“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

Tuesday, December 14, 2010



Well, I am back from my last API Excursion. Natalie and I took a trip to Sevilla on Saturday with Carmen to explore the city a little bit. Once again, we ended up having a bit of bad luck!

Our plan on Saturday was to eat lunch and then tour the Catedral – which is not only one of the largest in Europe, but one of the most impressive. As it turned out, the Catedral had special hours posted for the Christmas holiday and unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to visit on Saturday. So, we decided to walk around the city and shop. I have never in my life seen any place filled with that many people. Granted, it was a Saturday, it is the holidays, and all of the shops were having sales. I still was not expecting to see such a crowd. I think that literally every person who lives in Sevilla was out that day. In addition, I also saw a very large number of twins, more specifically, twin boys. Everyone was dressed to the nines and really enjoying their afternoon out. 
One of the many Nativity scenes that can be found throughout the city. This was one was located inside a hallway of the Catedral

Horsedrawn carriages everywhere.

Outside the Catedral.
After shopping, we went back to the hotel to do homework. Around 8:30 we met up with Carmen to walk to the theater where her brother Juan was waiting to join us. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to see one of the best comedic-theatrical performances there is in Spain put on by a group known as Tricicle. The theme of the show was laughter and it was fantastic because there was almost no dialogue during the performance. It didn’t matter. We literally did not stop laughing the entire time. It’s amazing how universal laughter is – we didn’t need to understand any language in particular in order to me amused. After the show, the 3 performers were waiting by the exits to greet the audience. We got lucky and were able to take a photo with one of them. Check it out!

Starbucks in Sevilla! Just for you MB!

The next morning, we went to tour the alcazar, another impressive site there in Sevilla. Although, I must say, there are alzacars everywhere in southern Spain, and there comes a point in time, where they all start to look the same. This particular one served a different function. It was used as a place for royalty and religious figures to stay and hold meetings. Although it appeared to have Arabic influence, all of the writing pertained to the Catholic religion. 
Outside the Alcazar

Notice the beautiful, detailed work on the walls and ceiling

The highlight was the Peacock! Actually...several of them...about a dozen that walk the gardens freely

We got lucky and one of the males opened his feathers.

After, we decided to try the Catedral once again. No luck. Carmen went and spoke to one of the workers about the schedule. I had to keep reminding myself that we were in Spain – and schedules here (if you can even find one) are basically worthless. The woman said that we could enter at 4:30 and that at 5:30 there was a special mass and dance that we could attend. So…we decided to take the later train and hang around for a bit. Carmen took us to this great tapas bar to kill some time. On the walk back to the hotel, we overheard a chorus in the street. I was so excited! Here in Spain, they have their own version Christmas carols. Not exactly Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. It was still pretty cool to hear in person and I bought a copy of their CD to take the music back to the States with me. 
Singing in the streets!
We reunited again at 4:30 but guess what…? We couldn’t get into the Catedral! What a surprise!!! But we would still be able to get into the mass/dance, so we really couldn’t complain. I guess I should probably tell you a bit about this “dance.” Evidently, in the 16th century, the religious figurehead at the time permitted a group of boys to perform a short dance on the actual altar of the Catedral during a mass. This was something incredible and very rare. Well, the only way that the tradition could be carried on was for the boys to wear literally the EXACT same outfits each year. Surprisingly, these costumes have endured centuries of use (only to be repaired a few times) and the tradition lives on. Now, when I first heard about the “dance” I was excited. I was expecting an actual, well, dance of some kind. It turned out to be something entirely different. The event began with an abbreviated version of a Catholic mass. After the homily, a small orchestra and a children’s choir walked down the aisle and situated themselves on the altar. Next thing I know, 2 rows of little boys in costumes come down the aisle and form 2 lines in front of the altar. The music starts playing; the choir starts singing, and the little boys start “dancing.” In reality, they were just doing calf-raises and turning around in circles. There were 4 songs that lasted a total of about 10 minutes and that was it. Then the boys left and the priest continued with mass where he had left off. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed in the performance and the weekend in general. I thought we would have been able to have better use of our time. I still had the opportunity to see some things that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, so I guess it was worth it.

