautiful. I will take whoever visits there.

A word to describe the weather here would definitely be brisk. There will be sun but it is still cool and windy. The whole week is 45 degrees out. Not too bad, way better than Minnesota so I should not complain!

I made my room mates dinner the other night and it seemed like it went over well. I am the only one who likes cooking so they get really impressed over the simplest of things. I made spaghetti with ricotta, roasted red pepper and tomato sauce. It was really yummy I was proud of myself.

I have to admit there are times where I am homesick. My room mates and I all sat down and talked about it last night before bed (when most of us get home sick the most) and ended up the night laughing and writing down quotes. It is hard to be away from the people and friends who know you the best, but I have met a handful of really nice girls who I will hopefully do a lot of my traveling with. There aren’t just Minnesotans so a lot of the times I really miss that “Minnesota Nice” smile people give.

Next weekend I am either visiting Rome or a day trip to Pisa. Ciao for now! I will try to write on this more. Pictures to come later!

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Michelle: First week of classes

January 25, 2011

Every year, I await with anticipation the first day of school. Like a kid before Christmas, I can’t wait to get up in the morning and go to class. This year was no different. After a week of orientation to the city of Montpellier and falling into step with my host family’s life, I was sad to see my vacation go but at the same time, I was ready.

Monday started off great. My first class was on the world of work in France and is a class specific for Minnesota students. Everyone who does an internship has to take it. We spent the whole lesson learning vocabulary for the workplace (words like bosser, entretien d’embauche, engager, and licencier)  Despite the class being exclusively in French, I understood pretty much everything.

The second two classes that day are for the same course. One is a three hour lecture on developmental psychology, the other is another three hour lecture on social psychology. Both lectures have an emphasis on child/adolescent psychology. It’s hard enough having to learn in another language. However, when there’s a class of 300 students, some of whom are talking constantly while the professors talk in a lecture hall that echoes, comprehension is near impossible. The blatant disrespect for the professors in both classes astounded me. I sat in the front for both classes and people all around me chattered incessantly from the time they sat down to the time we were dismissed. In my classes in the US, this would never happen, especially not in the front row. Fortunately, during the first class, both professors simply laid down the basics and discussed a little bit of history and fundamentals in each topic. As a psychology major/enthusiast, I was familiar with most of what was discussed. There are many terms that are similar in French and English. For example “l’erreur d’attribution fondamentale” is the “fundamental attribution error.” Also, obviously all the names are the same (but with a French accent). Plato becomes Platon; Aristotle becomes Aristote; Erikson is still Erikson.

After both classes, another American girl in the class with me and I introduced ourselves to the professors. They asked how it was and we answered honestly. “Quand je vous entends, je peux vous comprendre, mais il y a beaucoup de bruit alors je ne peux pas toujours vous entendre” (When I hear you, I can understand, but there’s a lot of noise, so I can’t always hear you.) The social psychology professor responded, “It’s not like this in other universities, but what can you do?” I was so tired after that day. I just came home, ate dinner, and slept. I actually fell asleep without intending to. My host mother was so nice. She came in, put a blanket over me, and turned off the light.  This was not a great start to my first day of courses.

Today was my second day. My only course on Tuesdays is Civilization du Sud de la France. It’s a course for international students, but like the courses the U offers, it’s taught in French. One thing I’ve noticed is I’m not used to three hour lectures. Halfway through, I already find my attention waning. In the US, the longest lecture I have ever had to sit through has been two hours. After class, the combination of the length and the language makes my head feel like it’s about to explode.

Talking to other Americans, it’s reassuring to hear that some other students struggling too (although, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone have trouble with other students talking). It sounds mean, but I think you all understand. Going through something difficult is a lot easier when you know others are doing the same thing.

I still have the rest of the week to get through and after that the rest of the semester. Tomorrow I have Grammar and the day after is Phonetics. Once I get used to the language, I’m sure everything will go much more smoothly. Until then, I’m just going to have to bear through it. To anyone who plans on studying abroad in the future, voice recorder = best Christmas present ever. Thanks Dad.

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Eric: primo giorno di lezione

January 24, 2011

Yesterday, the group met for breakfast and then trekked off to the Trastevere Sunday flea market. For as far as the eye can see down a backstreet that flows southwest of the Tiber were tents and people crowded shoulder to shoulder in-between them. The attitude was relaxed and chaotic all at the same time with thousands of people browsing imitation designer clothes, shoes, boots and everything else that could possibly be replicated and sold at bottom barrel prices. The smell of pork wafted through the alley and beckoned for you to come get a Chicare sandwich.

