The End of Another Italian Adventure

img_2124

The Palazzo Ducale on a misty evening! Photo credit: Caterina Novelliere November 2016

Here I sit contemplating the end of another semester abroad. As usual, the semester flew by way too fast once courses got into full swing and thesis research commenced. I didn’t regularly blog. I didn’t get half the things done I planned nor did I write as much on the thesis as I anticipated. I learned that advanced field research is exceptionally challenging and rewarding if you find items overseas. Still, I had an incredible semester. I explored old and new places in Italy, returned to England for a week, enjoyed Spain for a few days, and had a fantastic two days in Morocco.

This study abroad was very different from others I participated in. My peers consisted of younger students with a wider range of majors than the prior two cohorts. I really enjoyed their energy and perspective on a number of things. If you don’t surround yourself with a variety of age groups, consider changing that. We can learn from young and old alike. Younger folks can really remind you of ways to creatively view the world. Contrary to popular stereotypes, there are millennials that have some wonderful ideas and thoughts on how the world can move forward. They also have the work ethic and ability to take those concepts forward with some mentoring. I study and work with them daily.

Our courses focused on ways to read history, culture, and heritage in a country through film, cuisine, agriculture, and beverages. At first that may sound like such an easy and fun course load, but believe me when I say it isn’t easy. (I’ll give you the fun part. It was amazing to sample everything we studied and to watch great Italian films.) You merely scratch the surface by learning what wines, foods, and films are made in a region. You must go deeper than that to really understand how those items emerged in a particular place and the importance of them. We regularly delved into:

img_2023

Antipasti of formaggio and salami. To drink, I enjoyed a glass of Piklr, a Marche wine from the Bruscia Winery. These tasty items can be enjoyed at the Trattoria del Leone in Urbino. Photo Credit: Caterina Novelliere November 2016

  • The theories and politics behind food/film
  • Was a food/beverage really native to Italy or did it migrate in an earlier time?
  • What was the production methodology for an agricultural product?
  • Does production preserve tradition?
  • Did the food way and production methodology change over the centuries?
  • How had economics along with watershed events reshaped regional cuisine in Italy?
  • How had these things shaped and changed diets and cuisines around the world?
  • Complicating the discussions, was how did the outsider like a tourist or agency with global reach alter a region’s cuisine or filmmaking?

Our readings had to be completed for our weekly field trips and visits by experts to make sense, which meant really managing our time. I challenge you to learn about the food you eat and what you drink from a tradition and roots perspective. Use the prompts above if they are helpful to make you think about cuisine at a deeper level than gastronomy. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Earthquakes rocked our Renaissance city regularly from the end of October forward. Thankfully, they only caused minor damage to Urbino. Two of the tremors required a building evacuation. I learned I could put my shoes on and run down three flights of stairs in mere seconds after shaking and rumbling woke me from a dead sleep early in the morning. If you read my earlier post about which eyes to view Italy through, the catastrophe adjuster found her picturesque landscape reminding her of how quickly life can change and to value the nonmaterial items like friends and family more. Italy and I need to find a way to compromise on how many times I am knocked out of my happy place and back into natural disasters. The Italians are growing tired of the regular tremoring too.

The best thing about this semester (besides eating great foods and drinking fabulous wines) is that it produced multiple moments of laughter and adventure. During downtime, we played rounds of a card game called Mao. We danced at the local discoteca. On Halloween, we and the Irish students costumed it up. For each trip we took, the group worked together making up fun improbable histories or tours. An improbable history is mixing fact and fiction to tell a story of a place. The words “Fano” and “bricks” can never be said without a round of laughter immediately following them. We successfully navigated a crazy transport system, enjoyed the sights and smells of leather, food, and spices in multiple markets at each location we visited, and Italy gave us some spectacular sunsets to marvel at.

img_1489

The “piggy” in question

My language skills are always a source of entertainment. I am ashamed to say my Italian did not come back at the level I hoped it would. Part of that was on me, the other part of that was due to how rigidly structured the Italy Program is now. My classmate fluent in Italian laughed after I messaged our hosts in Pompeii that we “borrowed” the train. I couldn’t help smirking as I pictured Antonio or Iolonda reading it and thinking, “What? They stole the train?” Or the time I couldn’t remember the word for pig and asked a vendor “Quanto per piggy?” The look I got was priceless. I and my travel buddy laughed so hard I almost cried. When working with a foreign language, always try and maintain a sense of humor to prevent becoming too frustrated with it or your mistakes. The Italians are great sports at letting you practice and will happily help you out with words or phrases if they elude you. Google translate can be a lifesaver, but use it with caution.

