Buon giorno tutti! Just wanted to send out a quick email before I go to sleep - the overnight bus last night was comfortable but I still didn't sleep very much, and tomorrow is my first day working at the English Bubble Day Care Center with the 3-8 year old French children! I'll do a quick 10 day recap:

Day 1 - Saturday
Arrived in Rome around 8pm. My close friends Brett and Adam (taking a semester abroad from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh) met me at the train station. It was lovely to walk through the eternal city at night with old friends. The boys cooked pasta for me at their apartment in the Trastevere. That night we went out for drinks. Our favorite was rum & pear: a shot of rum chased with a shot of pureed pear. The weather was gorgeous! Then, sleep.

Day 2 - Sunday
My girl friends arrived at noon and together we checked into the Ivanhoe Hostel on via Urbana. The staff were friendly and easygoing and the clientele very international. We met plenty of backpackers and student travelers like ourselves from Belgium, Poland, England, Bulgaria, and Italy. Adam had been persuaded to act as our tour guide and he did a fantastic job. We decided to start in the historical center of the city, at the Colusseum. There was a parade that day and the street, or via, leading to the Colusseum was shut off to cars. That was amazing, as a tourist, to have the entire city center transformed into a pedestrian area; the roads were flooded with children in costumes and families out for a picnic or a stroll. We walked past the Roman Forum and Mussolini's Memorial. [Benito Mussolini was Italy's fascist dictator from the 1920s through WWII. In an effort to promote Italian nationalism, he built a road right through the middle of the Roman Forum - knocking down ancient buildings - to build a huge white monument. It is pretty; however I am told that most Italians resent it.]

Skip, Jenny, Brittany, Allison, me, and Bogus in front of the Colusseum. Most of the holes in the exterior are from the iron bars that were used to mount giant pieces of marble onto the outer wall.

Next, we were led through winding streets to throw coins into the Trevi fountain. I won't tell you my wish, but I can tell you that it came true. The Pantheon was a short distance away, but we all needed a rest before we went inside. Around the corner was a gelateria where rich gelato and bitter espresso refreshed us. For the remainder of the afternoon we wandered into some beautiful churches. 

Making wishes at the Trevi fountain! Supposedly, it's one coin for luck, two for love.

The girls and I went back to the hostel to cook dinner where we made friends with two Belgian girls. We had a very interesting conversation about the differences between a Belgian and an American high school education. When Brett and Adam came back later our new friends accompanied us to an Irish pub where the boys could watch a rugby match. During a commercial break, a couple of Irish guys randomly started dancing just like Riverdance! It was a flawless performance. When they came around asking for tips afterwards they told us that they planned to be in Rome for two weeks, and dancing when they went out was their way of earning extra cash. 

Day 3 - Monday
On Monday the weather was drizzly and dreary. The girls and I went to Vatican City for the afternoon, where we walked around Saint Peter's Basilica. That night, we ate dinner in the Trastevere.

In Vatican city, posing with Brittany. Behind us is Saint Peter's Basilica

Day 4 - Tuesday
Went on a tour of the Colusseum and the Roman Forum. It was inexpensive and very informative. Although the weather was overcast and drizzly, it was absolutely worth it. We learned so much, like how the games were free, the exotic animals involved were all killed and cooked for spectators, and where the emperor would sit... In the movie Gladiator, the emperor chose whether Maximus would live, which he would signal with thumbs up or down. However, in ancient Rome, thumbs down meant kill, but a fist with the thumb inside meant the gladiator would live. That night was Mardi Gras - the girls and I bought masks and went to the Spanish steps to go out on a pub crawl.

Day 5 - Wednesday
Checked out of the hostel at 11, ate a slice of pizza with aubergine, and caught the train to Florence. Florence, or Firenze, is an extremely popular study abroad destination. Case in point: Brittany had two close friends from Colorado State studying in Florence - Caitlin and Brooke - and I had three friends from Pitt - Sarah, Sarah, and Cara. That first day in Florence we went out to dinner with Caitlin and her roommates, and afterwards I met Sarah and her roommates at their apartment and we went to some of their favorite clubs. 

