Monday, June 18, 2012

I think it's safe to say I've cried more in the last few days than I have in the last few years combined. I feel like a broken record, but  I just can't say it enough: this trip has been the most incredible experience of my life! A piece of my heart will always be in Sansepolcro just as Sansepolcro will always hold a special place in my heart wherever I go. Our final few days were so bitter sweet, and as we said our goodbyes, hugged our new found friends and family, and waved goodbye to our second home, the tears just wouldn't stop. Although I'm thrilled to be finishing my time in Italy in Verona and Venice and of course beyond excited to be heading to Switzerland, reality has officially set in that I won't be returning to Sansepolcro, at least for now anyways. I just want  to take a minute to thank everyone who's joined me, supported me and helped me throughout my journey. I truly have been blessed with the most amazing family and group of friends a girl could ever ask for! I can't wait to see you all soon and tell you all the wonderful stories of my time here in this amazing place. Ciao!!

I don't think there could be a picture that described my time in Sansepolcro more perfectly than this one! This incredible lady welcomed us in on day one with open arms and without her our time in Italy would not have been the same. 
I can't wait for her to come to NC and visit us at Meredith! 
We love you Sara Andreini! 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Its so hard to believe we're down to our final few days in the palazzo! Sansepolcro has come to feel like home and I'm so not ready to leave. Since we've been back from our trip to Rome we've tried to pack as much as we could in to our final days. Monday we spent the day cleaning and preparing for the arrival of the famous Dr. Webb and John Rose, whom we adore. John Rose and his English accent has brought so much laughter to the palazzo over the past few days. We've had the best time getting to know them and learning all Dr. Webb has to teach us about Sansepolcro and their past experiences. Tuesday we got a special tour from Sara's father, an active member of the Sansepolcro community, through the two local churches. The first was just off the main square and it's the only church in town dedicated to Santa Maria (Mary). It survived an earthquake years ago and according to a great legend the quake caused Mary's hands to open which is why none of the statues or paintings show her praying, but instead they portray her with her hands open. After touring the churches, a delicious lunch, and an afternoon full of class, we finished the day by introducing some of the girls to the movie The Sound of Music. I still can't believe that was the first time some of them had ever seen it. SarahBeth and I could probably act out the entire movie by ourselves. It's one of my all time favorites for sure. Janna and I even learned the ballroom dace so that we could dance along as the Captain and Maria twirled around on the dance floor. The real reason we watched the movie though, was to prepare for our journey to Switzerland next week where we will actually hike through the hills where the final scene was filmed and sing along to "The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music". I cannot wait!!!
Wednesday we went on our final group excursion to Assisi! It was a beautiful day filled with tons of sight seeing. We went in three or four different churches, but the highlight was our grand finale in  San Francesco. It was an immaculate sight with frescos covering the ceilings and walls, ancient mahogany seating and gold trim everywhere. We were also able to venture down stairs to see where St. Francis of Assisi was buried. We couldn't stick around for long, however, because they were about to begin a service in the private little chapel located on the base floor near the relics of St. Francis. After spending an hour or so admiring the church we hurried back up the hill to local cafe for lunch. The food was delicious, as always, but the girls who ordered pizza swear it was the best yet! Once our tummies were full the shopping began and continued until we had to meet back at the bus to return to Sansepolcro. Back at the palazzo we resumed our movie watching, only this time re-watching Letters to Juilet in preparation for Verona next week! We're hoping to be able to visit the wall and leave letters to Juilet just like Clair from the movie.
Today marked our last normal schedule day of classes. We went to breakfast for our Italian class with our professor who treated us all to pastries and drinks as a reward for speaking Italian in public. We all sat out at the local cafe and talked about what we've experienced since coming to Italy, our favorite memories, and lessons learned. I learned a new one today: never order hot chocolate in Italy. It's basically like drinking chocolate pudding. Yuck! It was a nice break from class though, and we really enjoyed being out and about with "the Italian Carrie Bradshaw" as we like to call her.
Tonight we're going to the main square to watch a musical performance that the local elementary school is putting on for the 1,000 year celebration. Hopefully we'll get to see my favorite little friends, Sara's kids, as they sing for us!
Tomorrow, the alumni arrive and it's our final Italian class. We're having lunch with Dr. Allen and the other alums, giving them the grand tour of the palazzo and then venturing back to the museum to listen to the Bankers tell us about the intriguing frescos we visited during our first week here. I'm so excited for the group to share all the wonderful stories and memories we've made with the alums. I think they'r really going to love our group of girls.
Saturday we bid goodbye to our host families at our final dinner in Sansepolcro. I can't believe it's time for this already. I'm already trying to prepare myself for the tears that are going to come as we say goodbye to this incredible place. Words can't even begin to describe how amazing this adventure has been and I truly can't believe it's over. I think if I could bring my family and friends here I just might stay forever.
Monday morning we'll be heading to Venice and Verona for a few days before leaving Italy and heading north to Switzerland. That will be the end of our internet access until arriving back in the states so this will be my last blog post for a while. Thank you everyone who's followed along on my adventures. I truly appreciate all your prayers, kind words and support! This has been the most amazing summer of my life!