All in all this semester created new opportunities and things to think about. It broadened my horizons yet again. It also reminded me of how fortunate I am and how some matters we stress about are truly trivial in the grand scheme of things. I need to finish packing up.

May you have a wonderful day or night wherever you are!

img_2440

Happy trails and safe travels to everyone out there!  My travel camel and I preparing for another long haul together, but this time we are heading home.

Advertisements

Comedic Adventure On The Way To Pompeii

Our journey to Pompeii from Parma turned into a comedy of errors. There is nothing quite like navigating the train system in a foreign country. After accidentally buying tickets for a slower train that left at the same time as the faster one we initially wanted, we climbed on board to discover the AC and power outlets in our assigned car didn’t work. All eight of us had to be relocated to another car. Things seemed to work smoothly in our new seats. People napped, worked on homework, and enjoyed the picturesque countryside passing by.

img_0622

Enjoying the countryside as we speed towards Naples

 

Nearing Florence, the train slowed down. Instead of having a normal brief stop, I noticed the train remained in place and the engine cut off. Sure enough, an announcement came over the speakers that the train broke down adding a two – three hour delay to our trip. The conductor further instructed those of us Naples bound would ride out the delay on the outskirts of Florence while everyone else found spots on new trains. A half hour later the Naples bound folks received instruction to catch the departing train into Santa Maria Novella. The SMN train left in five minutes and we had to sprint a few platforms over. We all made the train change and headed into Florence’s most well known station. Fate really decided to test our desire to reach Napoli that night. A long line awaited at the ticket window and we only had two other options to get us down south. Keeping a sense of humor, a classmate of mine who is from Sicily and I stayed in line to find out if our group of eight wayward travelers could find seats on one of the two trains departing. Customer service found us room on a freccarossa. They are very nice trains that travel at high speeds if you have not been on one. Our arrival time changed from 2 am to 11 pm.

Luckily, our hosts were extremely understanding of the late arrival. They messaged us back with “don’t worry about it. The trains regularly run off schedule.” Iolanda and Antonio, the owners of the Airbnb Home Sweet Home, greeted our cab at the end of their driveway with smiles. Italians possess an amazing level of empathy for travel struggles. They also extend a warm and welcoming hospitality to guests that I haven’t experienced in any other country. Once we settled into our rooms warm Margherita pizza sat on the table at midnight for us train weary and starving students.

img_0627

The group devouring our very late dinner in Pompeii.

That midnight pizza was undoubtedly  one of the best I’ve eaten. Iolanda and Antonio quickly became our adopted Italian family in Pompeii leading to a fantastic weekend of exploring Roman Southern Italy, sampling scrumptious seafood dishes and Southern specialties like arancini paired with rich wines cultivated in the volcanic soils of Vesuvius.

Returning to Italy

DSCN7508

Urbino Historic Center Photo Credit: Caterina Novelliere Sept 2016

I had not realized how emotional it would be for me to return to Italy. Seeing familiar sights and hearing a language that hasn’t so completely filled my ears for almost three years now moved me to the point of tears several times. Awake for over 24 hours, I managed to communicate effectively with several Italians in their beautiful native tongue my first day on the ground. It is amazing how quickly a language can emerge from the depths of the mind with little prompting. Throughout the bus ride from Bologna into the gently rising hills of Marche, a sense of coming home overwhelmed me. I hadn’t expected that at all. I prepared for being excited, tired, stressed and a sense of the familiar, but never such a strong feeling of returning to one’s roots. While I have ancestors who lived in Italy, I have not personally lived in Italy long term. But a beautiful sunny day warmed my face after a brief nap to help fight through jet lag welcoming me back to Marche! As always, nightfall was magical offering another interesting view of the Palazzo Ducale.

After a somewhat restful night as sleep played games with me, our first two orientation days allowed me to start seeing Urbino through new eyes: those of someone thankful to return to an amazing place and those of the historian interpreting space/place along with spotting important, but sometimes overlooked details.

