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.

Culture shock?

from: www.piazzapisano.com

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.

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.


Friends


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.

Ciao

A Blessed Beverage

My friend Mila and I went to our favorite pizza bar this morning to “study” and have some coffee. Eventually after reading about a page of my reading assignment, our friends Andrea and Alyssa showed up and joined us. We moved to another table next to a group of men who were American, or so I assumed due to their fluent English and American accents.

Halfway through my margarita pizza, Andrea asked what type of drink everyone around us was sipping on. I didn’t know what it was either so naturally, I asked the Americans who were sitting directly behind me. They explained to me that it was a “spritz” – carbonated water with some kind of sweet Italian liquor and bitters, served in a large wine glass with ice. They said it was a great drink to kick start digestion and that it was very enjoyable on a sunny afternoon like today. We spoke together for a few minutes and I learned that they were all priests traveling to Rome to visit some friends for a few days, and it just so happened that they were visiting Siena for a day trip. Patrick – the man nearest me – was from North Carolina, and the others were from all over the country. Eventually we said our goodbyes and I continued conversation with my friends.

As we were finishing our food, the waiter Mauro came to me with a spritz and said it was from the priest! We clinked our glasses with a happy “salute!” and they told me to enjoy it as they bid me a good day and God bless.

I use this anecdote to give a piece of advice to any traveler or really any person looking to squeeze every ounce of happiness from life. It’s very simple, just make an effort to smile, talk and meet people more often. When paired together, these three simple gestures lead to developing awesome friendships and often have their perks. Like getting a nice and blessed beverage.

Thanks for visiting my blog, if you are interested in seeing more pictures from my trips check out my instagram: @torresknows

Siena

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on my blog. Not intentionally, but lately I’ve been moving a lot and adjusting to my new home here in Siena, and I’m absolutely stoked! Going to Italy has been a dream of mine since I was little. Just to give you a quick glance into the life of me, Chris Torres, here’s a synopsis up until the present.

Born in the good ol’ 92′ of November, shout out to all Scorpios out there. I was a very lucky child, my parents Chuck and Pauline always wanted children but unfortunately didn’t have the means to produce any. While my birth mother, Crystal, already had my older sister and was unable to provide for two children as a hard working single mother. So by a miracle of God, Crystal happened to be paired with Pauline as her OBGYN nurse in the hospital. Long story short, I was born, Chuck and Pauline were gracious enough to adopt me and within a week I was legally adopted by my parents and have lived a happy life with them.

I gave you that back story to relate it to why I am dumbstruck to be writing this entry from my apartment in Siena. My whole life both my parents wanted me to know that I was adopted, they never held anything back, and they would give me as much information as they knew themselves. My adoption was closed, so certain facts about my background weren’t clear. Funny enough, I grew up believing that I was of Italian decent. My dad Chuck is Mexican and I thought I was always different because I was Italian. I was proud to be Italian. I remember for a while that my MySpace background was an Italian flag. I figured I was more sophisticated, I would jokingly tell my friends that my pallet was more attuned to the fine tastes of contemporary cuisine, simply due to my Italian background. However, in 2010, I had an amazing experience. I met my birth mom, Crystal, and she came up from her home in Utah to see me play my first Senior season football game in Washington state. When I asked her what our ethnicity was, she informed me that I am in fact of Spanish and Mexican decent. Oh well.


Selfie Piazza Del Campo


Even though I’m not Italian anymore, Italy is still very exciting for me. I also feel a certain connection to the people, the food and the culture here. Maybe it’s because I secretly am an Italian at heart. Now don’t get me wrong, Greece was awesome, and Athens treated me very well. I learned a lot and explored even more. But Italy just has that extra oomph to it, I live in a beautiful building in the Drago contrada. The awesome thing about living in this contrada is that in the most recent Palio, the Drago contrada was crowned victor! Oh, by the way, the palio is a special horse race/festival in Siena that happens twice a year in the Piazza del Campo or the plaza. Because Drago won the most recent Palio, every evening the people of this contrada dress up, sing, dance and march through the city of Siena with snare drums and flags to relish in their victory. It’s very cool.

This is only my third day, my classes are beginning and I’m extremely excited. I’m still finding my groove in the day to day lifestyle here but I couldn’t be happier. I have yet to find my favorite cafe or bakery but I’m sure I will in due time.

Thanks for reading, be sure to follow my Instagram: @Torresknows for extra pictures of me while on my adventures.

Ciao!

For My Athens Center Fam

For the people who know me they will back me when I say that I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m a genuine person. I don’t say this to brag, I’m not saying it to impress people either, it’s just the truth it’s how I was raised – thanks momma. I’m also a very emotional person, I speak about how I feel and I’m not afraid to express it. That’s why I’m so happy to speak about the family I have created while spending two weeks of my life here in Athens, with the Athens Center.

I understand two weeks isn’t a long time, but for a kid that’s never spent much time alone out traveling the world, two weeks in a foreign speaking country can be paralyzing. That being said, since my first day here in Athens, I’ve been extremely comfortable. This wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the hard work and commitment by the people in the Athens Center.