There were several shops selling kitchenware, and I kept my eyes open searching them all for a thermos to replace the one that broke. Spatulas, spoons, Tupperware, espresso makers, colanders etc. but no Thermos. At the point in which I was about to give up I saw one gleaming like an obelisk from underneath a small stand of assorted goods. Excited, I bee-lined for it and gave it a look. It was time to barter. I asked how much to the Chinese woman behind the table, but I could not understand her response. I countered whatever she said with an initial bid of 6 euro, she looked to her right and caught glances with her husband and my offer was denied with a counter offer of 8 euro. I attempted to offer 7, but I could tell that she was not in the mood to haggle on the item so I paid the 8.

Later, we all decided to head off to a pizza place that my host family had recommended. Although we had a map on the back of the business card we were lost in piazza so cossimato. Skateboarders shooting a part rolled around skating the benches, concrete embankments and rails scattered infront of renaissance cathedrals. I spotted a fellow American and asked if he might know where this place was, but he seemed unsure and as we all tried to orient our current location to map I caught the name of the restaurant staring back at me from a non-descript window in front of us. Lunch was awesome!  We shared two bottles of wine, two bottles of water and each had their own 10″ thin crust pizza for 10 euro.

Later that evening we went to a Pub named Scholars where every American student seemed to have crowded into in order to watch the Green Bay Packers beat the Bears. The oak walls seemed to flex as we maxed out the place with cheering Wisconsin co-eds reconnecting with a culture that they had exchanged for a more reserved nothing in excess except laughs type of people.

So anyway…back to this morning!

I opened my eyes to cerulean blue light peeking through my blinds reminding me it is morning again in the Eternal city.  Pushing off the cover I rolled out of bed eager to have another espresso and some breakfast pastry. Like clockwork, as I opened my bedroom door to exit into the hallway, Valentino entered the apartment with a silver thermos of coffee. As delighted as I was to see the coffee I came to the realization that they already had the exact same thermos that I had purchased from the Trastevere Sunday market to replace the one I had accidentally broken. I figured it was the thought that counted, and I handed the thermos I had purchased to him who promptly refused. Valentino understood my intentions and brought the vessel down to Marina. As I set down to coffee and screwed off the lid of the thermos I realized that the one that I had given to Marina as a replacement was a fake of the one that she already had.

As I hit the pavement I was met with a sunny brisk Roman morning. We took the 870 to Poana which drops off a few blocks from the center. Today was the first day of class, which started with Made in Italy taught by a brilliant woman who is fluent in three languages and has lived on three continents. The class seems extremely engaging and we may even score some free passes to a fashion show that features an all-star class of Italian fashion designers unleashing next seasons garments later this spring. After another quick coffee break it was time for my first Italian course. Our teacher Mario is fantastic! I do not think that I have laughed so hard in my life when we were paired up and attempted to work on our pronunciation. Mario kept an open ear to our conversations and butted in to offer suggestions and crack the occasional pun which had all of in smiles for the hour. Following class me and Mike did the Caesar shuffle back to his apartment in the Monte Esquilino district of town to get his money to pay for our side excursions and so he could grab his running gear so we could go for an evening jog in the Villa Panfili park.

I was able to put my iPod into my back pocket, crank up the internal speaker and hit the trails with Mike.  The trail starts out by entering a non-descript gateway covered in graffiti.  The true magic of the park lies about 3/4 mile up the 20% grade hill that rises above Rome onto a hilltop crested by decaying fountains, beheaded statues, and a pristine villa with immaculate hedge garden.

After working up a sweat, we decided it was time for an apertivo and headed off in search of a café near by.  We eventually found a spot that seemed worth entering where we were served peanuts, chips, and a glass of Chianti apiece.  As we sipped our wine and talked about life my phone rang, and it was Marina. Tempo per la cena!!  Not looking to upset our hosts we rushed back to the homestay just in time to be served oriacceli with broccoli for first course along with a sparkling red wine that is popular in this region. Second course was sautéed beef served with insilata.  The meal was rounded out with a shot of grappa and sugar cookies.

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Kelly: Crema de cacahuete

January 23, 2011

So I needed to buy shampoo and toiletries, right? My madre took me to the mall a block from our house so the SuperMaxi could fulfill all my needs… as far as shampoo and toothpaste go, anyway. (side note: toiletries are EXPENSIVE compared to food in Ecuador. Interesting.) So we found what we needed and were strolling through one of the food aisles to the checkout. We stopped by the peanut butter and my madre asked if I wanted some; she seemed a bit persistent that we get it, so I said that I liked it and would eat it (the chunky kind, obviously).

