Two Rach(a)els Going Places
June 27th, 2013

And so it goes…

The woman tried giving us directions to a taxi stand, but we never really found the one she was trying to direct us to. We ended up walking for about half an hour, stopped in a restaurant, were offered french fries and salads, then told everything was sold out, walked some more and eventually stumbled upon a taxi stand. 

And we waited. Not a taxi in sight. Finally, we decided to call a cab company, and five minutes later our savior in a shining black Mercedes rolled up to take us to paradise. Maybe.

The taxi ride to Castelsardo, the actual city we were staying in, was about an hour long. As the fare climbed and climbed we were all hoping that the stop would come soon. Finally, we reached the right street! except no one seemed to know where this elusive apartment building was. Our taxi driver stopped at three different hotels, none of them being our final destination. He go out of the car four times to ask directions, but no one seemed to know where this place was. The final couple told him to backtrack a bit, and in a few minutes we were at the gate. In the dark. With no key and no phone number to contact the owners. My bad. Luckily, our taxi driver was a patient saint, and found the number on a road sign, called for us, and arranged for the caretaker to come and meet us in 20 minutes. At 2:30 in the morning, our caretaker arrived to give us the key and show us the place. At that point, we had already had more of an adventure that any of us had planned, and quickly divided up the rooms and fell asleep. 

Three men and a lady: a long weekend in a small Sardinian coastal town

A while ago, one of my flat mates told me about a flight to Sardinia he and his girlfriend had booked for $21. Obviously, I really wanted to take advantage of that incredibly low price and discover an Italian island I had never been to, nor had any particular inclination to visit. But $21, how could I pass that up? 

I impulsively bought the tickets that evening, with absolutely zero plans and no knowledge of the weather forecast, hotel availability, etc. I didn’t even have anyone to go with at that point, just super cheap tickets. Whoops. 

about a week passed and I kind of just forgot about the Sardinia tickets because the planning for my Italian Easter break excursion was significantly more important to me. The day before I left for Florence, I casually asked my one friend if he would like to go to Sardinia for four days with me. Happily, he agreed and I started looking for hotels. There are literally zero hotels anywhere that had any availability whatsoever. So I started looking for an apartment. Meanwhile, I decided to ask two other guys if they’d like to join as well. Neither one wanted to pass up the opportunity so we were all in for our Sardinian adventure! Now to just find shelter.

I left for Italy for over a week and when I came home, we had a week before the trip. I frantically searched for an apartment close tot he airport, but  found NOTHING. I expanded the search and found a cute little four bed apartment right on the sea for $10 A NIGHT. It was in a town supposedly 20 minutes from the airport by bus, so I booked it. Running total for the trip? $61 for four days. Seems too good to be true.

Wednesday morning came and I went to class as usual. We had been checking the weather forecast for Sassari (the town we were supposed to be staying in) all week and as of Wednesday it was supposed to be a high of 60, with rain for two days and cloudy for a third. Not ideal, but still warmer than Oslo! 

We all met up at the bus terminal in central Oslo for the 2 hour bus ride to the airport. Good ole Norway: the bus ticket cost $64, $3 more than the airfare and four nights stay in an apartment. UGH. By the time we reached the airport we were all pretty sick of travel, but PLANE TIME! 

We arrived in Alghero, Sardinia at 11pm. As we stepped out of the plane, we all started talking excitedly about how humid it was and “warm” for 11 at night! So excited. We exited the terminal, found the bus to Sassari, hopped on and waited for our adventure to begin.

And boy did it. 

At the Sassari bus stop, we got a little confused. Only one other woman was on the bus with us so I went up to her and asked in Italian if she knew the address of our apartment in relation to the bus stop. She laughed a little, shook her head and explained that the apartment was definitely not in Sassari. Um what. It’s now midnight in a random small town on a Wednesday and we have no idea where we’re supposed to be. Awesome. 

