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

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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.

Humpday in Siena

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In the States, humpday is a day to be recognized simply because it marks the halfway point through the week. With classes, responsibilities, homework, etc. Wednesdays are a gentle reminder of the upcoming weekend shenanigans that are quickly approaching. Humpdays are a nice milestone in the week, but nothing special. However, in Siena Wednesday has grown to be my favorite day of the week.

There are two reasons why Wednesdays are so special to me. The first, is the street market. Every Wednesday there is a gigantic street fair of sorts that extends all the way to the fortezza walls and wraps itself around the outside of the city limits. Markets like this exist in a lot of places  throughout Italy, and even in America, but what makes this market so special is it’s significance in the city. Everyone seems to get involved with the market. Of course there are tourists hopping from shop to shop, looking for that perfect Italian made handbag, or leather jacket, but what’s special about the market are the number of Sienese people that stroll through the streets week after week. The market is a major part of Sienan culture. Locals come here to buy a number of things: clothing, some decorations for the home perhaps, but there are even locals that come to get their food at the market. There are families that line up outside of the streetside pet market – yes there is a street vendor who sells birds and other small animals. The market represents a history of a long engrained cultural phenomenon that seems to take the city back to a time long forgotten in the U.S., days before Walmart and similar supermarkets existed. Days when shops thrived on four wheels, and strolled from town to town via horse and buggy. The market is a time capsule and it’s mine to take advantage of, every single week.


 

pici leila


My other favorite part of humpday is a mere sliver of the 24 hours that make it up. For the past few weeks my classmates and I have had the pleasure of enjoying an amazing course in Tuscan food at a cooking school just down the street from our apartment. Every Wednesday night at 6:00 my friends and I walk down the street to visit a very friendly Italian woman named Leila. It is here where she teaches us the ins and outs of traditional Tuscan dishes. At every class, we cook a full four course meal, and spoil ourselves. The first class consisted of hand made pici pasta – sort of like a hand rolled, thick and chewy spaghetti – and we covered it in a traditional pomodoro e aglio sauce (tomatoes and garlic, with some other fresh herbs intertwined). We’ve also created hand made gnocchi pasta with a Gorgonzola cream sauce, bomboloni (Italian doughnuts), bruschetta, lasagna, spinach ravioli, and a couple of traditional Italian soups; one of which is my all time favorite, the Papa Pomodoro (a soup that soaks stale bread in a tomato broth that simmers for hours until the bread mixes and becomes a part of the delicious blends of herbs and tomatoes).


poppa pomodororavioli leila


Tonight was our second-to-last class and I will have to say this is one of the most memorable experiences thus far on my adventures. For only 255 Euros, I couldn’t pass it up. I cannot wait to go home, pop open a few bottles of wine, and cook some traditional meals for my family, friends and my lovely girlfriend. I might just need to open a restaurant.

Wednesday are a great day of the week, but while I’ve been here in Siena, they’ve been all the more sweet.

Happy Humpday!

November 8

I’m officially 22. Yeah say it with me TWENTY TWO, it’s very uncomfortable to say it out loud. To be honest this is the first birthday that I’ve had that I actually feel older. I’m not saying I’m an old man but I am willing to admit that this birthday seems a little less special than ones in the past. Sadly after my 21st, birthdays just aren’t as eventful. Yeah at 25 I can rent cars – cool – and then I guess at around 55 I get senior benefits – 3D IMAX for $7 ain’t too shabby – but things are definitely starting to change.

This year also through me for a loop because I’m out of my native land. Being in Europe has been a very different, but I must admit, my birthday here has been one of the best.

For my big 22, my friends and I had a little taste – wink, wink – of the Chianti Classico wine region. We hopped on a van driven by an awesome Italian dude named Mikele, and we explored four areas throughout the region including a winery.

It was interesting going on this trip for us because just last night we had the pleasure of visiting the very famous Brolio Castle and tasted some of the world famous Brolio wines as well. The place was magnificent, the view from the castle’s walkway was tremendous. Unfortunately, we’ve experienced some crazy weather lately, but at just the right moment the clouds broke and we witnessed some of the most beautiful sunbeams I’ve ever seen.

They danced their way over the yellowing grape vineyards below us and up and over all of the rolling hills in the distance. It was very magical. We also had a chance to check out the castle itself and see the armory as well as some other artifacts that belong to the family.

So I was a bit nervous. It was going to be hard to top the Brolio tour. Thankfully, it measured up.

Our first stop was at a very small town named Monteriggioni. The castle here was built solely for defensive purposes by the Republic of Siena. It was built atop the hills in medieval times, in order to give defensive men a view of the incoming Florentine troops.

