Romein’

Well, well, well what did you guys do over mid-Winter break? Me? Oh, I just went to Italy and spent my life savings on gelato. And pizza. And pasta. Maybe a few museums? But seriously, I went to Italy and it was beautiful, rainy, sunny, and everything I knew it would be but could never visualize without putting on my rain boots and trekking the ancient land myself.

Let’s start with the first city we arrived in: Rome.

My trusty group of five chicas and I arrived late in Rome on Sunday night after a train, flight, and bus ride. We were tired and wanted our beauty rest so saved our free drinks cards from the hostel until they could be fully appreciated. Despite our desire to sleep in until 1pm (always my desire), we decided to wake up early in the morning to experience as much of Rome as possible. Thank god for a group of responsible females to rip the sheets off me in the morning.

We braved the rain (like we have never done that before ;)) and made our way to St. Peter’s Basilica. After an uncomfortably close bus ride consisting of an old man humping my friend’s leg and me awkwardly asking everyone for directions without knowing a lick of Italian, we finally made it to the biggest church in the world.

My blurred memory of St. Peter’s Basilica blossomed to life right in front of me. As a twelve year old girl, I stood right there with hair sticking to my cheeks after an unexpected downpour. My young eyes moved over each arched entryway and crease in the columns. It was the first time I had ever seen anything that wasn’t glossed over with a modern, American touch. It was the first time I had ever heard everyone around me speaking a different language. Culture shock shook me back and forth as I immediately realized this was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

Eight years later, St. Peter’s Basilica was still grand and almost unimaginable. The beautiful blue and gold dome balanced over my head like a circular version of heaven. Rich carvings and hand placed mosaics draped over the walls and climbed up the ceilings. It is a kind of beauty that doesn’t seem to exist anymore. A raw splendor concentrated in the art of each fine brush stroke, placement of stone, and detail of tile. It was this attention to art that took years to perfect everything surrounding me with my wet clothes, cheap umbrella, and wide eyes. An eight year gap and I couldn’t have looked more similar to the middle school version of myself; staring, savoring, and smiling as I stood in the center of it all.

After awing the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica it was time to go up. Up, up, up over 500 spiraling stairs to the tippity-top of the church. And wow, was it worth the five euro, aching muscles, and mumbled complaints. We saw all of Rome from the skies. St. Peter’s square was dotted with the curious faces of tourists, colorful umbrellas, and the famous white columns. I gripped the railing and looked down over the city; I had made it.

We experienced the classic lose-your-friends-in-giant-church scenario after we returned to the main floor of St. Peter’s Basilica. We thought they went outside; they thought we stayed inside. Woopsies. While waiting for them to turn up, we took the opportunity of sitting, standing, smiling, and throwing up the ‘W’ sign in countless pictures. Our very serious desire for our first Italian pizza got the best of us,  and we ordered two margherita pizzas to-go. Our cold hands scooped up the giant slices that drooped into a “V” shape from the loaded layers of sauce and cheese. We viciously ate the bread in hopes of getting into the line for the Vatican for some more fun waiting. Wiping tomato juices off of our fingers and faces, we pranced on over to the Vatican only to be told that it was closed. We set our hearts on seeing it in the morning.

What next? Well might as well hit up the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain eh? We thought so too. We took the bus to the Colosseum and saw the curved arches standing tall and torn in front of us. Gorgeous. We made a group decision not to go inside. I had been before when I was younger and the other girls didn’t want to dish out the euros. That was precious gelato money, ah gelato. Don’t even get me started on that Italian delicacy.

After the Colosseum came the Trevi fountain. Or the gelato. Or both? Definitely both. I ordered a clever little mix of chocolate and nutella flavors. For those who have yet to experience gelato, I am so sorry. Gelato is the Italian version of ice cream, but thicker, creamier, and overall better. For some reason I could not bring myself to order any fruit flavors throughout the entire trip. Chocolate always won. It really makes sense the more I think about it. I scooped up the chocolate mixture on my spoon expecting to be slightly disappointed. Most chocolate ice creams I try have more of a dark chocolate flavor, which generally comes off to me as slightly bitter and burnt tasting. But oh baby was I wrong. The gelato melted on my tongue in spoonfuls of chocolate dreamy bliss. I had been waiting eight years to taste this again.

That night ended with a grand Italian meal of homemade ravioli and red wine. The best thing about the pasta in Italy is how it is cooked al dente. Cooking al dente means ‘cooked to perfection.’ It is that perfect, chewy bite. The point where the pasta is not too hard it gets stuck in your back teeth but not too soft the noodle falls apart in your mouth. There has to be some chewing involved. And you have to like it. And trust me here, you will more than like it. The pasta is handmade. We are talking flour pushed into a peak and egg dropped into the scooped out center. Mixing, rolling, cutting. What I would do to be a wooden spoon hanging on the kitchen wall, spying those secret Italian recipes mothers and grandmothers passed down to their children.