The Athens Center is a cultural and academic organization that works with students to bridge the gap between education and culture in Greece. To put it simply, they are here for the support of students like me, keeping us comfortable while spending time abroad. When I arrived in Athens, I gave a call to the center and was immediately met by Isabella at the front of my apartment. She showed me around the apartment and made sure that I was comfortable with all of my accommodations. The place was clean and organized with closet hangers, kitchen appliances and there was even a fresh bowl of grapes on the table. I felt like I walked into my home away from home.

My favorite part about working with the Athens Center was how organized and friendly they have been. They always had a complete schedule with times and dates for every class, excursion and extracurricular activities that had been previously set up for our stay here in Athens. Not only that, but they always met us with smiles and greetings and were always willing to do whatever was necessary to make life easier while we live here.

I’ve developed a relationship with everybody involved. Shouts go out to my awesome professor Michael as well as Isabella, Olympia and Joanna for working tirelessly for us students. Not only have I built friendships but I also feel like I now have built a home here in Athens, I know when I come back to visit I will have welcoming faces here to greet me.

It’s bitter sweet leaving Athens behind. But It’s excited to be headed to my new home in Siena.

I want to say thank you to the Athens Center for making my stay so easy and accommodating and I’m writing this on my personal blog because I sincerely recommend all students that want to visit Athens in the best way possible to look into the Athens Center. You won’t regret it. Thank you all so much, and as a late happy birthday to Isabella here’s a nice photo of her beautiful smile when she was surprised for her birthday yesterday.

Her surprised birthday face
Her surprised birthday face

Like a Local

A week and a half in Greece and I can now fully consider myself a true Greek. Ok, that was a bit far-fetched, but there is some truth to that statement. I’ve developed a routine here in Greece which has made me feel much more acclimated to this new way of life. When I wake up, I walk to the square and grab breakfast at my favorite bakery. I say a few words to Irene and then I take off. My next stop is to the Klik cafe where I talk with Thionisis while I drink my coffee. For lunch, I go to my favorite gyro spot and every couple days I find time to stop by Studio 53 to get a workout circuit in with another woman named Irene. At night, I try to find somewhere new to explore.

Although my routine alters in little ways, in general I stick to the same places and familiarize myself with the people. Today, while walking to class with my roomies, I was approached by a foreign woman — and by foreign I mean not Greek — she asked me, “where did you get that coffee?”. Very quickly, I explained to her how to get to a nearby cafe, she thanked me, and power walked her way there. My roommate Michael made a very intuitive comment, he made a point of how great it feels to be able to give a random person directions in a big city like Athens. It got me thinking that I’ve been here for just over a week and feel like I’m a local! What an amazing accomplishment! But the best part is, it wasn’t hard and anyone can do it! So I’ve created a quick and painless list of steps that will help you to become a local in any foreign country of your choosing, in two weeks or less.

STEP 1: Familiarize yourself with the language

I get it, you’re the new girl around town. You don’t want to go out, with the potential for major failure and embarrassment by attempting to “make friends” with locals that can’t even understand you. So, I suggest that before you begin conversing with people, check out YouTube. There are videos for all sorts of languages, I would begin memorizing some simple phrases and words such as: hello, goodbye, do you speak English, etc. That way you can gain the respect of the locals by at least attempting their language, showing them that you are trying is a good way to break the ice. Now don’t be afraid to fail, failure is the best way to learn and try to make some new friends.

STEP 2: Walk Like a local

They say that to be a local you must walk as the locals do. I don’t think anyone has said that, but I just did, so now you must quote me if you use it. What do I mean? Well what helped me and the other students tremendously was walking around town with a local who showed us the hot spots. This isn’t possible for everyone, so instead I would tell you to just go where the locals go. It’s simple. Stay away from tourists as much as possible. You may feel uncomfortable, but that’s ok! Plus it’s a great time to begin practicing your new language skills.

STEP 3: Find a local spot

Ok, now that you’ve checked out the local spots and you’re practicing basic phrases and words, it’s time to find a local spot. Look for a place that you enjoy visiting and that you can visit daily, a cafe perhaps or a nice bakery. Now if they speak English you’re solid, get to know them and make friends with them. However, if you can’t find anyone that speaks English, that’s fine. Practice talking with them and creating relationships. The best thing you can do from here is continue visiting this person for the remainder of time that you are in the country.

STEP 4: Be persistent

You’re going to come across some obstacles. Whether it’s the language barrier, getting lost or homesick; but don’t worry about it. Just keep trying. I would recommend you do the touristy things that you want to do, and still enjoy the area while you’re there. But, in order to make a place seem more like home and really experience the culture it’s going to take time and effort to begin localizing yourself.

STEP 5: Have a great time!

Hey, you’re living in a foreign country, congratulations! You are setting out on an adventure of a lifetime. And if you’re reading this, then maybe you are looking to feel like a local. With your hard work, and persistence this new world will feel more and more like home. But, remember to enjoy yourself. Keep a smile on your face, and laugh at your mistakes. Have fun, make great memories and meet some awesome people.

Cheers!

Cheers
Cheers