Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Arrivederci, Bologna

It's taken me a long time to conclude this blog, for a variety of reasons. I was pretty much drained after all of the goodbyes, the packing, the hornet battles, and my dazed but ultimately smooth trip home. More than that, though, my mind has just been completely occupied this summer by my work, friends, and family. So to finally wrap things up, I'd like to relate a few of the most important things I have learned through the experience of studying abroad.

1. How to live on my own, far away from home, and in a foreign language

2. How to use conversational Italian comfortably and proficiently

3. How the university system can work outside the United States, and the strengths of American higher education over the Italian system

4. How to cook - and eat - all'italiana

5. How to go with the flow while on vacation, and, more generally, how to accept and enjoy the things life gives you

6. Renewed appreciation for Brown, Rhode Island, the United States, and my life in general

My study abroad experience was immensely enjoyable and educational, and I think it was one of the best things I have ever done. I could talk for hours about my time in Italy, but I won't right do that here and now. Suffice it to say that whoever you are, I think that only good things can come from learning more about your place in the world.



As a side story... One of the last things that I did before I left Bologna was enter the Basilica of St. Petronius and look for the sun shining through the oculus (above) onto the solar dial to mark the day in the year. Unfortunately, the church closed for lunch before the beam made it to the dial. Whereas back in January this might have frustrated me, this time I was willing to content myself with the good fortune of seeing the sun beam land on a column, crawling ever so slowly in the direction of the sun dial. Maybe it was better this way...


Epilogue

I am now back at home, enjoying my time with my friends and family, and doing great research in a chemistry lab at Brown. I'm extremely grateful for all of the great people who made my stay in Italy so enjoyable, especially the people at the Brown in Bologna office, my American friends along with me on the program, and the many new Italian friends that I made in Bologna. Grazie, arrivederci!

Parma

A couple days before I left Italy, I decided to take advantage of the nice weather, and the end of my finals, and spend an afternoon exploring nearby Parma - somewhere I had wanted to visit since January but never had the right opportunity. I went by myself, but I got out of the house early and came back in the mid-afternoon, so I still had the rest of the day to hang out with my friends. Here are some of the pics from my day:

The 12th century Romanesque Duomo of Parma and the famous baptistery on the right. At center is the bell tower in scaffolding.


On the inside of the cathedral, there are several paintings by the famous Renaissance painter Parmigianino, and most notably, the frescoed ceiling of the dome: the Assumption by Correggio:


After walking around the center of the city for a while, I crossed the river and headed towards the Versailles-inspired Ducal Gardens, site of the Ducal Palace of Parma, below. Parma was ruled by the French for a long period of history, and the French influence has hung around the city in a variety of ways.


Other places I visited in Parma were the Teatro Regio, the opera house devoted to the opera of Parma's own Giuseppe Verdi, and the cemetery where Niccolo' Paganini is buried. My summation of Parma is that it is a charming little city packed full of art, history, good food, and old buildings. Below you can see the lovely torrente, or stream, that splits Parma in two:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Italian Road Trip!

A week after getting back from cold, dark northern Europe, I embarked on another big trip, this time to warm, sunny southern Italy! My housemate Alessia invited me and my other American housemate Christina to come with her and her boyfriend Emanuele to Praia a Mare, Calabria the little town in where her mother's family is from. We first took a train to Ancona to meet up with Emanuele, and then we went the rest of the way in Emanuele's car, making a one-night stop along the way in Alessia's current home city of Pescara. We traveled down the eastern Adriatic Coast - through 8 different regions of central and southern Italy - all the way down to Calabria at the "toe of the boot."

This was the road trip: beautiful land and seascapes everywhere we went, plenty of time to relax and play on the beach, and some of the most delicious homemade food I have ever eaten in my life, thanks to Alessia's grandparents. The grandparents told me when I arrived that they tried to make all of the food at home from scratch. This included the bread, the pasta, the flour, the wine, the dried figs, candied fruit, jam made from the wine grapes, and a liqueur made from I don't remember what. It was perhaps a life-changing experience, and I am hereafter resolved to grow a vineyard and make my own wine when I am older...

