The Weekend Send Off

This past weekend was my final weekend abroad, this weekend I will be heading to Florence to catch my plane back to Seattle. Fortunately, time and money permitted me to visit many places while I’ve been studying. My original plan was to stick to Siena, and only travel with the AHA program for pre-planned excursions. But, I’ve been blessed to be able to make it to my top three European countries. I’ve been studying in Italy, I traveled to Spain only a couple of weeks ago and this past weekend I made my way to Dublin, Ireland.

Weekend trips aren’t enough time to fully enjoy a city, but going for two days is better than none. The trip was short, but extremely sweet. I went with a few friends of mine and we all had the same agenda: eat good food, visit the Guinness factory, visit the Jameson factory and see what the Dublin night life is all about. I am proud to say that in two days, we accomplished all of these tasks and more.

Day one, we settled into our hotel and headed out early to catch a nice Irish breakfast. Let me clear something up before I go into detail about our delicious meal; I love Italian food. However, being American, I’m a big fan of large breakfasts, I’m talkin’ sausage, eggs, biscuits, potatoes, the works. In Italy, the daily coffee and small pastry really doesn’t cut it.

Dublin breaky

We found a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant with a delicious spread of breakfast foods: meat, potatoes, and sweets lined up in a buffet style. This wasn’t your average, run of the mill buffet where most everything tastes like the grease and preservatives that the food has been swimming in, on the contrary this food was very fresh and palate pleasing. I’m craving it now as I type this. My plate included some classic sausage links, potatoes, scrambled eggs, some thick cuts of homemade Guinness breads, some English tea and these little dark patties that I was told was bread pudding. Everything looked phenomenal, the boys and I were in an Irish-breakfast heaven. The place was so good, that we made sure to wake up early the next morning to try it a second time before leaving.

Next on our agenda was a quick train ride to the coastline in a small port-town called Howth. It’s a beautiful little salty sea town. It reminded me of the Puget Sound back home, the smell of the northern coast, seagulls flying every which way and the sound of boats rumbling by. It was beautiful. Luckily there was a Saturday market happening this weekend, so we made a quick stop to check things out. Although we had just stuffed ourselves at breakfast, we found enough room to buy a couple of these delicious hand-made cupcakes, I bought the sinfully good red velvet cake one and Michael got himself a coconut vanilla raspberry one. With our desserts in hand, we walked out to the boardwalk to stare out into the water and soak up the sights and smells. We only stayed a couple of hours but after snapping a few pictures and walking around we had taken full advantage of the time we had.

marshmallow sweet cupcakes cupcake guy Dublin

Our last obligation was to head to the Guinness factory. When we arrived, I seriously felt like Charlie when he spotted the gates into Willy Wonka’s factory. I could barely contain my excitement. Guinness is my favorite beer, and I’ve waited over six months to even have one, just so I could try the real thing in the factory. We easily spent several hours touring the factory, learning about all of the ins and outs of the company; from its history, to its influence and importance to the city of Dublin. It was all very interesting and the tour was very interactive and modern. My favorite part of the tour –besides the free pint of Guinness at the 360 degree bar at the top — was probably the advertising and marketing section. Guinness has had some of the most influential marketing campaigns in ad history and it was very cool to get an inside look at all of these tactics at the source.

Me at Guinness Gate

The night was coming to an end, but we still needed to finish off strong. We made our way downtown to a stretch of pubs and clubs that we wanted to see. The first pub we went to was straight out of a movie. It was a small little pub with a group of old men and women playing fiddles and flutes in the corner, singing Irish drinking songs, while the bartender stood on the bar screaming out orders and collecting money. The place was perfect, everyone was cheerful and the mood was just right. We even had a chance to meet a group of people, around the same age as us, that were doing their own sort of pub crawl. They called it the “12 pubs of Christmas”. They all dressed up in ugly Christmas sweaters and were making their way through 12 different pubs, grabbing a Guinness in each one and making sure to make themselves known along the way. It was a memorable night that I will cherish.