On Day 2, we dined on some wonderful food at a restaurant called Rago d’Oro positioned on the top end of Via Raffaello. Roberta and Mirko saved us the quad and lung killing direct climb up the monster hill by taking the easier winding back road up to the rear walls of the city. If you’ve ever been to Urbino, you know exactly what I am talking about. If you haven’t, just picture a 120 degree climb for about a mile. In adjuster speak, that would probably be an 11/12 pitch from hell made out of uneven cobblestones rough on the soles of the feet even in good shoes. The commercial center that was under construction in 2013 now is a buzzing hive of buses and people. The 10 level structure houses stores, a wine bar, coffee shop, a cash exchange, and a new fairly large coop to buy groceries. Wandering through the historic center, I was sad to see a few of my favorite old shops no longer exist in their former homes. I am hoping to discover they merely moved locations as the semester goes on.

Our third day consisted of touring the historically significant sites of the city. We walked the walls, visited two of the well-known oratorios, the Fortessa – a medieval and Renaissance fort, and the Palazzo Ducale. Sadly, the duomo is closed for some restoration work. In San Giovanni I knelt down to photograph the iron work on the bottom of the alter. As I zoomed in on the center star, I noticed a pair of hands. I quietly moved closer to the alter to see if my eyes played tricks on me. I indeed discovered a carefully displayed body that I never saw three years ago. I am not sure if I was too awed by the amazing frescoes in the oratorio or just overwhelmed by being in Italy in general back in 2013. However, this early founding brother peacefully slumbers within the ornate alter for several centuries now. I was also able to rephotograph the beautiful Venetian glass chandelier my old camera so nicely refused to capture in all of its glory hanging from the decorated ceiling of the Oratorio di San Guiseppe.

Well, Somnus is lulling me to sleep with the hour being late. Stand by for future posts as I venture through Italy once again.

Sogni d’oro to all of you!

Caterina

IMG_0464

Urbino Historic Center Photo Credit: Caterina Novelliere Sept 2016

Through Whose Eyes?

A friend recently wrote a simple statement to me. We were PMing about a personal matter as I prepare to return to Urbino for a semester. She referenced seeing Italy this time through a different set of eyes. She has no idea how much that phrase circles around in the back of my mind. Now I am asking myself “Whose eyes do I really want to see Italy through?” and “Do I even have a choice in that?”

Eyes

The Historian’s Eyes: My first semester in Urbino I was a neophyte to the world of history and culture. Trying to learn terminology, figure out where I fit in the field, was it the right field for me, and determining did I have the guts to go beyond a second BA into graduate school or forging a new history related career path. Obviously, I found the courage and stamina to leap into the abyss. Three years later, I understand the academic jargon of my field. I can’t simply just view an artifact, exhibit, or landscape. Almost automatically I end up analyzing messaging, interpreting the past and present lenses locals and outsiders use to understand the resource, contemplating what bias or myth exists in the display, searching for the elements of politics, identity, and place; and lastly, pondering site management strategies to ensure that particular representation of humanity endures for future generations. The downside to becoming a historian is one cannot ignore the complex subject matter we work with and to a certain extent; we lose the ability to merely enjoy a place. For research and class purposes, the historian and heritage manager will be ever present. She has to be.

Those of the inner child: As I traverse the coastline and plains then ascend into the ever-rising mountains of Italy, part of me hopes the child that lies within will still find wonder in new and old locations. That I will want to race my peers up the rocks to be Queen of the Hill as I did a friend who constantly pushed me to do more than I thought I ever could in Cinque Terre. Hopefully, I will still experience ancient structures and new foods with amazement, excitement, and a certain sense of innocence, which so frequently fades as we age. The one part of childhood that has never died is the desire to question and understand. No doubt my list of whys and hows will grow exponentially in the coming days.

 

487717_10200555301464586_1919049323_n-1

Conquering the rock in Cinque Photo Credit: Megan Park 2013

IMG_4893

Venetian Masked Selfie Photo Credit: Caterina Novelliere October 2016

Romantic Visions: The writer in me is anxious to once again fall in love with spectacular sunsets filled with amazing color. I want to get lost in the fantasy of Ancient Rome, Medieval Castles, and Renaissance Palaces. To be humbled and brought to my knees in museums and churches filled with incredible works of art. I want to be swept away into the past, hear the shouts of the audience filling the stands of the coliseums or circuses while gladiators fight and chariots race. Walking the canals of Venice, I want to slip back in time to when women wore fabulous dresses; the men cloaks and tricorn hats with matching masks for lavish Carnival balls. Or to picture tall ships carrying various goods sailing into her harbors. Standing on the hills and stone streets of Urbino, Verona, and Firenze, I imagine knights and noblemen on horseback making their way across the countryside or partaking in lively discussions within the walls of stately homes. I see farmers from all periods of history tending their fields in the never-ending rolling green hills. Vineyards and orchards tempt the palate with the promise of delicious dishes along with outstanding drink. And how can I forget the gentle lull of the train. I can almost hear the soothing clack-clack of the wheels against rails as I type.