May 13th, 2013

Spring Break Part 10

Our last day in Italy! We woke up at 8 and it felt awesome to get a full wonderful night’s sleep! Headed downstairs to grab our breakfast in the breakfast room, which was included in our hotel stay! Unfortunately, when we arrived, we weren’t on the list to get breakfast, and this started an hour long ordeal that showcased some really poor customer service, and me almost pulling the “this would never happen in America” card. Almost. Eventually, we had our breakfast and started our day a bit later than planned. 

We headed east that morning, determined to see every corner of this city, because it’s entirely possible to do. We stopped at the post office to mail our postcards, checked out the University of Venice and in general did more exploring. Like I said, Venice isn’t my favorite city and this is one of the reasons why. It is a cramped little city that is overflowing with tourists and there doesn’t seem to be much to do or see. Sure, it is absolutely beautiful; a city built on the water, of course. But once you get past the beauty, there isn’t much else. Give me the tiny town of Florence over Venice ANY day. 

We decided to try and go into the church because there is a beautiful view from the top of the tower. But, when we arrived, we discovered the 8 euro fee to enter. Um no I will not pay to go into a church thank you very much. Claire felt the same way (since when do places of worship cost money!?) so we continued to stroll. 

From the beginning of this trip, I had planned to place a lock on a bridge in one of the cities (preferably Rome but whoops I forgot) because its a cute little token of love for couples. Funny enough, that day happened to be my one year anniversary with my boyfriend, so I guess it was a fitting day to give my lock a home. We went about looking for the perfect bridge for my lock. We looked at a bunch (I mean literally over 25) and eventually settled on one with a beautiful view, so the little love lock would always be surrounded by beauty :] I locked it up quick, snapped a picture and was satisfied. The only reason I would ever come back to Venice would be to see my little lock and only if Zach came too. The odds of this happening are very low :p 

Our last two hours, we stopped at a gelato shop and bought three baby cones each; one every half hour :] That way, we got to savor each flavor in a small size and have something to do with our time! By the end, the girl working the counter was making small talk with us and letting us sample different flavors before making our final choice. I chose Kinder surprise flavor, and as a kind gesture, she put an actual kinder surprise egg on top! I was over the moon! She said it was because we made her laugh by coming back so many times :]

After gelato, it was off to the airport to catch my plane home. Claire was going to meet her sister in Bucharest and wouldn’t be back in Oslo for another week. Me? I was ready to go home.  

Too bad my flight got delayed three hours! By the time we landed in Oslo, at 2 am, the trains had shut down, so I was forced to take a super pricey cab home. Oh Oslo, how I missed you. :]

Spring Break Part 9: Venice

Venice certainly isn’t my favorite city, and I never really had plans to go there. It just happened that the cheapest flight back to Oslo was out of Venice so I thought heck why not make it part of spring break. 

Once we arrived, we headed across the main bridge to find out hotel. We left our luggage and set out to explore the city, since our room wouldn’t be ready until three and it was only 9:15! We walked to all of the main spots: went to the main square with the large church; walked around the edges of the island and looked off into the distance at the other islands; went to the arsenal; crossed a ton of bridges; looked in tourist-y shops etc. We ended up in a square where a giant family of ten was crammed onto one park bench indulging in the Italian tradition of picnicking on Easter Monday. It was cute to see how they did it when they were unable to get away from the city:] Claire and I both ended up dozing off in the square on our park bench in the beautiful sunshine. When we woke up, it was about time to check in at the hotel, so we headed back, stopping in a few more shops along the way.

When we reached our hotel, we were told something had gone wrong, so we were being moved to a different hotel. This was totally fine by us because the new location was a bit more central and the hotel was a bit more modern! 

We had heard Venice was a rather expensive city, so we’d bought groceries the night before in Rome. Claire made her sandwiches, I “made” rice cake edibles and we enjoyed a brief lunch in our hotel room. 

After lunch, we explored the other half of the city, stopping in many shops along the way and just enjoying the day. Venice was the city neither Claire nor I had really planned for, so we were pretty content to just keep our days there really casual. 