The second day, after eating breakfast, we headed to the Jameson factory. It was in the early afternoon, but we had a game plan to stick to, and besides, when in Dublin! So we made our way to the factory, took the tour, had a nice Jameson tasting session which was very interesting and it all ended so quickly! At this point we had the rest of the day to make a plan, we made our way to Europe’s largest park, Phoenix Park, where we walked and talked enjoying the scenery. Eventually we made our way to a restaurant to get a late lunch. We were welcomed into the place with smiles from the bartenders. We placed our orders, and were lucky enough to get the bartenders to dial the TV’s  onto all the soccer games playing that day and even the American football games. We ended up staying there for nearly five hours, eating, drinking, playing darts and watching sports. It was one of the highlights of my trip abroad. It was so simple but it really encompassed everything that I loved about this trip. The sweetness of doing nothing, really staying in the present moment, not worrying about what’s coming next but just enjoying the ride along the way. We had plenty of laughs and made some great memories here.

Jameson tree Bench at Phoenix parkGoose at Phoenix Park

The next morning we were headed on our Ryan Air flight back to Rome to make our final stay in Siena. The Dublin trip did not disappoint. Every time I go to a new city it seems like it always one ups the one before. But truthfully, Dublin was my favorite city of all the major ones I visited. Mainly due to the people. The people there are so ridiculously friendly, helpful, and caring. We were often asked by random people if we needed any help getting around — because for some reason they thought we looked like a bunch of tourists, I wonder why — and whenever we asked for help or directions, people were always so kind and patient. The city wasn’t the most active, and didn’t have the most elegant buildings or fancy museums or anything, but it was just right. It is how it is, it’s beautiful in its own way, it’s fun, the food is great and the people really make the difference. I can’t wait to go again. I think that the next time I’m in Europe, Ireland will be my main destination.

Only one week left, but I’m glad I’ve been able to see and do all of the things I’ve done while I’ve been in Europe. Cheers.


Ringraziemento: Giving Thanks in Italy

Thanksgiving, November 27th, 2014. It’s one for the books. Why? Well it’s the most unique Thanksgiving I’ve ever had, considering the fact that it was the first time I’ve celebrated without my family, and in a country that doesn’t even recognize it’s existence. Turkey day is an American holiday — obviously — but I was quite surprised to learn that nearly everyone in the city of Siena had no idea what Thanksgiving even was. Call me ignorant, but I was a bit shocked! However, I have to say that I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way — but yes mom and dad, and Taryn, I missed you all, I’m sure you’ll be reading this — but it was a way to really count my blessings from afar.

The day unfortunately was full of classes, from 9:00 to 5:00, needless to say my class schedule didn’t recognize Thanksgiving either. It’s odd being in a city during this time with not a single turkey on display, no pumpkin pies in the bakery sections of the grocery stores, no pilgrims in the shopping windows, there are only Christmas displays — which are also enjoyable. But the day felt different, new place, new community, and new friends to spend the holiday with, I was curious to see how the dinner would stack up to the American one.

Thankfully, the AHA program set up a Thanksgiving feast at a local restaurant where we enjoyed a full course meal with the Italian spin on our beloved American tradition. There was of course the bruschetta antipasto, and our chef created a nice Autumn spin on the classic cheesy risotto by adding  chunks of pumpkin to the mix, next came our main course — in my opinion a fantastic rendition of the classic turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce we have in the states — it was a delicious sliced turkey, baked to perfection with a mixture of sweet dried fruits, nuts and veggies in a gravy like stew that covered the meat, and we finished off with a yellow pear and pumpkin vin santo dolce vino cream cake, it was delicious. Touché Italy.

Family, friends and food are an essential part of Thanksgiving, don’t get me wrong, but in my mind with all of those aspects being thrown for a loop this year, the one thing that I couldn’t help but keep to American tradition is taking time to reflect on my life and what I’m thankful for. The question this year should have been what am I not thankful for? I feel absolutely blessed. Traveling to Italy has been a dream of mine since I can remember, and not only did I make it here to study for a few months, but by the grace of God and the support of my family, I was able to come with the money I needed to take full advantage of the trip without a second thought. Prior to the Summer, I signed up for the program without any idea how I was going to pay for it, but I just knew I’d find a way. Luckily I was presented with an opportunity to do door-to-door sales in Missouri for the Summer where I made a killing and was able to fund my way to Italy with much more money than I ever anticipated. Plus, with my parents and my extended family and friends, I received donations to get me here and help pay for any extra fees that would make their way into my bank account while I was away. I made it.

