Sunday, November 23, 2008

Villa Sandi Winery

Villa Sandi Winery lies nestled in the valleys of the Veneto region of Italy best know for its prosecco sparkling wine. The villa and winery on the property date back to the 17th-century and seeps history from every corner of the property. As you walk through the cold, dark cellars, you start your time travel through history in the 17th-century. The first cellar was built underground for the original owners and winemakers of the winery, the Sandi’s. The cellars are built with old stone brick cracked with age. The temperature is kept consistently between 13 and 14 degrees Celsius making a jacket required and a scarf advised. The dingy aroma emanated from the mold in the walls and the bottles. Dark green wine bottles lined the walls of the cellars, sometimes seeming to extend as far as you can see. The next cellar dates back to World War I and connects to the historic, palatial villa. During the war, these cellars were used as tunnels for soldiers in the Italian army. Today, they are homes to thousands of bottles of prosecco laying in rest to age for three, five, or seven years until they proceed to the distilling process.

The process of making prosecco is unlike any that I have ever seen. I was surprised to see the prosecco does not age in French oak barrels or stainless steel vats, but in their own bottles. After up to seven years of aging untouched, they are carefully moved to steel cages where a machine slowly turns them upside down, shaking them slightly in the process. The task takes many weeks and used to be done by hand, requiring workers to turn the bottles every 30 minutes everyday for a couple weeks. Once the bottles are turned completely upside down, all the sediment is left in the neck of the bottle. From there, the bottles are putting into a specialized freezer upside down. The freezer turns the liquid in the neck to ice, capturing all the left over sediment in the prosecco. Once the sediment is frozen, the bottle can be turned upright and have the cap released. The bottle naturally expels the frozen impurities and is topped of with more of the same prosecco. From here, the bottles can be thoroughly topped, cleaned and labeled for sale.

The prosecco made by Villa Sandi is known worldwide for its excellence and floral tones. The sparkling and still wines are renowned and the Moretti Polegato family, the current winemakers, have received hundreds of awards and recognition for their wines and prosecco. Learning more about the prosecco-making process has been very valuable to me as someone interested in wine and winemaking, and I am thankful to have learned more from one of the best in Italy.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Munchen Style

Sitting amongst the Germans in the Haufbrau Keller, the English Garden's beer garden, I was thinking to myself, "I never want to leave this place." Munich was a dream, and my comfort there can only be described as having my roots take hold in the place that called to my soul. Yes, it really was that deep. Beer, brats, and the fall; what more could I need in life?

My journey to this beautiful place was not as enjoyable. In fact, it was a nightmare. Eight long hours sitting upright on a train filled to the brim, so much so, it was bursting its seams. My car was full with six people to a room, none of whom I knew. Next to me sat an older gentleman in his early 50s. Country of origin unknown, but what was evident to the other five of us in the room was he had not bathed in two weeks -- just my luck. The following hours drug on like waiting for molasses to pour, all the while sitting completely upright with no leg room. Obviously, there was no sleep for me on this overnight train to Munich. I was ecstatic when it was finally over.

And was it all worth it? Was it worth going through that torture to be sitting in the crisp, fresh, autumn air in Munich, Germany, eating bratwurst, blaukraut, and pretzels larger than my head, drinking beer in a glass so heavy I need two hands to hold it? The answer is simple: Yes. And I cannot wait to go back. I have officially left my heart in Munich.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Italian Cafeteria Experience


On the ground floor of the PIO building in the Instituti Filipini, I am waiting patiently in line for dinner, not completely sure if I am hungry at all. The unrecognizable smells of cooked vegetables and tomato sauce permeate the air, finding its way to my nostrils, and putting me off from any desire to eat what the cooks serve to me.

The line starts to inch forward, like the movement of a centipede, and I give a big sigh: Another meal in an Italian school cafeteria.

Reluctantly, I grab a tray and a thin, gray paper place mat. I select my glass cup for water, and my silverware. Tonight, I decide to skip the bread rolls because finding a soft one is like searching for Waldo. I set my tray on the stainless steel shelf and turn to face the jolly old man who waits to serve me flavorless pasta. He is dressed in a gray short-sleeved shirt, white apron, and a white cap tied over his grey, balding hair.

