Thursday, September 24, 2009


Ok, so... a bit overdue, but here's the deets on my past weekend in Sicily (Sept. 18-21st)

In short, it was awesome.

I *deep breath* hoped on a bus to the metro station, then took the metro to Termini (Rome's central train station), where I grabbed a train to the airport, then waited at the airport for two hours, got on my flight, and then upon arriving in Sicily hoped on another bus into the city of Palermo to meet up with Jasmine. *exhale*

[Backstory: Jasmine and I went to middle school/high school together, and have known each other since we were about 12. I don't think I've seen her since we graduated, and we've kept in very loose contact since then, mostly just though facebook, etc. Needless to say, I was very much looking forward to seeing her agian and catching up. Since January she has been attending an international hospitality school in Switzerland, and since June had been in Palermo doing a required internship with a hotel for said school. That's what brought me to Palermo.]

Anyway, it's always interesting to discover just how little the passage of time changes the essential nature of an established friendship. Upon seeing each other we immediately fell into old habits, talking and catching up as if two and a half years of new friends, boyfriends, and countries could never change the basics of who we were, even if we are different people now.

After grabbing a pizza from around the corner and some talk, we got dressed up and I was introduced to all of her Italian co-workers who proceeded to take us out for a night on the town. And it was awesome. Driving around Palermo speaking broken English and broken Italian, picking up new phrases, joking together in two different languages but essentially understanding everything, meeting new people from the city, having wonderful conversations, being the "exotic American from Los Angeles/San Francisco"... it was incredible. [To the left, from L-R = Jasmine, Francie (one of Jasmine's co-workers), and Fabrizio, a friend of Francie's]

For the first time I think I felt fully immersed in the culture I'm living in. Living in an American school, traveling with Americans and taking all english courses, while certainly a comfort, I've found also makes immersion in Italy a bit difficult. For the first time since I've been here I didn't have that. I was on their turf, and I was loving it. All of them spoke much more English than we did Italian so we mostly communicated in that, but I listened intently and tried to practice when I could. They were always pleased when I got something right.

Walked around the town with Alessio (a friend of Jasmine who is from Rome but is working in Palermo at the moment) and had a relaxing day. Got sick in the evening, which carried through to Sunday. Didn't let it stop me having fun though!

Jasmine and I took a 30 minute bus ride to gorgeous gorgeous Mondello beach. We went in the water, had lunch in the town, and relaxed on the sand. Pictures will do this day more justice than words ever could.

[As always, click on the images to see bigger versions of them :) ]

That night we went out again with the gang again for a couple drinks and some good mellow conversation. Met more awesome Italians... a couple who moved to Dublin and was about to get married, a woman who spoke Spanish/Italian/French only and was trying to talk to us in Spanish (which was a real mindwarp, trying to speak in Spanish/Italian/English at the same time. I didn't even know what language I was speaking anymore.) Jasmine knew much more Spanish than I did so she was mostly talking to her, and while I could generally understand I couldn't speak back. Her boyfriend sat down and practiced Italian with me for 20 minutes which was really sweet of him. He asked me all the basics, but in Italian instead of English so I was really forced to try and practice. It was tough, but so necessary. And so so so so fun.

Still sick, I began the journey home. The plane flight is only 45min. long, but I left at 11am and didn't get back to my room till 5:30pm. Whew.

Anyway, all in all it was an incredible weekend and I'm so glad I went. I have new Italian friends, I got to see a beautiful beach, and I got a much deeper understanding of young Italian culture. This is definitely a weekend I'll remember for a while.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sick in Rome and The Pope

So here's the story:

Apparently every year JFRC sets up a Papal Audience for the students, meaning that we get tickets to go see the Pope give some blessings and speak in person on a stage in an auditorium with hundreds of other groups from throughout the world.

While I have many thoughts on Catholicism (which are more for an in-person kind of conversation), the chance to see a respected world spiritual leader in person is too incredible an opportunity to pass up. So of course I grabbed a ticket.

