Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Gift of Exploration

“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.”

Well, we've made it. This is last post for BuongiorYES. I chose to save this post for Christmas to write about the gift of exploration. 

When I started the journey on August 11, I had grand hopes and dreams of what my study abroad experience would be. If we are being completely honest, I thought I would be mistaken for an Italian pop star and whisked away to perform at the Italian Grammys or that I would fall in love with a Tuscan winemaker and never come back.

Needless to say, as I write this post from a flat in San Francisco-- neither of those things happened. Instead, I had the most amazing four months of exploration. Exploration of art, language, food, wine, culture, countries and myself.

I had the opportunity to travel to more places than I ever thought would be possible in the short time period of one semester. Leave it to cheap airlines and good friends that hosted my nomadic self to fulfill my wanderlust dreams. For those who have been following, you know that I saw Van Gogh in Amsterdam, biked in Copenhagen, snorkeled in the Amalfi Coast, danced the night away in Sicily, drank Guinness in Ireland, had high tea in London, attended class lectures in places like St. Peters and Villa Borghese, ate stinky cheese in France and drank the wine of my dear friends Giovanni and Barbara in Orvieto. 

I worked for an amazing company that taught me more than any internship has. I learned a new language and by golly, spoke it everyday to every Italian I encountered. I lived with 7 amazing women in a tiny Roman apartment that showed us the true meaning of sharing. I made friendships that I know will last a lifetime. My passion for art grew more than it ever has before. And, I ate pasta carbonara at least 2 times a week.

When the adventure first started, I was so impressed with the glamour and excitement of European life that I stayed on a high for the first month. In the middle of my experience abroad, I faced doubts and uncomfortable situations that made me wish I was back home in California. By the end of my adventure, though I was excited to come home, I knew that I didn't want to leave. 

Packing up your life and dropping everything to move to a new country is an experience that everyone should have. There are challenges and there are amazing, unbelievable moments. It pushes your comfort zone in the best ways possible and reveals things you never knew about yourself. 

I've learned that the world is a lot smaller than it seems and that you'll only regret the things you didn't do. 

I thank everyone who made this gift of study abroad, of exploration, possible.

Thanks for reading.

Merry Christmas. Buon Natale. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Mac's Guide to Rome

After living in Rome for four months, I figured out the do's and dont's of la citta eterna. Below is my guide to the wonderful city that is Roma.

-Villa Borghese: You only get two hours in the museum and you will need every second to fully take in the amazing work of Bernini. Afterwards, take a stroll through the beautiful and lush park discussing the beauty of Bernini and Caravaggio's creations.
-St. Peters: This spectacle will blow your mind simply with its huge presence. Give yourself a work out and climb to the top of the dome, the view from the top is worth it!
-Colosseum and The Roman Forum: Perhaps the most touristy thing to do in Rome, but if you've never been-- you've gotta go see it.
-Piazza Navona: This beautiful Piazza was located very close to my school and so has a special place in my heart. At times it is a bit touristy, but the Bernini fountain in the center is gorgeous. Take a couple of laps around the Piazza... it is lovely.
-The Pantheon: Located very close to Piazza Navona-- this is simply one of the things you can't miss when visiting Rome. It's easily the best preserved ancient monument in Roma.
-Trevi Fountain: I've heard the best time to go is at 4 AM after a long night out, but whenever you go, try to drown out the crowds and absorb the magnificence of this theatric fountain. Don't forget to toss a coin in-- symbolizing that you will return to Rome.
-Piazza del Popolo: This incredible Piazza serves as the welcome for the Northern entry portal to Rome.  It's design is symmetrical and specific. When standing in the Piazza look at the fusion of Ancient Rome with Catholic Rome. Also take a birds eye view of the map and notice the urban planning around the Piazza.
-Janiculum Hill: Take the stroll from the cobblestone streets of Trastevere to the top of the hill to have a great view of Roma and a quiet escape from the noise of the city.
-San Carlino: This church by Borromini will blow. your. mind. It is a fusion of geometric shapes in the most spiritual way. It's also such a stark contrast to the rest of the churches of Rome. Afterwards, walk on down to Piazza Quirinale.