Photo tour!

Pedestrian bridge and boardwalk in Pescara, Abruzzo

Wind turbines and poppies in Puglia

Praia a Mare, Calabria

Alessia's family's home

Rocky beach

Relaxing on the beach

Natural arch and inlet

Mural in nearby town of Diamante

Hill-top Christ statue of Maratea

Sunset from atop hill

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Copenhagen and Berlin

The good news: Today, June 1st, I had my last final exam of the semester! I'm a senior!

The bad news: I've got a month and a half of travel to record in my blog before I leave Bologna! I guess the "bad news" is not so bad, is it? In any case, I do have a lot to write about, and now is the time to write it! So here we go...

KĂžbenhavn!

Back at the end of April, I flew up to Copenhagen to visit my friend Dave Jenkins, thus fulfilling our freshman-year plans to study abroad and visit each other in our respective countries. Denmark turns out to be the polar opposite of Italy in turns of way of life. I was shocked to see that even drunk rowdy teenagers in Copenhagen wait patiently for the walk signal before crossing empty streets. Even more striking is difference in basic communication: Italians LOVE to talk, while Danes seem to avoid talking to each other at all costs. These are not meant to be stereotypes, but rather the cultural norms that I have personally observed. At the lunch table with an Italian family or friends, if there is ever a lull in the conversation, people start shouting, "What's with this silence!" On the other hand, when I helped a random girl pick up the unopened beer bottles she had dropped on a Copenhagen bus, and she took the bottle from my hand with neither a thank-you nor a glance up in my direction. Dave's response to this situation was, "Now what have we learned about Danish culture?"

At a certain point, Dave and I met up with Maya Stroshane from Brown, and we did a tour of the city. The aerial picture above was taken from atop a kooky spiral clock tower on one of the churches, and the picture below is off the hippie-and-dog-occupied, marijuana-filled "autonomous neighborhood" of Copenhagen known as Christiania, the back entrance of which is shown below:


Another important thing to mention about Denmark is the fact that is absurdly expensive. Everything in Copenhagen sells for the equivalent of American ball-park or carnival prices. Coming from Bologna, where you can buy a kilo of pasta for 53 cents or an entire pizza for 2.50 euro, I was very shocked to see $7 coffees and $10 beers... Dave and I therefore bought all of our food and beer from the supermarket and cooked for ourselves. Below is Dave kneading the dough for our homemade gnocchi. Hey, I had to bring a little bit of Italy with me...


Flash forward to my last full day in Copenhagen, May 1st, which also happened to be Europe's Labor Day. As in the rest of Europe, there were big celebrations, outdoor concerts, communist flags, and, at least in Copenhagen, lots of beer-drinking out in the cold. Shown in the pic below are me, Dave's Swedish friend Ed Sandels, and Dave at the Labor Day festival:


From Copenhagen, I flew directly to Berlin to hang out with Maya Stroshane - the same friend I had just met up with by chance in Copenhagen! Berlin is a really fascinating city, with unique history, lots of things for tourists to do, and, best of all, it's super affordable. Bockwurst and bratwurst are sold on the street for like 2 euro all over the city. Here is the brief photo tour:

The Brandenburg Gate, icon of Berlin

The Dom (Cathedral) of Berlin, with TV Tower in background

The Berlin Wall, East Side Gallery

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The Reichstag, home of German Parliament

I really enjoyed my time in Berlin, got a great tour with Maya, and even picked up some very limited Germany while I was there! Everything would have been perfect, if not for the flight home. There was a 5 hour delay, which caused me to arrive in Milan at 2 am...after all of the airport shuttles had stopped running... Let's just say it was an extremely eventful night, and I could not have been happier to be on that 5 am train to Bologna...

The Duomo of Milan at night

Monday, April 12, 2010

Easter Vacation

The past two and a half weeks have been a whirlwind of traveling. Since there is no way for me to properly describe the places I've visited without spending several hours at my computer, I am going to have to take the easy way out and just construct a simple timeline of events and places...with pictures!!