I cut into a pillow of mozzarella, pushing a bit of fresh basil on to my fork. The small dining room decorated with cream colored brick walls and dimly lit candles disappeared behind my closed eyes. The red wine burned the back of my throat as the tomatoes burst on my tongue. The smoky flavor of the cheese melted slowly in between bites. Italy tasted far too good.

After dinner, we returned back to our hostel and snagged two free drinks. The random conversations pursued with people from all over the world. We met two friends: one was an Australian man who spoke only English, and the other was an Argentinean man who spoke only Spanish. When we asked them, in their respective languages, how they became friends if they can’t communicate; they both responded with a booming, “We like to PARTY!” Awesome. The Australian said he didn’t have a “real” job, rather he had been working random side jobs as he traveled his way through Italy. He referred to this as “a very Australian thing to do.” I nodded my head accordingly as I contemplated how I was born on the wrong continent.

At the bar, we squished our table next to the seats of some Australians and played an interesting game of “Ten fingers.”  The rules are of the game are that everyone holds up both hands in the air and each person must go around and say something they have never done before (that they think other people have done). Example: Someone says I have never skipped class (if you have skipped class you put down a finger). Whoever puts down all of their fingers first loses. Now it wasn’t until half way through the game that we realized the group of Australians were saying things they had done and putting down a finger for it. We discovered this when an older Australian man claimed, “I have never had sex.” We all swung our heads to the side to stare at his exclamation of purity when we saw him put down a finger. We took a deep breath. The table was from forty year old virgins trying to roofie our drinks. Win. The night ended with some lengthy girl talks, avoiding creepers trying to lure us on to the six person dance floor, and very little rest despite another early bird sightseeing in the morning.

Our last day in Rome we woke up early and I had PANCAKES. I had been dreaming of the fluffy filling and buttery brown outside dripping with butter and syrup ever since my host parents told me they had no idea what a pancake is. Yes, I dream of pancakes. Yes, I consider this normal. Moving to another country suddenly makes everything that is not easily accessible very necessary to have. Very, very necessary. Like so necessary you make your mom send you a $3 dollar jar of peanut butter for $18 dollars, because you NEED it. But that’s another story. Anyways after I licked the butter rum syrup (yes) from my plate, we headed off to go see the Vatican, buy our train tickets to Florence, eat pizza/ gelato, and googly eye Rome as much as possible.

The Vatican was filled with a lot of open jawed awing, oohing, and pictures taken of me mimicking statues. I would almost dare to say you never need to go to the Vatican, because I took pictures of just about everything. My favorite part was the ceilings. The hand painted, story-telling ceilings. Okay, maybe you better see them for yourselves.

I also enjoyed being in a place with such history and value. I was standing in the same spot that Michelangelo painted in. Right there. Hundreds of years ago. Incredible.

We followed the Vatican with some pizza, a cathedral viewing, and a show.

We stepped into an old cathedral on the side of the road after eyeing the architecture from the outside. Walking into a Roman cathedral at night was like entering a new world. It was quiet, deep, and dark. Stands of candles flickered with people’s prayers for their loved ones. The cold marble floors hit the walls of paintings, awnings, and sculptures. People knelt in the night whispering their secrets to the one person they truly trust but constantly let down. The church, just like religion, seemed opposing to me. It felt safe yet cold. Soft with the shimmering lights, yet dark with the mystery and unknown. But the church was real. It was right in front of me. I felt it under my fingertips as I glided my hand over the wooden pews. It was easy for me to believe in the reality of the building, rather than the man who hung with his hands pinned in front of me. I guess “He” would say this is my cross to bear. I lack faith and He lacks physical presence. I have failed to find one without the other.

After leaving the Cathedral, we set off to find our way home. As we continued walking, we realized that there were no cars on the streets. People with bright purple, green, and gold embellished masks began walking toward us. A giant screen flashed with images off in distance. We knew we had just found something to do with Carnival. We all perked up and went to go see what was happening. Our footsteps brought us closer to confetti covered walkways, children slurping candies, and white booths. We squeezed our way up by the action and saw the end of a horse show. That is when it began. A firework show that I can only guess was around a half hour long. My head tilted back to watch the fireworks burst in streams of color and die into the darkness of the sky. The booming of gunpowder mixed with classical music sang across the stadium. It was my last day in Rome and I was full of pasta and pure joy. I looked at my friends and we all exchanged smiles, whispering to each other in complete seriousness, “How did we get so lucky?”

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St. Peter’s Basilica from the outside

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St. Peter’s Basilica’s dome

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Más dome

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St. Peter’s Square

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The Colosseum

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Trevi Fountain

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Ceiling artwork in the Vatican

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Spot on.

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Gelato 🙂

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Five flavors please.

FOOD:

When the hardest decision of the day is pizza or pasta

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The ravioli from the first night in Rome

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Carnival in Rome:

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My feelings on school in Spain

Why do I keep getting homework while I am on vacation? 😡

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Los secretos de una gordita: PASTRY WEEK

I am here to admit: I have a problem.

I have been caught with chocolate covered cheeks, flaked fingers, and closed eyes many a time here in Spain. The pastry shops on the street corners sing my name with their sweet concoctions and homemade goods. Smells of freshly baked bread find me, and I swirl into a honey dripped dance as the floured hands of the pasteleria lure me in.

