Friday, December 25, 2009

Buon Natale!

Photo taken by me -- Christmas tree in Piazza Venezia, Rome. (Monument pictured is Il Vittoriano, in honor of Victor Emanuele, the first king of the united Italy.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Home safely

Luckily, I made it home safely on Saturday evening just before the worst of the snow hit. I really lucked out because it was starting to snow hard when the plane landed. A bunch of students in my program had their flights cancelled due to the weather, which really sucks for them...there are a couple who are actually still stuck in Rome now! Hopefully they'll all be able to get out tomorrow.

After getting a total of eight hours of sleep the two nights before I left Rome, then the two hour flight to Germany, the nine hour flight to Newark, combined with the time change...I have terrible jetlag. (To add insult to injury, my luggage was stuck in Germany for a night because it didn't make it onto my connecting flight. Luckily Lufthansa delivered it to my house on Sunday night...even though they delivered it at 11:30pm!)

Yesterday morning, I woke up at 4am and was ready to go for the day. Luckily I was able to get back to bed around 6am and sleep until 8am. At 5:30 in the evening though, I fell asleep for about an hour and a half. Hence the reason that I up now at 3am :)

I still have some things to post that I never got around to posting this semester...I will get around to that soon!

And yes, I am missing Rome. When can I go back (Mom)?!?!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Danielle at home?

So today I leave Rome and head home. The ISA shuttle bus will leave at 6:45am, which is in about six hours. My flight leaves Rome at 10:10am and gets into Frankfurt two hours later. I have an hour layover, and then I will leave Frankfurt at 1:15pm and arrive in Newark at 4:20pm. If only the flight from Frankfurt to Newark was three hours as the times suggest...try nine! Not looking forward to that.

Instead of writing a post about how sad I am to be leaving Rome, I will wait until I'm home and settled because I still have a bunch of things to blog about that I never got the chance to. I'm praying that the snow storm will hold off until after I get home. It would be nice to have some snow starting to fall when I leave the airport :)

A presto!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Too fresh for my liking

One of the benefits of living in Italy is the fact that the food here is extremely fresh. That's one of the things I've loved most this semester -- having access to fresh, quality food that's very inexpensive (some of the cheeses I buy here cost me the equivalent of about $2.50, and I know that if I bought the same package at home it'd definitely cost at least $6, and probably more than that.)

Today, however, freshness was taken to a whole new level when I was making an omelette for lunch. I took my carton of eggs out of the refrigerator and took an egg out, and right smack underneath it in the carton, there lay...

...a feather.

I'm all for the utmost freshness when it comes to food, but really Italy...feathers are something that I'd rather NOT see right before I'm about to chow down on a couple of eggs.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Vatican

Two weeks ago, I finally made the trip to the Vatican. I know, I've been living in Rome for almost four months and it's a little ridiculous that it took me so long to get there...but it's true what they say; when I arrived, I felt like I had an eternity here to see everything I wanted to see, but time really just flew by! Between all of my trips and activities, I feel like I didn't have nearly enough time to see everything.

Anyway, even though it took me so long to make it there, the Vatican was definitely worth the wait! I had some friends who studied in Prague this semester who visited me in Rome, so we went a few Sundays ago hoping to see the Vatican museums. What we didn't expect to see, however, was this...

That's right...we ended up making it to the Vatican too late to be able to go through the museums before they closed, but we did stumble upon the Pope giving an address from his window. No big deal or anything ;) We were able to hear his address in four languages and it was just awesome.

And just in case you're wondering...yes, he did wave at me, and only me!

After seeing his address to the crowds, my friends and I got lunch and headed back home. A couple days later, I came back on my own and was able to go through the museums and St. Peter's.

Approaching the Vatican

St. Peter's Basilica


Looking up at the dome

Bernini's baldacchino - St. Peter's tomb is right below this. (Read about the baldacchino here.)