I also am thankful for the new friends I’ve made here who I know will always hold a special place in my heart simply for the times we’ve shared together and the life long memories we’ve formed. We all come from different social groups, different walks of life and yet we blended so well. I wouldn’t ever ask for any other group to partake in this amazing adventure with me. I also am thankful for the AHA and especially our program director Silvia Minucci who has been like a second mother to us all on this adventure — and set up our Italian Thanksgiving meal for the evening. She has been here for us for anything we’ve needed and always goes the extra mile to make sure we are happy. I’m thankful for my health — I’ve become a bit more “healthy” over here from all of the delicious Tuscan food but all is good. And I’m thankful for my education. It’s a privilege to go to the University of Oregon, a fantastic school that has given me many opportunities, including this travel experience. I know that there are lots of young people my age that aren’t able to go to a school like the one I’m in, and don’t have the means to travel abroad and see the world, so I need to say that I’m tremendously thankful for the opportunity.

Unfortunately everything comes to an end — even more unfortunate is that my dream adventure is ending in 6 days. But I’ve lived it up here in Italy, I’ve even got to see some other countries in Europe. I know that this won’t be the last time, and maybe someday I’ll be able to bring my family over here to experience the Italian Thanksgiving: ringraziemento.

Money Well Spent

VENEZIA: A waterlogged city renowned for its architecture, cultural history and geographical beauty. It’s a city that has been depicted in my head since I first learned about Italy. Since I was young, whenever I imagined Italian culture, food, it’s people and any other fact about Italy, I always had an image in my head that was based solely on the Venetian lifestyle.  I would imagine Italian men dressed in black and white striped shirts and a red bandana traversing along a liquid street standing on the rear-end of a gondola.  Unfortunately, being able to physically walk along the Venetian streets while living here in Italy seemed unlikely in the short amount of time I have.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take a day trip somewhere. I figured, in order to save some money, I would just check out a place close to Siena. Maybe I could take a bus to Montepulciano or San Gimignano perhaps, but something inside me wanted more.

My friend Taylor went to Venice for a weekend by himself earlier this month and told me that it was quite literally his favorite experience thus far. He was raving about it for days, but his only trepidation was that it was expensive. I wanted to go to Venice, but I’m cheap, and expensive is a very frightening word to me. So, naturally, I procrastinated on planning for the trip. I wouldn’t even take the time to look into the price because I knew that it would only turn me off from the idea. For two weeks I planned to research the price of the trip – but never got around to it. Finally, on Friday night, I worked up the nerve to open my laptop and figure out what it would cost to go to Venice.

Travel alone was going to run me about 110 Euros – I could just imagine how much lighter my wallet would weigh after this hit – then when I factored in my hostel, my food and my entertainment, I was going to be spending much too much.

Eventually I came to my senses and aksed my self a single question, “will I regret not going to Venice when I came this close to making it happen?”. The next morning at 7:00, I was on a 300km/h train North to Venice.

The question for me at this point was whether or not the image of Venice I’ve kept in my head all of these years would turn out to be a better depiction of the actual thing and disappoint me, or would seeing the city completely overrun my preconceived notions. I advise you, – yes you, pal – go to Venice. It will blow you away.

Coming into the city was like entering a mythical land. The train sped across acres and acres of earth and then suddenly, when I looked of the window, all I could see was water. The tracks themselves stretched across the sea leading into the city. The train station overlooked one of the most interesting panoramic scenes I’ve ever viewed. Busy streets full of shoppers and vendors that were lined up in sync with an infinite canal that was inhabited by boats of all shapes and sizes. It was beautiful and although the weather sucked, I didn’t mind because the city made up for it.


I only had a day and a half here so I did what every tourist does in a new city, I explored. I probably walked 10 miles that evening, trekking along the streets, looking at the shops, getting lost, and it was great. Eventually I found a beautiful church, – I can’t remember the name of it, shame on me – that was holding a classical orchestra performance that night. I bought a ticket – yay! more money spent – but it was well worth it. The church was gorgeous, the artists were phenomenal and it was a great way to spend my evening. The next morning I got lost some more. I enjoyed a good book while sitting  next to the canals, watching the gondolas pass by. It truly was an experience I will cherish forever. I can’t wait to visit the city again.

Overall, this was a good learning experience. I had the opportunity to trust my gut in spite of my fears and worries. Had I not gone to Venice I may have seen another cool city, saved some money, and been totally ok; but the regret I would have had after I returned to American would haunt me. I know myself too well, and luckily I’m pretty adept at recognizing good opportunities when they come my way. Needless to say, I made the right choice.