I made plans to leave at about 7:30 in the morning, knowing it would take about 30 minutes to get there, which would give me a few hours to get in and hopefully get a decent seat before it started at 10:30 (which in retrospect was very smart because apparently I heard a bunch of JFRC students who arrived a bit after me were not allowed in because it was too full).

Mistake #1
Early morning = no breakfast. I managed to grab a peach and a yogurt, but being the kind of person I am that's not enough to sustain me from 6:30-12:30.

Mistake #2
Rushed in line after getting off the bus instead of buying a cornetto (croissant) or some other type of food to sustain me once I outside the Vatican

Mistake #3
Underestimating my level of sickness left over from the weekend. I got a little throat cold Saturday night and thought it was gone by this morning. Wrong.

Anyway, we get in at 8:30 and get decent seats. The auditorium looked a bit like this:

9:30am: I read, look around, try to close my eyes to pass the time. Look at my watch and I'm already starting to feel what I think are hunger pains. Great. Suck it up Sarah, only ~3hours to go.

10:35am: The Pope comes out. Awesome! My stomach is at this point stinging a sharp and continuous pain, but... the Pope is up there! Two hours to go, I tell myself, you can make it.

[Hi Pope!]

10:40am: The Pope begins an address in Italian, and then different Cardinals come up and speak representing all the different Catholic languages (Italian, Spanish, German, English, French, Polish, Portuguese (?), Russian (?)). They speak to the crowd, calling out all the different groups from their languages, and then the Pope addresses each one in that language. I make it up to the English one.

10:50: I turn to my neighbor and tell her I feel like I'm going to pass out. She nods sympathetically and holds her stomach.

11:05: I start shivering and the pain in my stomach is so intense I can no longer sit up. I lean forward and put my head between my legs, close my eyes, and start breaking out in a cold sweat. My fingers go numb and I feel like I actually AM going to pass out.

11:10: They're addressing the Spanish speakers of the crowd now I think. I still can't see straight. I begin contemplating lying on the floor, or running to find a bathroom if I can even stand.

11:30: Everyone stands up to say a final prayer in Latin. In retrospect I think the idea was nice because it was a way for everyone of every language to come together on some common ground and connect, but I couldn't really open my eyes to appreciate it at the time. Ah well :-/

11:45: "Sarah don't fall asleep! We have to go" "I'm not falling asleep guys... I don't feel good" "Oh... oh wow, Sarah you're dead white, what's wrong?" The next hour is a blur of people talking, someone trying to give me a bit of a peanut butter sandwich, Father B. (from the school) coming over and then calling a Doctor in the room, being lead down to the First Aid by some men and being followed by a girl at my school, Hope. The doctors taking my pulse and trying to speak to me in English, ordering a cab and giving me some bags (for in case I get the 'sensation to vomit' which I was definitely having), one of the security guards saying "Andiamo" ("let's go") and being rushed out and into a cab.

12:30: I arrive back at the school, step out of the cab, and vomit profusely. Hope tells one of the SLAs (Student Life Assistants) and then helps me to my room and gets me some bread from the Mensa (cafeteria). She tells me to find her if I need anything. I spend the next 5 hours curled up on my bed in immense pain, throwing up three more times.

4:50: SLA Gabriella comes into my room to check on me. Gets me some Gatorade and Sprite and some little tubes of medicine she claims will help ease the acid imbalance in my stomach.

5:00: I take the two capsules (which taste like tap water and say "Milan" on them) and lie back down and wait.

5:20: My stomach unclenches and for the first time since 11 in the morning I feel like a human being again.

Anyway, I was feeling pretty weak the rest of the evening. I chugged the drinks and had some crackers that my roommate was sweet enough to get for me at the store, and now I'm feeling almost normal. Whew. Obviously the issue was not lack of food and was probably a stomach bug of sorts, but either way I'm almost fine now. Sad I had to miss half the Papal Audience, but at least I got in a got to see him at all.