Kindly, I ask for “Pasta con pomodoro,”

Buonissimo,” he replies laughing as he darts the bowl away from my hands as I try to claim it. He reminds me of a caring and loving grandfather playing airplane with a grandchild. It works. He gets a smile out of me, and my mood is lifted for the next phase of the cafeteria line: The meat and vegetables section.

I have always looked at this section of the line as the most questionable. The meat is always unusual colors, making it hard to guess what kind it is.

“Could I please have the turkey?”

Turkey? No Turkey, only beef.”

“I will have the hot dogs, then. Thank you!”

And that is how I ended up eating hot dogs and fries.

I sat down and further examined the food that I ended up with, only half wanting. First, there is farfalle pasta, which looks like little bow ties, with tomato sauce placed absent-mindedly on top. My hot dogs are pale as flesh that has not seen sun in 20 years, leading me to believe they are most likely not all natural meat. The only part of my meal I can count on to taste enjoyable are my steakhouse style fries, which I proceed to cover with salt.

I pick up my fork and take a chunk off of the hot dog. I decide it is best not to examine the piece before putting it in my mouth. Adding a dab of dark yellow mustard, I plop the hot dog in my mouth and chew. The taste is there, reminding me of summer barbecues eating Ball Park Franks; however, the consistency is a total miss. It is soft and mushy on the inside, as if it was over cooked. What did I expect? Hot dogs are an American pastime, so I should not have had high expectations. I finish the hot dogs anyway. Moving on, I try the pasta and tomato sauce. The sauce is thick, assuring it is freshly made. The pasta is served al dente; however, the noodles are oily, giving the whole dish a liquid consistency. The sauce is somewhat low on flavor, so, once again, I dump more salt on top, chuckling to myself about the sharp increase in iodine to my daily diet.

At this point in my meal, I am in a food coma. I no longer care about what I am eating; I am just eating it like a drone. My meal is over before I even realized it started, further clarifying how unremarkable it truly was. I slowly grab my tray and maneuver my way to the door, and slide my tray in the stainless steel cart. As I walk away toward my dormitory, I think, “Just another meal in an Italian school cafeteria.”

Train Car Serenade

I was settled comfortably on the second level of a Spanish train from the heart of Barcelona headed for my relaxing day in the beach town of Sitges, about a 40-minute trip south. As I put my feet up on the seat in front of me, I noticed a man standing awkwardly to the right of me. I looked up just in time to see him raise an instrument to his chin and start to play. At first, I was annoyed and prayed his musical tribute to the train car holding seven people, including myself, would be his only dedication.

I closed my eyes for a few minutes trying to ignore the musical notes dancing around my ears, but my curiosity got the better of me. I opened my eyes to get a better look. The man I saw serenading the train car on his violin was dressed head-to-toe in black. His skin was the color of milk chocolate, and his dark, balding hair was peppered with bits of grey around his temples. His one accessory of frill is the large, monogrammed gold ring on the pinky finger of his left hand, clenching the neck of his violin.

As his eyes were closed in concentration, I noticed how much his dark skin hid his true age. His face had minimal wrinkles, but his eyes gave him away. Underneath them were dark circles making him look sad and exhausted, as if he has been riding this train for days trying to earn some spare money for dinner. Framing his eyes were deep wrinkles creasing around the outside corners, revealing the effects of living in a sunny climate and squinting into the sun. Looking at his eyes made me feel sympathy for him, and curious to know his story.

As his slow, sad song drifted on, I noticed the poor condition of his violin. There were obvious dings and dents flawing the wood, and the sheen of its lacquer coat was faded. The chin rest was falling off from use, and was held onto the instrument with shiny, clear packing tape. The physical state of his violin revealed how hard the two of them worked: The violinist and his violin together. The musician supplied his own amplifier to help carry the music throughout the small train car, which, as I turned around to see the reaction of my fellow passengers, annoyed them more than pleased them. He rolled his amplifier around on a rickety metal rolling cart in a black, faded, and worn Nike duffel bag.