DSC00930

The Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, Italy Photo Credit: Caterina Novelliere January 2013

The Eyes I Never Wanted to See Italy Through:  Italy is a special and almost sacred place for me. I enjoy naively believing it conjures dreams and inspires despite its challenges. That disaster cannot mar the country’s beauty or spirit. That my world of history, romance, art, and wonder could not ever merge with that of my old profession: catastrophe response. After all, the only time large-scale calamity struck the boot shaped peninsula was that ominous day Vesuvius buried the surrounding towns in 79 AD. Of course, I know that is far from the truth. Wildfires and devastating earthquakes shattered that fragile fallacy this week. All at once I wanted to extend a hand to Italy, hated that life can sometimes be cruelly unpredictable, and fully felt an odd mix of loss, frustration, awe, and hope that arises after a catastrophe. I worried about my friends and professional connections that live in Italy. Thankfully, everyone reported in safe and sound online. I have been anxiously watching the news and reading up on the affected communities as both adjuster and cultural heritage professional. In some ways, the historian/heritage professional is almost as familiar as the adjuster. Both evaluate damages and try to find a way to restore what once was, document the event, and in certain respects preserve what cannot be salvaged. They try to protect what is left through mitigation strategies and help individuals find meaning so moving forward can occur. Lastly, they gather information that may assist with how to better plan for the next time disaster strikes a region.

Nothing prepares one for how overwhelming it will be to enter a community in a state of total destruction. The damage left in the wake of an earthquake, tornado, or mass flood is nightmarish. The smells alone from a disaster site possess the power to provoke visceral reactions. Molded and flooded out structures produce a putrid odor that automatically churns my stomach just looking at a picture of green or black spotted drywall. Structure fires have another distinctive scent recognizable a mile away. Once you survive or work that type of event, other strange and small things besides smells will trigger flashbacks to it. A piece of stone, a certain color of paint, a similar sound, symbols such as a simple x spray-painted on a door or wall brings you right back to a chaotic and hellish time.

My first assignment ever was as an earthquake apprentice. The company that hired me was looking to train the next generation of earthquake adjusters. It had been awhile since a devastating one hit the US and a growing shortage of adjusters with the knowledge of how to properly estimate earthquake related damages concerned the financial industry. I was fortunate in that my training occurred on contentious, but old claims from the Northridge Earthquake versus a live event. A judge ordered the files be reopened after finding opportunities in their original adjustments. My boss at the time told me “You will never work another job like this one. You will also never forget what you learn here.” He was right. Cracks took on an entire new life. Soil, clay, stone, tile, wood, cement, and plaster evolved from simple materials to storytellers eight years after the California landscape shook and rolled. If a structure collapsed, careful evaluations must be done and measurements taken to compensate people for their loss. Epoxy could be used to repair cracked foundations. Glass never cleans out of carpet so remove and replace it. Some things can be shored up or repaired; others must immediately be replaced. Attics must be explored and one must have the courage to crawl the underside of whatever structure you are estimating not on a slab. Crawlspaces can be creepy and disgusting things to enter on a normal day let alone after a disaster.  I learned from seasoned adjusters, highly respected engineers, a slew of experts, attorneys, those who suffered the loss, and old claims files just how destructive the world we live in can be. How quickly lives and material can vanish. Sure, we all see it on TV, but until you live it; until you have to work with it around the clock, it never truly registers how powerful Mother Nature is.

The images of Umbria and the impacted areas of Marche this week broke my heart. Those poor people who died! Those who fortunately survived will need to muster a great deal of courage and sheer will in order to forge a head. The struggle to regain a sense of normalcy for the damaged cities will no doubt be an exhausting one. The trauma of such an event takes a toll that lasts a lifetime for those who live through it along with those who respond to assist. However like anything else, hope eventually springs forth and positive stories can be found among the negative ones. Those graphic pictures and news stories took me back to that first assignment years ago as well as the last major natural disaster I worked. I know that regardless of where various cities are in the stages of cleanup, seasoned eyes will read the headlines once more in the built environment. They will recognize the plastered over cracks or repairs giving away what happened there just as quickly as they will an empty outline of a foundation. Sometimes the small reminders strike a survivor, first responder, or adjuster just as hard as seeing a building in pieces scattered across the ground.