Altar underneath the baldacchino

Bernini's Cathedra Petri (read about it here.)

Michelangelo's Pieta, one of my favorite works of art ever

When I studied this in my Art History class last year, we focused a lot on how Michelangelo was able to portray such realistic emotion in Mary's facial expression. Amazing...

Once I left the Basilica, I headed for the Vatican museums. There were a bunch of rooms of artwork that I needed to walk through before arriving at the Sistine Chapel. I took a ton of pictures in each room, but I'll only include my favorites here.

Gallery of tapestries

Ceiling of the gallery of maps

One of the many maps

Then I finally arrived at the Sistine Chapel. I was actually surprised at how small it is...I pictured it to be a huge room, but it was rather small. It was also packed with maybe that had something to do with it. :) No pictures are allowed, and there are guards standing all over the place enforcing this rule...but of course, I managed to take some. I always find a way to beat the system...even if it means keeping my camera in my purse and sticking my hand in there blindly to snap the picture :)

Michelangelo's amazing work. In the middle row - the second box down from the top is "The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden." Two boxes down from that one is the famous "Creation of Adam."


The Sistine Chapel is the last stop of the Vatican museums, so after I was finished taking illegal pictures, I left.

Even the staircases in the Vatican are nice...

When I got back to St. Peter's square, I felt the need to take this picture, just to prove that I was actually there and all :)

This was definitely an amazing experience -- and I was glad to have as much time as I wanted to see everything and take my time. I was also really excited that I got to see a bunch of works of art that I studied in my Art History class last year -- the baldacchino, the Cathedra Petri, the Pieta, some of the works in the Sistine Chapel, etc. It's was nice learning about these things, but it's always really exciting to get the chance to see them in person.

(If you're interested in seeing pictures of the other parts of the museums or other pictures of St. Peter's Basilica, here's a link to the album: Click here.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Gelato making: 101

Back in September, a group here on campus called the ResGrads ran a trip to a local gelateria where we were able to see how gelato is made. The ResGrads are a group of resident students who live in Rome and go to the American University, and each semester they run a bunch of trips and activities for AUR students.

They took us to Fior de Luna, the only organic gelateria in Rome. It's located in Trastevere, right off of Viale Trastevere and a short walk from Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Getting ready for the demonstration. On the left is the sugar that they mix with their cocoa powder

Tons of cocoa

Mixing the mixture together

Even though this mix wasn't actually gelato yet, we got to taste it before it went into the machine

It was delicious -- it basically tasted like very fresh chocolate syrup

Then that mixture went in to the machine to be made into gelato

While we waited for it to be finished, the owner gave us more background about gelato. Although they may seem the same, gelato and ice cream are very different. Gelato contains significantly less butterfat than ice cream, and it also has less overrun (volume.) This means that there is less air in gelato and this causes it to have a creamier, denser texture than ice cream. Gelato is also stored at a higher temperature, so it's texture is more creamy and soft, yet still firm.

Before we knew it, the chocolate gelato was ready


Another tasting was in order

The result? Heaven in a cup. The chocolate flavor was so strong and the texture was perfect...and knowing that it was organic made me feel less guilty about demolishing it (sort of.)

Some other facts about Fior de Luna...every ingredient used in making their gelato is organic, and every type of gelato is made fresh daily. They do not save gelato from the day before and serve it the next day -- they make their gelato in smaller batches so they won't have waste at the end of the day. Fior de Luna also doesn't serve their gelato in cones -- the owner said it's because ice cream cones aren't organic, and also because the cone would take away from the flavor and experience of the gelato (I've been to a few other gelaterias here who have a similar practice.)

Since the demonstration, I've been back to Fior de Luna twice, and each time was just as amazing as the first. My favorite flavor that I've tried is their arancia cioccolato (orange chocolate) amazing! That is perhaps my new favorite gelato flavor in general. :)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The dark side of Rome

Yesterday a couple of my friends and I visited a place that we've heard a lot about this semester -- the crypt of Santa Maria della Concezione, a church located right near Piazza Barberini.

