Gina in Granada

Conquering Europe One Step at a Time

A Small Pizza Italy

Leaving my initials on the walk of love in Cinque Terre does not even begin to scratch the surface of my love for that country. When I think back to spring break, the first thing that comes to mind is nearly a week in Italy eating the best pizza, pasta and gelato of my life, however I managed to do some actual sightseeing as well!

After the great train debacle, we settled into our sea side hostel in Cinque Terre, Italy. This hostel was unlike anything I’d ever stayed in. Instead of a building with multiple rooms, this hostel was divided into separate tiny villas nestled in the steep hills of the town. Considering we had already lost a day, we knew it was time to kick it up a notch and get our touristy adventures a’goin! For three euro we were able to buy a pass that allowed us to travel by foot in between villages for the rest of the day. Walking along the winding cliffs and listening to the waves hit the rocks could not have been any more perfect. Much of the villages was damaged after a mudslide last year, making it somewhat difficult to walk, and so we also used the train. The only problem with this was the lack of warning about which stop was next, which ultimately led us into places we had already seen or did not plan to go to. Even with all the confusion, we managed to get to 4 of the 5 villages before the sunset engulfed us. It was then time for the moment I’d been waiting for since my senior year of high school (the last time I was in Italy) a real Italian dinner. Mind you, one of my best friends is as Italian as they come, and I am by no means mal nourished while I’m at her house, but something about eating Italian food IN Italy makes it a bit more special. And so ravioli it was! There is no need to even ask how it was. Unless Riomaggiore, the village we stayed in, had some top-secret nightclub I was fairly positive there was no must-see nightlife. That being said, we decided to have a classy rooftop wine night, fully complete with an iTunes playlist and the melodies of a legitimate Italian opera from our friend Jaime (looks like all of her years of voice lessons paid off!) This was the life, people. Not a care in the world, overlooking the Mediterranean, with only the echoes of our own laughter and a bottle of blush wine. Did we really have to leave so soon? I mean, the answer is yes because we had made a legitimate itinerary weeks beforehand, but if not I would have been content spending a few more days, maybe weeks, THE REST OF MY LIFE THERE.

It was only Tuesday and I had become a professional at the train system, and so yet again we found ourselves all aboard for a few hour journey to the heart of the Renaissance: Florence! With only one train change, we arrived right on schedule as we moseyed our way through the tourist packed streets of the city. Not to brag, but my memory is quite impeccable and I was quickly overcome with nostalgia as I passed statues and gelato shops that I had seen years before. It was as if time had stood still, and I was back to see the city through more grown-up eyes. Wheeling our luggage over the Ponte Vecchio unscathed by the absurd amount of tourists, we found our hostel. The phrase “never judge a book by its cover” had never been so true. Except, the appearance of this place was not the problem. In fact, it was beautiful and I spent the next few days referring to it as the ho-stel (a hybrid of hotel and hostel) But little did we know the owner was a legitimate nutjob with a bad case of bi-polar disorder. I knew things were strange when she called her assistant stupid in front of her face, and even more embarrassing-in front of us. You see we had arrived a little before check in time and had it up to here (visualize where my hand is) with waiting in the hallway with automatic lights, which shut off every five minutes. And so, we knocked on the door until a girl, somewhere in her twenties, answered the door. For about five minutes we went in circles as she explained in Italian that we were early and we COULD wait outside. To which I responded “yes, we COULD but we could also wait inside.” Not once did she tell me it was literally against their policy, and before you knew it, pyscho Mcgee had come through the door. She greeted us with smiles, which quickly turned to angry shouting at her counterpart. Shit was getting weird and we had only been there a half an hour. Anyways, only videotape evidence would do this woman justice as her schizophrenia became more and more apparent. Paying was a fiasco (and I aint talkin’ Lupe) and don’t even get me started about the wifi. My inner weasel should have picked up on her sneaky ways as she insisted we pay for wifi right then and there, which we did, only to later find out there was no password necessary and she had just made an extra ten euro with the snap of her fingers. After listening to her chirp for twenty minutes we quickly fled the scene to do some exploring! My eyes grew wide with every step as we passed Pinocchio themed EVERYTHING. It took some real restraint not to buy everything in sight. I don’t know where this obsession started, all I know is that I love Pinocchio more than the average human.