Those boys looked so miserable the entire time!

I can’t believe I’ve got 9 days left – into single digits now! I just have to make it through the last of my school work and then its smooth sailing! I can’t wait for Christmas!!!!!!!


Saturday, December 11, 2010

I found my roots!

 Hello everyone,

I have just returned from a fabulous trip to Ireland and I have so much to share!

Our trip started out with some bad luck. Our flight from Malaga to Dublin was delayed and rerouted to Belfast. From there, we had to take a 2 hour bus ride into the city and then find our way to our hostel. For those of you that hadn’t heard…the entire country of Ireland got hit by a horrible snow storm last week. While it is typical for some parts of the country to get snow during the winter, it was almost unheard of for the entire country to get hit that hard, that early into the season. So, on the bright side, I guess we can say we were part of history!
A snowman! This was taken outside of Dublin Castle

 Last Friday (the 3rd) was our first full day in Dublin. The city sponsors free walking tours so we decided to take advantage of the offer. It turned out to be a great way to learn about Dublin. Our guide, Dave, was born and raised there and it was great to hear his perspective on the city and the overall economic situation in Ireland. He knew a lot about the history of the country, which was also great. Over a period of about 2 hours we saw all the best parts of the city (or at least tried to): Dublin Castle, Dub linh Park, Temple Bar District, the Bank of Ireland, Trinity College, and St. Stephen’s Green. 
Dublin Castle

Dub linh Park (there is a helipad under the snow)

The Temple Bar

Dave also shared an interesting fact with us: about 15 years ago, when they were excavating to build the City Council building, a Viking community was discovered. At that time, the city was faced with a huge dilemma: excavate the historical site and relocate the City Council building or build anyway. The final decision was to build anyway and only a tiny portion of what was found was actually excavated and put into a museum. I personally believe it is disgusting that the city built over such an important part of history, which is now lost forever. 

Anyway, the highlight of the tour, and one of the highlights of the trip, came as I was standing outside of The Temple Bar. I had bumped into a few people who were walking opposite me on the sidewalk. As soon as that happened, our tour guide shouts to the group “Hey everyone, see that lady that just walked past? Yeah, well, you just walked by the President of Ireland.” I couldn’t believe it. I had literally walked into President Mary Macalese. Very cool. 
I was so shaken - I fumbled for my camera and this is the best pic of her I could get..she's walking off in the distance on the left hand side of this picture.

 Later that day we toured the Guinness Storehouse. I didn’t really have any expectations, but it turned out to be more of a museum. The best part was obviously the free pint of Guinness, up in the Gravity Bar, which had a 360° view of Dublin. 
Enjoying our pints of Guinness!

The view from the Gravity Bar

The next day, Saturday (the 4th), we spent the morning touring the city on our own. There were a few sites that were closed the previous day due to the snow, so we made another attempt. We were able to get into Christchurch, St. Stephen’s Green, and St.Patrick’s Cathedral successfully. 
Natalie with the birds in St. Stephen's Green

Teri built a snowman!

St. Patrick's Cathedral
Then it was time to board the bus to County Cork! About 4 hours later we arrived in Fermoy, a small town in the middle of the countryside about 30 km outside of Cork City. We had found a great Couchsurfing host that was willing to spend time with us and give us a place to stay for a few days. At the bus stop, we were greeted by Jim (JC for short) – the head of the Crilly family. Our host, Sarah, was stuck in the city at work and the roads were so horrible, she couldn’t make it home. Fortunately, her parents were kind enough to fill in for her that night. Jim drove us home in his little bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle and within minutes we arrived at this stunning home in the middle of the country. There, we were greeted by his wife and their 2 dogs: 1 short-legged Jack Russell named Chloe (she is 2 years old) and 1 long-legged Jack Russell named Max (he is 19 years old!). 
Me and my new friend Chole