Many people have told me about this crypt, and they each said that it's a must-visit before I leave Rome. Yesterday my friends and I all had a free afternoon, so we headed over there to check it out. After a 1 Euro donation fee, we were allowed inside, but with strict instructions to not take pictures or videos (out of respect for the dead.)

The crypt is located underneath Santa Maria della Concezione church, which was commissioned in 1626 by Pope Urban VIII. The pope's brother, Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who was a Capuchin monk, ordered the remains of 4,000 Capuchin friars to be exhumed and transferred to the crypt. The bones were then arranged along the walls in intricate patterns, and each night the Capuchins would visit the remains to pray and reflect. Each of the friars whose remains are in the crypt were buried between 1500-1870.

The crypt itself is divided into five different rooms, each with dim lighting (the lighting fixtures are made out of bones, no less) and each room has quiet music playing. The bones are everywhere, and they are arranged very intricately -- you can tell that the displays were done very carefully and with great care. Some of the skeletons remain whole and are draped with Franciscan habits, but for the most part the individual bones are used to create designs on the walls. In each room, the main display of remains is set back and there is dirt separating it from the entranceway. In the dirt, old roses and flower petals are visible, which adds to the eeriness of whole crypt.

In the last room, a plaque is displayed in the center which reads:

"Quello che voi siete noi eravamo. Quello che noi siamo voi sarete."
("What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you will be.")

Creepy, huh? It was unreal think that all of the bones that were surrounding me were actually from real people...and so many of them! It was really interesting and impressive to see the patterns that the remains were displayed in (it was almost like artwork) but it was unnerving in a way. Even though I wasn't allowed to take pictures, here are some I found online:

Note the full child's skeleton in the middle of the ceiling:

One of the light fixtures, made out of bones:

Here you can see the dirt on the ground. It was in the dirt that old, dried up flowers were scattered:

While it was definitely a creepy place to visit, I'm glad I went -- it's one of those places that's not talked about a lot and that I feel like many people don't know about, but it's definitely worth a trip!

Images from here

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How did you spend your 'Immacolata?'

I spent mine with the most adorable Italian family ever! (Sorry this post is senza (without) pictures...I spent the day enjoying myself instead of worrying about taking pictures, and it felt great :)

Today is the Immaculate Conception, and since Italy is a Catholic country, today was a public holiday. Since the university was closed today, my roommate's family here in Rome invited her to go to church with them. Kristin's been saying all semester that I need to meet them, so she asked if I could come today and they said of course.

Her great-aunt and great-uncle (Lia and Roberto) came to pick us up at 10am, and we were off to church. We stopped for a cappuccino and cornetto (croissant) and then got to the church a few minutes early. Let me just say that Kristin's aunt and uncle are beyond adorable -- they have been married for 40 years and are your typical older yet still fiery Italian couple. They get frustrated with each other every once and a while and have little arguments, but you can tell they adore each other still which is molto carino(very cute.) They speak no English, which was great for Kristin and I since it gave us a chance to practice our Italian. They were very good about speaking more slowly and making hand gestures to make sure that we understand what they were talking about.

When we arrived at church, Roberto parked the car while Kristin and I walked next to Lia, who held onto each of our arms and held her umbrella up for all of us to huddle under. Lia is probably about a foot shorter than both Kristin and I, so this would have made the cutest picture :) After Lia chatted with some friends outside of the church, we went inside and mass began. The mass was in Italian, which was beautiful to hear. Afterwards, we headed back to Lia and Roberto's house in Mostacciano (still part of Rome, but about 25 minutes away from the main city center) for lunch. They live in an apartment, but it was very spacious and furnished nicely. Lia told Kristin and I to sit and watch TV while she cooked (no argument from us! :)) so we did just that.

