Musings from my two week break in Italy with my partners in crime, Maeve and Kelsey. City by city:
We spent our first two days in Milan which gave us an amazing first impression of Italy. After a 5:45 wake up call, Kelsey, Maeve and I wandered the streets sleepily, shopping a bit as we went. The city was very “authentic” Italian and most people we encountered didn’t speak English. It was amazing to be in a place that felt so foreign to us, as we are surrounded by Americans in Denmark. It was especially amazing for me to be there because my Grandpa is from there and coincidentally used to live on the very street that our hostel was located on (Via Tunisia). The coincidence was clearly fate telling me to visit his old apartment, which I did and took some pictures for him. It was amazing to see where he grew up as a young boy before coming to the U.S. during the war. I feel so lucky to have done that.
Later, we met up with two of our friends for a delicious dinner (I got risotto!) and wandered back to our adorable hostel later that night. We woke up early on Sunday in order to spend the day in Lake Como, and after a couple train mishaps we finally made it! It was absolutely stunning—I understand why George Clooney has a home here now. We took a boat tour, ate cheese and drank wine in the plaza by the lake, and enjoyed being outside of a city and breathed in the fresh air!!
After a wonderful day in Lake Como, we were ready to leave Milan and begin our adventure in ROMA. Maeve booked us an adorable B&B that was located just outside the Vatican in a very safe neighborhood. It proved so wonderful, as we were just a short walk away from the Metro and in a very comfortable (bright orange) room! Safe to say, we absolutely loved Rome. The first night we got there we went out to dinner (per the B&B owner’s recommendation) at a place called Dino & Tony’s. I immediately liked it due to the irony of the name (so close to Dina and Tony—who knew my family was so Italian!) and it was a great introduction to Italian eating. Maeve attempted to order a salad (“insalata”), to which our waiter shook his head violently and said “No”, deciding to bring us instead an amalgamation of fried things, two pizzetas, bread, and copious amounts of wine. We were alright with this, and learned to not order just a “insalata” in Rome.
The next morning, we got right to sight seeing!! First stop: Coliseum. I absolutely loved seeing the Coliseum, which is one of the seven wonders of the world (gotta go to them all!). It felt so powerful being inside of it—I can imagine exactly what it was like back in the Gladiator days (maybe the movie helped…) and it felt so cool to be standing on such ancient floors. After spending a while taking photos, and generally ogling the beauty of the Coleseo, we went to the “Forum”—the underrated garden of ruins that lays besides it. We were blown away by the views of Rome from the Forum, the beautiful ruins scattered throughout the park, and the gorgeous flowers and walkways. That night, we decided to go to the Trevi Fountain. Rome clearly wanted to impress us. After taking tons of photos (already a theme of our trip), we decided to wander to the side of the fountain. Immediately I am approached by a man, speaking perfect English, who whispered to me hurriedly “Can you take a photo of me? I’m about to propose to my girlfriend.” I’m clearly baffled, but also ecstatic, so I whisper back “YES OF COURSE OH MY GOD” to which he wanders back to his girlfriend and gets down on one knee. Kelsey starts squealing, Maeve is bawling, I’m tearing up whilst attempting to aim a camera at the most adorable proposal. Let’s just say I was extremely emotional over this proposal, and that the Trevi Fountain will forever in my mind be the most romantic place ever.
Thinking nothing could possibly top our first, magical day in Roma we set out to see more of the city the next day. We saw the Pantheon, which ended up being one of my favorite sites, the Spanish steps, and walked all over the city. We even wandered into St. Peters square, where the Pope happened to be speaking that afternoon. So lucky! We spent the afternoon eating antipasti and drinking wine with Kelsey’s friends from school studying abroad in Rome. That night, per the recommendation of many, we went to Dar Poeta in the adorable neighborhood Travestere (allegedly the best pizza in town). It certainly did not disappoint. We ordered three pizzas to share and downed them in about five minutes. We happened to be sitting next to the sweetest old men (one was 85 and from Long Island, the other his cousin from Roma) who were so excited to hear about our travels. At the end of dinner, and some wine of course, they said “Let your parents know that two not-creepy old men who aren’t affiliated with the mafia took care of you!” and paid for our entire dinner. It was the most touching thing. Maeve cried, again. Roma treated us VERY well.