The beautiful Crilly Family Home

We immediately felt right at home and I couldn’t have been happier to be around dogs! Finally! We weren’t expecting home cooked meals, but the Crillys insisted on cooking for us. That night we had a great meal and great conversation. Jim, a veterinary epidemiologist, and his wife have lived all over the world: Mongolia, Yemen, Iran. They had some amazing stories. Jim had asked what we were doing in Cork and I explained to him that my great-grandmother’s family was originally from that area. In fact, based on my research, she had grown up in a town called Riesk that wasn’t more than 20 minutes away. Little did I know at the time, Jim is a big fan of genealogy searches and really wanted to help me find the family home. He left the table for a bit and came back with a couple of phone numbers. Evidently, not many people live in Riesk so he thought it would be best to get in touch with some farmers when we got there, since they are guaranteed to always be home, working on their land. I couldn’t believe he was so willing to help, and I was very excited about going on an adventure the next day!

On Sunday (the 5th) we woke up to frost covered countryside. The temperature had dropped over night and everything was frozen. Jim wanted to take us on a walk to show us the country side, so we grabbed Chole and headed out! 

Beautiful view of the countryside
By the time we got home, there was a traditional Irish breakfast on the table waiting for us. Once again, we had not anticipated food, and could not have been more excited to eat a proper breakfast (which included homemade scones and jam). At this point, Jim had advised against us traveling anywhere. Our plans to find Riesk that afternoon and our plans to travel to Dingle the next day were put on hold. We spent the day inside by the fire.

At around 1 I was getting antsy. I went outside to sit with the dogs for a bit and that was when I asked Jim about a possible journey to find Riesk. After consulting a few maps, we eventually came up with a route that would be best. Next thing I know, we are getting into his car and hitting the road. We go as far as we can with the help of the map before we ask for help. The main problem is that Riesk is such a small town, it isn’t on most maps and there are no signs on the roads leading you where to go. The first man we spoke to told us we had gone too far and needed to go back the other direction. So, that is what we did. We drove another quarter of a mile before Jim pulled over to speak to a man who was outside in his driveway. Jim leans out the window and says to the man, “Excuse me, can you help us? We are looking for Riesk. I’ve got an American in here looking for her ancestors.” To which the man replies, “Well, you’re in Riesk. Who are you looking for?” I shout out the last name, Geary, the maiden name of my great-grandmother. The guy says, “I’m a Geary,” and he proceeds to wave his wife over to the car. 
The newly remodeled Geary family home

The original part of the house
The next 20 minutes went by so fast, I had no idea what was happening.  As it turns out, the man in the driveway and his wife, are Stephen and Katherine Geary. Stephen’s great-great grandfather (Timothy) would be my Gee-Gee’s great-uncle (the brother of her grandfather John). 
Timothy and his wife Catherine - and their son

Not only that, but his aunt is a woman named Annie Reardon, a cousin of my Gee-Gee, who had showed my family around Ireland when they had visited over 20 years ago. The next thing I know, Stephen and Katherine are showing me around their home, which is the Geary family home, but has since been renovated. They are showing me pictures and offering me tea, and telling me story after story. It was a complete and total whirlwind. I still couldn’t believe what was happening. We exchanged contact information, posed for a few pictures, and then Stephen showed us around. We stopped at Annie Reardon’s former house so that I could take a few pictures. 

The outside of Annie Riorden's house
We then went to the schoolhouse which was built in 1901, meaning my great-grandmother would have attended school there. Our final stop was to the Templeboden Cemetery. After a bit of searching, we eventually found the Geary family plot. 

The schoolhouse built in 1901

The Geary Family plot

The unidentified headstone also on the plot
It was quite the day! We followed it up with another great meal and then X-Factor! Later that night Sarah came home and we stayed up for a couple of hours talking to her. She is such a great girl and we had an absolutely wonderful time with her. 

The next morning Sarah took us on a long walk and then took us into Cork City to meet up with her boyfriend and some of their friends. They showed us the university (which we all fell in love with) and then took us into the downtown area to walk around and see the shops. It was lovely. I was so happy to be in a place with Christmas decorations. It really put me in the mood to go home for the holidays. 