She finished cooking in what seemed like 10 minutes, and we headed to the kitchen for what was an amazing meal. First, we had rigatoni with a simple ragu sauce and a ton of parmigiano reggiano on top...amazing. Lia's sauce was delicious. Next we had some type of meat (I'm not sure what it was, but I'm thinking it may have been pork, since it reminded me a lot of braciola.) This was followed by the best cauliflower I have ever eaten -- normally, I don't eat cauliflower, but since Lia cooked it, I took it anyway and was planning on eating it even if I didn't like it because I didn't want to be rude (one thing I learned quickly after arriving in Italy is that not eating what's given to you is a big no-no.) Anyway, I ended up not having to worry because it was delicious! She cooked it until it was very soft, then served it cold with white vinegar. Vinegar was the only ingredient I could taste on it, but oh man, was it good! I definitely want to try to make this at home. After the cauliflower we had bruschetta -- toasted bread topped with olive oil and peperoni (in Italian, peperoni means peppers while salame piccante is the typical 'pepperoni' that Americans think of.) This was followed by orange and apple slices to top off the meal.

After we finished eating we had a long conversation with Lia and Roberto about their visit to the United States a few years ago and the current healthcare system in the US compared to the one in Italy. This came up because Roberto had to go to the hospital when he was in the US, and he was surprised at how much more difficult things are there regarding healthcare. Him and Lia also asked me about my family, and when I told them I am Italian, they asked from what part of Italy. When I told them that my Dad's family is from Basilicata, they said that it is very beautiful there and were wondering why my Dad and the rest of my family have never come to Italy yet (hint, hint Mom and Dad! You're bringing me back here soon!)

Afterwards, Roberto pulled out the family photo album and showed us pictures from his and Lia's wedding :) So cute! He pointed himself out to us and said something along the lines of, "Sono la stessa adesso, ma qui ho avuto più capelli!" ("I am the same now, but here (he pointed to his wedding picture) I had more hair!")

Later we each had un caffè and a little mini peach tart while we chatted with Lia and Roberto's friend Francesca who came over to visit for a bit with her daughter Victoria. Francesca spent a summer in the United States when she was 14, and she was telling us about her experience. She stayed with a family in Iowa (of all places! haha) and she loved it even though she said there wasn't much to do or see there. She spoke very good English, which was impressive since she said she doesn't really have the opportunity to practice it much since she lives in Italy, and she is 34 now so it's been 20 years since she was in the US.

We all headed over to Roberto and Lia's daughter Alessandra's house around 4:30pm just to visit for a bit...they also have a gorgeous home. It's a townhouse, and it was very modern on the inside. Alessandra and her husband Fabio also have two adorable kids -- Ludovica, 6 and Manuele, 8. We spent some time there chatting with everyone when we could and watching television. We had a long conversation with Alessandra about the differences in the way of life in America vs. Italy because she has been curious about them ever since she visited the US a few years ago. Around 5:30pm, we said our goodbyes and Lia and Roberto dropped us back off at our apartment.

Basically I lived the dream today ;) -- I had an adorable older Italian woman cook a fabulous meal for me, I got to speak in Italian for practically the entire day and I met the sweetest, most welcoming family ever! Everything they say about Italians is so true -- when you're with them, they really do make you feel like a member of their family!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Roman specialty from Trattoria da Bucatino

Picture I stole from someone in my program who's also been to the restaurant and remembered to take a picture, unlike me :)

Many many weeks ago (this semester has flown by, that's for sure!) my roommate and I tried out a restaurant in the Testaccio area of Rome. Testaccio is a very short bus ride away from my apartment, and it is full of great restaurants, bars and clubs. A lot of young people hang out there for the nightlife.