Our next stop was over to the winery at the rural farm of Poggio Amorelli. The winery is owned by Adriana and Marco Mazzarini and they have only been in business since the late 80’s. Their wine was fantastic, we tried four of them: a very light white, a traditional Chianti Classico DOCG, a Super Tuscan and another red – which I unfortunately forgot the name of – all the wines were delicious. What really got me excited though was the variety of balsamic vinegars and oils we tried. The cool thing about this winery is that they also specialize in producing fantastic truffle oil, olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. I got to tell you, the balsamic and the olive oil were out of this world. The vinegar was oddly sweet, it reminded me of a tangy, southern influenced BBQ sauce but with more complexity. It was aged for 20 years in the bottle and served atop some fantastic picorino cheese. The oil was another fantastic addition, it needed nothing more than a piece of bread and a dash of herbs for some extra kick.


foto 3 (2)


After our taste bud expedition, we headed to a small area of Castellina Chianti where we enjoyed a delicious lunch with pastas, traditional cold cuts, bread, veggie and – of course – some more wine. Afterwards, we stopped one last time to enjoy the view of the valleys from Radda in Chianti before heading home.

The wine tour was fun, the food and the adventure was well worth the 55 euros spent, but what made today so much more enjoyable was having good friends there to experience it all with me. Although I’m getting older, and I’m not able to spend my birthday with my family, it’s nice to know that I have people here that care about me and know how to put a smile on my face.


P.S. I apologize for my lack of posts lately, I am actually studying here, not just out having a blast –SHOCKER! – and my midterms got the best of me these past couple of weeks. However, I did do some very fun things in between that I will definitely write about soon.

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.


I Ate the Paper

I am a big foodie. Eating has been an essential part of my life, without it I would literally die. Traveling has been an experience for me because I don’t have all of the great American foods to choose from, such as: Mexican food, Thai food, Indian food, Chinese food and the list goes on. But what I’ve realized here is as much as I enjoy a variety, there are some fantastic Greek dishes that I have fallen head over heels for. Once of which, you have probably hear of, is the mysterious Gyro.

What is a gyro? Well my understanding of a gyro, pronounced “yur-oh”, was a piece of pita bread wrapped around a type of meat with some vegetables and a weird white sauce. Boom! When I’ve had it at fairs and what not I always got it with lamb preferably. This understanding of the gyro was close, but it was not correct. What I’ve learned is that gyro means quite literally that the meat is cooking on a spit that is rotating and turning as it is being cooked.


Spit for meat


In a traditional Greek gyro, the meat is either pork or chicken, it is not of lamb. What I found out is that lamb was actually used by the Turks due to the high number of Muslims living within the community. The traditional Greek form of a gyro also has onion, tomato and tzatziki, a yogurt and olive oil based spread, often with garlic, salt cucumbers and other ingredients that is often eaten with bread or meat. Different people make gyros with different ingredients, I’ve seen them with or without lettuce, french fries, pepper, cilantro etc.

I’ve been in Greece for some time now, and I’ve eaten a large variety of different foods, all of which have been to die for. However, the reason I love the gyro so much is because it truly encompasses all great aspects of Greek food in one; and it flawlessly pairs all the different flavors together to really make an extraordinary dish that is so good you can eat two at once.


Gyro
Gyro

Greece is well known for their fresh produce, their baked goods, their fall off the bone meats and of course their yogurt. The gyro has it all. The meat, whether you get chicken or pork, is perfect. It is the right amount of salty, tender, greasy, and not overly seasoned. The tomatoes, especially during the summer are a rich ruby red, sweet and refreshing while the onion is spicy and crunchy. The pita is soft, chewy and if it is seasoned well really compliments the meat. The best part about the gyro though, the final step that brings it altogether is the tzatziki, creamy, a bit sweet, maybe even with a hint of dill flavor, cool and refreshing. The gyro is the best.

Now just like any food, there are different ways to make it and thus many people that claim they have the best one. I have found my favorite gyro spot, and it’s only a three minute walk away from my apartment. The people there are very Greek, they are extremely welcoming and are proud of the food they make. They don’t open until about 14:00 every day because they cook the meat on the spit for hours before serving, and choose to eat it when they think it’s ready to perfect the seasoning and the cooking to ensure quality day in and day out. There gyros are so good, that I caught myself mid-bite chewing a piece of the wrapping paper. I realized what I had done, and because the paper was chewed into the meat and the ingredients that made up the bite I had taken, I smiled amusingly at my carelessness and swallowed the whole thing. The gyros here are so good, I ate the paper.


photo 3 (2)


Food is a big part of culture, it’s a great way to meet new people, experience new places and keep you energized for the day. When you come to Greece, and I know you all will after reading my blog, please do yourself a favor, grab a gyro with a beer, find a nice spot to sit down and enjoy!

Yiamas