March 25th: Bologna to Paris. Reunited with Joe, Rebecca, Peter, Paul, Aaron, two Sarahs, and Dave. Weekend of fun, including the Louvre, Versailles, crepes, and Sarah Rosenthal's 21st birthday. Shown below is our fondue dinner and the Eiffel Tower at night:



March 29th: Paris to Bologna with Joe. Showed Joe around my new home city! Below, me and Joe in Piazza Maggiore, followed by Joe with the tiramisu`



March 30th: Bologna to Venice with Joe. Took a tour of St. Mark's Basilica, the Ducal Palace, and Correr Museum, and enjoyed a peaceful night in a beautiful location. Below, me and Joe in front of the Rialto Bridge.


March 31st: Back to Bologna with Joe. Saw L'Elisir d'Amore at the Teatro Comunale and hung out with Christina, Beppe, and Luca. Next day, a hike up the hills around Bologna and a wonderful dinner. Below, see our hand-made tagliatelle alla bolognese:


April 2nd
: Joe says bye and returns to Paris. Mom and Auntie Peggy arrive in Bologna. I give them an afternoon tour, and then we move on to Florence. My first time in Florence, I could not helped being wowed by the remarkable art and Renaissance history. Below, the famous Duomo, with the dome by Brunelleschi and the bell tower by Giotto.


April 3rd: Exceptional wine tasting excursion in the Chianti region of Tuscany. Beautiful, elegant, delicious countryside.


April 4th: Day trip to Pisa. Lovely central square (Piazza dei Miracoli). Obbligatory Leaning Tower photo below:


April 5th: Transfer to Rome, the Eternal City. Tour of the Roman Forum and Colosseum areas, and Vatican City. Saw a couple of special sites, including the special Caravaggio exhibit and the eerie Crypt of the Capuchin monks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cripta_Cappuccini.jpg). Below are a special view I found of the Forum, proof that my mother can make friends with anybody - even a random Dominican Friar - and proof that even the Trevi Fountain can become uncrowded if you wait until past midnight.




April 8th: Returned to Bologna by myself. Met Dave Jenkins later the same day. Day trip to Ferrara the next day! Sarah Rosenthal arrives on the 10th, and on the 11th we half watch and half sing along to the BUGS 2010 production of the Pirates of Penzance, the First-Ever BUGS International Simulcast. Below, the Este Castle of Ferrara... It has a moat and a draw-bridge.


April 12th:
With the departure of Sarah this morning (nearly foiled by a bus workers strike), my marathon Easter vacation has come to a close. Today I did very little except post pictures and blog, though I did take a book out of the library...

And now it's time to act like a student again!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Modena

I'm getting behind on my blogging! But here is the update on my latest mini-voyage to Modena! I went with my apt mate, Matteo, and a few American girls from the program. Modena is only 25 miles away so it was a really quick train ride. It looks a lot like Bologna - meaning it has porticoes - except it's smaller, has more open spaces, and some different architectural styles. It's also well-known for the production of 3 things: Ferrari's, Maserati's, and traditional balsamic vinegar, or aceto balsamico tradizionale!

A main road through the city:


The first thing we did was take a stroll around the city, and walked by the Este family's palace that was transformed into a military academy, an outdoor marketplace, a Jewish synagogue, and the impressive Romanesque Duomo of Modena, dating back to 1099! When we went inside to visit, there was a mass going on. This is the oldest church I have visited with the notable exceptions of the churches in Ravenna, which date back to the 400s and 500s AD. Unfortunately, the famous bell tower, which is often presented as an icon of Modena, was covered with scaffolding and white sheets due to construction. While in the piazza outside the duomo, I heard some old men speaking in the distinctive Modenese dialect! The facade of the duomo is shown below:


The next main phase of our day was lunch, which was delicious and left me wanting more, as usual. Then we embarked on our quest to find a traditional balsamic vinegar factory, or acetaia. We were not sure what kind of building we were looking for - we only knew the general area, and we were working on a recommendation by one of the Brown in Bologna Italian teachers who is friends with the owners of the acetaia.