Claire bought a few gifts for her family, I bought a ton of Venetian glass gift items for different family members and a few paper goods (I love stationary!). I was on a quest to find a nice wax seal for sending letters, since I absolutely adore sending and receiving mail. Unfortunately, the seals in Venice were super pricey, so I’m holding out for Beijing! 

We headed back to the hotel, dropped of our purchases, and headed to a dinner hall next door. It was really cute inside and we had ravioli with fava bean salad. yummmmm. At this point we were exhausted, so headed back to the hotel. I wrote out a few postcards, Claire wrote a bit and we were both asleep by 9PM :]  

Our adorable room at Frederica and Giovanni’s. We especially liked the glow in the dark stars and moon all over our walls :]

Spring Break Part 8

Easter Sunday. Claire and I miraculously got tickets to the Vatican mass on Friday (by going up to a Swiss guard and asking him for two; so happy!) so we woke up at 5am to get ready and go wait in line to enter Vatican city. We arrived around 7 and waited to be let into St. Peter’s Square at around 9 with mass starting at 10:15 and going until noon. It was already a long day by then and so much standing! But so worth it. image

Attending Easter mass at St. Peter’s is definitely one of the coolest things I’ve had the chance to do, especially as a practicing Catholic. It was also incredibly awesome to hear mass by the new  pope, whom I significantly prefer over the previous. Before the mass started, I made friends with an elderly Polish woman who spoke Italian. She ended up sharing her program with me throughout the entire mass, so I could sing the hymns and read the responses in Latin! I love meeting kind strangers! At the end, Papa Francesco rode around the crowd in the popemobile and stopped to kiss a baby. It was the cutest thing. I seriously love this pope; he is adorable, and just seems so positive and happy. I was so excited to see him! He made a speech from the balcony after schmoozing with the crowd a bit and then the mass exodus from St. Peter’s square began. What a nightmare of a crowd. Claire and I casually hung around to avoid all of the people because we really had nowhere to be and just took in the sights and sounds of Easter morning. It was also a gloriously beautiful, sunshiny day so standing under the sun was not something I was opposed to :] image image 

After mass, we headed back to the homestead and packed our bags for later that evening. We decided to visit the Trevi Fountain one last time and I bought a few postcards to send from Venice the next day. We headed back to the bakery once more (too good to pass up!) and loaded up on baked goods for the train ride to Venice. We decided it would probably be a good idea to grab Frigidarium one last time, so we hopped a bus, grabbed a double scoop and literally ran, full force, for the bus to our piazza, knowing it was the last one we could catch. Somehow, we held onto our ice cream cone and cup :]  image

We quickly ran inside the house, said our goodbyes to our fantastic hosts (seriously, I couldn’t have wished for a better homestay experience; Frederica and Giovanni are the nicest people!) and headed down to the train station. We thought our train left at 10pm, but lo and behold, it actually was scheduled for 11. oops. Ended up sitting in McDo for awhile using their wifi and munching on french fries.

We boarded our train as soon as we could, found our car and settled in. The trip to Venice is about a nine hour ride, so we planned to sleep through the night. Somehow, Claire and I started discussing the Bible, and ended up having a really great two hour long discussion on our different religious views and how and why we believe what we believe. It was an awesome discussion, and it’s just another of the many reasons Claire is such a wonderful friend! 

We decided to get some sleep. About two hours after this decision, I was mentally recalling what my mum had said about it being worth it to buy a sleeper car; I couldn’t sleep at all. The man sitting next to me was overflowing into my seat and my long legs just didn’t fit anywhere. I will never take a night train ever again unless I buy the sleep car! 

Around 5am we arrived in Verona, left for Venice at six and arrived (finally!) at 8am. What a day.

