Friday, October 21, 2011

Back In Italy!!!!

I'm back in Italy!! I can't tell you how excited I am. I've actually been here since Sunday, but Italy has terrible internet access generally- one thing I forgot about. A couple things while I have the internet:

I flew Ryanair into Rome and took a train to Naples. Yes, they still have that trumpet da-da-dah! sound when you land to say the flight was on time. And no, nobody clapped this time! Sad. I could see Rome from the plane and I'm pretty sure my heart skipped a beat when I spotted the Pantheon! Everything looked so tiny from the plane. I passed right through Rome, but I go there officially on Sunday, for one week, with Hannah. I can't even describe how excited I am to return to the city where I studied for 2 semesters. It was such a significant time for me. More on that later!

I spent the last couple of days on the beautiful island of Ischia (off of Napoli) with two of the interns, Eli and Vince, and Vince's wonderful, big, loud, loving Italian family! I can't wait to share more later! For now, here are some previews!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Croissants and Hot Chocolate

I could live off of croissants forever in their buttery, flaky deliciousness. Especially pain au chocolat!  I may or may not have eaten upwards of 3 of these one day...

Today I had one that was brushed with some sort of sugary coating on the outside. It was SO GOOD and even better than a plain croissant. The slight sugary coating sealed the deal.

Isn't this hot chocolate interesting? I've never quite had it served like this: hot milk with some chocolate bits in the bottom that were starting to melt. To make it drinkable you just stir it up. It was really good and creamy! Better than powder any day, but still not as chocolaty as straight melted chocolate, no milk, like some of the chocolate shops here do.

I didn't have the croissants with the hot chocolate, but that would have been vraiment delicious. (I have French words stuck in my head this week from working to understand all the French being spoken around me.)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Scenes from Brussels

Yes, I had to get the obligatory Belgian waffle (gaufre). Since it was only about 3 euro though, unfortunately it wasn't that great. Looking into the chocolate shop windows and smelling the deliciousness inside- that was great!


One thing the city is famous for is the Manneken-Pis- a statue of a little boy peeing. Supposedly he gets outfits from all around the world to wear! When I saw him he seemed to be in some sort of cleaner's outfit. Pretty sweet city mascot if you ask me!


One fascinating thing about Brussels/Bruxelles/Brussel is that it's a bilingual city. Belgium is split between the Dutch (Flemish) speaking north and the French speaking south. Though Brussels is in the Dutch part, the city's main language is French. Every sign has both French and Dutch, like this sign ("Sword Street"). I can understand way more French, but it did help me to translate words into Dutch. After 2 months in Amsterdam, the Dutch almost looked more familiar than the French!


Allors, no pictures, but I did score a box of delicious looking Belgian chocolates, each of which I picked out myself! Picking out weird truffles to try is one of my favorite things. Mmmmm...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NeL, a jazz café

One of the intern hang-out spots in Amsterdam was NeL, a jazz café. Vince came upon NeL one Monday night and discovered that they had a jazz jam every week. It was a really nice place to hang out, talk, and listen to some jazz!

Monday, October 10, 2011


On my last days in Amsterdam I visited two chocolate shops, Jordino and Puccini Bomboni, in the Grachtengordel West neighborhood of Amsterdam. The shops were recommended by my Amsterdam Rough Guide (given to me by a certain travel-savvy professor).

At Jordino the atmosphere was very welcoming. The owners put out chocolates for everyone to try and the shop was packed with people. I had a chocolate-balsamic truffle and a raspberry-chocolate macaroon (for the first time!). I'm still not exactly sure what macaroons are, but the one I had was very good! Anyone know what macaroons are exactly? The chocolate truffle made with balsamic vinaigrette was a little too strong for me. I ate it after having dinner at an Italian deli. As I made a face at the interesting taste of the truffle I looked across the table and suspiciously eyed the bottle of balsamic vinaigrette innocently sitting there, thinking get out of my chocolate!!