As the ballad comes to a close, the violinist kindly says, “Gracias” to the crowed, still avoiding his gaze, packs up and hurries out of the train car. He earned no money from the passengers in the train.

Photo 1: The group in Sitges. Aaron, Stephanie, Jimi, Myself, Scott, Tom, Paula, and Seitel
Photo 2: 2 euro beers on the beach... before we discovered the 40s for about 1.60 euro

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Whole Blog Thing Has Been Harder Than I Thought

Who would have thought this would be a hard thing to do often. I have missed so many things, so I will try and remember as many as I can.

I think I left off after the weekend in Ljubljana, Slovenia, which was fantastic with a lot of interesting things to see. The city center along the water, and the castle with five wedding parties. It was a good day, and to make it that much better, we found a mexican restaurant to have dinner at that night. The food was good, but different. The spices were different then I am used to at home. They were more bland then spicy. It was still nice to have regardless. 

The next weekend a large group of about 47 people rented a bus to take us to Cinque Terre. The cities were gorgeous and looked even better then any pictures. We ate tons of pesto and seafood, which was a much needed break from our usual boring pasta dishes we get at the cafeteria at school. That Saturday, we hiked the 5 towns. It was the hardest thing I had done in a really long time. It took about 7 hours. Our group decided to get the hardest legs of the hike over with first, which is the legs between 5 and 4, and then 4 and 3. From the town we were staying in, Riomaggiore (town 1), we took the ferry all the way to the end to town 5, Monterosso. We ate something quick there (focaccia, pesto, tomato and mozzarella, SO GOOD), and then started our journey. I thought about quitting after climbing stairs for 45 minutes, but then we started to gradually head back down. The views were also remarkable. Along the way, the park attendants (I assume) set out feeding stations for the "wild" cats that live along the trail. Of course, I wanted to stop and pet/feed them, but no one in my group would let me. Oh well. Cinque Terre has the most cats I have seen wandering around, and even a few little dogs as well. All in all, it was a beautiful and picturesque place that could be seen in a day. 

After Cinque Terre, we had class for a week, and then we had our week off of school to travel. A group of 10 traveled to Barcelona, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal. Barcelona has been my favorite city so far. It is fun, lively, and has a lot of history. The first day, the girls all went to Las Ramblas, the famous city street with lots of shopping opportunities. It leads down to the port, so we wandered around there for a while. The second day, we hit all the rest of the historic site seeing places to see: Sagrada Familia and the Parc Guell, the Block of Discord. It was all so cool to see and so colorful, unlike anything you see in Italy. For lunch, a guy in our group, Scott, had a friend who had studied abroad and then decided to stay for 7 more months. She worked at this little restaurant she recommended. We all headed there, and from the moment I walked in I could tell it was going to be an authentic meal because at the majority of the tables little old men sat by themselves. They did not need to order, the waiters just brought them their food because they went there every day. I got Patatas Bravas and mussels in a tomato sauce. It was unbelievable. The potatoes are made cubed and cooked, but they are topped with a red sauce (somewhere between ketchup and salsa) and mayonnaise mixed with garlic. It was so good, I tell you, I'm mixing garlic and mayonnaise from now on. Try it Dad! The third day we were there, half of the group wanted to go shopping and the other half wanted a relaxing day at the beach. I chose the relaxing day at the beach. 4 of us hopped on a train and travelled to a little beach city about 40 minutes south called Sitges. It was so cute and quaint. It was 9 different beaches in a row, a castle in the middle of them all. A family friend of Scott's lives there, so we met up with them. Their names were Tom, his wife Paula, and a friend whose name I forget. However, the friend had the cutest dog I have ever seen. It's name was Fendrix, but I just called him Jimi and taught him English. The friend was Norwegian, and had hitch hiked all the way from Norway to Spain, just him and little Jimi. Anyway, the day was so nice. Laid on the beach all day and drank huge beers for 2 euros. I had a really amazing sandwich as well the Spanish called a bikini. It's just a ham and cheese but it was so good, the cheese was melted just the way I like it, and all for 1.50. For dinner, we wandered to a little pizza joint Tom and Paula love. I was a little hesitant about having pizza because of eating it so much in Italy, but it was completely different. They were small, and they actually had pepperoni (aka chorizo). They also introduced us to empanadas. So delicious, they are like little pastries with meat and spices. After dinner and chatting, we got on the train to head back to Barcelona.