inside one of the Assisi churches

one of my favorite parts, there's an amazing view everywhere you turn

San Francesco

looking down the hill at Assisi

Sara and her dad telling us about the churches

group shot :)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The past three days have by far been the most exciting and most exhausting days of the entire trip so far. We just returned to the palazzo in Sansepolcro from a fantastic break in Rome! We shopped downtown, tossed coins in the Trevi Fountain, went to the Colosseum and Palatine Hill, saw the Roman ruins, spent a day in Vatican City, went in St. Peter's, scoped out the Sistine Chapel, and the most exciting part of all: we went to the Papal Blessing and saw the Pope! Since Rome wasn't built in a day we decided we would take three to conquer it all and we were quite successful!
Monday we spent most of the day traveling so by the time we reached Rome we were starving. Food is always a priority for this crowd and somewhere at the top of our to-do list was visiting the Hard Rock cafe so we did! After a delicious salad, we regained enough energy to make our way down to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. What a beautiful sight lit up at night. It was breathtaking! And we saw someone get proposed to in front of the Trevi Fountain, that was quite impressive!
Tuesday we decided to conquer the Roman ruins. First stop, the Colosseum. It was jam packed full of people but totally worth the visit. We climbed up and down the floors on the inside and listed along to our iPods as Rick Steves commentated our tour enlightening us with all kinds of interesting facts. After the Colosseum we made our way to Palatine Hill where we strolled through all the Roman ruins, vinyards and gardens.
Wednesday we started our day out bright and early taking it to the streets of Vatican City! We arrived at 8:15am and baked in the sun until 11am when the Pope finally emerged. It was seriously the highlight and greatest moment of my trip. He rode by in this bullet proof Mercedes, waving to the crowd as a band played in the background. Such a surreal moment! Oh, and did I mention we were on the fourth row! Sitting in a massive crowd, anxiously waiting, and roasting in the heat was completely and totally worth it. The cardinals read a letter from Paul to Timothy and then the Pope gave a speech, in Italian of course, but just listening to him speak was incredible. After that he blessed the crowd in probably 10 different languages, recognizing the importance of family and love. We then said the Lord's Prayer together in Latin followed by a final blessing from the Pope. The entire experience was absolutely incredible and words simply cannot accurately describe how blessed I felt. Once the Papal Blessing was over we were able to venture inside of St. Peter's where I was completely awestruck by the magnificent sights in front of my eyes. The ceiling of the main Duomo was the height of two football fields and at the very top you can see a blue and red blur, but if you were able to see it up close you would see an image of God! The main alter was incredible and lined with candles and gold trim. Also, the body of John Paul XXIII the "good pope" was in the right section of the church which was really cool to see! He wasn't the only embalmed pope we saw either. We ventured downstairs to stroll through the tombs of the past popes. After a couple hours of ohhing and awing over the beautiful basilica we moved on to the Sistine Chapel. It was yet another amazing experience. In the very center of the ceiling was an image of God breathing life into Adam which was by far my favorite. I can't even describe how exhausted we were after a full day of Vatican City. I don't think I've ever been so tired in my life, but the incredibly long day was so so worth it. This trip has truly been a blast but my day at Vatican City was by far the highlight. Being blessed by the Pope, it just doesn't get any better.