Later that night I was on my own, seeing as I had made plans with some camp friends that were also in town visiting. After finding the virtually nonexistent street with their hostel thanks to some friendly locals and Google maps, we attempted to find a restaurant (or one of the many) that our friend had suggested to us. Unfortunately (but not really because our dinner was phenomenal) we could only find one of the suggested venues, but it was packed. However before leaving I had managed to run into a friend from school studying in Florence for the semester. I guess this place was popular! Like I said though, it was a blessing in disguise. Jordan and I had decided to go halfsies on two different types of gnocchi. And what a great decision that was. I think our salmon and asparagus gnocchi was hands down my favorite meal of the whole vacation. Additionally, we had the nicest waitress ever who gave us a large discount and even went out of her way to make us drinks that weren’t listed on their cocktail menu. It was a really nice night, and nice to have a bit of home thrown into the mix of study abroad. Feeling as though I’ve lived there all my life, I made my way back to the ho-stel where luckily some other guests arrived the same time as me with a key. That’s another thing I forgot to mention. Lunatic Lady had given the four of us ONE key, for the three nights, and could not care less about whether we were going out together or not. So, as any 1960’s teenager would, I made a promise to be back no later than midnight. In fact, my friends had agreed to start checking the front door for me starting at 11:30 every 15 minutes or so. Yes, this actually happened. No, they haven’t found a cure for her mental instability yet.

baby come back

Buongiorno! Our first full day in Florence! The afternoon before we had found our way over to the Uffizi to purchase tickets for their gallery as well as the Academia. Between these two museums, you could have a pretty hearty lesson on the Italian Renaissance, not to mention see some of the most famous pieces of art in history. Without a reservation, you could be waiting on line for hours, so buying in advance was absolutely the best decision. The weather was also a bit temperamental that day, so it was nice to be inside for the majority. After gawking at the Birth of Venus, the David, and other really important things, we were a little drained of energy. We needed some time to unwind before dinner and a real night out, and so back to the insane asylum we went. Here comes ordeal number three- The laptop charger incident. For the past three months I had been using an adapter on my laptop charger with no problem. The charger was supposed to work all over Europe. How do I know this? Because my best friend, you know the Italian one who feeds me well, had studied in Italy the semester before and lent it to me. Well, after being plugged into the wall for twenty minutes, it began to fall out. I thought it was strange and when I went to plug it in again, the plastic around the prongs had broken and the metal was warped! I immediately stormed to the office to tell this woman that her outlet had broken my charger, to which she replied “maybe you shouldn’t force it so hard.” How dare she. I forced nothing, and I was at the end of my rope. “This is an Italian charger, and your outlet must be faulty, this is not fair.” Her genius response? “Try and fix it.” “WOW. THAT’S A FANTASTIC IDEA, THANKS!” I shouted sarcastically as I stomped back into the room cursing her existence. Luckily we were on our way out, and I was able to escape before punching her in the ovaries. The night before, the rest of my travel companions had eaten at “Il Gato e La Volpe.” Ironically, the crowded restaurant that I never made it to. I almost forgot I was in Italy as I dined with what seemed to be every study abroad student in the entire city, but the food was really good! The clock was ticking and we had made plans to be at Gracie’s friend’s apartment by 10:30 before heading out for the night. It was really interesting to see how different our study abroad lifestyles were. I found myself in a giant apartment for six girls completely with a kitchen and common area and a bunch of rowdy girls ready to go out by 11:30. This was a whole new world and nothing like the low key residencia I’m used to. Not to mention, Spaniards don’t go out until close to 1. 11:30 was fair game for a nap in my option. The ten, or so of us filed out of the apartment and made our way to a club, or should I say the 8 year anniversary Bar Mitzvah party of the Jews of New York. My gut told me that I had to know at least one person in this sea of sweaty bodies, and sure enough, less than five minutes after arriving I found a group of girls I go to school with. Needless to say we were excited and shocked all at the same time. The amount of people jam packed into this place was enough to induce a stroke of some sort, so after a little while avoiding the weird kids on the outskirts of the dancing circle, I went outside for some fresh air/to peace the hell out. Waiting outside I yet again got the feeling that someone I knew was in the vicinity. Call it a knack, but there was another friend from high school right in front of me. At this point, my friends were confused as to whether we were on spring break or I had actually brought them to a reunion of every major event of my life. I began to wonder as well. Soon enough, the rest of our party joined us outside and we made a group decision that we were over being pushed against all those sweaty American bodies. Backtracking a bit: we were told earlier that scattered around Florence there are a few secret bakeries. What’s this you might ask? Well, between the hours of about 1 and 4, there are these sketchy unmarked buildings responsible for making fresh pastries for the next morning and selling them for a euro each. The trick to finding them is solely based on sniffing your way there (or hearing through the grapevine, I suppose) As more and more people show up outside, you’re urged to be quiet or the bakers won’t come to the door. This was apparently the case we thought as the man who had once been handing out fresh goodies put a large closed sign on the door after one of the girls in our group had gone inside. I was confused, but waited patiently. Sure enough, about 15 minutes later she emerged with about eight bags of piping hot, oily, gooey pastries free of charge. Talk about the perks of making friends with the right people! She’s become a regular at this place, and the guy did us a huge favor. I don’t think anything could top this moment 1) because it’s cool, don’t even try to deny it 2) because I really like dessert. A good night, for sure.

