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.