The first day we arrived in Rome we went to the colosseum, the forum and saw the wedding cake building. After walking around all day I was starving by the time dinner rolled around. We ate at a restaurant called La Carbonara, the walls were covered in hand writing from some of the customers that had visited in the past. We sat down and were served a pasta dish. I had to wait a bit longer for mine because the original had meat in it but, it was definitely worth the wait. After finishing the delicious cheesy spaghetti dish I thought, there is no way I could eat anything else; but I was wrong. Next they brought out a mushroom salad with arugula and large shreds of parmesan cheese, it was pretty good. I do not usually eat raw mushrooms so that was a new experience for me. The final course was my favorite Italian desert, tiramisu. It was served in bowls and had much more liquid than I was used to, almost like a cake in pudding covered with cocoa powder. As we sat and ate we talked about our past day and weekend travel plans, drinking about a bottle of water per person. Over all this was one of my favorite groups dinners we have had and it was definitely the best dinner I had in Rome.
Since arriving and getting a chance to explore the city I have fallen in love with this place. Ascoli Piceno is a picture perfect medieval town made up of hilly streets and wonderful piazzas. My favorite thing to do is walk around the city and find new places I have not seen yet/get lost in the twisting streets. I have discovered my favorite gelato shop, the best place to get a cappuccino and of course, mozz balls. Though I have had a hard time communicating with the locals everyone here is so nice and welcoming, they really try to communicate with you and in the end we can usually figure it out.
We are here during their renaissance festival that celebrates the towns heritage. The first weekend we arrived they were holding a flag throwing competition where all the different zones of the towns competed against one another. Everyone in the stands sat with the zone clad in its colors. This display of hometown pride reminded me of football homecomings in America. Some of the other festivities they have include jousting and a parade all in Medieval costumes.
Whether Im sitting in Piazza del Popolo at night watching everyone walking around having fun or Im sitting in Arringo doing my homework I love living being out in the town. Even though there are some comforts from home that I miss, like peanut butter, I really love that I am able to feel safe here walking around at night and being involved with the festivities of Ascoli in the summer. For anyone who wants to study abroad or travel to Italy I would definitely put Ascoli Piceno on your list.
On the last night in Sicily we went to dinner as a group. The restaurant set up an outside table for all of us with really lovely place settings. We all sat down to eat and talk about the past week and what we were looking forward to in Ascoli. It was a much different experience from the first group dinner because we weren’t falling asleep in our food and now we knew everyone in the group so the conversation flowed easily through out the meal. I ordered a mixed salad as an appetizer, along with half the table. I realized that after spending a week in Sicily I really missed fresh, raw vegetables as most of the vegetables we ate were cooked. The salad consisted of iceberg and radicchio, it was pretty bland and not what I was expecting. For my main course I ordered pasta with traditional trapanese sauce which I really enjoyed; the sauce consisted of tomatoes, parsley, garlic and almonds. My roommate Emily ordered the pasta with squid ink, it came out and was black with whole prawns that looked like they had been in an oil spill. I thought she was really brave to try this dish because I would never be able to get past the color of the sauce or the prawns looking at me. The combination of the great food and good company made this meal my favorite food experience in Sicily. The biggest difference I have found between Italian and American dinners is the time it takes to eat them. Italian dinners take at least two hours to eat, because the dinner guests and conversation are just as important as the food itself. For you next meal I really suggest relaxing and taking it slow, experiencing the atmosphere, conversation and food as a whole.
Deciding to study abroad was not a difficult decision for me, I knew when I was in high school that I would study abroad in college. UNH has a unique opportunity that perfectly fit in with my schedule and pertained to my major. I am spending five weeks in Italy studying the Mediterranean diet and Italian culture. There is a lot of research that has been done with Mediterranean diet in terms of its health benefits when it comes to healthy eating patterns, lower risks of cardio vascular disease and maintaining a healthy weight. So far I have really enjoyed learning about the Mediterranean diet in classes and being surrounded by it when I go out to eat or even when I am shopping in the markets. Initially I was more drawn to the diet class, being a nutrition major I found the subject more interesting than Italian culture. However, after going to a few classes I really enjoy learning about old Greek and Roman architecture. Knowing how to identify what aspects of a building make it Greek or Roman has been really interesting, now when I walk through town I can pick out what columns are Ionic or Corinthian and why. Coming on this trip Im looking to gain a better understanding of Italian history, culture and their views towards food as opposed to Americans. I think the thing that will be the most challenging is my very limited knowledge of the Italian language. It is very hard to find people who speak English here so I have been trying to build my vocabulary but for the most part it’s a lot of gesturing.
Stepping off the plane in Palermo, Sicily we were greeted by towering mountains blanketed with thick white clouds. We made our way to the town of Trapani where we would spend the next week. On our first night we experienced traditional Sicilian foods such as Trapani-style couscous and caponata with a four course meal. We visited the hilltop town of Erice learning how to create Sicilian cookies with Maria Grammatico, a famous baker in the town for over 40 years. The cookies we created were made using almond flour. Sicily is known for its almonds, Maria takes great care in only purchasing Sicilian almonds. We spent a day taking a boat to some of the smaller islands off of Sicily where we visited an old tuna packing plant. We learned about the type of netting they used to use, simulating a coast line in order to trick the fish into capture. The next day we visited a farm where they grow olives to make olive oil. The particular farm we visited is owned by a man who is helping to run an AntiMafia organization where they encourage businesses not to pay protection money to the mafia known as the pizzo. Many of these businesses who do not pay the protection money to the mafia are threatened and vandalized. The restaurant where we ate lunch that day was a part of this movement, they have had their restaurant burned down twice. On our last day we visited a salt flat where they harvest salt from the sea, evaporating the water using a series of small lakes until all that is left is giant crystals of salt they break apart and harvest by hand in the sweltering August heat. Our last stop was Marsala where we visited the Pellegrino family winery were we tasted Marsala wine aged for 35 years. After a busy travel week in Sicily I am excited to start classes and see what the small medieval town of Ascoli Piceno has to offer!