Sadly, my two worlds blurred for a fleeting moment in 2013. Hiking the coastline of Cinque Terre, we came across two damaged houses. The region experienced massive landslides two years earlier. Immediately, my heart fell staring into what once was someone’s home. The remaining shells teetered over a gorge with their exterior walls missing. The adjuster in me began trying to figure out construction techniques and how exactly to estimate that type of structure. The person in me not only felt a sense of loss, but a strange sense of invasion. I frequently experienced that on deployments. Here I am as an outsider stepping into a person’s most intimate space. The one safe haven from the stressors of the world, the one location where a person can hopefully be himself or herself without anyone casting judgment on them: their private home. I wondered what memories and events occurred in the room before me. Had the resident enjoyed living there? Were they insured? Where did they go? How much of the home and their belongings were lost? And darkly, I pondered the question no one ever wants to ask: did they survive? In case they didn’t, I offered a prayer for them and others in the area before we began walking the trail again. The amazing beauty of the landscape and turquoise water lost a bit of their magic after stumbling across that graphic reminder of how even the most inviting environment harbors a darker side.

DSC00133

The remains of a home along the path connecting the five cities making up Cinque Terre. Photo Credit: Caterina Novelliere February 2013

In all honesty, I selfishly want Italy to retain the illusion of rolling green hills, tall brown mountains, and aqua waters seeped in a rich history. I hope the romantic writer, the historian, and the child will overpower the more disconcerting catastrophe responder. However, the realist in me knows that the people in Umbria and Marche need that adjuster and horrified fellow human to extend a helping hand to them, to empathize with their loss, and share their story. Lastly, as harsh a reminder as it is, the adjuster is needed to make me pause and be grateful for loved ones, the opportunity to be back in Italy, and the simple things in life. Tragedy re-shifts priorities to the things we should regularly appreciate, but sometime the day-to-day grind of everyday life pushes them to the back burner.

Please consider helping the people of central Italy. You can assist in relief efforts by donating to these organizations:

The Italian Red Cross: http://www.cri.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/31392

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies:

https://www.ammado.com/fundraiser/italy-eq/donate

The Italian American Relief website:

http://www.italianamericanrelief.org

Or if you are in Italy, donate blood and needed supplies to the various organizations collecting them.

Jersey: The Channel Island, not the U.S. State

St. Aubin's Bay by moon light Image Credit: Kathleen DesOrmeaux Copyrighted August 2015

St. Aubin’s Bay by moon light Image Credit: Caterina Novelliere Copyrighted August 2015

St. Aubin's Bay Image Credit: Kathleen DesOrmeaux Copyrighted August 2015

St. Aubin’s Bay Image Credit: Caterina Novelliere Copyrighted August 2015

So I am supposed to be a good student and be writing two papers at the moment, but just can’t get in the mood to do so. My mind keeps drifting and dreaming of adventures as I reflect on the past few days. I am sitting on the patio of the Somerville Hotel, sipping a cool cider and looking out over St. Aubin’s Bay in Jersey. Tonight delivered another amazing sunset; even without the sun, the bay is still fairly bright and definitely active this Sunday night. The past three days flew by much faster than I anticipated they could and I will be sad to leave this wonderful island tomorrow afternoon. I initially came here to see Mont Orgueil and research its evolution over time. I will be incorporating the castle into my larger project on the evolution of castles in the British Isles. Anyway, a girl can’t be solely about work without any play, so I decided to make this trip a mix of work and pleasure. I was definitely hitting that burnt out; I am tired point during the summer semester and needed a break. Jersey didn’t disappoint in providing exactly what I needed to recharge and get inspired again. I rode the bus around the island, explored its shores and hills, shopped in St. Heliers, and enjoyed what the place has to offer.