Day 6 - Thursday
Explored the city on foot. This was my third time visiting Florence, and I enjoyed an occasional sense of familiarity, especially when we passed the Duomo and in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, where the sight of the Grand Hotel Minerva brought back wonderful memories.**

**My first trip to Europe was a 10-day vacation with my mother and grandmother in 2005. Before arriving in Florence, we had spent four days in Venice - our hotel, the Hotel Colombina, was minutes from the Piazza San Marco. We listened to the musicians there at night as we sipped cappuccinos. We visited the handblown glass workshops on the island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon. We bought Carnival masks, walked through the Bridge of Sighs, climbed the Campanile bell tower, toured St. Mark's Basilica, and glided down the canals in a gondola. After Venice, or Venezia, we visited San Gimignano and Siena and then continued on to Florence. We stayed in the Grand Hotel Minerva in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. That trip will always be incredibly special to me. My grandmother passed away in 2008, and it was very emotional for me to see the hotel again.**

After a full day of exploring the city, we went back to Caitlin's apartment to relax. That evening a priest named Father Bruno arrived at the apartment to cook dinner for the thirty or so students in Caitlin's program. I was lucky enough to chat with him as we prepared the spaghetti carbonara. Father Bruno put us to work mixing olive oil, balsemic vinegar, salt, pepper, fresh basil, onion, and diced cherry tomatoes to make a traditional dip for the bread. The dip must have salt in it because Tuscan bread is made without. It was delicious. And so was the wine from Chianti, which arrived in gallon jugs with another student. I met Brooke that night, who is learning how to make wine. She is a biochemistry major and takes only wine classes in Florence. Brooke met the number one sommelier in Italy the other day at a wine tasting, and went to Salvatore Ferragamo's estate because her teacher is a friend of his. Lucky girl! One day, she took us into a famous wine cellar and taked to us about wine for a little bit, and I have to say I was very impressed.

Day 7 - Friday
I haven't mentioned yet that we were staying at the Hostel Veronique on the via Porta Russa near Il Porcellino, the statue of a wild boar in the Mercato Nuovo. The location was great and the room was clean if sparsely furnished. We began our day a few blocks from the hostel at the Mercato Centrale, where we bought ten Tuscan blood oranges for only 2 euro, and some delicious dried fruit. My favorites were the apricots (abicocce, I think). We walked around, further than the previous day, stopping at the Ponte Vecchio, Santa Croce, and finally the Rex Cafe on via Fiesolana (where they had great decor and a fantastic deal on aperitivos - one drink and all you can eat appetizers for 2 hours, all for just 6 euro!)

Day 8 - Saturday
Spent several hours at the Uffizi admiring Botticelli's paintings, which I have always loved. That night, we went to an amazing chocolate cafe called Hemingway hidden in the streets across the river Arno. I tried the Montezuma, which is a thick and decadent mixture of pure chocolate, cayenne pepper, and brandy. The pepper made the drink so spicy I could barely swallow it, but it warms you up in more ways than one. Sadly, Brittany and Jenny caught their bus back to France that night. Allison and I moved our luggage from the hostel to my friend Sarah's apartment. She has five fantastic suite mates who generously offered us their couches so that Allison and I could stay two extra days.

Day 9 - Sunday
Allison finally succumbed to a sinus infection that had been plaguing her for days. I decided to go on a day trip with Sarah and her roommates to Pisa and a village named Lucca. We caught the 9am train to Pisa where we all posed for the tourist photo. There didn't seem to be very much else that interested us in Pisa on a Sunday so we caught a bus to Lucca. The ride was short and the walled city of Lucca charmed us all. The antique market was bustling and we perused the stalls for an hour or so. The only thing you absolutely must do in Lucca is walk along the top of the wall around the city - the path is about 2 1/2 miles long and the views are gorgeous! Pisa is only an hour-long train ride from Florence, and I was happy that I had the chance to see more of Italy than I had planned. We got home around 630pm and cooked dinner for ourselves.

Day 10 - Monday
Allison and I were directed to the best sandwich shop EVER this morning, called Il Fraternelli - I got a fresh sausage and eggplant sandwich with truffle oil, and I can't even describe how good it was. Then we hiked along the river Arno and climbed up to the Piazzolo Michelangelo (a lookout over the entire city of Firenze). There are two fake David statues in Florence, and the lookout is the location of the second, cast in bronze. The real David is in the Galleria dell'Accademia. Allison and I sat on the steps of the lookout with gelato for two hours (obviously the gelato was gone in thirty seconds but the view was too good for us to move). 

Behind us to the right is Il Duomo - a great end to our trip!

I'm so happy that I had the chance to do this trip to Italy - I saw Roma, Firenze, Pisa, and Lucca in ten days, ate delicious food, drank incredible wine, and learned so much about the culture. It does feel good to be back in Aix though. I appreciate bring able to speak the language again. I'm more confident with my French now that I have used it to navigate an airport and chat for hours with Belgian girls. Thank you all so much for encouraging me to jump into adventurous trips to foreign countries and for helping me get there! Ciao for now~

a new [french] lifestyle

Bon Jour!
Tomorrow I leave for my ten day adventure in Italy with my girl friends, so I wanted to submit a quick update before I leave. It was freezing in Aix today, even though we're the only spot on the map in France without snow! It flurried today, but that's it. In the picture below, the fountain behind Allison and I is frozen! The water comes directly from warm natural springs, so sometimes when its cold, you can see hot fog rising off the water, but today it was actually frozen!