pretty little liars

The next afternoon we decided to take a day trip to good ole Pisa. We got there, walked around, got lunch and left. I’m kidding. What actually happened goes as follows: We got off the train, and thought we’d immediately see the tower and be blown away, however it took more than 30 minutes of hobbling around with my nauseating blisters to finally find it. That lean is no exaggeration, and I don’t be around when it finally gives out. But for the few hours we spent there it held up pretty nicely as we took some cliché pictures and picnicked on the grass nearby. The best part? We finally got some revenge on the lunatic. We used her white bed sheet to eat on. It was a shame we just happened to forget napkins and had to wipe our excess Nutella and raspberry juice on the sheet. When I imagine her making the bed and discovering the missing sheet, I envision something along the lines of putting two beta fish in the same bowl. Cue my mischievous hand rubbing paired with maniacal laughter.

Back to Florence for one last hoorah. We had our last meal at Gusta Pizza, suggested by everyone who’s ever studied in Florence. The wait for this place was a little bit ridiculous, but I understand why. I would trade a kidney to replace Spanish food with Italian food, especially if it was the pizza I had that night. After, we walked along the Ponte Vecchio, admiring it one last time and making our way up to the highest point in Florence to overlook the city. It was incredible and I knew I wasn’t ready to be leaving so soon. Thank you Florence for a wonderful time- I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other again.

lean with it rock with it

Here we were at the tail end of our vacation. Last stop-Rome! Immediately after dropping our bags at our hostel, we jumped on the metro and took it to the Coliseum. Just as I remembered. There’s only so long you could stare at an ancient building, and so after a little while it was back to the hostel. Not only was Friday our first night in Rome, but it was also the start of Passover. Being in Italy on a holiday where it’s forbidden to eat bread-products is no easy task, however it makes for one great story. The four of us had made reservations weeks earlier at a Chabad of Rome. Knowing very little about what to expect, we put on some nice clothes and walked the wonderfully short distance to Chabad. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted and surrounded by other people who made us feel right at home. Passover is a holiday that I love to be home for. Though a bit lengthy, I love my family seders and if I could, I would have been there in a heartbeat. But if there was one place I had to be other than home, I’m glad this was it! Italians, Americans and Israelis piled in to the seder and Ruth, Gracie and myself got to teach our friend Jaime all about our own traditions. The majority of the night the room was loud, and many parts were half assed, but a loud seder is better than no seder, right?! Eventually, the room emptied out except for a table of Israelis and a few Americans that we had connected to through the wonderful game of Jewish Geography. We decided to stay and chat with them for about an hour. On our way out, the Israelis extended an offer to join them at a bar. This was an offer that could not be resisted, and so we spent the next few hours sitting outside becoming friends and discussing life over a few bottles of red wine. I couldn’t have been happier if I tried.