The Trevi Fountain

group shot

out infront of the Colosseum

the back of the Colosseum

me THRILLED to see the Pope

The Pope!!!!

in the inside of St. Peter's

John Paul XXIII

Allison & I

inside the Colosseum

Friday, June 1, 2012

Just for you Mrs. P, here are the only two pictures I could find of the boys:
Marker, Eliza and I

Miles, Ives, Allison and I

Ciao! We just returned from a fantastic three days on the southern Italian coast in the beautiful town of Sorrento and the island of Capri! I honestly couldn't not have asked for a better group to travel with or a better first independent travel experience. We had an absolute blast and I would give anything to go back and live it over again.
We spent the whole day Monday in route to our southern destination. We caught the very first train to Rome and then from there hopped on the next train to Naples. After that, the trip turned a little sketchy for a few minutes. We had to take the subway from Naples to S. Agnello which is where our hostel was located and waiting in that subway station was not a comfortable feeling, but we stuck together and made it through. When we finally made it to our stop and found our way to our hostel we were thrilled. Somehow SarahBeth's and I's planning skills served us well because this was by far the best hostel we could have possibly stayed at.  It was beautiful. There was a bar and restaurant downstairs that served both American and Italian food, which made us extremely happy; there was a rooftop lounge with the most incredible view you could ever imagine; and the best part of all: we made so many American friends! We quickly dropped our stuff off in our room and rushed back downstairs for dinner which consisted of chicken sandwiches and cheeseburgers and that in itself made our day! After dinner we stayed downstairs in the bar area where we met a group of guys who turned out to be the smartest and nicest group that we could have ever encountered. They were recent graduates of different universities in California and they were backpacking their way through Europe for the summer. We spent the whole evening talking and getting to know them, and it was just so comforting to meet a group that spoke our language and who were experiencing some of the same things we were. Needless to say, we ended up hanging out with them at some point every day that we were there.
Tuessday we decided we were going to venture out to find a local beach and take a personal day to rest, relax and soak up some sunshine. We took the subway to a little town called Meta and then somehow managed to wander our way to the most perfect little beach right off the Sorrento coast. How we found it, I'll never know, but we spent the whole day there. We rented beach chairs to layout in, swam in the incredibly cold water, and climbed the rocks that lined the coast. We ate some delicious fresh fruit, bought some fake Ray Ban sunglasses, and learned to skip stones across the water. After probably taking in way too much sun we headed back to the hostel for showers and another delicious taste of America for dinner. After dinner we hung out with our favorite group of guys. Miles, our favorite one, was seriously our daily dose of entertainment. He's a hospitality major at Cornell and is seriously one of the smartest people I've ever encountered. I learned all about tasting wine and how he recently won a national hostel design contest. Let's just say he better remember me when he's rich and famous. Eliza and I also took on the task of teaching everyone how to do the Wop and the Wobble, and for those of you who don't know what those are, they're dances and they're priceless. I think we laughed until we cried looking at the pictures of us dancing. After a couple hours of socializing and laughing, some of us headed off to bed, while some of the other more adventurous ones took on a party offer at Africana the famous club in a cave!
Wednesday was kicked off with an early start that consisted of our own personal boat tour of the Sorrento coast and the island of Capri. Our boat driver, who looked like Favio, showed us all the significant historical sights, took us to the blue, green and white grottos, we passed Robert De Niro's house, picked out our own future Italy vacation homes :), and then over to the main island. Eliza and I were the only ones brave enough to take the plunge into the green grotto, and boy was it cold. We probably jumped back on the boat just as fast as we jumped off the boat.
When we arrived at the island our first stop was obviously for food, but we didn't hang out long. At the top of our to do list was finding a local store that hand made custom shoes, and believe me, I was in heaven. It was so hard to look around in there and only buy one pair, but it was seriously the coolest thing I've ever seen. They literally went through an entire process of hand making these shoes especially fit to my feet. Loved it! After we got our shoes we just wandered around checking out all the local stores and snapping pictures. It truly felt like we were walking around in a painting. Everything was to beautiful for words.
Once we were back on the boat the adventures through the water started again. We stopped at a natural spring waterfall where I got to swim and taste the fresh spring water, and we went to a natural swimming pool which was gorgeous. You couldn't take the boat in because you had to swim through a cave to get there but it was completely worth it when you laid eyes on the inside. Absolutely incredible. I also got to wear a pair of scuba diving goggles and look under the crystal clear water which was simply breathtaking. There were all kinds of fish and beautiful coral looking structures down there.
After an all day boat adventure we spent our last night at the hostel hanging out on the rooftop lounge with our new friends. We reminisced about the past few days and retold all of our stories, danced to "Call Me Maybe" and "Party in the USA", and simply enjoyed our final few hours on the beautiful coast, and while we were hanging out up there we caught sight of a fire works display at the local beach which was the perfect touch to our final night.
Sadly we had to bid goodbye to our new friends and lovely hostel Thursday morning and make our way back to Sansepolcro for a weekend of classes and homework before turning around and heading off to Rome on Monday. I truly couldn't have pictured this experience going any better and feel so blessed to be on this incredible trip. This is definitely going to be the best summer of my life.