I had heard about a restaurant called Trattoria da Bucatino, which was supposed to be a very local, non-touristy place with seriously awesome food. More importantly, it was supposed to serve an amazing bucatini all'amatriciana dish. Well, even though eating a great meal in the culinary capital of the world is SUCH a difficult, taxing job, I took on the challenge ;)

Trattoria da Bucatino was truly down-home frills, just awesome food in a family-like atmosphere. We walked in and the main room was jam packed full of people, so they brought us downstairs, which was equally crowded but luckily had more tables. Everyone was talking and laughing, and the food on everyone's tables looked so good, so we knew we had made the right decision! There was not a word of English to be heard, and menus were not given to us until we asked for them -- everyone there must be regulars because they seemed to know what they wanted without needing to reference the menu.

The restaurant is named after a type of pasta common to Lazio (the region that Rome is in) called bucatini. Bucatini is thick and looks like spaghetti, but with a hole down the center ("buco" means 'hole' in Italian.)

Photo source

As for the "all'amatriciana" portion of this pasta dish, we can thank a town in Lazio called Amatrice. It was from this town that farmers traveled to Rome with their produce and shared their way of cooking bucatini -- covered in a delicious amatriciana sauce, which is made with olive oil, guanciale (pork cheek), onions, tomatoes, chili pepper and pecorino romano cheese.

This is a classic Roman recipe that is a favorite of many here, and it can be found on almost every menu in town. At this point in time, I had not tried this dish, so I didn't know what to expect.

All I can say is that it was beyond awesome, and bucatini all'amatriciana quickly jumped towards the top of my list of favorite dishes/sauces. The restaurant's portion of pasta was hearty, and the bucatini was cooked perfectly al dente. The sauce was deliciously smoky with the bacon flavor and a bit of a kick from the pepper, and the mound of cheese put it over the top!

Sorry for the not as good as normal pictures...I left my roommate in charge of photography that night ;)

I was a happy camper ;)

I have since had bucatini all'amatriciana twice at other restaurants, and while it was good both times, neither compared to Trattoria da Bucatino's version! My roommates and I already have plans to go back once more before we leave.

We also tried Roman style chicken, which is roasted chicken covered with roasted bell peppers. It was delicious as well -- very juicy and full of flavor.

I am already looking forward to my next visit to Trattoria da Bucatino, and I am also excited to recreate bucatini all'amatriciana when I get home...this is a dish that I hadn't heard of until I came to Rome, and now it's one of my favorites!

An Italian Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving, ISA hosted a dinner for us here in Rome. We were all very excited about this, since we were all craving our traditional Thanksgiving foods from home!

ISA asked for volunteers to bake pumpkin pies - pumpkin is something that in Italy, is not normally eaten in sweet dishes...usually only savory. So our program leaders had to go to specialty stores to find all of the ingredients for the pies, then the students who wanted to would bake them. My roommates and I volunteered to do this, and a couple days before dinner I stopped by the office to pick up the ingredients. They labeled everything in Italian and provided the English translation as well :)

My two roommates and I got to work -- Jen made the crust and Landon and I made the filling. Landon was proud of it!

When the pie was cooled, I put some finishing touches on it ;)

The dinner was held in a big common room in an apartment not far from mine. When we got there, we were ready to eat!

The caterers set up a mountain of plates on the buffet table


Caterers carving the turkey

My plate -- stuffed vegetables (red pepper, zucchini and eggplant), mashed potatoes, bread and sausage polenta. I don't like turkey...I know, how un-American of me!

Dinner in full swing

Pie makers!

With our adorable caterers! They ate the pumpkin pie we made and loved it :)

My friends and I with the ISA staff (Mattea, Vera, Laura, Andrea and Jessica)! They are seriously awesome and I love them! (Back row: me, Mattea, Vera, Laura, Andrea, Kristin and Jessica. Bottom: Courtney, Sarah, Ana and Landon.)

My friends and I had a great time at dinner! It was nice to have some Thanksgiving food, and I was impressed with ISA's ability to find turkey here -- it's not that common in Italy. Still though, nothing compares to Thanksgiving food from home, but this was the next best thing :)