Mont Orgueil Image Credit: Kathleen DesOrmeaux Copyrighted August 2015

Mont Orgueil Image Credit: Caterina Novelliere Copyrighted August 2015

Maybe I am just lucky, but the weather has been gorgeous my entire stay making the water bluer and the place magical. My first day on the island was about serious academic endeavors. I dropped the luggage off at the hotel, caught the next bus to Liberation Station, purchased a 3-day bus pass and headed straight to Mont Orguiel. This 13th century marvel captured my academic side and the writer in me immediately. Part of me is still seriously thinking I need to set my next novel here. (You know me and knights in shinning armor with swords. I could easily envision mighty sea battles in the Channel/bay being viewed from the watchtowers by anxious castle residents.) I digress; let me get back on task. As you’ve probably already guessed, from the tops of the walls and gatehouse, one is treated to spectacular coastal views of turquoise water contrasting against dark brown rocky shores. The castle has a great story spanning from 1204 until today. One could see how the stronghold defended the Jersey shores from foreign invasion. Jersey has Norman heritage and belonged to the Normans prior to formally becoming part of the British Isles. Sadly, Jersey had to decide whether to stick with their Norman linage and side with King John or side with the French mainland after John lost his French territories to Philip, the King of France. Per the castle video created by the Jersey Heritage organization, the island chose to award its loyalty to King John and England. Per other sources, the king only surrendered his rights to Normandy and always retained a claim to the islands without input from the people of Jersey. I will let you decide what actually happened. Either way, Jersey became a crown territory with rights to self-government.

When it comes to cuisine, this little island packs quite a punch. There is not a single type of cuisine I could not find here. I ate local dishes, Thai, Italian, English, North African and French fare. Yes, I am counting breakfast and snacks in there. I am not that much of a glutton. My all time favorite restaurant is Danny’s in St. Aubin’s. It is a come as you are and enjoy some flavorful dishes place. The menu offers everything from tapas to very filling main courses. One night I had baked Jersey lobster with royals (Jersey potatoes) and a salad. The next night I had lamb rump in a yummy Moroccan Tagine sauce with date couscous and a starter of artichokes and figs. I would recommend either meal to anyone. If you fall in love with the dishes and want to attempt to recreate Danny’s masterpieces at home, they do sell a cookbook for 5 pounds.

Danny's St. Aubin Image Credit: Kathleen DesOrmeaux Copyrighted August 2015

Danny’s St. Aubin Image Credit: Caterina Novelliere Copyrighted August 2015

The locals are warm and welcoming. On the bus and in my wanderings, I had the opportunity to converse with a large number of folks. All were friendly and quick to share island history, offer recommendations for sites to visit along with places to eat, share their stories, and talk about the weather. At the historical sites, Durrell and in specialty stores, employees quickly answered questions and educated customers on the location and the products or work being done on site. On a lighter note, Hollywood and Chuck Norris are keeping the stereotype of us Texans alive and well here on the island. One individual I met declared I couldn’t be a Texan as I didn’t have any boots or a cowboy hat. After watching Walker Texas Ranger, he passionately believes that no good Texan is without either item. I had to tell him I left the boots and hat at home. Thank you Hollywood and Chuck Norris for continuing the age-old image of Americans as cowboys overseas. I may have to add Jersey to my fall case studies in American branding: what we think we export versus what others actually perceive us to be. In defense of the locales, I suspect the individual was well into his cups, but he wasn’t the only one to ask me about a hat or rodeos.

This post is getting long, my cider is almost gone and I have more thoughts to get together on Jersey. Long story short, Jersey is fabulous! If you have room in your travel itinerary or are looking for a unique place to visit, Jersey certainly fits the bill! You will have no regrets in deciding to come here. I will highlight a few of the sites in future posts to further peak your interest.

Elizabeth Castle Image Credit: Caterina Novelliere Copyrighted August 2015

Elizabeth Castle Image Credit: Caterina Novelliere Copyrighted August 2015

Summer 2015 Venturing in the United Kingdom

Summer 2015 will be an eDSCN1046xciting one! I find myself fortunate enough to experience a second extended trip abroad. This time I am spending a few weeks in the UK to learn some English, Welsh, and Scottish history. I even have a planned stop in Jersey. For those of you that are scratching your head reading Jersey, it is an island in the English Channel, not the state on the eastern coast of the US. While I am here, I will be researching the evolution of castles and their role over time. This is a change from my initial research topic of Roman Britain. It made more sense to study castles versus a Roman topic with the sites included on my summer program’s itinerary. Castles take me into a  field that I do not have a great deal oDSCN1004f current knowledge in to expand my skills as a historian. However, I will post Roman pics and updates as I explore places of Roman heritage. After all, you can’t take the Classics out of a girl who loves ancient history.

My sightseeing kicked off yesterday in Canterbury and Broome Park. One can’t help, but fall in love with the city that Chaucer’s pilgrims journeyed too. Sadly, I have not been inside the famous cathedral yet. However, I have walked a good part of the city’s historic section enjoying the architecture and indulging in pub cuisine. I will write more as time permits and my journey progresses. In the meantime, here are some pics for you to enjoy!