I walked into Puccini from the pouring rain, glad to be somewhere warm, or at least dry. I was the only one in the shop most of the time, and he lone woman working was honestly a bit snobby. She seemed to get annoyed at all the questions I had about what the truffles were, but there were just so many interesting ones I had to ask! The shop seemed more high-end and less welcoming than Jordino. But honestly, the milk chocolate-honey bon bon I had was perhaps the best tasting chocolate I have ever had! The honey was not over-powering at all, but rather just lent its sweetness to the chocolate to make for a perfectly sweet and smoooooth chocolate. Delicious. I also had a dark chocolate one with cranberries on top, which was also excellent. The (dried) cranberries were a perfect taste combination with the dark chocolate- a little sweet, and little tangy. See pictures below.


Best taste: Puccini
Best environment for patrons: Jordino

Sunday, October 9, 2011

On Language, and the Travel Bug

French, and France, really was my first love. Yes- despite my current love of Italian and Italy. As they say, you never really forget your first love.

The first time I went out of the U.S. it was to Quebec and Montreal, the French-speaking parts of Canada, in 8th grade with a group of my fellow French classmates. Then, in the middle of highschool I had the wonderful opportunity to do an exchange program and actually go to France with my French classmates, and have the French students we stayed with come to stay with us in the U.S. I wish I had more pictures of that first trip across the ocean to share, but, alas, that was in the days before I had a digital camera or facebook. I took the picture above with black and white film in the countryside near Albi, France, where we each stayed with our host/exchange family for a week.

On that trip, I distinctly remember sitting along the Seine river in Paris thinking I have to come back here someday. I think I even wrote that on a postcard to my parents, trying to describe how much I loved being in France. I don't think I was homesick at all that trip, which I learned was the norm for me and was probably a good indicator that I really do enjoy traveling. In fact, the only time I can remember being truly homesick was when I went to sleep-away Girl Scout camp in 4th grade and I wrote my parents a letter about how much I hated being there and how sad I was. I guess I didn't actually mail the letter, but my mom found it after I came home, and cried anyway when she read it! After a couple of years, I spent many more summers at Camp Horizons (not a Girl Scout camp), which I remember so fondly now (does using the word "fondly" make me sound old??). That's a story for another time, but one cool thing was that a lot of the counselors were from other countries, with a lot from the U.K.

When I was 19, I eventually did make it back to the Seine. But what my 15 or 16 year old self didn't realize back then was that what I really loved and felt a longing for was being in a new and different place, which I now know was not unique to Paris or France. It just might have been when the travel bug first really bit me.

Thanks to Mme. Pisano, my inspiring highschool French teacher, the French language came alive for me. Have you ever reached that point with a foreign language where you begin to understand it intuitively, get the phrasing, and feel comfortable in it? I can't even fully describe that feeling now because it's been a while since I've felt it, but by senior year of high school I had it.

When I went to college at Saint Mary's I had to make the decision of whether I wanted to continue with French or switch to Italian, as my mom had done. This also meant choosing between studying abroad in either France or Italy. By the end of highschool I decided that I was done with French and was ready to move onto something new. Afterall, I had been studying French for 5 years. With that amount of time it sounds like I would have made it even further with the language than just coming to the cusp of true understanding, but for the most part it was just something I practiced in school (and let's be real- America is not known for bringing its citizens far with languages). Also due to my mom's glowing reviews and memories of going on the Rome program, I decided to take Italian. After many semesters of Italian and a year spent studying in Rome, I eventually came to that exciting cusp of true understanding with Italian too.

Now of course I've lost that place with both languages, but wow, they were wonderful places to be. And so, for the time being, I'm satisfied with traveling giving me that sense of wonder, instead of the intimacy of a foreign language.

Image by Elise Blaha Cripe
P.S. The rest of the pictures I took when visiting France while studying in Rome.

Brussel Sprouts in Brussels

Last night we had a delicious brussel sprout soup made by a friend of the couple I'm staying with. I know many people don't like brussel sprouts, but I actually don't mind them and would much prefer to have brussels in Brussels than mussels in Brussels!

