Friday, April 8, 2011

The Italian Alps and Berlin!

It has been too long since I've updated my blog. Since the last post I have been skiing in the Italian Alps and have traveled to Berlin, Germany! 
The ski trip was a three day adventure that started early on a Friday morning and ended late that Sunday night. Even though we have mountains so close in North Carolina I had never been skiing before like many of the other Erasmus that went on this school sponsored trip.  We actually had one girl from Singapore who experienced snow for the first time in her life on the trip! As soon as we arrived at our hotel at the top of the mountain we moved our bags inside and then went to get our ski gear so we would have a full day on the slopes. After all of us were finally given ski clothes and our skies, we made our way to the gondola that took us to the top of the mountain. The gondola ride up was an amazing view of miles of white mountains that couldn't even be captured by a camera. Once at the top of the mountain our skiing skills would be tested for the first time when we had to ski down a very short slope to the restaurant where we were going to eat lunch. Since none of us other than the ESN had been skiing before we all fell as as soon as we started going down the hill getting a little foreshadowing of the rest of the day. After eating lunch we went to the beginning of the first slope, which is when we quickly found out that there was no "beginners" course which made for a really interesting afternoon. The rest of the afternoon was spent slowly trying to make our way down the slopes with the help of several ESN members. When it came to the last slope some people felt they were so bad that they would rather walk down then attempt to ski it.  After making our way back to the ski rental place we returned our jackets, boots, and skis and then returned to the hotel. Saturday, we traveled to a nearby town known for their tax free shopping where we spent the afternoon. Sunday, we went back to the top of the mountain to take pictures and hangout for the afternoon until it was time to take the bus back to Castellanza.
The week after the ski trip 5 of us decided to take a last minute trip to Berlin, Germany. We left Wednesday night and returned early Sunday morning. On Wednesday after class we all packed our suitcases, walked to the old train station, got a bus to the new train in Castellanza, took the train to the airport where we boarded our EasyJet plane and flew to Germany. Once arriving in Germany around 10:45pm we grabbed our luggage and made our way to the train station. Once at the train station we got on a train that took us into Berlin where we got on a metro to take us closer to our hostel. After getting off of the metro it was about 12:30am and we had no idea where our hostel was. We had gotten as far as we had because we had gotten the hostel to email train and metro instructions to us before leaving, but once we got off the metro we had no idea where we were. The first people who we ran into to ask for directions actually turned out to be Americans who were in Berlin on a worldwide conference of people who were working abroad. After talking with them for a couple minutes and finding out they didn't know there way around either we went inside another hostel and asked for directions. The funny thing was that all we had to do was walk 30 seconds and we saw the name of our hostel. The next part is when it got interesting. We saw the name to our hostel but couldn't find the entrance. We then noticed a sign that pointed up the stairs to a dark courtyard. After discovering no evidence for an entrance in the courtyard we went back down the stairs and continued to look around. After about giving up hope we saw a girl begin to walk up the stairs to the courtyard. Curious as to where she was going and figuring we must have missed something we followed her. She went all the way across the courtyard and took a left which led us directly to the entrance of our hostel. After checking in we realized that the hostel was actually pretty nice unlike everything I had ever heard about hostels. The lobby was really nice with several couches, tables and chairs, a projector projecting the tv on the wall with music playing in the background. We then made our way to our 6 person room hoping not to have a 6th roommate. Sure enough we get to our room and it was just the 5 of us. The next morning we woke up early to take a walking tour of Berlin which we heard about from the guy at reception. The walking tour lasted all day and covered a lot of things including one of the parts of the Berlin Wall, the places where the burning of the books occurred, Checkpoint Charlie, and the best chocolate shop in Germany! For Friday we decided to take another tour with the company from the day before. Our tour guide was the longest English speaking tour guide in Berlin and had the tour name of "Tours with Terry". That day we covered the longest remaining part of the Berlin Wall that many famous artists had painted over the years; the site where Germany surrendered ending WWII; and the Soviet soldier memorial.  On Saturday morning we woke up early and went to the top of the TV Tower where we got a 360 degree view of Berlin. After taking pictures and enjoying the view we took the elevator back down to meet our tour guide for the day who was taking us to a Holocaust concentration camp called Sachsenhausenwhich. The concentration camp was the nerve center of the Nazi concentration camp system and was one of the first camps to open and one of the last to be liberated. It was a once in a life time opportunity to visit a concentration camp and notice that something so horrible happened less 70 years ago. After leaving the concentration camp we took a train to the 1936 Olympic Stadium, which was also used for the 1974 and 2006 FIFA World Cup. After taking pictures and walking around we headed back to our hostel where we packed our bags for our early departure the next morning. The next day we left the hostel about 4am took a metro and 3 trains and finally made it to the airport for our flight back to Castellanza. When we landed at MXP we took a direct train to Castellanza where we had to walk 30 minutes rolling our suitcases because the busses to the school don't run on Sundays.
Both the ski trip and the trip to Berlin were a lot of fun and are trips that I will remember forever!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Venezia, Padova, and Verona!