DSCN1016 DSCN1213DSCN0988

Italian Ice … And we are not talking diamonds or desserts

blUrbino: Culture and Lifestyle Features From the Heart of Europe

IMG_0599The rolling Italian countryside surrounding the medieval walls of Urbino and the historic streets just inside the red-brown brick perimeter, are blanketed in white from fresh fallen snow. The pristine environment conjures images of innocence in one’s mind. Depending on who you are the winter wonderland could be the rebirth of a world made new by its sparkling winter cloak or a reminder of childhood fun, making snow angels and catching snowflakes on your tongue. As you dream of times gone by, hidden under the soft powder a sinister predator lurks silently. Just waiting for that one misstep by its next unsuspecting victim.  Fate chooses you to be the longed for prey. Your feet find the hidden trap of a glass like surface that doesn’t play nice with the sole of your shoes. Your foot suddenly slips forward becoming airborne.  You find yourself suddenly falling towards the earth with the…

View original post 1,026 more words

The Fun of Flying –

We all know flying has its headaches in addition to the thrills that a new adventure presents the second we clear security. I will try and share a balanced perspective on both as I do love to travel. Please allow me to clarify how much I love to travel as few like to as I do. If anyone says “How about a road trip?” I am the first one at the door with bags packed shouting “Let’s go!” (Without even bothering to ask where too?) I’ll go anywhere at least once. The only two places I absolutely would say hell no to for a vacation are Milton, Florida or BFE Kansas, (unless I am visiting my Nana in Kansas then I am all in). Since spending time in Italy, you may hear me cry Andiamo! (We go) instead.  Domestic flights are also not near as fun as international ones in my opinion.  The one exception to that is EU travel within the continent of Europe.  I will write more about that in a minute.  I do need to put a disclaimer out there that this blog will contain my opinion of a few airlines based on my personal experiences.  Research whatever carrier you wish to fly versus just taking my word for it. 🙂 I am also going to talk about well-known commercial carriers.

I have been fortunate enough to travel via private jet thanks to a fantastic former employer.  It ruins you for commercial travel with the personal attention, lack of crowds, comfortable leather seats, and no long lines to get through.  If you are ever offered the chance to travel on a private jet take it!  You won’t regret it and will never forget the experience, especially if you have a great flight crew. I hope to be able to jet set in this fashion again in the future.  For now, I travel in the same manner as other poor writers and college students by finding the best bang for my buck.  Please be aware of the fact that I choose airlines based on both price and service as you read. I believe you get what you pay for so cheaper is not always better and vice versa – the most expensive ticket doesn’t guarantee an experience you want to repeat.

For US domestic flights hands down Southwest is the best deal and best service going.  They are always my first choice for domestic travel.  Plus they are fun! No other aircrew will joke with you and sing to you when you land in places like Anaheim (Disneyland) or Orlando (Disney World). Currently no checked bag fees with them either unless you are traveling with something unique.  Those fees are also very reasonable compared to other carriers.  I was surprised at how cheaply my fencing bag flew to Anaheim this past summer. A double-sided fully stuffed fencing bag is the size of a golf bag for those of you that are curious about how big a fencing bag is.

For International travel I love Delta. Their fares can be a bit more than their US competitors. The flights do a great job of being on time. Their service has been best in class so far. The meals are pretty good and depending what class you fly you can imbibe some great drink selections for free. On my way to Italy, I sipped on a pretty good red wine while watching movies. For those of you wondering I flew economy plus on that flight. I can’t say enough good things about them.  Hopefully this never changes.

United has some great features and rates but beware of the lack of service, especially out of Dulles.  Never experienced problems like I did with United out of this airport anywhere in the world or with any other carrier. The company is also non responsive to member complaints from many of the reviews and horror stories out there. The management team and Dulles repeated that theme when we escalated in the airport so any chance I get to blast them I take it. If they ever own their service failures and offer my mother and me an apology I may reconsider my position, but I won’t hold my breath on that. I do have to acknowledge the International pilots and flight crews as they were outstanding once we made it onto the International leg of our flight.  It’s a shame that level of service isn’t practiced stateside or with their ground crews.  I have a cousin who is a pilot on their International team and I would love to support his company but can’t bring myself to be tortured by them again. For now I avoid United like the plague unless I have to fly them.

Alright, now for the fun part of this story.  Traveling in Europe.  The European traveler has a vast array of airlines to travel with.  While I am not going to say travel is cheaper than in the US, as that can mislead you, you can travel within Europe at great prices compared to US domestic prices as long as you book in advance and around any big holiday travel weekends.  Be forewarned, Easter is one of those in Europe, which surprised me.