My sweet tooth has become my sweet teeth.

The regret of telling my host mom about my desire to indulge in all things dulce still eats away at me. I might have survived the temptation of the tantalizing treats in the stores had they not followed me home. But now I am doomed. Because once my Spanish host mother learned I was a inner gordita, she took it upon herself to make my outside match.

Within a day of expressing my love for pastries, a basket appeared in the kitchen. It held an assortment of muffins, croissants, and cakes. The chocolate and cream filled goods stared at me innocently and I immediately knew: this basket was mine. The magic didn’t stop there. I soon learned every time something was taken from the basket, a replacement was quickly put in its place. I am still not sure if an eager Keebler elf hides deep within a cabinet or behind the piña juice in the fridge, but I am in a serious mental conflict of whether I want to kiss him or kill him. He probably assumes I would eat him so he hides.

I slipped my secret about pastrydom to my real mother who said a few harsh, choice words that led to me giving up my addiction of all things breaded for a week. As the days went on my need to dip my hands into the weaved basket of regret suddenly disappeared. I felt as light as the delicate layers hidden beneath those damning and delicious croissants. A crazed idea of adding another week on to my “no pastry week” even crossed my mind…

But who am I kidding? I am writing you this with chocolate smeared over the top of my hand. Brown bits broken into pieces on my bed. The motivation to write about my successful week without pastries has been inspired by my current week dedicated to them. I am weak, and they are whimsical. All the hail the bread basket.

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Basket of broken dreams

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Because why walk through Spain when you can eat through it?

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Here’s to making bad decisions that taste so good. Sorry mom!

 

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Forgetful Friday’s

I have forgotten three fun fact Friday’s in the midst of well…having fun. Bear with me.

One: After not having peanut butter for around two months, I gave in to buying the overpriced Spanish version called Capitán Maní. I finished the jar after four glutinous sessions consisting of me spreading it on anything I could find. Cookies, bananas, fingers…que vergüenza (what shame).

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A nice creepy/blurry shot of my old best friend.

Two: My host family had never heard of pancakes. After quite the informative description of them sounding something like, “They are like um a crepe but big. They are like a dessert, but are a breakfast food. They are sweet and soft and delicious. You must eat them with a lot of butter and a sauce (didn’t know the word for syrup). This sauce is really sweet and like the pancakes are a circle….” they still of course had no idea what I was talking about. That is when I had to whip out my cellphone, because you know, it is completely normal and necessary to have a plethora of pancake pictures in your pocket at all times. The conversation following their first time seeing a pancake:

Host mom: You eat that for breakfast?

Me: All the time.

Host mom: But that is a dessert.

Me: Not in America it’s not. 🙂

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These are the photos they saw of pancakes. Yes, I made them. They were caramel apple pancakes. Here is the recipe I used: http://www.bunsinmyoven.com/2012/09/11/caramel-apple-pancakes/

Three: The people in Cadiz, including my host family, love to eat shrimp with the heads and eyes still on them. They don’t actually eat the heads or eyes, but they do rip off the tail, head, and body before popping the shrimp into their mouths. Then (best part), they suck out the goodies from inside the head. My first time watching this I imagine my face looked something like :(. I never really ate seafood growing up and had always avoided it before I came to Spain. I promised myself that once in Cádiz, a very seafood oriented place, I would try it all. So when my host mom handed me a shrimp for the first time I was more than willing to try it, but sadly very unknowing of how. I whispered to her at our table full of her Spanish relatives “I don’t know what to do.” She then giggled and grabbed it back from me and in a mess of slimy, seafood fingers slid off the eyes, cracked off the head and tail, then peeled off the outer shell of the body. I sat there frozen wondering what the next step was. My host mom motioned for me to just throw it in my mouth and eat it. So that’s what I did. The whole family had begun to watch and burst out laughing as my lips pursed and my chewing became slower and slower. My host mom gave me a napkin. And that is where my first time eating shrimp came to an end. I told her it tasted like the sea and they all nodded, flicking black eyes off their fingers “obviously”.

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El Sol en Cadiz

Spanish eyes sear my skin. I am walking to the beach on what a girl from Seattle considers a hot day. As the jean shorts brush against my thighs, it occurs to me that if anyone comments about my ridiculous outfit (in Spanish): I can understand them. Temperatures hit around 68 degrees and the people of Cadiz are sporting their winter coats and scarves. They see sun when I usually see raindrops. I don’t think they will ever understand what it is like for me to be barefoot on a beach in January.

I come home with pink cheeks, overly kissed by the Southern heat.

I have been having too much fun. The sand feels too good on the tips of my toes, and I just can’t stop smiling. All of the people in my program are so great and different from one another. Opposing personalities, majors, looks, laughs, yet we all go to the same University in Seattle. I love having a group of people going through the same motions and feelings as me, while we step out of one world and into another. It feels like I have carried a piece of Seattle with me.

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Fun Fact Friday

I have a bidet in my bathroom. That is all.

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The Atlantic Ocean

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