The next day we traveled to Lisbon. In retrospect, Lisbon was a cool city to see and go to, but we did not need 4 days. That is my only regret. Lisbon has the sights and the culture, but my group of 4 (by then we needed to not travel in a group of 10 for obvious reasons) saw it all in about a day and a half. The city was much dirtier then I would have thought, so that was a downer. My friend Lindsay and I explored the nightlife more in Lisbon. We did a little in Barcelona, but our hostel was further from it. In Lisbon we were only a couple of blocks from the area where all the bars are. They are all very small, but its bar after bar in the 5 block radius. No other businesses there, only bars. One night, we found a fun bar with lots of American music and 1 euro mixed shots... let's just say the next day we ate lunch and McDonalds and felt no guilt about it. 

Highlight of the trip occurred in Lisbon the very last night. After dinner, three of us girls took the Metro back (my fault, my stomach was not happy with me at all) so we didn't have to walk. Lindsay decided to get a water out of the vending machine. Laying in front of the vending machine was this little man. It looked like he was trying to fix it, so she waited patiently. He got up, and motions to her that he will get the water for her because the vending machines are a little complicated. He takes the euro, slides it in, and it falls out. He turns to face her, and we all get to see what he looks like. Picture the Portuguese version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the hump the facial structure, everything. He was being very helpful, so in no way am I trying to tease him, it's just he was clearly not all there. He tries to convince Lindsay that he can run to the next track and get her water out of that vending machine. By now, we can hear our train approaching in the distance, so she just asks for her euro back. He runs over to Stephanie and I yelling "Agua! Agua!" and points to the vending machine at the next track. 
I try my best to motion to him, "Our Metro is coming, give us back the euro." 
He responds "Si, Si! Rapido!" and takes off running up the stairs.
At this point, Lindsay is like whatever, it is just one euro, and we hop on a train. Seeing that little man run up the stairs was hilarious, and we were still laughing about it on the train. That is when we noticed something wrong. In the distraction of the whole episode, we got on the wrong train. That was all fine, we got off at the next station and waited for the train going the other way, the train that came from the station we were just at with the little Portuguese hunchback. I bring up how funny it would be to see him on the train approaching, drinking a bottle of water. As the train comes on the opposite track we all look for him. We found him spinning around a tall metal hand rail like a monkey without a care in the world. Granted, this train was packed full of people and he was running into them with every turn, but he didn't care. The man just loved to spin! It was a great end to the week and a great story. 

Since then, I have not done anything exciting. Last weekend my roommate and I decided to stay in Paderno to give our wallets a rest and our bodies. It was great, we slept a lot and watched movies all day. Definitely needed a relaxing weekend. 

Tomorrow we have an advisory night. Our advisory groups are a group of students paired with a teacher we do not have for any classes in order to get to know more teachers and more students. I have a finance teacher from Oklahoma. He and his wife have been here for 7 years. He teaches in either the fall or winter terms. He is actually from Corvallis, Oregon, but his wife is from the south and he boasts about her chili. So, that is what she is making us tomorrow and I am so excited! Warm, hearty comfort food. Yumm Yumm.

Next weekend I am off to Munich and Prague. We tried to go to Switzerland, but I guess it takes forever to get there so it would be a waste. I'm excited about Prague, but plan to go there for my weekend travel break in November as well so it's a little bit of a bummer. I just do not think I would have the courage to take off somewhere on my own yet, so that is my only choice right now. I am still looking forward to it!