On our final day, we visited the Vatican (waking up especially early to avoid the ridiculous crowds). Seeing the beautiful Sistine Chapel had to be one of the highlights of the trip. It was so vast, and so colorful! I don’t know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t a room full of colorful beautiful paintings (which essentially is what it is). The rest of the Vatican was absolutely stunning as well—intricately painted hallways, golden trim, beautiful cabinets, massive statues. It was a clear reminder that the Catholic church was once the richest entity in Rome (and is certainly still very powerful). We loved it. We ate one final, delicious meal (caprese for an appetizer, Artichoke and Bacon Fetucchini for the main course) in Roma and set out for Sorrento!
Sorrento was such a great weekend trip. We met up with Brian, Kelsey and Maeve’s friend from home, so we had another member to our Italian adventurers! Despite the heavy rains, we had a marvelous weekend. Sorrento is in the south of Italy on the Amalfi Coast—debatably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We stayed in a little apartment and took day trips out along the coast. After spending the day wandering around the town on Friday, we woke up bright and early Saturday (to loud claps of thunder and somewhat of a torrential downpour) in order to get to Pompeii just 30 minutes away. Despite the fact that I developed a hole in my boot somehow (mind you there were puddles everywhere) I loved seeing Pompeii. I expected something a little smaller I think—maybe a few dinky ruins here, a broken pot there, etc. etc. I was blown away to see that in fact it was an entire village, preserved in nearly its exact original form from before Mt. Vesuvius erupted. It was so fun to just wander around the town of ruins, seeing their “theater”, homes, their central squares. It was fascinating. I think the most haunting image was the preserved bodies from the lava, in which you can see the expressions of the people knowing they are about to die. Oof, grim. Anyway, on to a more brighter subject. The next day we visited Positano, a small village similar to Sorrento but somehow even more beautiful. It was a classic image of the colorful houses on a mountainside, descending into a crystal blue Mediterranean ocean. It was truly an unbelievable sight. We spent our day walking around there (somehow there was a break in the rain—we got so lucky!), I ate an entire margharita pizza (when in Southern Italy…) and finally we went back home at night. Our nights in Sorrento were lovely—we finally got to cook (save some money) and spend a long time just sitting around our table reminiscing. Brian, Kelsey and Maeve all went to high school together so I did my best to contribute to conversation, though generally failed. It did make me nostalgic for Santa Cruz and my family a bit though! Regardless, I had a marvelous time hearing about their lives, discussing politics, and generally loving our weekend. Florence comes next!
We spent our last week in Italy in Florence, which I felt was such a fitting end. We ate unbelievably well thanks to our personal tour guide, Amanda, who is studying abroad there and was so kind to let us stay with her. I had some of the best food of my life here: the best sandwiches (Italy beats America at its own game), gnocchi (ate it 1.5 times a day on average… potato+pasta=heaven), and most importantly unbelievably gelato. My favorite part about Florence had to have been the Piazza del Michalangelo, where we climbed to the top and saw all of the city below us. We went when it was about to rain, so the clouds looked awesome (albeit ominous) over the beautiful brown city. I also loved the leather markets, and invested in a brown leather purse that I love! (my mom got a leather wallet in Florence post- Law School and had it up to a couple years ago so I’m banking on at least 30 years). Florence was small enough that by the end of the trip, Maeve and Kelsey and I felt like we really knew the city.
Now, I am so happy to be back in Copenhagen but will always miss Italy. I have to go back soon!!
Long time no post! After some serious nagging from the American front, I finally got the motivation to write a post about my amazing experience in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After weeks of studying the history of the lead-up to the genocide in my Human Rights core class, I felt like I had a good conception of the facts at hand, but could not conceptualize just how damaging this war was. After actually being in Sarajevo, Mostar, and Srebrenica, I can attest first hand to the widespread and massive nature of this genocide.