LITC?

Of course no good vacation is complete without something going terribly wrong. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Day 2 in Rome. The day’s agenda consisted of a walking tour/cooking class which I had found online and had really been looking forward to. This day wasn’t going to be cheap, but this was Italy and spring break. Cutting corners was a no-no. We had allowed ourselves plenty of time (or so we thought) to get to the meeting point, but little did we know the man at the hostel was an ignoramus and gave us terrible instructions. After telling him where we needed to go, he retorted with a bus number so quickly that we did not doubt for a second that he did not know where he was sending us. That was mistake number one. Mistake number two was not getting off the bus the moment we had an inkling that something wasn’t right. Mistake number three was me crying in public on a bus, only to be approached by a priest that informed me that “G-d has plans of his own” or some shit. He was a lovely man and all, but I wasn’t feelin’ it. Instead, I continued to sob as the numbers on the clock got farther and farther past the scheduled meeting time. Finally, the bus driver dropped us “close” to where we needed to be. We ran like the wind, and prayed that the group had no left without us, even though we were close to 30 minutes late. With my asthma kicking in and my ass crack out for all of Rome to see, we made it to the location where by some miracle, the woman in charge informed us that the group we were joining was running late, and we hadn’t missed the tour after all. The priest was right! It was a Pass-Easter miracle! Now we could enjoy our day-which we absolutely did. Because I have the world’s smallest ear canals, I couldn’t wear the headset and instead got all buddy-buddy with the guide, walking less than a foot behind her at all times. She took us to the Pantheon, the Trevi fountain and other important sights before dropping us at a restaurant for our final part of day, the cooking class. When I signed up for the tour, I envisioned us in some big kitchen behind closed doors, but instead we were set up in the middle of this rather popular restaurant. Also, the rest of the people on the walking tour apparently hadn’t signed up for the cooking portion so it was just the four of us, which was wonderful. The owner of this place helped us make cavatelli, and spinach and ricotta stuffed ravioli. Both of our pasta creations were then taken to the kitchen where a real chef assembled them and made them into the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten. Along with the pasta we got wine and desserts of our choice, and the staff was so incredibly friendly. The next few hours we spent riding the metro to various places of interest. First stop, the Vatican. There was no getting in there the day before Easter, but the outside was still cool, and crowded with thousands of people and chairs set up for the arrival of the Pope. Next stop, the Spanish Steps. They may not be the coolest attraction in Rome, but they’re definitely important (don’t ask me why). Plus, we’re studying in Spain, it’s gotta mean something! And you know I’m always up for taking a break and sitting somewhere for a while, so why not there? I mean, when in Rome. We recharged ourselves at the hostel for a little while and then ventured out for our last meal of our vacation. After wandering the deserted streets on the outskirt neighborhood we stayed in, we had an epiphany. What were we doing? Looking for something cheap and easy in our last night in Italy? Absolutely not. So, back on the metro we went, and took it to the Trevi fountain stop where the streets are lined with pizzeria after pizzeria.

  lost my life savings trying to get this picture

They say for every coin you throw into the fountain, you will return to Rome. Who could I talk to about making a deal? I would have given them all the money left in my wallet if I could have just stayed a few more nights. If you’ve made it through this post without falling asleep, or wishing you had never started reading, I thank you. It’s not easy to sum up an experience as wonderful as this one, but after a month of avoiding the task, I did it. I may have sacrificed my computer charger, a jeans size and a bit of my dignity, but that’s the price I pay.

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