When we sat down for dinner that night, my padre and hermana were “trying” the peanut butter by taking one little peanut chunk each and cautiously putting it in their mouths. Then the lid quickly went back on the jar and the jar was set closest to me. Every time anyone pulls out the condiments now, they set the peanut butter right in front of me. Haha, they were so polite when I asked if they liked it. I think my madre passed that question off actually.

I feel obligated to go through a whole jar in the next 6 weeks. That wouldn’t be hard if I was cooking for myself, but it’ll take some doing since there is always delicious (mostly vegetarian) food being set in front of me. Did I tell you yet that mis padres own a restaurant? Yep. Que chevere!

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Amanda: Blogging Abroad

January 23, 2011

While I was thinking about it, I wanted to set up some expectations for my blog while I’m abroad.

When I’m in India, I vow that my blog WILL:

  • have (hopefully lots of) pictures
  • include many narratives of strange, fun, silly, awkward, outrageous, unjust, righteous, and awesome experiences
  • question cultures–what separates and unites us
  • express my emotions–what and who I’m missing, how I’m feeling
  • continue communication with people I love
However, when I’m in India, I vow that my blog WILL NOT:
  • become a collection of word vomit including every place I visit, what time I wake up, or what I eat
Just had to confess it… for the next three months this blog will be readable and it will not be boring, as much for my sake as for yours’!
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Eric: Roma, day 3

January 22, 2011

Sooo I set my alarm last night for this morning at 7 o’clock to make sure I had plenty of time to get ready to hop on the bus at 8, but I did not set the time on my phone correctly!  My house mate instead woke me up at 8. My host dad had already brought up the espresso, and I slammed two quick shots and decided I would be nice and rinse out the thermos, but I did not realize that it was lined with fragile glass!  needless to say the instant I added cold tap water to the thermos the thing exploded. Great! I hoped to just leave some Euro underneath the broken thermos and run to the bus stop, but Valentino came to the door before we left and wanted to get more information from me and Brian in order to fill out his paperwork for hosting us.

The morning was dreary with light showers and stayed overcast most of the day. Considering we would have been really late for school if we had taken the bus Valentino drove us to school in his Focus. I was sort of looking forward to riding the bus again, but it was a really nice gesture and we got to school right on time.

When everyone arrived at the ACCENT center we headed off to Emporium alla Pace, which is a cute little coffee bar a block or so from the center. There were newspapers all around and a book shelf with several Italian cookbooks. The clientele was comprised by single ladies attempting to enjoy a peaceful morning, but we packed the place to the brim with our group of 20. From the bar we walked through some side streets and loaded into taxi’s aimed at the Villa Borghese. As the Taxi zipped through the city a blur of designer shops, restaurants, fountains, sculptures and Ferraris shone through the windows of the quick little Puegot.

The Villa Borghese is beyond words. We were given what was similar to a phone that you were able to punch numbers into the digital pad and synch up different rooms and particular pieces of art in order to get an exciting description and meaning behind each work of art. We were able to roam free and explore and get intimate with Bernini’s finest works which were simply amazing. Micro mosaics, incredible frescoes, oil paintings oh my! I am going to return and spend all day there. From the Villa we walked the grounds to the Spanish steps which overlook the chic district where every designer has a only buyers welcome type of shop.  After doing some window ogling of the seasons fashions we split for lunch.

Me and a few of the fellow students found a little gem on a corner named, Café terra forno which is owned and operated by a father-son team. The make excellent espresso, fantastic sandwiches, hearty salads and aperativo. I personally had an espresso to start, followed by a pancetta and mozzarella penino and a aperativo made with orange juice with gran marnier and schnapps.

After lunch we met up with our guide who teaches a class on modernism. She is a fashionable five foot powerhouse of Rome. We went to check out the Hotel Art, a chic boutique hotel and a store called Tad which sold all things high end. I was not really impressed with the hotel or the shop, but they are both very popular in the city. From there we strolled to a few more destinations and ended up at Santa Maria church. The church has been remolded and a chic bar is perched above and overlooking a fresco by Rafael. We all had a glass of wine and enjoyed some friendly banter before heading off to enjoy a five course meal at a restaurant. The program paid for our meals which would have been around 50 per person not including wine. After dinner everyone retreated back to their houses to get some rest after another full day of sightseeing.