our own little beach

the rooftop lounge of our hostel 

the breathtaking Sorrento sunset

the natural spring waterfall where I went swimming

the girls  

Eliza and I took the plunge into the grotto

swimming in the waterfall

with our boat driver, Favio

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Its hard to believe that our first week in Italy is over already, but what a fabulous week it has been! Since I last posted we've traveled to Florence, Arezzo and Anghiari, all of which are incredibly beautiful. We've also had our first family dinner with our host families, survived our first psychology test, and finally mastered our navigation skills of the streets within the city walls. We've taken probably 500 pictures, met some new friends and of course, had more delicious meals courtesy of Margarita.
Thursday was our first big adventure on our own. We were up at 6:30am bright and early to get ready and head out to Florence. We traveled there as a group, but it was up to us to navigate our way back on our own. We took the local bus to Arezzo and from there rode the train right into the heart of Florence. We hit the ground running from the start and took a two and a half walking tour of the city stopping to take pictures and sight see along the way. We saw the Duomo, the local market, the Ponte di Vecceo, the imitation Statue of David, and ended the tour by hiking up a hill where we could see the entire city laid out below us. It was absolutely breath taking. Once we reached the top we treated ourselves to strawberry smoothies and stood in awe of the beautiful city displayed in front of us. After taking an overload of pictures, Dr. Vitarbo turned us loose for the afternoon and wished us good luck as we set out on our first "big girl adventure" and took on the city. Allison, Ives, Samantha and I went to a nice little pizzeria right inside the city and took a break for lunch before starting our shopping spree. After that we went to Zara, which is Kate Middleton's favorite store so of course we had to check it out. We then ventured into the market and turned on our bargaining skills. We all bought Italian leather purses and lots of other goodies. Before we knew it we had spent two hours in the market and it was time to head back to the train station. Our day in Florence came to an end all too quickly. There was so much to do and see and simply not enough time to do it in. I guess that means I'll have to go back!
Yesterday, we all met our host families for the first time. Well, almost all of us. Winnie and I are paired together and our family was out of town this weekend, so we got the pleasure of having dinner with Sarah and her family. Sarah is basically the all in one coordinator of the Italy side of our study abroad program. She knows everything and everyone, takes care of all the paper work, plans our city excursions, coordinates our meals and anything else you can think of. She's absolutely fabulous and we just adore her. Sarah has three kids and her husband is a chef who is finishing his last year of college and learning to speak English. We had the best time last night playing and dancing with the children after dinner. They were too cute and before we left they told Sarah they couldn't wait for us to come back. We're hoping they'll all come to the palazzo tomorrow for lunch after mass.
Today we set out on another excursion, this time to Arezzo and Anghiari. We visited some churches, a museum with paintings of "the Legend of the True Cross" by Pierro Francesco, and ate the best gelato we've had yet - Menta! The best parts of today were simply walking around the quaint little towns and taking pictures of the amazing views. We also climbed the city walls - it was quite class looking in my bare feet and dress, but what can I say, I love an adventure.
Now its back to the palazzo to catch up on homework and studying. Tomorrow we're going to mass at 10 across the street in the main cathedral here in Sansepolcro and afterwards we're hoping to climb the bell tower! All in all, this has definitely been an incredible start to the best summer of my life!