Below is Brittany, Allison, me and Becca escaping the cold and doing some homework at our favorite English cafe called Book and Bar. We're enjoying a cafe allongee (espresso with hot water) and un pain au chocolat, or pain choco for short. 

The other night, I went to my first "boite de nuit," or night club, for some dancing with my friends Kim, Ariana, and Maddie (below). Maddie (Boston), Kim (New York), Matt (New Hampshire) and and I are the only CEA semester students from the "northeastern" U.S., placing me in a minority I've never experienced. The majority of the students are from Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, Alabama, California, and Colorado. 

Sacré Bleu!

The other day, my French friend Joanna asked me why we say Oh My Gosh, and I explained that it is a way to alter "Oh My God" to avoid being rude/taking the lords name in vain. She said that's also why french people say "Sacré bleu!" They exchanged "Sacré Dieu" to be more respectful. Not that any French person would actually say sacré bleu - it's more of a cartoony-caricature-of-a-French-person thing to say. Every time I hang out with French friends, I'm amazed by how much we have in common. For example, Joanna watches the show Gossip Girl to practice her English. She can recite the entire introduction! 

Normalement when we hang out with our French friends, we (the Americans) speak French, and they occasionally try their English. Its funny being envied because I speak English - it's very important for a lot of jobs around here to be able to speak English, so they like to practice. The funniest thing I've noticed is that in French, all verbs include the word "to", like manger (to eat) or danser (to dance) - so when speaking English, they sometimes think they don't have to say it. As in "I'm going dance," or "I want eat now." 
Another quick update - I chose to volunteer at a Day Care center called the English Bubble on Wednesday mornings. I will be working with French kids ages 3-10 to teach them English by doing crafts, bilingual theater, etc. It should be fun and good work experience! I do love the "dots" as the english women call them.

overdue updates

Bon soir, tout le monde - 

Its very late here but I wanted to blog a quick update! Classes have been wonderful all week. 

On Saturday I went back to Marseille with my friends Becca, Allison, Olivia, and Brittany. We went shopping on the rue Saint-Ferréol, discovering the Galeries Lafayette, Mango, and H&M. We found a small shop that serves crèpes and chose our favorite version - nutella banane! We strolled down to the Vieux Port and tried to visit Chateau d'If and the Frioule Islands but it was too windy for the boats to make the passage so trips were cancelled. 
Below is a photo of my friends and I at Dino e Lucca on the rue de Jeune Anacharsis. 

Below is the five of us at a restaurant. Olivia and Becca, on the left, live together in a homestay. Allison and Brittany, on the right, live in an apartment together, and I spend a lot of time there with them. This week they cooked dinner for 8 CEA students and we had a "king cake" from our favorite bakery, le Boulangerie Paul. Whoever picks the piece of cake with the tiny king baked inside is king for the night and has to bring the king cake for the next dinner.

DJ, my roommate Katie's boyfriend, has become close friends with two French boys, Franck and Antonin. The girls and I went out with them twice last week. The great thing about our time together is that Franck and Antonin speak next to no English, so conversations between us are extended games of charades that require pooling our vocabularies to communicate. It's hilarious and very educational. This weekend, Katie and Lauren went on a trip with their program (IAU) to the Riviera. On Sunday, Allison and I went on a roadtrip with the three boys to Cannes to meet up with them for the day The drive from Aix to Cannes is an hour and a half - Allison and I were very surprised that the French boys wanted to listen to American music in the car! Below is a photo of, from left to right, Allison, ranck, Harmony, Antonin, me, DJ, and Katie. 

We ate lunch at a restaurant in Cannes  as my roommates and some other girls from their program told us stories about Nice and the casino in Monaco they checked out the night before. They said the beaches in Nice are all smooth rocks, not sand! After lunch, we went onto the beach with a bottle of red wine. It was warm enough for me to take off my jacket and scarf for half an hour and walk along the beach in just my dress, tights and boots!! Below is a picture of Allison and I, and another of my roommates and I. The Mediterranean is very calm, but apparently that's not unusual!

Allison is becoming one of my best friends on the program so far; we get along really well and she's up for anything. She is from Atlanta but attends school in Tuscaloosa (Roll Tide!). She's 20 and in all of my classes as well. She wants to be a French teacher. 

The riviera was beautiful, and I hope to go back again for a full weekend when its a bit warmer. Tonight I went to Allison and Brittany's apartment with our friend Jenny to plan a trip to Italy over Winter Break in mid-February. So much to look forward to!