And yes, the real Venice was better than my preconceived idea of it. Until next time Venice.


Two days, that’s all we had. For a weekend excursion from my place in Seattle to Vancouver, that’s plenty of time to enjoy myself. But only two days in Rome? I thought there was no possible way to accomplish much of anything. But just like a group of superheroes, my study abroad squad and I happened to do it all in those 48 hours.

Rome 0 : Study Abroad Squad 1


Don’t get me wrong, spending more than two days in Rome is definitely the preferred method of viewing the historic city, but we didn’t have a choice. And when I say that we “did it all” I mean I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything I wanted to see or do. I left without a single regret and if you can’t already tell, I’m pretty freakin’ thrilled about it.

So what was it like? Gosh dangit I’m glad you asked. Let me give you some pre-trip expectations. My thought of Rome before visiting was a bit pessimistic. Now I know there are some historically phenomenal things to see there, but I’ve never been much of a “big city guy”. To me, big cities – especially ones with the culture and history that Rome has – are tourist traps. Groups of annoying people, walking around with their pasty-white, sun-screened noses up in the air unknowingly blocking the walkway of every other person on the sidewalk. I figured the city would be full of beggars, hagglers, and trash. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t just my preconceptions of Rome, but it’s how I picture nearly every big city, and I’m not a fan.

My first couple of hours in the city were a near perfect depiction of my preconceptions. There was trash littering the ground on every inch of pavement. Graffiti covered most of the walls of the buildings and glass paneling near the bus stops. Beggars were literally tripping you with their cups, as they lay face down on the side of the walkways. I wasn’t surprised, and I wasn’t extremely jolly either. Granted, our hotel was right next to the subway station, it was literally across the street from the entrance. So we weren’t staying in the prettiest area.

As our group took its first tour through the city, passing through the alleys and roadways towards downtown, my spirits lifted. The buildings were something out of a movie. There were palm trees throughout the landscape, and there were even wild parrots chirping and singing on the branches. The people were quite friendly, and they spoke a lot more English than the Sienese. Heck, even the beggars and hagglers were respectful, taking a “no” or “not interested” with a smile and pleasantly moving on. My mindset quickly started to change from negative to positive the more that I explored the city.

In our allotted 48 hours, we were able to see over 10 major attractions as well as explore and try out many fantastic restaurants, bars and clothing/gift stores. However, for the sake of time – yours and mine – I’m not going to dive into extraordinary detail of every statue, fountain, monument, restaurant, gellateria, museum, church and other sorts of buildings I saw. This will also save you from any spoiled preconceptions of these aspects of Rome so that you can travel there and see them for yourselves. However, I will tell you briefly what I saw, what I would recommend you see, and my final thoughts on the trip.

In no particular order here are the places we visited in our two days in Rome:

  1. Santa Marie Maggiore
  2. Foro Traiano
  3. Foro di Augusto
  4. Colloseo
  5. Arco di Constantino
  6. Palatino
  7. Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuele
  8. Campo De Fiori
  9. Piazza Navona
  10. Fontana di Trevi
  11. Basilica S. Pietro
  12. Musei Vaticani

And a few others.


Now, when you visit, whatever you do please don’t pass up the opportunity to see these five places:

  1. Vatican
  2. Colosseo
  3. Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuele
  4. Basilica S. Pietro – Even if there’s a long line, do not pass up the opportunity to go inside. Also, there’s a chance to purchase a ticket to climb to the top of the dome inside the church, it was only five Euros. Do it.
  5. Hard Rock Cafe

Ok the last one was a joke, but I was in the mood for a serious cheeseburger when we were there so I just happened to find myself one.

All in all, Rome was fantastic. I wish we could have stayed longer, because even though I feel that we pretty much dominated the city with the time we had, I know there is still plenty more to see. That being said, I will be going back there. Probably more than once, and I’m taking my mother and my girlfriend.

Hope you liked what you read, please comment with any questions, thoughts or general feedback below.

Culture shock?


I’ve been living in Europe for over a month now. Time is flying by, and so far things have gone extremely well! I’ve spent a good amount of money – all for good reasons – and have had an outstanding trip thus far. But, this past weekend, I had a bit of a setback. Even in hindsight I can’t quite put my finger on what was wrong, but I was off. I know, poor me, living in Italy and I happened to have a bad day, boo-hoo.