What struck me even in my first moments in Sarajevo, was just how apparent it was that this was a city recently in wartime. Many of the major buildings remain completely destroyed and inhospitable, there are bullet holes shot in any given cement wall, and grenade shrapnel markings on the sidewalks. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such blatant physical reminders of violence— especially in such public and central places. It is a reminder that Sarajevo was completely defenseless and under Serbian fire for years in the early 1990s. Even our tour guides, most of them our age, had personal anecdotes from wartime and talked about them openly. It was shocking to me how open Bosnians were about the war, and talking about their experience candidly. It also shocked me that someone my age, was a child throughout the war. Puts my own, peaceful and serene childhood into perspective.
Every day we woke up and went to many different sites to hear different Bosnian representatives speak. We had a talk with the EU representative (who is advising Bosnia on potential EU membership), a NATO representative, members from each of the religious groups (Serbian Orthodox, Croat Catholic, and Bosnian Muslim), and various NGO’s that are trying to help peace-keeping efforts post-conflict. Most of them said similar things: before the war, ethnicity did not matter— Croats, Bosnians and Serbs all coexisted in harmony, intermarried, were friends and classmates. Now, post-war, the divisions remain so engrained (there are segregated schools, each ethnic group largely keeps to themselves,there is a rotating presidency and people vote solely along ethnic lines etc.) that hope for true reconstruction and peace between groups is questionable. The religious leaders seemed less hopeful of totally peaceful coexistence, but hearing the younger, NGO generation speak brought me more hope that reconciliation is possible.
One of the most intense sites that we visited was Srebrenica. We first visited an NGO that worked to locate and identify bodies of the men killed during the genocide, which was tragic in that much of the time only parts of bodies could be found, and their families after years of waiting still were not satisfied and could not hold a proper Muslim burial. After seeing the noble work this NGO does, we visited the mass graves and the Srebrenica memorial itself. The graves seemed to go on forever, and the personal stories in the museum put such a somber reality to the lines of tombstones.
All in all, my experience in Bosnia was unforgettable. I cried nearly every day— I have never seen a country so torn apart by war and human hatred. It shocked me to my core. At the same time, the beauty of the country itself and the amazing attitudes of the Bosnian people made me fall in love completely. I hope to return there someday!
I spent this weekend on a study tour in Hamburg, Germany with my Holocaust and Genocide class. We were visiting three main sites: Bullenhuser Damm, Church of St. Nikolai, and the Neuengamme Concentration Camp outside the city.
I was SO excited to be in Germany for the first time (I was hoping to get a new stamp on my passport, but no such luck—darn E.U.) I have heard so much about it from friends (Sam) and was excited to add another country to my Euro-travels list. Hamburg certainly did not disappoint. The city itself is beautiful— serene canals, beautiful bridges, gothic-style churches— and learning about its rich history, in particular the immense damage caused to the city during WWII simply added to my appreciation.
We started our class tour at the Bullenhuser Damm, a site that was used to murder 20 Jewish children in April of 1945. Being in the cellar where the murders occurred was certainly haunting, though they have made a beautiful memorial museum out of it. There were “suitcases” for each of the children, with the inside giving a detailed background of their families and friends in order to put a story behind the name. The experiments done on them were painful and terrible, made all the worse knowing they were too young to even understand what was going on. The irony of this all, is that a kindergarden called “Kindergarden Sunshine” (in German) now resides in the very building where these brutal murders occurred. I’m not sure I would send my own child to such a haunted place, though as my professor explained, it is a method of coping to transform these old war sites into something usable and new. The rest of the day was spent wandering around the city, going to a delicious German steakhouse (thanks DIS!) and going out into the downtown area at night.
The next day, after a delicious lunch at my first Biergarten, we went to the Neuengamme Concentration Camp. The camp is in the countryside, about two hours away from Hamburg. The scenery in the German back-country is beautiful— fields that seem to stretch forever, dotted with trees and the occasional wind turbine (the Germans are good at the whole renewable energy thing…). It was thus to my complete surprise to find such a dark and terrible camp located in the middle of such a beautiful place. My professor told us that students were often surprised by how unassuming the camp looked, how the red brick buildings against the yellow fields gave it a serene look that made it hard to picture the imprisonment, forced labor, rape, and death that occurred on the site. I could not have agreed more, especially upon first glance. As my professor guided us through the camp system however, and described the purpose of each building and the terrible conditions the prisoners were forced to work in, I could feel myself start to understand the place on a deeper level.