After dinner we taught the family how to make s’mores using their fireplace. Then Sarah straightened Teri’s hair…a shocking experience…and showed us some of her pictures from Africa, where she had volunteered for about 6 months. She had an incredible time over there and I have never seen more beautiful pictures!
The next morning, we made our way back to Dublin. I was a bit disappointed that we hadn’t made it to Dingle or Galway as we had planned, but how could I complain…we had just spent close to 4 days with an incredible family in Cork. I can’t say enough about the generosity and hospitality of the Crilly family. I’m not sure how our trip would have been if we hadn’t been fortunate enough to stay with them. 

So our last few days, Tuesday and Wednesday (the 7th and 8th) were spent in Dublin. We went back to the same hostel we had originally stayed at since we had such a great experience there. We met some awesome people as we were cooking dinner and decided to all go out together on Tuesday night. We went out to The Porterhouse Brewery to try some locally-made beers and had a great night.
On our last day, we FINALLY made it into Trinity College, and then spent the rest of the day just walking around and exploring the city.
Porterhouse Brewery

Reflecting on the trip, it still seems surreal to me. I have to keep looking over my pictures to convince myself that it actually happened! While I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to do as much traveling as I had hoped, it is just an excuse to go back!

Unfortunately, I am back in Spain now! I’ve got a couple of exams, a presentation, and a paper to work on before I can head home. I still can’t believe that I have less than 2 weeks in Cadiz; it feels like just yesterday that I got here! 

We have an API trip to Sevilla this weekend, so look out for another blog post (a shorter one, I promise) sometime next week.

Can’t wait to see everyone when I get back! Less than 2 weeks!!!!!


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pedro Ximénez


I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! I certainly missed be home with my family and of course - I missed all of the food!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Carmen took us all out for a nice dinner on Thursday to celebrate, but nothing can compare with Gig's stuffing!

Yesterday we took a trip to Jerez - a city just north of Cadiz, where Carmen lives. The city is best known for its sherry wine, which is produced in "bodegas" - which are similar to wine cellars. There is literally a bodega on every corner and when you walk outside, you can smell the wine in the air. It was incredible.

When we arrived in Jerez, Carmen took us for a little paseo and we all fell in love with the town. It had everything we loved about Cadiz combined with everything with love about Sevilla. It was the perfect combination. We then met with a tour guide (I can't remember her name), a gitano (gypsy), who I was not a fan of. Regardless, she was very knowledgeable and she was kind enough to take us to a very special bodega.

Apparently, we were supposed to tour a larger, more commercial bodega in town - but our tour guide took us somewhere very unique, a "regalo" (gift) she told us. We had the incredible opportunity to tour Bodega El Maestro Sierra - a local bodega famous for its high quality, all natural, handmade sherry and vinegar. El Maestro Sierra has been a family run business since 1830. The bodega was founded by a carpenter (of wine barrels) who decided to buy a small vineyard. Today, El Maestro is one of the best sherry bodegas in the world. Most impressively, it is owned and operated by 2 women - Pilar Pla Pechovierto and Ana Cabestrero. It was a real honor to meet these women, especially Dona Pilar, who was full of wisdom and advice.

Our tour began with a visit to the room where the barrels are made. To this day, all of the wine barrels are made by hand, using special American wood and hand-formed copper rings. There is only one man the bodega trusts to build and repair these barrels. We then visited the vinegar cellar and had the opportunity to smell some of their renowned sherry vinegar. AMAZING. We then walked around the wine cellar for a bit and learned about the process behind making the sherry. It amazed me that El Maestro does not use any chemicals or preservatives of any kind. They have truly mastered the art of making sherry. ***An interesting fact - all bodegas have windows that face the ocean. The secret: the ocean breeze has salt in it, which adds a unique flavor to the wine.