May 11th, 2013

Spring Break Part 7

Our third day in Rome was really relaxing for me. Claire went for the tour of the Colosseum/Palatine Hill/ Roman Forum but I have already seen all of those and really wasn’t too interested in seeing them again. Tours aren’t really my thing. So while she was touring, I wandered around my favorite city, wrote out postcards, read my French vogue on the Spanish steps (I like clichés), and in general just had a super relaxing day in Rome. 

We met back up around 4 and headed towards Piazza Navona to see the Pantheon and grab a slice of pizza by the kilo. Unfortunately, the Pantheon was closed to visitors which was a bummer. But we did get our pizza and a mini slice of Nutella pizza for dessert, so I think that made up for it :] Once we hit Piazza Navona, we stopped to enjoy a 20 minute show done by an Australian street performer. He was super entertaining and we were genuinely impressed by some of the tricks he did. 

We decided to head home a little early, because I needed to hit the grocery store to buy some parmesan (in Norway, a little, and I mean little, brick of parmesan costs around $24!) gluten free pasta (where better to buy it than in Italy?) and coffee. Not stereotypical at all, right? I ended up also buying a giant chocolate egg, the traditional item children receive on Easter instead of an easter basket. I couldn’t help myself! 

After the grocery store and a bit of relaxing at home, we headed out to find the keyhole to Rome, a keyhole on the door to the Knights of the Order of Malta’s church (?) It was a winding road, and several times we thought we found it. After about an hour of searching for this in the dark, we gave up and started to head home. I was so sad, because the keyhole is set in such a way that when you look through it, St. Peter’s basilica is perfectly placed in the center. As we were walking back the way we came, I suddenly spotted a hole in very average looking door and decided to try my luck one last time. Success! The view was beautiful! Unfortunately, my iPhone was unable to capture the awesome view, but I tried :p

After the keyhole, I was elated. I basically skipped back down the road towards the city, but before the bottom, we turned into a gate that housed an orange tree garden overlooking the entire city. It was one of the most beautiful and romantic spots I have ever seen, just perfectly nestled on top of a bustling city between two churches. Absolutely spectacular. We stopped to take in the view and appreciate the layout of the garden.

 

After our stop in the garden, we headed back down into the city to visit my all time favorite bakery, Dolce Maniera. This is a 24 hour bakery that’s kind of hidden away on a side street near the Vatican. You have to walk down a winding staircase to get there, and once you do you’re confronted by a large glass counter filled to the brim and covered with every delightful Italian pastry you can imagine. I had been craving Dolce Maniera since I left Rome, and could not wait to go back.

We made our way through the subway and up the street. There were so many options, we couldn’t decide which to choose! I ended up buying 2 cornetti and a bombolone, while Claire got the same except replaced one cornetto with a tartufo. YUM. We decided to eat our treats over on the steps surrounding St. Peter’s Square. It had rained a bit earlier in the day, so on our way over Claire very wisely grabbed a cardboard box from a store’s recycling pile for us to sit on. It was so much fun “tailgating” Easter. We just sat and people watched late at night in the Vatican, enjoying every bite of our sugary, buttery “dinner.” We stayed for about an hour, then packed up our cardboard, returned it to the recycling box, and stopped off at the bakery once more. We needed breakfast for Easter morning of course! 

Spring Break Part 6

The next day was Good Friday and the plan was to tour St. Peter’s Basilica. We headed out to the little café down the street for a quick cornetto and cappuccino. I love this café because it’s super small and neighborhood-y, run by an elderly couple. When my mum visited me, this is the café we ate breakfast in as well:]

We headed to St. Peter’s Square, expecting a giant line for the entrance. We weren’t disappointed; the line wrapped all the way around he square, but it moved quickly and we had the time to take a very touristy photo with the police so it worked out :] image

Once we got in the basilica, we were pretty much herded like cattle pretty quickly through the main sections. Once we got away from the masses, we did a bit of exploring. I love St. Peter’s for all of the chapels off to the sides and the many statues of  popes. I love history and when I walk in there, I just feel history descend onto my shoulders. It’s a great feeling and I could stay in there for hours scrutinizing every last reliquary and alter. Alas, we left and headed out, but not before taking a requisite photo in front of the church :]