I went back to the ACCENT center with Steven to get an extra cell phone that he had to use for the trip. I am able to receive international calls for free (caller pays), but international sms texts cost 50 cents each and Int calling can be quite expensive. Phone cards are available, but I think that I am going to rely on SMS, email and Skype for the duration of the trip.

When I left ACCENT I took my first bus alone, at night, in the rain. It was a short walk to a busy bus stop servicing an endless parade of busses scurrying off to different destinations. I had never taken the 870, but I was able to print out a route plan at the center and it got me home quickly with a great view on the way of illuminated Rome at night from a hill on the west bank of the Tiber.

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Kelly: Estoy aprendiendo…

January 21, 2011

(I am learning…)

  • Used toilet paper goes in the bin, not the toilet.
  • You greet everyone when you come home, with a beso on the cheek. You tell everyone when you are leaving, with a beso on the cheek.
  • You ask to be excused from the table (Con permiso?)—people eat together, how great!
  • The U.S. Embassy rates the “danger” level of Ecuador on a scale of Low, Medium, High, and Critical as the last-mentioned. Whatever. I know how to spot a legit taxi now, I’ll be just fine.
  • The sun is DIRECTLY above us here. Did you know that Mount Chimborazo is the closest point to the sun/the furthest from the center of the Earth?! Take that, Mt. Everest. This also means my pasty skin is especially sensitive to the rays. Yay sunscreen?
  • PDA is not an issue. I think it’s cute… usually.
  • High School Musical and Justin Beiber hold special places in the hearts of Ecuadorian pre-teens. Que triste.
  • Only half the cars of the city are allowed out everyday. There are high fines for violations, and jail time for the third.
  • MANGOS ARE SO GOOD! I already knew this though.
  • SO ARE AVOCADOS! Again, knew it. But seriously, it’s a dishonor to the produce in this country to try to compare it to anything in the U.S.

I am not motivated to finish my readings when there are so many other things to do and people to talk to and questions to ask. But I must, so I will sign off and share more revelations later…

(My host dad, Carlos, said today, “The weather here is like a woman,” and then proceeded to do a roller coaster motion with his hand and explain that all types of weather will occur in one day in Quito. Era muy cómico a mi.)

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Eric: Rome, day 2

January 21, 2011

Mamma Mia! Long day!

Wake: 6.30
Café: 7.30
Buss: 8.20
Accent center orientation: 9.00
Café (Bar Amore): 9.15
Academic orientation: 10.30
Basilica di San Pietro : 12.00
Lunch (Borgo Pio): 13.00
Walking tour (Castel Sant’ Angelo, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Spanish steps, Roman forum, Coliseum): 14.30
L’apertivo (drinks and snacks): 17.25
Students only pub crawl: 18.30
Buss: 19.30
Home: 20.00

I am pretty exhausted from today’s orientation, but I can say that this was one of the best days of my life!! The day started out somewhat overcast and slightly humid, which was very comfortable in a light coat and scarf.  Me and my housemate Brian ended up waiting at the wrong bus stop, but luckily Chelsea and Sophia, fellow students and also our neighbors, recognized us and helped us get on the right bus. The bus sign posts are very hard to understand here, but to tell you the truth I have a hard time reading bus schedules in the States so I am already quite used to being clueless about navigating cities via bus. I personally would rather walk, but with the speed of traffic and lack of sidewalks means that assuming the role of a pedestrian is a gamble.

I am amazed at the choreography that is Italian driving! Busses, scooters, cars, ambulances all vying for the same cobblestone roads at breakneck speeds. The road that leads from the Trastevere to Roma proper is a scenic switchback along the west end of the Tiber, and our bus driver deserves a medal for navigating that pass. At every point where the bus rounded a sharp 180 degree curve the front end of the bus was inches from scraping every car parked along the edge, but he kept the bus sailing at 30 MPH!The ACCENT center is where the classes will be held, and is a very beautiful space with modern fixtures. The building was originally commissioned as the Vatican bank, but controversy ensued as the bank was deemed too far from the Sistine chapel to be considered the Vatican bank and the space was instead used for several other purposes in it’s 400 year lifespan. Residents still occupy the top level, and I believe the rent is not cheap.

After a quick info session we went for a break at the café around the corner. Bar Amore serves fantastic coffee and pastries. The entire shop was about the size of your typical Starbucks bathroom and I loved it!  Everyone crammed into the 300 year old bar with original watercolors and oil paintings of the sights decorating the walls. Apparently they had just recently remodeled the interior, but it would be hard to tell because essentially they tried to keep as much of the previous aesthetic as possible. Steven, one of the program directors, explained to me that if a bar looks like too much work has gone into the interior Italians will hesitate to go there thinking that the proprietors must be hiding something under a mask of interior design.