After the tour, we had a tasting! I must say - I am very picky with wine, and I am not a big fan of sherry. But, it was still quite a treat to be able to sit in Dona Pilar's personal office and taste 8 different types of sherry, including 3 reserve bottles (one aged 30 years, one 60 years, and one over 80 years). My personal favorite - Pedro Ximenez - a VERY old sherry, a little thicker, and tastes like raisins. It was delicious. Best part - they gave us a bottle of wine to take home. We can't wait to try it!

Following the visit to the bodega, we toured the Alcazar in town. We then had lunch and returned back to Cadiz. I didn't take any pictures inside the bodega - but Natalie did. Here is one that I stole from her:

Tomorrow we are going to a Cadiz futbol game (if the rain lets up!) - so be sure to check back for another post soon!


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Italia - Manga, Manga, Manga!

Hello Everyone!

I am FINALLY back from Italy! A day later than planned, but it was totally worth it! I had an incredible time and I have so much to write about!

To start, I think it would be best to tell you a little about the people I met and got to know over the weekend, otherwise, you will be very confused!

Dominick: Pop-Pop’s first cousin. He lives in New York. We communicated by email to organize my trip.

Maria: A wonderful woman, 75, and the first cousin of my Pop-Pop. She is also Dominick’s brother. Maria lives in a house by herself next door to Dominick and Tony’s (her son) house. Maria is Gee-Gee’s twin. You hear that Gigs, you have an Italian twin! I cannot even begin to tell you how similar you both are! Everything about her seemed so familiar and I felt as though I had known her for years. She is such a sweet woman and she is very funny!

Tony: One of Maria’s sons. He is in his 50s and works for TrenItalia. He took charge of my visit and arranged all of our visits around Italy. Tony is also incredibly nice and is funny just like Maria!

Claudio: Tony’s wife. She is a hair stylist and has a little salon downstairs in their house. Although I didn’t understand the majority of what she was saying to me, I could tell she has a good, sarcastic sense of humor. She was very sweet and took good care of me while I was there.

Chirro: Tony and Claudio’s only son. He is 25 and is studying architecture. Chirro was great and with the help of his computer – and Google translate – we were all able to communicate with each other. Chirro was very kind to let me spend time with him and his friends over the weekend.

Pascualina: Chirro’s fiancé. She is also very nice, and very pretty and has a great personality.

Madallena: Pascualina’s cousin (I think!) Chirro introduced her to me as HIS cousin, but when we went to her house, Pascualina told me they have the same grandmother. Anyway, she is beautiful and absolutely hysterical. I loved spending time with her and she made an effort to make sure I was included.

Mario: Madallena’s fiancé. LOVE HIM. He also speaks VERY GOOD English, which was wonderful. He helped to translate when we went out. He is also incredibly nice, and funny. He and Madallena make a great couple.

Oscar: Tony and Maria’s German Shepard who lives outside.

Chirro has 2 sisters. I met the oldest one and her husband briefly. The other sister, Rosanna, is actually a model and was in a fashion show that weekend and couldn’t be there. I was also surprised to learn that she has competed in Miss Italy, Miss World, and Miss Universe pageants. From the pictures I saw, she looks gorgeous.

Over the course of the weekend, I met a ton of people! Too many to write about! I will say this, everybody in this area knows everybody else. And – everyone is someone else’s cousin.
Now it is time to tell you about all of the wonderful experiences I had!

Friday: Tony, Maria, Chirro, and Pascualina all came to meet me at the train station in Naples and we made the 1 hour drive back to their home. When we arrived, we were greeted by Claudio who had a wonderful meal prepared. First course – tortellini. This was followed by a salad with chicken. Then, we ate bread and actual chunks of Parmesan cheese. Next came pistachios, mandarins, and Torrone. We finished the meal off with some ice cream. Oh – and don’t let me forget about the wine – delicious. I honestly don’t know how I fit so much food into my stomach. After we ate I showed them some pictures of my family that I had brought with me. They loved seeing everyone. A little while later, Chirro took me out with him and Pascualina to meet Madallena for a coffee. I took this opportunity to have a Nutella Cappuccino, which was recommended to me by one of the Italian girls in my Spanish class. FABULOUS. After coffee, we went home and then went back out again to meet up with Mario for pizza. I was stuffed, but I could not resist homemade, brick oven Italian pizza. Before heading home, we stopped for coffee, which I have to say, is the best coffee I have ever had. It’s basically a little shot of espresso with sugar.