Picture 1: The view from our hostel in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
Picture 2: Me during the hike of death
Picture 3: Part of the longest continuous bench in the world and the Parc Guell in Barcelona, Spain
Picture 4: Me on the bench

Monday, September 29, 2008

Formal Dinner and Etiquette Workshop

Well, thursday night our group of 125 are having our first of three formal dinners. It will prove to be a very valuable experience, both in tasting some of the best food of the Veneto region, and in an etiquette crash course. This dinner will be at Ristorante Barbesin ( and it will be the whole big shebang. Duel antipasti, duo primi piatti, secondo piatto, and dessert with different wines paired with them all. Dr. Ringleb, the director and owner of CIMBA, is fronting the bill for the wine in order to let us taste the best of the best, so I am very excited about that.

In order for our huge group to not embarrass Dr. Ringleb and the rest of the staff, we were required to attend an etiquette workshop today. I learned a lot of interesting things about etiquette in general that I never knew, such as the differences in where you put your non-eating hand in America, France, and Italy. Also, the differences in how you cut your food, and the the case of the US, switch your fork from left to right. In Italy they do not do that, making it much more convenient and faster to get the food you want to eat into your mouth quicker.

As far as dining out at Italian restaurants, they supplied us with a valuable list of Do's and Dont's. Here it is, word for word:

Forget about....

- Sitting down in a bar (which in Italy is actually a cafe)
- Asking for coffee, you must be more specific
- Asking for a "latte," they will hand you a glass of warm milk
- Finding a starbucks anywhere
- Supersize coffee, or supersize anything
- Bacon and eggs
- Half and half, Italians have never heard of it
- Asking for toast, they will give you a grilled ham and cheese sandwich
- Decaf -- they do have it; however, it is called HAG
- Leaving a tip, it is never necessary in Italy


- Eat on the street, in a store, a bank, or anywhere except sitting down at a restaurant
- Try to eat at odd times, you must be in by 1:30
- Let the waiter talk you into eating all the courses -- Italians rarely go all out at lunch
- Ask for butter with your bread because it will give you away as a tourist
- Be afraid to ask for toast, grilled ham and cheese is good for lunch
- Forget to order an espresso after lunch, it will show you are in the know
- Linger too long because the waiters want to get home for their afternoon nap
- Forget what you just ate -- you will often have to remember when you pay the bill at the bar
- Haggle over the cover charge, its not just for tourists
- Pay by credit card -- save it for dinner


- Get there too early, 8:00 at the earliest -- the further you go south the later it gets
- Expect a cocktail before dinner. Do that somewhere else, not at the restaurant
- Ask for salad first, you eat it last in Italy
- Ask for salad dressing -- olive oil and balsamic vinegar
- Get coffee or soda with your meal -- it's water and wine only
- Rush out, sit there as long as you like
- Ask for doggy bags -- if you are with Italians they'll crawl under the table!
- Get a cappuccino after dinner -- only with breakfast and smug waiters will ask only to make fun of tourists
- Wait for your bill -- you have to ask for it

Monday, September 22, 2008

Trieste, Italy

Trieste was such a pleasant surprise! I would have never thought to head over there on my own, so I am very grateful the program took  me there to explore.

First, we went to Redipuglia and the WWI memorial which left me speechless. It was huge; over 100,000 soldiers were actually buried there including the Duke of Aosta who was the commander of the Third Army. Also, there were a few original trenches there. They were completely different than I thought they would be. They were made of concrete, had covers and semicircular holes to shoot out of. It was really interesting and cool to walk through. 

Next, we went to Castle Miramare right on the Adriatic Sea. The grounds were  beautiful and very well landscaped. Very pretty scenery and castle.

Then, Trieste was really cool. It is a port city on the very edge of Italy by Slovenia and Croatia. The architecture was more impressive than I would have thought, and it was a very happening city. Very Busy. We hung out around the piers for a while and then went into the city center for some wine, appetizers, and people watching. We caught a train to Ljubljana, Slovenia at around 11 that night. 

On the train we had an interesting experience. My roommate, Kyla, had a little more wine than she thought. In her drunkeness/sleepiness, she thought it safest to put her passport inside of her bra without telling anyone else what happened to it. Afterwards, we all catnapped for about an hour until the conductor came through the cabin to check tickets and passports. She woke up and had no idea where she put it, sending the rest of us to search not only the cabin we were in, but the entire train. She was convinced someone had taken it because it was out of her Kate Spade passport holder. Lots of tears and a few arguments later, we got off the train still having no idea what happened to the passport. It was not until we arrived at our hostel when she realized what she did with at when she changed for bed! The other three of us were so relieved and mad at the same time it was just appropriate to go to bed. After all, it was about 3 in the morning at this time and we were all exhausted. 