-Attend a Vino Roma Tasting: This is a shameless plug, but despite the fact that I worked for this magnificent company... I believe it is a MUST DO when visiting Rome. Especially for those who know me well, you will understand why I loved it so. Anyone coming to Italy who plans on drinking wine, should attend a tasting at Vino Roma. You will learn not only the basics of how to taste and what to look for, but you will also learn everything there is to know about Italian wine. That way, when you are at a restaurant in Rome... you will know exactly what to order. For that reason, book this activity for the beginning of your trip!
-Cooking Classes in Rome: Sign up for a cooking class. Italy revolves around its food and its wine. We loved, loved, loved our class with Andrea Consoli. It is the perfect introduction to Italian cooking.
-Visit a Farmers Market: I don't mean go to Campo di Fiori... this market (though has quite the reputation) is in fact a huge tourist trap. Our favorite market was called Campagna di Amica and was conveniently located right next to The Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verita)
-Be a crazy fan at an AS Roma soccer game: Prepare yourself for this one. This will be a TRUE Italian experience. In all of my time in Rome, never did I see so many Italians, so hyped up in their natural passionate habitats. Definitely one of my favorite memories.
-Put away the map and get lost while wandering the cobble stone streets. Don't bother asking for directions, Italians are THE WORST at giving directions (especially in English). You will most likely stumble upon something beautiful.
-Shopping: Shopping in Rome goes from expensive and kind of boring to SUPER EXPENSIVE and not so boring (but way out of your price range). Via del Corso is the main shopping street, but Via Condotti is the very fancy side street that connects to The Spanish Steps. These two streets may be worth seeing, but don't get your hopes too high to find great shopping. If you're looking for gifts stick to the artisan food stores and enotecas (wine stores).

Expensive Restaurants:
-Metamorfosi: This is probably the most modern place in Rome and the cuisine is exquisite. You won't find the traditional Italian classics here-- instead, you'll find them deconstructed. What do I mean by that? Well, you'll just have to go to find out. Prepare to drop the big bucks on a tasting menu and of course, pair it with the sommelier's wine suggestions.
-Roscioli: Roscioli, Roscioli, Roscioli, how I love you. The food here is fantastic. It's a cozy and modern twist on Italian classics using only the highest quality ingredients. The wine list is miles long and decently priced. You MUST MUST MUST order the burrata. If you don't, you will regret it for the rest of your life.

Reasonable Restaurants:
-Beppe e I Suoi Formaggi (Beppe and His Cheeses): A cheese and wine heaven, this restaurant is a MUST DO in the Jewish Ghetto. I don't suggest it to the lactose intolerant, but for cheese lovers this is your place. Beppe serves both Italian and French cheeses in his store and restaurant. We started with the buratta (to die for... so creamy), then had a chevre and pear salad and we finished with a 12 cheese tasting plate. I think it was a great way to do Beppe. Also, they have no restaurant fees for their wines. The prices of the wine in their store (incredibly reasonable) are the prices of the wine in the restaurant. SO COOL.
-Trattoria da Cesare: This amazing trattoria is right off of the 8 Tram at the very last stop, which means it is NOT IN THE CENTER! Typically some of the most amazing restaurants in Rome are not in the center. This place serves up traditional Italian fare in the best way possible. Don't miss the gnochetti (fried gnocchi) with cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) sauce. Skip the house red, it's a pathetic attempt of what they said was montepulciano. Instead, go for their cheap wine list.

Cheap Eats:
-Antico Forno Roscioli: This little brother to Roscioli Restaurant is the best place for a quick lunch in Rome as it is located right in the historical center. Forno means oven, which means the food here is oven baked aka fresh breads and pizzas. The pizza squares here are crazy good (using the highest quality ingredients) and they will cut them to however big you want it. Then they weigh it to price it. You've gotta have guts to come in here because it is always packed so speak loudly (most of them speak english) and push your way through the crowds to the front. You won't regret it!
-00100: Pronounced (zero, zero, cento) this out of the way pizza, trapazzini and suppli shop is fantastic. The store is nothing too pretty, but just the way it should be. Their genovese suppli is CRAZY GOOD. Suppli are balls of risotto, breaded and deep fried (healthy? no. fabulous? yes.) Suppli is a Roman tradition, so you've gotta have it while in Rome and 00100 is the place to do it.
-Gaudeo: An amazing sandwich shop in the neighborhood Monti (10 minutes from the Vino Roma studio). The incredibly handsome owner will explain each and every one of the daily specials to you which can include things like a traditional Venetian fish sandwich, buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto, or pear and goat cheese. Fantastic light lunch if you are near the Colosseum or headed to a Vino Roma tasting!

V-Ice: Way too modern, sleek and sterile to be located in Rome, this all white gelato shop makes you feel like you're in the north pole or one of those frozen vodka bars. Despite the aesthetic, the gelato is DARN GOOD. I always opted for the Sicilian Mandarino (Sicilian Mandarin) and Cioccolato (Chocolate), but their pistachio and egg flavors were amazing too.
Fatamorgana: With a couple locations around the city, this mini-chain is delicious. There was one located not to far from our house and the passion fruit flavor was perfetto.
*A tip about gelato shops: there are hundreds of terrible gelato shops in Rome. When finding a good one, stick to the ones who don't obviously put food dye in their mountains of gelato in their tacky shops right off of huge piazzas. Look for simple stores, small portions of gelato in the metal bins (sometimes covered), with natural looking colors. Pistachio for instance, should NEVER be bright green.