About a week ago all the International Students and myself took a weekend trip to Venice, Padova, and Verona with ESN!  We started out early Saturday morning by taking a bus to Venice where as a group we had to pay 300 Euro to get the bus close to Venice.  After the bus went as far as it could we then got on a boat which brought us to an island that was famous for glass making.  Upon arrival we got a demonstration on how glass was made which was actually really interesting and neat to see. We then left the glass making island and headed to Venice! After arriving we realized that since it was the second day of Carnevale it would be extremely crowded and everyone would be dressed up.  When we arrived we first went to Burger King (which might I mention took probably an hour to order), we then spent our remaining time enjoying Venice by walking around and seeing everyone who was participating in Carnevale. After spending around 4 hours in Venice we took the boat back to the bus and began driving to Padova where we spent the night.
The next day we got a tour of Padova from a local ESN member who showed us the third oldest University in the world; one of the rare churches that when in the vicinity of the church you are considered to be in Vatican City; and the amazing architecture of an old Italian city.
Later on Sunday we departed Padova and headed to Verona the city of Romeo and Juliet.  While in Padova everyone touched Juliet's breast for good luck and saw the balcony from Romeo and Juliet.  It was later interesting to find out that the statue and the balcony were in fact not that old and were just created as a tourist attraction to showcase that Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet in Verona.  Since it was lightly raining we chose to spend only a couple of hours in Verona before we decided to head back to Castellanza.
Even though everyone, including myself, was sick on this trip it was still a lot of fun and one that I will never forget!

Click here for all of my pictures from Venice, Padova, and Verona!


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lake Como/Tropicana

Yesterday all of the international students including myself took a bus to Lake Como which is about 45 minutes or so north of Castellanza.  After arriving we took a tour of part of the lake by boat.  The view of Lake Como was amazing with all the the houses sitting on the side of a mountain that overlooked the lake.  After our tour of the lake, those who chose to, took a trolley up the mountain to get a better look of the lake.  The weather was nice but it was a little foggy so our view was impaired a little at the top but the view was still amazing!  After spending several hours at the lake and touring around a bit we took the bus back to Castellanza. Later that night after getting back we took another bus and headed to Milano to club Tropicana where we all got to experience Milano at night with the locals!

Tonight the International Office is paying for all the International Students to go get pizza at a local restaurant so I better go get ready! 

Ciao!






Sunday, February 6, 2011

Milano

Yesterday was our second visit to Milano and this trip was a lot smoother since we had prior experience with the transportation system earlier in the week. After getting off of the metro and ignoring the people from Africa that were giving away their "free" bracelets, we made our way to the opposite side of the plaza away from the Duomo to look what else was around the area.  After walking and looking at a lot of well known Italian stores we made our way to Sforza castle. The castle was "built in the late 1300's as a military fortress, which guarded the gate to the city wall and defended Milan from enemies "within and without." In the castle we saw parts of the original castle and walked around a museum which had amazing painted ceilings and Michelanglo's Pieta. Michelanglo died while working on the Pieta which by definition is a "representation of a dead Christ with a sorrowful Virgin Mary." After touring around the museum we ate lunch and headed back to Castellanza for our first Erasmus (International Student Network) dinner at a local restaurant where we had a really fun time getting to know everyone from all over the world.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Arrivo