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Since dinner the night before had been so delicious, we wanted to head back to Baffetto for dinner so lunch was just going to be gelato for us! Walked right over to Old Bridge, a really well-located super reasonable gelato place right outside the Vatican wall. I had a double scoop of hazelnut and cookies. Best lunch! image

We decided to wander down via Cola di Rienzo, a main shopping street and see what we could find. Claire bought a new lipstick from Kiko and I, big shock here, didn’t buy anything. It turned into a beautiful day and walking down the street was just a simple pleasure of life, with the sun shining above us and the melodious sounds of Italian conversation filling the spring air. 

Around 5 we decided to head towards dinner, hopped the bus and wound up at Baffetto right around opening time, 6pm. The place was already packed, so we headed upstairs to the last two seats available and quickly placed our order. The night before, we both decided we had to try one of their massive head-sized calzones, so we each ordered our favorite flavors, and started playing hangman on the table to pass the time. The couple next to us got involved in our game and lo and behold, they were from Finland! It was great to have a little bit of Scandinavia in Rome and they were lovely company for our dinner. After, we headed over to Frigidarium, of course, grabbed a double scoop (this time Mozart and Frigidarium yummm), and quickly jumped a bus to the Colosseum for the stations of the cross. 

When we reached the Colosseum, there were TONS of people there. It was such a cool experience reading the stations outside with the pope and the beautiful Palatine Hill in the background. Definitely one of the neatest things I’ve done in Rome.

April 25th, 2013

Three ingredient peanut butter cookies!

So I bought ten pounds of bananas again- I couldn’t help myself, they were only $1.30. It’s like I would be losing money if I didn’t buy them! I sliced most of them up and froze them, ready to make all the pancakes and ice cream I can think of. 

But today, I had a craving for peanut butter cookies. Mainly because I made another batch of homemade peanut butter today and it’s fantastic. Seriously, when I’m back in the States (and have access to a blender) I don’t think I will ever buy peanut butter again. 

Anyway, I have a bazillion bananas and a lot of peanut butter (I made more than 4 Tbs this time:p) so peanut butter cookies were an obvious choice :]

I’m still avoiding white sugar and white flour so that makes the whole cookie thing a bit difficult, but I found a recipe that doesn’t use either, so I tried it!

I’ve made banana based cookies before, and while they were ok I never posted about them because I won’t make them again. Definitely not the right consistency. 

However, this recipe was fantastic. It calls for a half cup of peanut butter, 4-5 Tbs of mashed banana, some nutmeg and, if you want, a bit of vanilla extract. 

I halved the recipe, so 1/4 C PB, 1.5 Tbs mashed banana and substituted cinnamon for nutmeg (because I love cinnamon and don’t have nutmeg!) 

The recipe stressed not to add too much banana, because the consistency won’t be great. I took that to heart, and measured out only 1.5 T, mixed it all together, popped it in the oven at 340 (180 Celsius)  and waited about 12 minutes.

When I walked back into the kitchen, it smelled heavenly. Popped open the oven, pulled out my cookies and they looked delightful! I made five, and they turned out crispy around the edges, just like a normal peanut butter cookie would be! The texture was great and the flavor was super peanut buttery; I could barely taste the banana!

All in all, a great recipe and I will definitely be baking these again :]

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super easy homemade peanut butter!

So I have a lot of time on my hands because school is basically over (I have two papers due at the end of May) and I’m here in Oslo until July. I’ve been searching for new hobbies and/or things to do in my massive amounts of down time. I’m happy because now I have more time to workout and go for long runs, and the weather is perfect for running outdoors! I’ve taken up yoga too! I do it for an hour every night, and I’m proud to say I can now touch my toes! I’ve never been able to do that! It’s the small things in life :]

One of the recent projects I decided to try was homemade peanut butter. I’m making a change in my lifestyle and really trying to avoid processed foods. I was curious about the process of making pb so I looked at a few recipes and it seemed pretty straight forward: pour a bunch of peanuts into a food processor, and go. Some recipes added oil, some sugar; I decided I was going to use only peanuts, since the natural peanut oils should be enough to make a nice creamy consistency. 