This was a sort of after-dinner small evening meal. After dinner the sprouts were picked right from the jardin (did I mention that I'm in French speaking territory now?) in the back. The wonderful chef prepared the soup to absolute perfection- really. On top was a bit of chopped up sprouts and smoked duck sauteed in butter (similar to bacon), which made for a perfect crunch and texture to balance the smoothness of the soup. It was salted and seasoned (from some Szechuan pepper spice) just right, creamy (from creme fraiche), hearty (from potatoes), and fresh (from the brussel sprouts). C'etait parfait!

P.S. I can understand the spoken French and write little phrases much more than I can speak it... :)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Officially on the road

As of this morning, I am officially out of Amsterdam and on the road again. Which means living only out of my backpack and a small carry-on size suitcase for the next month. Looks like I'm "roller-bagging it" around Europe again (term coined while traveling with Genevieve after studying in Rome).

My internship doing social psychology research at the VU in Amsterdam finished up last week. For the past week I've been hanging around Amsterdam soaking up the sun (but more so rain...), exploring parts of the city I hadn't before, and getting to know Eren and Arash, who let me crash with them for the week.

Now I'm currently in Belgium (outside of Brussels) for a week, staying with two psychologists. I'm glad for the change in scenery and psychology environment, and I'm excited about what I will encounter this next week! Images are from some of the last sunny, summery days in Amsterdam.

Friday, October 7, 2011

An Amsterdam Speakeasy

lemon + vodka

Per request of my dad, last night I made a visit with two friends to Door 74, a sort of modern speakeasy here in Amsterdam. Modern-day speakeasies are cocktail bars that have an air of mystery about them to recall the speakeasies that existed during the prohibition era in the U.S.

 To get in, you have to call a number and leave a message to make reservations the day of, and then someone calls you back later in the day to confirm. The outside of the bar is completely inconspicuous: a regular, black Amsterdam apartment facade with some graffiti splashed on. When we arrived, we rang the doorbell. Before letting us in, the bar man quickly opened a small window (I think a sort of speakeasy regular practice), secretly covered by a dingy "no bike parking" sign. We slipped inside the sleek black interior of the small bar, sat down in some comfy leather chairs and looked at the interesting cocktail menu. In the end, the choices were so varied that we each told the bar man flavors we liked and he mixed something up for each of us.

 My cocktail had gin, raspberry syrup, and lemon, among other things. Eren's was a gin and lemon mixture, and was a bit bitter. Arash asked for a drink reminiscent of an amazing lemon martini he had once had in Dubai. What the bar man made was excellent! Someone recently told me that good vodka tastes like water, which at the time I thought sounded kind of odd. But trying the lemon-vodka cocktail last night, I could very much see that. It tasted.... smooth or something, and almost watery- not the nasty "regular" vodka taste at all.

Eren's gin and lemon drink.

 Some of you may be surprised at the alcohol report, but besides enjoying the occasional tasty cocktail, I mainly wanted to check out Door 74 as a favor to my dad. As many of you know, one of his recent hobbies is cocktail mixing and finding out about interesting or unique bars. After we each had one cocktail and enjoyed some good conversation, we headed home. We all agreed that Door 74 was an interesting bar with a nice atmosphere.

My cocktail. Too frou-frou looking... but tasty nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Cheese. What a wonderful thing.

The shop's oldest cheese ("oude kaas")- aged 3 years. Great flavor.
 Today I stopped into a cheese shop- one thing Amsterdam/Holland is famous for. I sampled some delicious cheeses and had a cheese croissant. I could live off of croissants. But cheese is even better :) .

Buttery, flaky, CHEESY goodness.

This one tasted strongly of wine (had either wine or grapes in it).
The youngest cheese in the shop was aged 9 months ("jonge kaas"). The labels of "jonge" and "oude" kaas in the grocery stores finally make more sense.

Sage cheese... looks funky.
Is this not one of the most appetizing bread displays you have ever seen?!