Saturday: Before starting the day, Maria wanted to show me around their property. We started at her house, which she is in the middle of renovating. I couldn’t get over the view from the balcony on the top floor. Next, she showed me Dominick’s house, which he stays in when he comes into town. He has a mandarin tree outside which provided the fruit we had been eating. There is nothing better than fruit picked straight from the tree. There is also a small collection of grape vines in the backyard and they use the grapes to make wine.
Next, Tony, Maria, and I took a short drive to Pompeii. Although the weather wasn’t the greatest, we still made the most of it. We spent a few hours touring the ancient ruins which date back to the 7th century BC. I could not believe I was actually there. It was funny because Tony and Mario were walking around as if they had been there a million times before, navigating the streets without a map. And there I was in complete shock that I was in a place with so much history looking at buildings and temples that have been there for centuries. Not to mention the fact that Pompeii is situated on a plateau of lava from Mount Vesuvius – and from everywhere in the city you have an incredible view of the volcano. 
Me at the Temple of Venus, Pompeii

Me and Maria among the ruins of Pompeii
After touring Pompeii, Tony and Maria took me along to buy some cheese. Now, when you and I want cheese, we go to the supermarket to buy it. But not in Italy! We drove up a windy, narrow, one-lane road to reach an actual farm/small factory that makes fresh mozzarella and ricotta. Tony took me inside with him so I could see how it works. When you walk in, there are 6 large, metal basins filled with milk and water and inside there are hundreds of balls of mozzarella cheese floating around. I have never seen anything like it in my life. Tony must have bought about 20 balls of mozzarella and 2 things of ricotta.

When we got home, Maria brought out bread and prosciutto. She put 2 balls of mozzarella on each plate and we sat down and ate! It was fabulous! I also learned a little trick to tell how fresh the mozzarella is – press down on the top with a fork – the more milk that comes out, the better! Maria didn’t bother cutting her cheese. She stuck her fork straight into it – and ate away! Too funny!

About an hour later, Madallena and Mario came to pick me up. Chirro and Pascualina both had to work, so they offered to keep me entertained for the evening. We went out even further into the country to Madallena’s sister’s house. They live on a little farm with goats, chickens, cows, and horses. Her sister Laura, her husband Angelo, and their 2 year old son Nicolas were kind enough to have us over for dinner. We spent some time playing with Nicolas which I loved! I have been going through withdrawal from family interaction (my family in Spain is not exactly what I consider “family”) so it was great to be around them, even though I didn’t understand most of what they were saying.  For dinner, we ate pizza that Angelo’s mother had made. It was hands down – the best pizza I have ever eaten. My favorite – white pizza with sliced potatoes, onions, and rosemary. 

After desert and coffee, we headed out. Mario and Madallena took me to a little “disco-café” as I like to call it. It is basically a coffee-bar with a small stage and a DJ. There were a ton of people there and we had a good time just hanging around and people watching. Eventually, Pascualina met up with us and we went to another place down the street which had a live band. And…that’s about it for Saturday!
Pascualina, Madallena, Me, Mario - at the discocafe
Sunday: In the morning, Tony and Maria and I went for a little drive through the countryside. The landscape was breathtaking. I can’t even put it into words and no amount of pictures could do it justice. Tony actually has another house in this part of town, complete with olive trees in the backyard. Maria also took me to a small church in the area so I could see what it looked like. 

Inside the church

View from the top!
 After the drive, we made our way to Claudio’s parents’ house – were lunch was waiting! Claudio’s mother is this little old, 85 year old Italian woman. She is hunched over and walks around with a little chair as a walker. I didn’t understand a word she was saying to me, and she didn’t quite understand that I only spoke English. Regardless, she was absolutely hysterical. Claudio’s father is also a funny old man, 87, and very nice. The food was amazing. Homemade pasta and sauce, more cheese, more Torrone and more sweets. Mmm!