One aspect of the camp I thought was particularly interesting was the way they have made it a true memorial. Apparently immediately after the war, it was made into a prison, probably in efforts to try to collectively blot out the tainted past it had as a concentration camp. However in 2001, it was reopened as a memorial due to petitioning from former prisoners and their children. In the areas where the bunkers that the prisoners once slept in stood, they have filled stones and bricks. This particular camp was used for brick-making during the war, because of the damp soil conditions and abundance of clay in this location, and all the remnants of bricks and stones when the camp was shut down were used for this purpose. Another sort of memorial that they constructed was an artistic adaptation of the train cars they used to bring the prisoners on. Next to it, lie a cement slab the size of the car itself. The 30 students in my class could barely fit on it comfortably—and they used to carry about 80 prisoners in a car this size, moving cross-country for days on end.
Neuengamme was certainly an experience, particularly because of the fact that it was a camp that had a particularly high death-rate (50% of prisoners died at the camp, as opposed to the average 35% in camps like Aushwitz) because of the brutal nature of digging for clay in the winter-time. As someone who is fascinated by WWII, and genocide in general, I found it a relief to finally put some sort of picture to what I had been imagining in my head for so long. Perhaps it is due to time, or the excellent creation of the memorial, but visiting the site was a much less dark experience than I thought it would be. In no way do I mean to disregard or diminish the immense suffering and utter cruelty that occurred on this site—I could certainly feel it, and was moved to tears at points. However it was a reminder to me that even places with such dark pasts, can have brighter futures, and turn into something commemorative and beautiful.
I’ve been meaning to post about my trip to western Denmark, but had such a hectic week with school that I have yet to. So, last weekend was the mandatory short study tours for each of our core classes. My “core class” is Humanitarian Law and Armed Conflict, and I didn’t really know anyone in the class so I was nervous to be going all the way to western Denmark with essentially 30 strangers and my 2 intimidating professors. If the 7:00 AM wake up call and 6 hour bus ride didn’t bond us as a group, then surely drinking wine and discussing “German women versus Danish women”with our two now not-so-intimidating professors did. Though we had a couple lectures about Human Rights, the trip was mostly for us to see areas of Denmark we hadn’t yet, as well as get to get to know each other before our big Bosnia trip next month.
We went to the Aros museum (pictures below) on Saturday, which was by far my favorite part of the trip. Within the museum there were all sorts of interactive “art installations” (basically art for people that don’t appreciate art i.e. me). There was a room filled with multi-colored fog, a panoramic rainbow tunnel, and a “rain room” that had simulated rain! I absolutely loved it (even the paintings were cool), and so did the rest of my class. We drove from Aros in Arhaus (confusing, I know) to Ringkobing— even further in the boonies than Arhaus was. Ringkobing is sort of like the Fresno of Denmark, I’d imagine. We stayed in a combination hostel and bowling alley, so you catch my drift. It was a small town, and we really just entertained ourselves by hanging out, bowling, and getting to know each other.
The next day we went on a (freezing) beach walk along the coast to see the old WWII bunkers from the German occupation. It was definitely interesting, though I was so cold that I hardly can remember anything besides that. We also went to the Jelling stones, an ancient Viking site that marks where Harold Bluetooth (like the wireless thing, yes) is buried. Other than that, lots of driving back to Copenhagen through what I imagine Antartica would look like. Snow on snow on snow on decrepit tree in the distance on snow on snow. I love the people in my Humanitarian Law class, and now going to class is a lot more fun (we all have lots of inside jokes and are on joking terms with our professors which is something I’ve never really experienced). I’m really excited to travel to Bosnia with this group of people in a couple weeks time!!
I finished the weekend off with a house dinner that A.C. organized… Italian themed! I made garlic bread, while others brought: chicken parmesean, caprese, caesar salad, and Italian wedding soup. It was delicious, and so fun!