After another quick information session we took the quick walk from the center to the bus stop at the Plaza Nuevo. By now the sun had come up and the walk was very surreal. Damp streets reflecting a bright early morning sun while a symphony of scooter engines played in the background. When we exited the bus we were able to see the Basilica’s grand dome reaching toward the sky.

https://i2.wp.com/s3.amazonaws.com/files.posterous.com/waveoflife/uZ7yZ3rOl17kxjUXNqpDbVmI1IyjsCUBzxNAmjyEr0MzgmAMGMXvffqM1JTs/IMG_0130.jpgThe Piazza is impressive enough with the grand obelisk rising above from the center surrounded by a nativity scene that is erected during the holiday season, which is celebrated well past the New Year in Roma. After some photos we went through the security checkpoint and into the Basilica’s grand entrance.  It is really hard to describe the feeling of entering such a building. All the light is natural light except for some small accent lights places at various points. The colors are muted in grays and auburns and the respectful murmur of impressed visitors completes the ambiance. The amount of marble that the building is made of is unreal. Everywhere you look is marble, and imagining the sheer mass of the building is mind-blowing. You almost feel the heaviness of the structure humbling you before God. From there we took a short walk down the quiet back streets to a small restaurant. I had the Gnocchi with ragu and the texture was phenomenal.

I could go on forever about the rest of the day but it is time for me to lay down and prepare for tomorrow.Arriviaderci! Ciao!

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Eric: Rome, day 1

January 20, 2011

We made it! After 14 hours of air travel and a seven hour time difference I have landed in the Eternal City, ROME! When our plane touched down it was overcast and misting with a temperature of around fifty degrees. Our group boarded the plane together and exited together completely undirected which is a good sign that there will be some lasting connections made on this trip.

Customs was really quick and easy, simply a matter of getting your visa stamped. Once we were through and got our bags, we were met by our program directors at which point general information was administered and distributed. We all were handed an envelope with our specific housing arrangements inside along with an unlimited bus pass. The majority of the students had decided to live in an apartment, but there were five of us who chose the homestay option. The students who chose the apartment option were grouped based on gender into two separate apartments. Those of us who decided on the homestay option were placed in the home of an Italian Signora alone, or with another student and an entire family.

My homestay is proving to be amazing. The family consists of three members who live in the apartment which is actually comprised of two separate apartments in a single building. Me and my fellow student were greeted by Marina, the lady of the house, who is especially kind and patient. The language barrier is definitely a factor, but she had anticipated this, and when we were walked into the lower level apartment her computer was already on the Google translate page. We were able to break the ice and she made us some espresso, which was incredible. Next we were adjourned for a half an hour so the we could go unpack and situate ourselves our new rooms. The apartment that we have is amazing! Marble floors, ten foot ceilings, and terraces attached to every room.

Marina has a dog, Irwin, and a cat which I have forgotten the name of. Once we had situated ourselves Marina offered to show us around town, and we took Irwin for a walk around the Quarto, into a public Villa, and past some of the shops and into the Super Mercado. Marina bought some bread, artichokes, and pasta (Coop Brand) which is her favorite local brand.

When we returned back to the apartment we were greeted by Marina’s husband who assisted us in connecting our computers to the house’s Wi-Fi network which was a pleasant surprise. After some small talk that was conversed in a language that was neither Italian nor English but a rough blending of the two we had some lunch. Although it was somewhat irritating to not be able to converse easily I am relishing in the challenge of applying context to a conversation in order to flesh out a meaning from words that I have never heard before. Although communicating in this way is somewhat of a guessing game, it does lead to quite a few laughs when the conversation crashes into a language barrier and we run to the computer to translate for us.

We had a Mezzo of carbora, boiled artichokes, bread, and wine. I felt bad not eating my entire portion of the pasta which was 3 times as large as the rest of the families’ portion (ha-ha I guess the secret is out about American portion sizes, and I did not know how to say “that is enough, thank you”), but at least Irwin was happy! Apparently it is not a family custom to serve leftovers, so anything that is extra is promptly given to the dog. After another Café and some more friendly banter aided by the computer we all went our separate ways.  I decided to work off my Mezzo by putting on my jogging shoes and venturing up the dirt paths that lead up to the Villa and around the grounds. The park was peppered by locals pushing themselves to the limit on the trails and I felt strangely at home.

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