Cinque Terre Girls Weekend–Erin, Sierra, Julia, and Shelby, June 24, 2017

Erin:

Girls weekend to Cinque Terre. What sounds more exciting than that?! Little did I know that this weekend would be one of my favorite weekends and one of the most memorable. The fab 4 (yes, we named ourselves, and yes, it is a fantastic name) started our adventurous weekend by going to Manarola, the second town out of the five. I would say we went there to go to the beach, but as the information lady put it when I asked her where the beach was, “no beach, just rocks.” So therefore, naturally, we went cliff jumping. We couldn’t have chosen a better time to go, too. It was evening, most people had already left so it was less crowded, and we got to watch the sunset as we jumped into the cool sea. I am a thrill-seeker so I probably wasn’t the best influence to everyone when it comes to jumping of rocks into the ocean. We met this sweet lady from San Francisco, Maria, who discouraged me from jumping of the second to highest point on the rocks. Of course I was already leaning off the edge about to jump when she said I shouldn’t jump, but the daredevil that I am, I leaped off and into the water below. It was exhilarating. Apparently I had a round of applause from the crowded lookout from above. I would 100% do it again.

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Sierra:

I have ABSOLUTELY loved being able to live in Italy for the past six weeks.  What has helped made my time in Italia worthwhile has been the amazing group of people I have met and spent my time with.  I have not traveled in another country without my parents, so I was put to the test being placed with 24 other students.  All of us together on a fun, new adventure and thankfully we all got along and became a large family.  Julia, Shelby, and Erin for sure became my “sisters” and our girls getaway to Cinque Terre was perfect excursion for our little family.  We cooked, cleaned, and laughed throughout the nights, we even messed up the washing machine, but somehow our entire kitchen being flooded with water.  Ever since then we have been inseparable, planning weekend trips back in Austin and abroad.  The key to studying abroad is meeting everyone and learning that everyone will not be happy the entire time.  As a group I feel that we have come full circle and I know that we all hold special memories with each other because we experienced so many different towns and adventures with one another.  During our time strangers became friends and friends became family, this is what makes study abroad so special and a MUST for college kids everywhere.

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Julia:

Italy has been hard for me, mainly because there is no breakfast. In Rome we were fortunate enough to have breakfast at the hotel. When we came back to Castiglion Fiorentino, I was shocked back into reality. Cinque Terre was a wonderful escape from the usual pasta and cappuccino. We cooked breakfast both mornings. We had eggs, bacon, toast, fruit, and coffee. Cinque Terre was beautiful, but the breakfast was the prettiest thing I’ve seen since I’ve been here.

Julia

Shelby:

My favorite part of Cinque Terre was definitely the hike. Hiking is one of those things some do for the hike, and some people do it for the view. I definitely just do it for the view aspect. It was such a steep hike but well worth it! Also, I believe doing something difficult with people you care about brings you so much closer together. The hike was tough but we met awesome people along the way and stopped at a lemonade stand that a woman we met from Canada told us about. We ate some sandwiches we had made that morning and honestly, it was better than any panino I’ve had on this whole trip. The hike was 10 miles and scaled all 5 towns. It was crazy because we were dripping sweat and panting but locals would walk by looking flawless as ever, as Italians do. We finally got to the beach after about 4 or 5 hours and I have never been so happy to see a beach. I appreciated it so much more than I would have taking a train and I learned so much more about Sierra, Erin, and Julia along the way.

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Monsters–Madi, July 2, 2017

I think I’ve made it very clear on this trip that I’m enamored with monsters and creatures. To me they’re endlessly fascinating. They reflect cultural ideas about religion, politics, history, folklore, and many other parts of society. Having lived in the US my entire life I got used to the regular brand of monsters popular there; the werewolves, vampires, cutesy faeries, unicorns, bigfoot, night devils, etc. It some sense it became very repetitious and boring, expected. There was not excitement, no creativity in what I saw over and over again.