Wine, Beer and Cocktails:
Al Vino Al Vino: This wine bar located in Monti is just a hop skip and a step away from Vino Roma. The owners are pretty darn rude, but don't let this turn you away. They have a fabulous wine list, an incredibly cozy atmosphere and delicious caponata (a Sicilian veggie spread that is amazing).
Open Baladin: One of my favorite and most frequented places in Rome, this place is all about the craft beer trend in Italy. It features delicious Italian beers in their crazy cool location. Sit downstairs and enjoy the sleek bar, sit upstairs and snag a cozy couch or set of leather armchairs in what feels like a boho apartment. Our favorite beers were the Enkir and Duchessa (both light and crisp), but they've got tons on tap. The food is decent and pairs well with the beers. It's a super popular place, so if you plan to go on Thurs, Fri or Sat-- make a reservation... or you may end up waiting for 1hr30min!
Rec23: Located in Testaccio, this chic and cool bar serves up classy cocktails and a delicious aperitivo. Aperitivo is the happy hour of Italy, when you purchase a drink and gain access to a buffet of food. The aperitivo here is delicious and the bar is a good excuse to doll up.

Final tips about drinking and dining in Rome:
-Use Katie Parla's website ParlaFood or get her app Rome for Foodies.
-Make reservations
-Try and speak Italian

To all those who go to Rome in the future, enjoy! Eat local, drink well and avoid tourist traps! 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Favorite Memories

As this blog comes to an end, I'd like to take a look back at my favorite moments while abroad!

Photo Credits to go Adrienne Foley, Kate Skow, Jen Aceto and me!

Adrienne and my first night out together... it was the beginning of the wonderful friendship and adventure...

The first visit to Bum Bum, a strange and fantastic place...

The very first excursion we took to the first of many wine tastings on a lovely vineyard in Frascati...

Celebrating my birthday with Zakk and Zach on a rainy evening in Rome...

When the birthday celebration continued at my very first tasting at Vino Roma (the tasting that started it all...)

Falling madly in love with Amsterdam on our first big trip where we ate dutch pancakes, saw beautiful Van Gogh, stayed on a house boat and biked along the gorgeous canals...

Continuing our Scandinavian adventure in Copenhagen where we biked the whole weekend in the world's friendliest bike city...

Attending a crazy, wild and amazing AS Roma soccer game...

Adrienne and my weekend get away to the Amalfi Coast where we swam through grottos, ate amazing seafood and lounged on gorgeous beaches...

Perhaps one of the most memorable weekends of the entire adventure was when we jetted off to Palermo, Sicily for a ridiculously fun weekend. I will never forget missing our flight back to Rome on Sunday morning because we stayed out dancing too late and thus had to take an overnight (13 hour) bus ride back to Rome.... soooooo worth it...

Visiting on of my best best best friends, Kirstin, in Lyon where she spent four months studying abroad, perfecting her French...

Our week long adventure that took us to the land of sexy accents-- Ireland and England!

First stop was Dublin, Ireland where I reunited with one of my best friends from high school, Jen. In Dublin, we enjoyed beers in a traditional Irish pub with live music, we visited the Guinness factory, we spent a day in the Irish countryside in the Wicklow Mountains (and froze to death), but loved every minute of the Irish beauty.

The next stop was to Cork, Ireland where we visited my dear friend Jack from high school who was studying abroad in Cork! We also happened to become certified whisky tasters when we visited the Jameson factory!

Then we popped over to London to spend a long weekend with my lovely cousin, Marisa, and her family including her adorable daughter, Lila. We of course made time to have high tea and dirty martinis!

The time we visited an olive oil factory and all of B9 had the hotts for the maker...

When the beautiful Liz made a pitstop in Rome on her way home from studying abroad in South Africa...

The wildly fun 21st birthday celebration of Miss Kate...

When Adrienne and I hopped on the fast train to Firenze for a lovely weekend of art, Tuscan wine and delicious food!

The delicious and educational gelato making class we attending in Claudio Torce's workshop that Katie  Parla and Adrienne organized...

My breathtaking art history lecture at St. Peters for my Baroque Art class when Professor Alei surprised us with a visit to the Dome (without having to climb the never ending stairs)...

The beautiful and delicious Thanksgiving celebration Apartment B9 hosted in our tiny Roman apartment...

Of course, the magical weekend in Paris with Kirstin and Adrienne hosted by my fabulous Parisian friend from Benefit Cosmetics, Margaux! We dined in delicious bistros, we drank wine and ate stinky cheese at a traditional apéro, danced til' the wee hours in the morning, attended a lovely brunch at Margaux's family's house, saw all of the amazing Monet and of course did way too much shopping.

Ladies Night at Vino Roma when all my gal pals headed to the studio for an educational and lovely evening...

The most amazing weekend of all in Umbria visiting Barbara and Giovanni Gentile at their winery, Argillae. We drank, ate and were simply merry on their lovely lands, in their fabulous home...

Dinner with Adrienne and my wonderful bosses, Hande and Katie at Roscioli...

And our last night in Rome that included our final stroll around the city to visit The Trevi Fountain to toss our coins in, our last wine tasting at Vino Roma and the goodbye dinner hosted by our program...

Here's to always remembering these special moments and keeping them as treasures in my heart.