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Hardest Part

Hurricane Hanna was beginning her trek up the east coast, grounding flights and causing a lot of headache. The effects in Philadelphia resulted in heavy downpours and elevated wind speed. Was this a sign foreshadowing the rest of my experience? Time to think was not a luxury, and I hesitantly stepped onto my plane that would take me from The United States of America, my familiar home, to unfamiliar country of Italy, my home for the next three months.

When I first committed to the experience of studying abroad in Italy, I strongly believed I had a leg up on the rest of the crowd. This is my third trip to Europe, but I never would have guessed how different and difficult it is once faced with making the journey alone. Saying goodbye to family and friends was harder than expected, and I am slightly embarrassed knowing they will remember the last state I was in: Sobbing and unsure if I had made the correct decision, or if I was even able to go through with it. I had little time to ponder how prepared I was because, before I knew it, I was on a plane from Seattle to Philadelphia.

Landing in Venice, Italy, happened faster than expected. Believing I had finally arrived with little-to-no travel glitches made me proud. Passport check and luggage claim were a breeze, and I made my way into the hot, humid air to find a taxi.

A man dressed in the finest clothes I have seen yet in Italy greeted me and I was surprised to learn this was my taxi driver. He was dressed in unflawed dark denim jeans, a teal button-down shirt and light brown loafers. His dark hair was gelled and his skin tanned. He was very welcoming and knew a good amount of English, helping me haul my two heavy suitcases into his taxi van. To thank him, I wanted to be sure to give him a decent tip but had a hard time counting and making change in the new currency, which, to me, looks like Monopoly money. In total, my taxi fare to Mestre was 27 euro, so I handed him a 50 and asked for change. I received a 20 and three one euro coins. Slightly confused and not wanting to ask him to make more change for smaller bills, I handed him the three one euro coins. He replied, very graciously and politely, "Oh grazie, grazie. I will go buy myself a caffe." Was this impeccably dressed Italian mocking me for the poor tipping? I felt bad, and left embarrassed, only to learn later tipping is not customary in Europe. This explains why he insisted on carrying my two heavy suitcases up 30 stairs to my hotel in Mestre.

I arrived at my hotel in venice at 9:45 a.m., a little over 24 hours later, after no sleep during the flight over. Granted, I was exhausted and hit the sack almost immediately. The first of my three roommates for the night arrived in the same condition, and we both slept for three solid hours. Once our room of four was complete, we met up with another foursome staying at the same hotel and set out to explore Venice. After having a dinner of spaghetti and beer on the Grande Canale, we headed for San Marco Square. The lighting in the late evening was beautiful, lighting up the arches piazza, and it was pleasant to visit the square at night without worry of bumping into other tourists as you try to take pictures. Outside many restaurants, bands played for anyone who wanted to pull up a folding chair and listen. Up until this moment, Venice was everything I expected and wanted it to be. It was beautiful, romantic, and had amazing architecture. After visiting the square, we opted to wander around the streets of Venice to see more of the city. A word to the wise: Despite the city being an island, it is much larger than one might expect. Our group of eight was lost late at night for three hours. Every storefront selling gelato looked identical to the last, which made deciphering where we had been difficult. We ventured down dark alleys, and busy city streets, following signs indicating the place we believed we should have been headed. At this point in the night, my jet lag was causing me to hit a brick wall. It took everything in my power to focus on one thing: Keeping one foot moving in front of the other. This is when Venice was no longer romantic; it was rather frustrating. Directions we received from locals indicated we head to the Canale, and then turn left, which was, more often than not, straight into a building. Dead reckoning started to kick in; however, it sure was not my own, and we found our way back to the bus station, which would take us back to our hotel in Mestre, after three long hours. My head hit the pillow and I was out for the count after my first day in Italy. My next trip to Venice, I will make sure to come prepared with a detailed map.