After lunch, Tony, Maria, Claudio, and I went to visit the Royal Palace and Gardens of Caserta. Once again, another beautiful place. I was surprised to learn that the statues in the gardens represent different episodes from Virgillio’s Aeneid – a book of classical mythology. It was great to be able to connect everything I have been learning in class to the statues I saw during our visit.
Claudio, Me, Maria - outside the Royal Palace

Tony, Maria, Me - outside the fountain
 On the way home – we stopped for sweets. I enjoyed a lovely cannoli. Then Pascualina, Mario, and Madallena came to get me for another adventure! We ended up going to see Mario play basketball! While the skill level is low, as Mario admits, these men take the game very seriously. By the end of the game, Mario’s team was up at least 30 points and the other team started verbally assaulting the ref out of frustrating. Before the clock was up – the majority of the other team had been thrown out on technical fouls. The three of us girls had a fun time watching and making fun of some of the players.

Afterwards, we all went out for pizza – again! I have to say, I thought it was just a stereotype that Italians ate so much pizza, but now I am not so sure. We had great conversation at dinner, thanks to the help of Mario, the translator. They had a lot of questions about the United States, which I was happy to answer. After dinner, we called it a night!

Monday: Although I wanted to take the train to the airport, Tony and Chirro insisted on driving me allllll the way to Rome to catch my plane. We left first thing in the morning, around 6:30, to make the drive. Unfortunately, we ended up getting stuck in some SERIOUS traffic in Rome and the trip took roughly 3 and a half hours. By the time we got to the airport, my plane was gone! My only option was to pay a penalty fee to change my flight to Tuesday morning. So – that is what I did! 

Since we were in Rome, Tony and Mario surprised me by taking me to see the Vatican. I was thrilled. Standing in St. Peter’s Square gave me goose bumps. It is a truly breathtaking place. We then took a tour through the Tomb of the Popes. I had no idea that all of the Popes were buried beneath the Basilica, and I have to say, I am not too fond of the idea. Although there are signs, and security guards, and a voice recording in 5 languages reminding people to be quiet, most of the visitors were not respectful. It really offended me that as people were kneeled down in front of Pope John Paul II’s tomb, praying, other people were walking all around them, chatting away. Anyway, next, Chirro and I walked through the museum to see the collection of religious items that church had in their treasury. Then, we walked through the Basilica. Once again, I was left speechless. There are no words to describe the feeling as you walk around inside.
St. Peter's Square

Chiro and I outside the Basilica

Inside the Basilica
  After the tour, we stopped for a late lunch and then made the long drive home (with a few coffee breaks along the way!) For dinner, Maria invited us over to her house. Chirro went to go play soccer, so it was just three of us. Once again, she reminded me of Gigs. She had all of the pots on the stove, ready to go. The table was all set and she putzed around the kitchen getting dinner ready. I though the pasta and sauce was delicious – but Maria is very picky and she kept shaking her head as she ate it. The second course was chicken (with lots of garlic), peas, and broccoli. And then, of course, desert. By the end of the night, I was exhausted and about to explode, I had so much food inside of me! I said goodbye to Maria – for the second time, and then went to bed!

Tuesday: Today we decided to leave at 5 am to avoid any unforeseen traffic jams. Which was great, because I did not have to rush around the airport to catch my plane. Two buses and a 2 hour train ride later, I am now back in Cadiz!

This weekend was by far, one of the best I have had. I am so grateful to everyone for having me. Everyone was so kind and hospitable and treated me as if we had known each other forever. There are so many things I love about Italy; I don’t even know where to start! From the beautiful countryside, to the fires that burn in everyone’s fireplaces (yes, MB!), the coffee, the oranges, the pasta, the people… The list is never-ending. I cannot wait to go back! And next time – I’m not going alone! To everyone in my family, you MUST come see this place! It is truly amazing and something you have to experience in person.

Well, that is all for now! Be sure to look through the photo album on Picassa for more pictures. I took far too many to add to my blog!