The only problem with my plan was this: I don’t own a food processor. I also do’t own a blender, or even a mortar and pestle. I bought the peanuts, went into the kitchen and tried to think of my options. I settled on a rolling pin. I poured my peanuts onto a sheet of plastic wrap, wrapped them up, added another layer, and placed them flat on a wooden cutting board. Then I grabbed my rolling pin and began to beat and roll those peanuts like there was no tomorrow. after a bit, I picked up the little pouch of plastic wrap, reformed it shook the peanut pieces and continued the same process. eventually, they were pretty well ground and I transferred them to a medium sized mixing bowl to somehow magically turn them into peanut butter. I searched the kitchen drawers for some sort of tool I could use to mash these pieces up. Eventually, I found the meat tenderizer (our kitchen has so many random utensils) and decided this would be my makeshift food processor. I started grinding and pounding with the tenderizer and kept it up literally for a good hour and a half. Mind you, there were breaks in between and of course I had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE TO DO.

After all that time, the mixture was definitely getting more buttery and the oils were starting to seep out. Success! My initial peanut butter yield was no joke maybe four tablespoons. That’s right, all that work for four tablespoons. But let me tell you, those four tablespoons were absolutely delicious and I savored and rationed them for as long as I could. 

Once the peanut butter was made, I thought, well heck why not make some homemade jam too? I have fresh strawberries, so why not? I had two jam jars in my cabinet from previous jam purchases so I boiled them in a big pot of water, scraped the peanut butter into one, poured my strawberry jam into the other, and waited for the jam to cool in the fridge. Although in total it took about 4 hours to make, that peanut butter and jam rice cake duo was the most satisfying I have ever had! 

Spring Break Part Five

Once we finished out ice cream, we started the search for the Fontana di Trevi. For some reason, after all of the times I have been to the fountain, I always approach it from a different side. I don’t know why. We followed the noise and saw the giant crowd of people before we saw the actual fountain. We got up closer and there it was! A magnificent piece of art casually situated in a small square. That’s one of the things I love about Rome; no matter where you are, there is always something absolutely beautiful within 10 meters. We snapped a few pictures, tossed in our coin (it’s the only way I can go back!) and headed back towards the Vatican to meet with people from my school for a church crawl! My RA had told us about the church crawl our priest was organizing for that evening and she invited us to come along. It was Good Friday, and in Catholic churches on Good Friday, the priest leaves the host out and decorates the alter, so that people can come in and visit and pray. It’s a really neat tradition and Claire and I were excited to do it! We visited five churches with the group. By then it was about 9:30, so we were hungry. I was determined to take Claire to my favorite pizzeria in Rome, Pizzeria Baffetto. This place makes THE best pizza I have ever eaten, and I was so super excited to go back. When we walked up, there was already the usual line out the door into the alley. We were about tenth in line when we got there. We made friends with the people in front of us and chatted away the wait time happily. At Baffetto, the wait staff is notoriously rude and blunt and they don’t really care how long you’ve been waiting, they care how many of you there are since the tables are shared by everyone. Two peopl left and we quickly shot to the front of the line, getting some annoyed looks shot our way in the process. Sorry! 

We sat down next to an older Italian couple and perused the menu. So many choices! I ordered the mushroom, onion and green pepper; Claire ordered the salami pizza. Our table was right next to the wood burning oven and the counter where the pizzas were made. We were absolutely mesmerized by the little assembly line going on in front of us and basically watched them make pizzas the entire night. 