Hands down Easy Jet is my favorite discount carrier.  They have fantastic customer service, great prices and some of the best on time ratings.  Their aircraft are newer and clean.  They do have international crews so I am always curious to hear the crews’ accents and learn where they are from.  It’s a classic box of chocolates travel experience from my perspective.  You never know what flavor you will get and the good service is consistent among flights.

They are a British airline and everyone who knows me will tell you I adore English accents.  I absolutely love the voice of the guy who does the prerecorded safety briefing! Nothing drives me wild like a masculine, deep voice tinged with a South England accent. (As a side note I am also a big fan of a creole accent, but back to the Brits and the safety briefing.) This rich baritone voice comes over the loud speakers capturing my attention every flight.  I love how he clearly articulates every word and almost slips into a hushed bedroom voice from time to time. You will know what I am talking about around when he is describing how the masks will drop from the ceiling and how to secure them. The first time I heard it I almost needed an oxygen mask just to hear the rest of the safety spiel.  You can’t help but smile at the brace, brace command or the elongated eelluhmehnayte (illuminate). I am dying to know what he looks like in real life. Probably nothing like the fantasy guy in my imagination.

Ryan Air is usually the carrier of choice for US back-packers and college students.  I will fly them but they are not my carrier of choice.  They are Nazis about bag size and weight.  Their service is nowhere near as good as Easy Jet and they drive me nuts with all the crap they try to sell you when you buy your tickets or on the flight.  Their check in and boarding process is like a free for all.  If you want to travel cheap and don’t care about service or inflight solicitation this is the airline for you. I chuckled on my last Easy Jet flight out of Milan as several passengers described Ryan Air as cattivo and crudelle when we passed their gates.  Cattivo is the Italian word for naughty/bad and crudelle is cruel. I can second cattivo but my experience was not so terrible to warrant crudelle.

Hope the above is helpful and entertaining for my fellow travelers out there.  I also wish you fair winds and following seas in all of your journeys wherever they may take you.

The Romance of Train Travel Across Europe

There is somethIMG_1837ing romantic about riding a train across the Italian countryside.  I love train travel in Europe.  Some of my favorite images of England were the trees, ponds, country homes, flowered walls, gardens and ancient cottages/flats on the train ride from Stratford to Windsor. Train travel is so much easier than flying. No security checks, reasonable lines, friendly faces of conductors who are happy to help you even if you butcher their native tongue when asking which track your train is on. No extra bag charges, no weight limits as you pack whatever you can lift.

I love watching the countryside with its lush green fields, little yellow stucco farm houses with red-brown tile roofs and sleeping vineyards as we are on the cusp of spring waking the vines. When you ride south you run into business travelers, tourist and southern Italians with warm personalities. Go North towards Milan and you can see the fashion capitol’s influence over the country as clothes change from average Joe to men in well cut business suits or designer jeans.  The women dress in tights, sweater dresses, boots or stilettos with big sunglasses and beautiful London fog style trench coats.

Snow on the way to Urbino from Milan

Snow on the way to Urbino from Milan

The soft clack of the wheels hums a soothing lullaby that summons daydreams or a nap.  You put in your earphones, play your favorite music and you’re off to a world uniquely your own.  Sometimes I think about the beauty of whatever place I am in. Other times my mind wanders to times gone by or sharing the train ride with a special someone who appreciates it as much as I do.  Even though my special someone is not ever sitting beside me on my journeys. At least not yet. Perhaps one day.

The longer rides allow for good conversations with friends or when I feel brave a chance to practice what little Italian I have learned so far with a fellow passenger.  That is one thing I love about the Italians.  Many of them are more than happy to help you learn what is in my opinion the most beautiful language in the world.  Though Arabic is a close second.  I am also going to offend the French as I believe Italian is the true language of amore. The only thing that comes close to making my heart race at the thought of a honey dipped, inviting masculine voice tinged with its own unique diction whispering in my ear is a British accent or the easy lilt of the Cajun/Creole tongue. Anyways, I digress. Back to the trains.

If you ever travel by train you definitely have to experience the dinning/snack car at least once.  There is a strange joy that comes from wandering through the cars to reach it.  The cappuccino, snack or whatever you choose to seek out in the car is a satisfying reward for braving the journey through narrow aisles and bumping into fellow passengers as the train rocks around curves.  You can sip your beverage in the car while chatting with the bartender. I guess that’s what we can call him or watch the scenery from a large rectangle window.  I have yet to run into a female server in the dining car in Italy.  I wonder why that is as there are many women conductors? A new subject to explore another day.