Eventually, we found our way there and it turned out to be the coolest thing ever! The place is called Acetaia Giorgio, and it's owned by this nice man Giorgio and his family. Even though we showed up without a reservation or a phone call, he was nice enough to give us a full tour of the balsamic vinegar making process, as well as a variety of samples to taste! Below is the first room we saw:


Let me try to briefly describe how this process works, using the set of barrels above as an example. The casks are filled with an acidic distillation made from grapes grown in the area around Modena. Then, they are aged 10-25 years in an attic, where the temperature is allowed to vary from hot to cold naturally throughout the year. The balsamic vinegar absorbs flavor from the wood that holds it, and the acid slowly gets neutralized by an oxidizing process. As you can see, there is a handkerchief on top of each barrel. They are actually all open to the air, and under each piece of cloth is a decent sized square hole cut out of the wood. As water evaporates from the barrels, the flavors within the balsamic vinegar concentrate over time, and the volume decreases. Every year, new distillate from the "mother bottle" gets added to the largest barrel to replenish it, then some of the largest barrel gets added to the next largest, and so on until the smallest barrel gets filled. The balsamic vinegar in the smallest barrel is what gets bottled, because it has passed through all the other different barrels and has the richest flavor.

Another nice thing: note the name "Carlotta" on the wall and the year "1986." This comes from the old tradition of starting a set of casks whenever (but clearly not only when) a female baby is born. By the time the balsamic vinegar was fully aged, the daughter would be of marrying age, and the casks of delicious (and expensive) balsamic would be her dowry! Setting aside the plight of women forced into marriage, that's a pretty cool dowry.


Next came the TASTE TEST! I would blown away by the richness of the flavor, and how much you can taste the distinct sweet, sour, and wood flavors. You can also tell, from my amazing action shot above, how thick the balsamic vinegar is! We only tasted a tiny little bit from each of the four bottle, but even a tiny drop of it packs a powerful punch!

After the acetaia, we discussed going to the Ferrari museum, but ultimately decided that it would be too much of a hassle, and we'd try to go back another time to get a tour of the Ferrari *factory* by a friend of a friend. Wonder if that will happen...

Till the next time!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Siena

Last weekend I went to Siena! I kept changing my mind back and forth on whether or not I would go, since I still felt sort of sick and the weather forecast said it would rain all day. But in the end it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed, so I went for it. Three regional trains later, I arrived at Siena with Wendy, Caroline, and their friend Allison.

Here is the full photo album from the day: http://picasaweb.google.com/HoganRI/Siena02

Siena turned out to be TOTALLY worth getting up early, taking some Advil, and taking the long train ride. The weather was warm and sunny all day until late afternoon, after we had finished sight-seeing. From the train station, we walked towards the center of the city on foot instead of taking a bus. We had to ask for directions once or twice because the train station is sort of out of the way, but we found our way shortly after.

The first thing that struck me about Siena was how well-preserved all of the buildings were in the historic center of the city. This is partly due to the fact that Siena was the first European city to restrict automobile traffic in its main square (1966), and it seems to generally have good preservationist tendencies.

Below, enjoy the wonderful medieval style Piazza del Campo. Now imagine massive crowds of people gathered here during the summer for the Palio, Siena's traditional horse racing competition among the 17 contrade or neighborhoods.



We found a great little bar on the piazza where we grabbed some pizza and a drink, and we sat outside in the sun to enjoy our food. It was wonderful. And I was made especially happy after the man working behind the cash register told me I had a good northern Italian accent. Below, enjoying a gelato with Caroline:


The next stop on our tour was the Cathedral of Siena, or Duomo. This church is extremely rich and elegant, and on the inside you get the feeling that every square inch of material above, below, and around you is a priceless work of art....probably because it is. The exterior and interior:



We paid 10 euro for these passes that allowed us to not only see the Duomo, but also the adjacent Baptistery, museum, and crypt. From the museum one can access a tower that provides a soaring panorama of the city and the Tuscan landscape.



After we descended from the tower, it started to rain. The remainder of our day was spent running around in the rain looking a place to get cheap food and sample wine, then we took two trains and got back to Bologna.