 the cathedral in arezzo

arezzo town square

menta gelatto

climbing the city wall


the beautiful poppy flowers 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The past two days have been filled classes, homework and some pretty yucky weather, but Italy is still somehow amazing. Ever since the earthquake we've had rain and thunderstorms so we've been cooped up inside the palazzo, but we've had the absolute best time.
Sunday was Eliza's birthday and our first day of classes so of course that called for a celebration. We spent the morning in class with Dr. Morris learning about the main theories of child development and then called it a day a bit early and I joined Katy on a little excursion to find a birthday cake and flowers for Eliza. We went down to this awesome bakery that was buzzing with people. It was the most interesting experience. I kinda felt like I was in a New York coffee shop during morning rush hour. There were people everywhere and you had to take a ticket number upon entering and wait for them to call you; it was like nothing I had ever seen before. The fun part was Katy and I trying to communicate with the lady to tell her we wanted a birthday cake: "una torta di cioccolato per un compleanno" was our attempt and after five minutes of hand signals we had our chocolate cake and were on our way. Our next stop was the florist where we watched the woman piece a bouquet together piece by piece and make it absolutely perfect! After we acquired our birthday items we were on our way back enjoy another delicious lunch courtesy of Margarita! I seriously could live with her; she's amazing! That night we went out in the pouring rain to a local cafe with glow in the dark stairs to "sip, savor, and socialize" for Eliza's birthday!
Monday was our first day of Italian class! We basically got a crash course introduction to some serious survival Italian. We had basic conversations with each other to teach us the phrases "my name is" "how are you" "what is..." "how much is..." and more. The best part about the whole class is our professor, she's basically the Italian Carrie Bradshaw!! She has the exact same big curly hair, tall and skinny, and has that unique fashion style; it's priceless. Before this trip is over we're going to introduce her to Carrie Bradshaw and Sex in the City!
The rain continued all day long so we spent the afternoon inside doing homework and watching movies that are based in Italy: Letters to Juliet and Under the Tuscan Sun. I mean it doesn't get any better than watching them when you're actually in Italy! We also decided that since we're missing out on the Bachelorette we're going to create our own rendition one night this week which would be absolutely priceless.
Today was our first adventure out into the city for our Italian Arts and Culture Class. We went to the Museo Civico where we admired various works of art depicting Jesus, Mary, the Last Supper and other religious events. What struck me as the most interesting, though, was the paintings of the Annunciation, not because that name is significant to my hometown church and elementary school, but because for the first time in my life I saw a painting that was supposed to be of God. Never before have I seen an artist try to depict what God looks like. It was so intriguing to me, and surprisingly enough, He looked exactly how I picture Him in my mind! For the rest of this afternoon that is basically all I have been able to think about, which is probably a good thing because I'm about to write my first journal entry homework assignment. We've only been here four days and we're already overloaded with homework. Don't these professors know we're in Italy! Guess I better get to the homework grind. Ciao for now!

Margarita's pasta is the best

The birthday girl!

"Sip Savor and Socialize" 

una torta al cioccolato per un compleanno

Winnie and SaraBeth on the glowing stairs