Coming to Italy completely solved this problem for me. There are weird and strange monsters out the wazoo!! I’ve seen nightmarish devils and human-animal combinations prowling the ceilings and walls in nearly every town we’ve visited. Some designs are repeated, but there always fresh and unique takes. Each iteration is new, its own separate manifestation of human creativity in that exact moment. While I sometimes doubt the sanity or lucidity of the creators, it’s always been amusing to look up (or down) and see a human face plastered on absurd creatures. I’ll be processing the photos I’ve taken for many many months after I get back, giving my mind plenty of time to create my own monsters in turn.

Madi

Redrum–Jorge and Alicia, July 2, 2017

I am watching The Shining and drinking a Nobile di Montepulciano; it is my second time watching this movie, but A Clockwork Orange is probably my preferred film out of the two. Kubrick, in my opinion, is a good director and these are good actors. This is my favorite Italian wine and it took some discovering. Tony loves redrum. For the most part, I love movies that are before that of my era. They make me feel closer to the past. I did not think I would watch any movies in Italy, as it seems like a waste of time, and I don’t really like wasting time, but nothing else feels right at the moment. Sometimes I feel like I’m bad at not wasting time. The universe is always pushing and sometimes I do not want to push back. Yesterday we watched Donnie Darko and Dan joined us, but I fell asleep halfway and woke up to the movie ending and credits rolling. It is my second to last day at Santa Chiara. It is a bittersweet feeling and I am going to miss this place. The day after tomorrow I will leave for Florence and fly out to Spain. It will be the second part of my Europe experience. I will be staying in Madrid and I plan to spend many hours drawing at the Prado. I will also be visiting the Alhambra in Granada. Jade did not want to watch The Shining but now she’s here. Alicia won’t stop explaining the movie to her and Jade won’t stop asking her questions, so now I am going to stop watching The Shining. Redrum.

Friday was the first rain I’ve experienced here at Santa Chiara. This place never felt real up until that day. Santa Chiara is strange; the windows are always open and the doors spontaneously slam shut with gusts of air. I can hear the wind and the words and heavy footsteps from my room. The left wing feels much more lived in than the right, and the building is marked by the wear of 500 years. My ex used to say that the sounds you can hear in old buildings are the building settling. So i guess the foundation moves with the earth, as we do. Odd to think that this place has a 500 year old spine. Maybe it’s my penchant for Sci Fi and Slavic Mythology, but I like to think that places as old as this are sentient. It’s strange having spent two months halfway across the world, and people are just the same. The light is different, but I feel like I haven’t traveled very far. I’m different after these two months, but I’m changed by versions of people I knew in Austin. This place feels like somewhere I’ve been in a dream, or a variation of a game code. I feel like I could’ve thought it up. Being isolated from the internet and the distractions of daily life have made me sensitive to what’s going on with me and with everyone else. I like to think that this is one of my more honed skills, and yet it seems to have been dulled by my unintentional otherness. Here I am isolated from everything, but not from people. When I leave this program, I will go back to being alone. Being here has brought me back to a place I was years ago. It feels like I’m in my old life, and it makes me anxious. What comes after my old life is my new life, and maybe I am starting over. When I go back things will be different.

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Monterosso al Mare–Celeste, Jenna, Liz, and Machaela, June 24, 2017

Even though the day was grey and overcast, we clung on to every glimpse of the rocky blue ocean through the windows of the tunnel as our train plummeted up Italy’s west coast. The journey from the white mountains of Carrara to Cinque Terre’s cliffside town of Monterosso was long and a little unpleasant (three trains and NO LUNCH that day), but it wasn’t over yet!

Our travel plans for the weekend had been rushed. Jenna had found a hotel for the four of us for a decent price. But if our Monterosso experience taught us anything, it was to double check the venue’s location before you book!