We have arrived! We have been here four days and so far have had a great time. It's one in the morning here and I remembered that I should probably post to my blog.  When we first arrived we had a student from the University pick us up at the airport and he brought us to our dorm and helped translate with the people at the reception desk.  He then showed us where Billa (the local grocery store was), which is a 10 minute walk from the dorm.  We joke and say that Billa is our new place to hangout because we seem to go there 1 and sometimes 2 times a day!
The day before yesterday we decided to take our first trip to Milano which is about an hour away by train and metro. Since it was our first time using the public transportation system we found it difficult to find out how everything worked. We were first informed that we needed to catch a LIUC bus to take us to the train station since it would be a 40 minute walk.  The people in reception attempted (since they speak little to NO English) to tell us that the bus route was new so they really didn't know where the bus picked up and were not really sure of the time that it picked up.  The morning we left, after running several times to different locations we finally caught the bus to take us to the train station.  Once there, a nice woman who spoke English (one of the first locals we met who spoke English) helped us purchase our train and metro tickets.  After riding the train into Milano we had to take a metro into downtown Milano near the Duomo. When we got off the metro we met some people from Africa who kept pushing braclets at us saying that they were made in Africa and were free.  At first we declined the braclets but after much insistence we finally agreed to take them since they were free.  After they put the braclets on all of our hands they then asked for a donation of 2 euro (which we came to notice that the donation was not really optional).  We refused to pay repeating their phase that it was free but they followed us everywhere and we eventually caved in and payed them so they would go away.  Right after we got away from them two more people came up to us and opened some of our hands and put bread crumbs in them so birds would land on us and make a cool picture in front of the Duomo. After taking the pictures with our cameras of everyone with the birds they asked for a donation.  I didn't accept the bread crumbs (because of the fool me once saying), but 2 or 3 people from our group did and refused to pay for the "free" bread crumbs.  After being husstled for a cheap braclet and bread crumbs we finally made our way into the Duomo. While inside we saw the red light that marked where the nail from the cross of Jesus was and we read that the nail was displayed 3 times a year in mid-september. We also saw the statue of St. Bartolomeo, an apostle  and first-century martyr skinned alive by the Romans that was carved by a student of Leonardo da Vinci. After admiring all the old architecture and stained-glass windows we made our way across the street to the Piazza del Duomo to get something to eat. After eating we payed 5 euro to go on top of the Duomo only to find out that the very top where the great view is was closed because of ice. Even though the very top was closed we still got good pictures from another part of the roof and some of the group (hum hum Denver and Rocio), went under the fence and went to the top where they discovered there was no ice and no reason for the roof to be closed.  When they returned from the roof a pair of Itailan grandparents and their grandchild saw how Denver and Rocio got up there by going under the fence and they each did the same thing (talking about cool grandparents!) After exploring the rest of the top of the Duomo we went back down the stairs and explored the Piazza del Duomo where we spun on a bulls testicles for good luck and saw a lot of expensive clothing and design stores. We then ate our first Gelato which was AMAZING and tasted like very rich ice cream.  After our Gelato we returned back to Castellanza and fell asleep. In the few days we have been here we have met people from all over the world including Hungary, Slovenia, Russia, Hong Kong, Holand, and France. We have also ate at a lot of amazing local restaurants including a pizza place called MARIPIZZA where we ate our first night.  Even though the owner spoke no English he was extremely nice and even gave us a free dessert pizza made with nutella which turned out to be awesome! Everyone in Castellanza seems to be very patient when it comes to the language barrier and will play along with your game of charades.
Since landing in Italy I have noticed a few differences in the way that businesses are run in Italy and the US.  In Italy it appears that businesses don't carry a lot of change in their cash registers so if a group of us go somewhere they make us pay together so they don't have to give us all change. Also in the supermarket there are several differences including: people putting on gloves to pick up the produce; people weighing and getting barcodes for their own produce so the cashier doesn't have to do it; the cashier has a seat; and you are expected to bag your own groceries.
Well we are going to Milano again tomorrow since a lot more exchange students have came in and want to go, so I need to get in the bed so I can get up early!

Ciao!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

12 Giorni

It's now approaching 12 days until I leave for Italy! My Visa is in, extra batteries for my cameras have been delivered and my dad and I are going to the bank tomorrow to pay for my housing. The only things that are left to do are to contact my debit/credit card companies and to pack my bags. Since I have to carry everything that I bring I'm only bringing two rolling suitcases and my book bag which is going to make it fun to pack for 4 months for extremely cold and extremely hot weather.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Preparazione

Six students from UNCG, including myself, have chosen to study abroad in the small town of Castellanza, Italy during the 2011 Spring semester! Now that all of our paper work is turned in, are visa information is being processed at the Italian Consulate in Philadelphia, and our exams are done we can now start to learn more about the school and area that we are going to.  I have posted a few pictures of The Universit√† Carlo Cattaneo - LIUC where we will be studying below to give some insight of the area and school.  According to the information I have been given (and wikipedia) LIUC is actually considered a private school in Italy which has only 3,000 students enrolled, unlike UNCG's enrollment of nearly 18,500!