C'est la vie!

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Over the past three days I've learned a series of really important lessons about myself, and my life and place here in general.

Lesson #1: I can have just as much fun on my own

I had the day off from school on Friday, and wanted to do something fun. I decided to explore the city on my own, to test myself and see if I could do it.

Best decision I could have made.

I busted out my bus maps and my city guide, found the location of an English book store in Trastevere (a neighborhood of Rome about 20 min. south of me), figured out how to get there by bus, and got up and went.

Trastevere is beautiful. Honestly when you think of Rome, you're probably thinking of that neighborhood. Winding streets, cobblestone roads, tall buildings painted (and peeling) with rusty warm colors, little shops scattered everywhere. I used my map to find the bookstore, had a great conversation with the Irish guy who ran it, bought a new book, explored the Church of Santa Maria, and bought a gelato in Italian.

Lesson #2: I am capable and resourceful

Bolstered by my success in navigating Rome on my own, I decided to take a day trip outside of the main city the next day mostly just to see if I could do it. I chose Ostia Antica, the ruins of the old port town of Rome before the Tiber River silted up and ruined them thousands of years ago.

Using maps and internet directions I took the bus to the metro, transferred to another metro, then got on a train and finally made it there. It was HUGE. But impressive looking. Ruins of fountains, bath houses, churches, temples, schools. I walked around forever in it. You could get lost.

Lesson #3: Follow your gut. And Rome NEVER sleeps. Ever. (But that part I knew).

After getting back from Ostia Antica I decided I wanted to go out into the city that night. I left with a group of people who I had lunch with once, but got a very good vibe from (as opposed to the people I've usually found myself hanging out with) and am very glad I did. They were probably some of the sweetest people I've met at this school so far. I wore the wrong shoes for the amount of walking we did that night (which I'm suffering for this morning, believe me) but it was still fun.

Pizzeria at midnight by the Trevi fountain, meeting up with other people we know in Piazza Navona at 1am, popping into an Irish pub at 2am, hanging outside with a crowd of people at Scholars (a huuge and well known American bar) at 3am.

Honestly it's impossible to tell what time it is in this city because the amount of people you see out and walking around at 3:30 in the morning looks like the amount of people you'd see at 12:30am at home. You can stop at a restaurant at midnight and order food and hang out for an hour if you'd like. You can gather with a massive crowd of the moderately buzzed (and the very drunk) in Piazza Navona or Campo de Fiori at 2am. You can get a bottle of wine and watch the sun come up on the Spanish Steps with groups of Italians and lovers scattered about. You can get home at 6 in the morning and have that be normal.

This city is insane. But amazing. And I feel like I'm finally starting to find my place in all of it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Good News

A) The weather is FINALLY cooling down. I can wear jeans again. This is beyond exiting to me.
B) For some reason the coffee here does not make me feel anxious, and thus I am becoming appropriately addicted. I'm getting into a cappuccino habit in the morning, and I have a feeling I'll be doing shots of espresso by lunch soon enough.
C) Had my first class this morning (Writing Fiction in Rome) an will have another one later (Food and Wine of Italy) that sound like they're going to be amazing. Must buy a writing sketchbook...
D) Put down my deposit for the trip to Greece. While I don't know anyone going on that trip too well, I figure this opportunity (though the most expensive one of my semester here by far) is too good to pass up.

...will find a way to make other travel plans happen soon.

C'e vediamo

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bring. It.

I've been debating for a long time just how honest I wanted to be on this blog. Whether I would sugar-coat everything and post pretty pictures and only pick and choose the best stories. Whether I would put on just another "best semester of my life" facades so that I wouldn't disappoint anyone. So that I wouldn't disappoint myself.

While I have been extremely busy, I also have not been posting as much as I could have, or reaching out and connecting with people at home as much as I could have, for a reason. The truth is I'm kind of lonely. Well, very lonely. While I have people I walk to the store with and eat meals with, while I have people I can go to the city with, I have not found any real connections besides the superficial. And being the type of person I am, I cannot be happy with relationships at the surface level. I need things that go deeper.