Our orders came and wow did they look delicious. The crust was perfectly crisp, the cheese deliciously melted and gooey and the onions were so sweet- I loved all of the flavors and textures my pizza had to offer! When we had finished, the couple next to us ordered dessert and we just sat and conversed for a bit. The woman next to me was super cute and randomly offered me the first bite of her cake. How adorable is that!? And, of course, I will NEVER turn down cake. It was super yum; I had never had ricotta cake and it definitely tasted better than I had expected! 

After dinner, we went across the alley to my favorite gelateria, Frigidarium. This stuff is awesome. I don’t care what other people say about that one gelateria in Piazza Navona, this place is the best. Oddly enough, every time I have ever been to Frigidarium, I’ve ordered the same exact thing: one scoop of frigidarium (the house flavor), one scoop crema fiorentina, a cookie on top and dipped in melted dark chocolate. It’s weird, because I am the queen of trying everything, but this combination is DELICIOUS. However, this trip I was determined to branch out. I got frigidarium (I couldn’t say no to that one, plus it comes with a giant cookie!) and mozart, a delicious combination of almonds, caramel, fudge and vanilla. yummmmm my taste buds were in absolute heaven!

After gelato, Claire and I were absolutely exhausted, so we headed back home to get some much needed sleep.  

Spring Break Part Four

Our first official day in Rome!

We woke up early to get the most out of our day. I managed to get in a quick workout while Claire was getting ready, which put the morning off to a great start!

The plan for that day was to go visit my university, The John Felice Rome Center, on the opposite side of Rome. we grabbed our transit passes and hustled out the door before 9, making great time! A subway, bus ride and short walk later, we were at the front gate of the jforce. I was beyond excited to be back on campus; it’s such a beautiful and peaceful slice of suburban Rome. Unfortunately, I’m notoriously bad at taking pictures and didn’t take any of the campus when I was a student there and just realized I didn’t take a single picture this time either. woops.

We were buzzed in at the front gate and went to the porter’s desk to check in as visitors. I instantly recognized the porter on duty and waited to see if she would recognize me. Last year, I had extremely short hair, with the back shaved, super short sideburns and barely an inch on top. At the moment, I’m trying to grow it out, so it’s about 5 inches long and all pushed back with a headband, entirely different from how I used to look. When she looked up, she did a little double take and recognized me! It was great to briefly catch up with her while we got our visitor’s passes.

After signing in, we headed downstairs to the library to see my friend from Chicago who studied abroad this semester. When I turned the corner, Sarah looked up, jumped out of her chair and we were hugging within seconds. I had no idea how much I missed my friends and Chicago until we were both hugging and crying. It felt so good to see someone from home! We left Sarah in the library after visiting for a bit and headed downstairs to the second basement which houses the school’s cafe. My RA from last year was sitting with her mum a friend and some of the faculty from the school. At first she didn’t recognize me, but then shouted “oh my god Rachael your hair is so long!” and came over for a big hug! It was so great! 

We ended up sitting with her group for about an hour, munching on cornetti and sipping our cappuccini. I’ll admit, I took a cornetto to go, and Claire grabbed another ciambella as well. Italian pastries are my kryptonite! :]

From the JFRC, we headed to the Vatican. I adore Vatican City. It is so beautiful and I love to think of all of the historical and political events that have happened there throughout time. I am always so humbled whenever I stand in St. Peter’s Square and just look at the amazing architecture that surrounds me. 

After the Vatican, we headed out on foot along the river, passing Castel Sant’Angelo and walking up to Piazza Cavour. We hopped on a bus, rode it up to Piazza del Poppolo and took a few minutes to just people watch and take in the beautiful square with it’s massive fountain and carvings. Claire even jumped on one of the lion statues :]

We started to walked down Via del Corso, the main shopping street in Rome. We stopped in all of my favorite shops, as well as some new ones that had popped up in the last year (Ascot?) We turned down Via Condotti, the street lined with Gucci, Prada, Burberry and every other label imaginable. It’s such a beautiful street and it leads directly to Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps! We were a little hungry at this point, so we decided to hit up the “fancy” McDonald’s to the side of the Spanish Steps. This particular McDo tries to blend in to it’s surroundings and does a pretty good job. It’s covered in marble and mosaic tiles, and it’s winding corridors and stairs are very Roman:p Typically, I refuse to eat at McDonald’s; but in Europe I always make the exception because the menu is always just a tiny bit different, and when in Rome right? We each ordered a chocolate dipped cone (not very adventurous) and headed to the steps to people watch and eat our cones.