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Monterosso Under a Cloudy Sky (6.24.17)

We were lucky—Green Quiet, our hotel, included a complimentary shuttle service from the beach to the hotel (I guess this should’ve tipped us off that our venue was a million miles away). As soon as we hopped into our shuttle, our driver began the long and arduous trek up the mountain, and we all realized that we were in for a ride. It felt never-ending; we kept winding higher and higher and around some really sharp, blind corners. And after every turn, Jenna would nervously reassure us that our hotel was coming up soon—she was sure of it. In actuality, it was about a 20 minute journey into the absolute middle of nowhere! But hey, I’m not complaining. The views from the car were totally magnificent: lush, green forests blanketing the mountainsides, and the stormy blue seaside drifting in and out of view! But I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should probably think twice before you book a hotel as high up as we were. By all means, do it! It’s lovely! But don’t be surprised when you wake up in a literal cloud!

-Celeste

The full day that we had after our arrival began with a sense of failure–the air was chilled and wet, clouds hung low amongst the mountains (even more ominously than around our hotel–again, Jenna’s doing), and it began sprinkling while we shopped around the eastern half of Monterosso. The sun was nowhere to be found, and it appeared that we had traveled to Cinque Terre hoping to enjoy a beach for the first time in a very long time, only to stay for the one day that the weather was inclimate. My heart sunk as I watched the waves curling over the rocks. The water was not the bright, clear blue that it might be with sunlight, but instead reflected the gray of the sky. We reluctantly paid a small fortune for a beach lounge–two chairs and one umbrella to be split between the four of us–and stumbled, cringing, over the infinite rocks and pebbles (guess who kept nervously reassuring us that the beach would be sand) toward our small patch of shore. Collecting rocks became our pastime between playing cards and easing into the crisp water, the sun still not peeking from behind the clouds as the afternoon ticked by. Finally, once we all began to settle horizontally and drift asleep from the exhaustion of our travels, the sun broke through the clouds. At 4pm. For about an hour. The fun started after this, though, as Jenna has detailed!

-Elizabeth

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The beach we chose to stay on was filled with lounging chairs and orange striped green umbrellas. Every step I took barefoot was full of pain, as the pebbles dug into the soles of my feet (I’m such a wimp). After taking a short dip in the water and napping for quite some time, I decided to climb up the small cliff nearby with Liz. Oh, how terrible the journey was. The texture and rigidness of the rock was even worse than what was experienced on the flat ground. Every step we took was accompanied by “ouches” and whining. However, the view from up above was totally worth it. We could see even farther out into the sea and watch all the people hanging out on the beach below. Once we spotted Machaela, we proceeded to yell out her name and waved our arms at her in a wild manner (how brutta figura).

The rest of the day was very enjoyable, as we took our time strolling around the town and grabbing a bite to eat. In our last trip back on the shuttle from the beach to our hotel, I felt a sense of awe and wonderment as I gazed out into the forest surrounding us and the beach down below. Whether or not some of us (Celeste and Liz) found the hotel location to be sketchy, the seclusion and isolation it provided allowed the perfect opportunity for one to take a breather, something everyone deserves once in a while.

-Jenna

Mac:

My favorite part of visiting Monterosso was Saturday! I hiked up the long Cinque Terre trails, then about four in the afternoon I met up with the rest of the crew at the dazzling blue Mediterranean beach! The trails were beautiful. I hiked up the upper trail for the first three towns, and then the lower trails to finish up at Riomaggiore! T’was quite an adventure! I met a lot of international travelers who were from places other than America, almost ran into a wild boar (oops) but most importantly saw beautiful beautiful trails! If you are looking to hike the Cinque Terre trails, the lower route is the more popular (more difficult?) option, however you get a view of the ocean and the picturesque seaside towns!

After walking from Monterosso to Riomaggiore (not for the faint of heart!), which took about six hours, I took the train back to Monterosso and met up with Celeste, Liz, and Jenna at the beach! It was so fun and the water felt amazing!! We took Rick Steves up on his restaurant suggestions and ended up at an incredible seafood place in Monterosso! We finished with a touch of fabulous gelato and a winding cab ride up to the top where our hotel was! All in all, a very fun day! I loved it!!! Woohoo!!

Mac OUT *drops mic* *breakdances* *dramatically exits stage through underground passageway* BOOM

To Anastasia and Sebastian–June, June 27, 2017