At first I played the blame game. I went into the spiral of "what's wrong with me" and "why is this happening to me again". I've certainly dealt with friend situations in the past. I know everyone told me to not go into this experience with any expectations, and to not get disappointed when things don't happen as I had imagined, but to feel like I don't even have people to travel with is a new blow. I always thought that would be the easiest part.

But after having plan after plan fall apart from under me, after being let down again and again, after everything these past few weeks, I honestly can't help but laugh. Or smile. Or want to scream. Or all of it. Because the fact can no longer be avoided that clearly I need to be dealing with and learning something about myself in this. While I have always been an independent and strong person, I rely on others for my happiness far more often than I'd like to admit. And now I clearly no longer have that option.

So while this is only the first few weeks, and I know I have a lot more to come, after much confusion and a few tears I'm ready to take this challenge head on. So what if I have to travel alone? So what if I have to learn how to navigate the trains and hostels without someone there to hold my hand? Maybe it's about time. And I'm honestly looking forward to it.

My first step in this process is opening myself up here to the world (as I admittedly seldom do). My second step is to go to bed knowing that no matter how alone I get I will always, ALWAYS have my own company. I need to learn to love being around that first. Everything else I want will follow.

So bring it world. I'm ready for your challenges, and no matter what I will come out of this a better person in the end.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Past Few Weeks

Well I must say, the past few weeks have been a blur of beautiful sights, awesome food, awkward situations, uncomfortable language barriers, and other general exploration.

Since arriving, the JFRC (the school I'm attending through Loyola Chicago) has for the most part owned my life with their meticulously planned 10 day orientation. When I wasn't doing that, I was doing my best to make friends and explore the city. And my god this is a huge city. While sometimes it was frustrating to not have as much freedom as I would have liked the first few days, the orientation definitely did enable me to experience things I probably would never have otherwise.

For example, the second day here the JFRC piled everyone on four different buses and took us down to the beach. And it was wonderful. I was blown away by how warm the Mediterranean is, and spent a majority of my time just standing in the water talking with people. I also got my first taste of Italian food (the bruschetta here is AMAZING) and in all honesty was walking on cloud 9 for most of the day.

I also spent a few evenings at this summer festival on the Tiber River, enjoying Sangria with some new people I met at the Rome center and attempting to order a focaccia in Italian (I for the most part succeeded. I judge that by the fact that I got what I asked for, eventually. Score one for Sarah.) Although, to be honest, it's not that hard. "Vorrei una capresi focaccia", or something along those lines. "Posso avere una birra" is another helpful one. (Vorrei = I would like & Posso avere = Can I have... in case you were wondering.)

Of course dealing with the large disconnect from people is also a frustration. I'm hoping that aspect of my time here will dissipate as I become more familiar with the culture and the language. As for right now though, there's a strong mix of both incredible excitement and debilitating loneliness. Which is, I assume, to be expected.

Anyway, at this moment I think I am off to the Jewish Getto to find some fried artichokes (apparently a specialty there.) I'm also hoping to find some bagels, although I'm not holding my breath, haha. Will write again in the next couple days about the Colosseum, my three days in Matera, and other city adventures. Once I get more pictures uploaded I'll post links to flickr too.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Apologizing for not being able to get online or keep in contact with anyone at the moment. This Rome center orientation schedule is pretty packed, and when I have do have a second of free time (which in the past few days has been about an hour total) the internt is not working. Seriously. Hopefully when school starts I'll able to get online more, and I'll definitely have more free time.

At this moment I'm in Matera, a gorgeous city in southern Italy, writing from the hotel lobby. Will show amazing pictures, plus stories about other adventures, when I get back and am able to upload photos on my own computer (and actually figure out how to get on the wireless internet. They make that way too complicated...)

Anyway, much love to everyone reading,

p.s. international keyboards are a paaaaain to get used to. Sheeesho.