Spring Break Part Three: Roma!

Our train out of Florence departed right on time- we left at 10pm and arrived happily in Rome by 11:30. The moment I stepped out of that train car my face just lit up. Even though it was chilly and late and we had very little idea where we were going, I was home. Rome is and always will be one of my absolute favorite cities.

We had very basic directions to get to our homestay from the train station. The night before, Claire and I had messaged Giovanni and Frederica (our hosts) to see if it was possible to come one day earlier than planned, instead of spending the night in the train station. Not ideal- did that once before in Milan and I will hopefully never have to again. They were super nice and said they would wait up for us to come around 12:30am. So sweet!

We headed down the corridors and escalators to the subway, which departed right when we reached the platform. Of course, that was the last train of the night, so we were a little miffed. No worries- went back upstairs and outside to search for a night bus to get us in the right direction. We found the stop but it wasn’t coming for a while and I was getting impatient. I decided I would splurge and pay for a taxi so we could get to bed. It had been a longggg day!

Happily for me, the taxis in Rome are significantly cheaper than Oslo (ps EVERYWHERE is cheaper than Oslo) and the entire fare was only 15 Euro. Money well spent.

Turns out, our home stay was literally four houses down the street from the apartment my mum had rented when she had visited me in Rome last year. So crazy! It felt all the more like a homecoming with those happy memories flooding back. 

We buzzed their door and Frederica let us in quickly. She answered the door and since it was late at night only spoke Italian which was awesome! I loved it! She showed us to our room and it was absolutely adorable. Claire joked that they must’ve known I was coming because the towels that I had on my bed had pictures of kittens all over them :P

   

^Best towels. 

We plopped all of our stuff down and got ready for bed. It was the best feeling to be in a soft, comfortable bed (especially after Florence) with the sounds of suburban Rome lulling me to sleep. 

April 24th, 2013

Bits & Pieces from Vietnam

Life in Vietnam has been hectic and hot. April is the hottest, driest time of year and as a result, my brain basically shuts down between noon and 4pm. Usually I end up taking a nap, and if I don’t sleep, I stay holed up in my room with the AC until the heat of the day diminishes (though these days it stays well over 80 degrees, even in the evening). Fortunately, I spent the first part of the month traveling up the coast of Vietnam to Nha Trang, Hue, Hoi An, Hanoi, and Ha Long. The trip provided some much needed relief from the sweltering atmosphere of Ho Chi Minh City. Here are some pictures from my journey North.

Nha Trang - clearest water I have ever seen!

Hue - the historic capital of the Nguyen Dynasty, with many ornate temples and tombs. 

Hoi An - The place I didn’t actually get to see (besides these lanterns) because of food poisoning. :(

Hanoi - The current capital city of Vietnam, and home of Ho Chi Minh Tomb (where his embalmed body is on display in a glass case) (strangely awesome and creepy).

Ha Long Bay - Beautiful natural rock formations in what used to be a beautiful bay…that is, until the tourism industry took over. While it is still a gorgeous place to see, it is also a classic example of ‘what-not-to-do’ in terms of tourism’s effect on the environment.

April 20th, 2013

I tried out the banana pancakes recipe you posted a while ago, and they are SO YUMMY. Problem is that I'm a lousy cook and only made a banana pancake mash instead of pancakes. But oh well, taste the same!
Asketh - mariavenged

That’s great! The first few times I tried it, the same thing happened. Lots of trial and error to get the right consistency but I’m so happy you enjoyed them! :D