Seriously though, I’m very in tune with my emotions and my mood and when something is off I look for a reason why. I’m a constant work in progress, and progress is only made through change. So Sunday I spent all day just chillin’. It was hard, but after a long day of doing not much of anything, and a nice conversation with some friends over gelato that night, I gained a pretty solid understanding of what was going on.

I wouldn’t call my lack of positive vibes “homesickness” but in a sense I was. It wasn’t that I missed home altogether, because I’m still thrilled to be here in Europe, but I think I’m starting to slip away from what my friend Jessie so wisely considers, the “honeymoon” phase of the trip. I think you can grasp the idea of what I mean by “honeymoon” phase. When going to a new place i.e. Italy, you are so excited, you love the new area, you can’t wait to start a new adventure everyday and try new things, but after a while you get used to your new life. You settle in, you get comfortable and a bit complacent. Things aren’t as fresh and exciting as they once were. That’s what I have been struggling with.

It’s a bit of a culture clash really. As an American, I figure when things aren’t going the way I want them to, It’s my job to work harder, to put in more effort, and eventually I will change my current situation. So when I started feeling myself come out of the “honeymoon” stage of my trip, I pushed to find things to do, pushed to experience new adventures and to be honest I stressed myself out. What I realize now is that I’m finally settling into my new life abroad and I’m beginning to get comfortable. Which is exactly what I came here to do! In order to stay happy and content, what I need to do is be more like the Italians. Soak up each precious moment, I shouldn’t worry about what comes next or when my next major adventure is, instead live each second in the present and enjoy the moment, even if it is just sitting and doing absolutely nothing. For the rest of my stay in Italy, I want to take advantage of my free time. As the Italians say, Dolce far niente –  it’s about the sweetness of doing nothing. Life’s too short to be overwhelmed, might as well enjoy all of our precious seconds while we can.

Ode to Gelato

Oh gelato.

So sweet and so cool.

Your colors, as glamorous as special crystal from the sea.

Your flavors endless as a desert and as soothing as a lullaby.

Gelato, you complete me.

Before or after my meal, you are there to ease my tummy.

Gelato, in how many forms are you made?

Ferrera Rochet, blueberry and chocolate, I may never need another dessert.

You are my one and only, nothing can compare to you.

I may fall from grace, eating a cookie here or there,

but your creamy, blissful, summertime taste keeps me true to you.

You are the food for stressed minds, and a sight for sore eyes.

Oh gelato, I’m glad you are all mine.

Friends Make the Difference

Before heading off on this adventure of mine in Europe, I had a few friends telling me we should all study abroad together. It was a great idea, it’s always fun to do something exciting with friends and if ever one of us got into some trouble, we would have each other’s backs. But I had to tell my friends no. It was hard, but it was important because in those moments that challenge me, I didn’t want a safety net, I wanted the experience to shape me. Selfishly, it seemed, I was just pushing my friends away. Truthfully, it was a bit selfish; but in my opinion, being selfish isn’t always bad.

Coming to Europe without my friends was another step away from comfort. I was purposely  putting myself out on a limb without anyone to keep me safe. I wanted this. A study abroad experience was a chance to get to know myself better. That being said, I also was interested in meeting a lot of new people and making new friends that I can eventually share this experience with. I’ve been very fortunate to find new friends here in Italy that I would have never have met had I come here with my friends from home. Again, I love my boys, but it’s a fact that if we came here together we would be by each other’s sides constantly and it would be more difficult to meet new people.

I’m very blessed because the group of kids studying here with me from the States have been fantastic. We are all so different, we come from different groups at school and have never met each other before. But, we all have the same goals for this trip, to come here by ourselves, make new friends, challenge ourselves and come out stronger than ever. Truthfully, we all came here to a be a bit selfish. The best part is, it’s this goal that unites us. We respect each other’s desire to grow, we’ve pushed each other to meet new people, to use the native language, to try new things and even to go do things alone. I have made plenty of friends in Europe so far, many of them locals and some are other students from other countries. But I am extremely thankful to have the group of friends I have in this program. They keep me sane. If I’m in a bad mood, I can go see any one of them and it puts a huge smile on my face. Seriously, I’m getting kind of sappy here but I love my new friends. I feel like we are all family and I know for a fact that we will stay in touch long after our three month excursion to Europe.


Traveling is great, heck even life is awesome, but it’s only made better through strong friendships. I’m blessed, I’m happy and I think it’s time to go grab a coffee with my friends.