Sunday, December 18, 2011

Peace and Serenity in the Holy City of Assisi

Assisi was high on my list of places to visit from the day I arrived in Italy. Everyone I encountered informed me that Assisi was a beautiful city, but I was also curious to encounter the nature that inspired famous St. Francis. In fact, he is such a popular saint in Italy that it seems nearly half the country are named Francesco or Francesca in honor of him. Almost every Italian city seems to have a church of San Francesco which demonstrates his importance in Catholic history and doctrine. Another important part of this trip was just visiting Umbria. I recommend discovering this region of Italy for anyone traveling to the bel paese. Tuscany always gets the attention of foreign tourists for its history and excellent marketing. If I may make a comparison, Tuscany, in my opinion, is like Italian men. They have a reputation for being handsome, romantic gentlemen, and I know many women who would love to have one sweep them off their feet. The truth is that Italian men are not really better than any other, just different, but somehow they have established a reputation that serves them well, just like Tuscany. Umbria is just as enchanting as its northern neighbor. Perugia and Assisi are magnificent cities in their own right, and I have Gubbio still remaining on my list to visit in Umbria. Each of these cities are charming hilltop towns that one might picture when imagining traditional Italy, so don't let this region go undiscovered on your next trip to Italy.

Upon arriving at the station in Assisi, I decided to skip the buses and taxis that shuttle the arrivals to the city center. Instead, I set out on a four kilometer uphill hike on a single lane road through farmland. That brought me to the gate of the city, from which  it was another couple kilometers to the fortress crowning the hillside. My decision to embark on this route was influenced by the history of the famous Catholic saint. He had discovered God through nature, and I reasoned that I must digest the world that inspired his work. My lengthy odyssey up this unkempt single lane road facilitated serene contemplation in the true spirit of St. Francis. I reflected on the life of this man devoted to poverty in the essence of nature as I wandered the same tranquil countryside that inspired his life's work. There were no cars disrupting the scenic landscape. Only a single farmer toiled away on his farm. Birds were singing in a chorus of seemingly thousands, and my only other encounter was with a one-eyed black cat. I reached an almost never-ending walkway of bricks laid along the curvy ascent to the city above. Each brick engraved with the names of those responsible for this path coming to fruition. At this point, I was intensely aware of every aspect of my surroundings, so much so that I discovered a single upside down brick along this path of thousands.

I entered every church that I found, of which none allowed pictures in this truly spiritual city. The tourist shops are filled with rosaries, the Tao of St. Francis, crosses, religious tapestries and numerous relics instead of leather hand bags and t-shirts. The tourist economy of Assisi is based on religion providing an interesting contrast to the typical tourist consumer economy. Somehow, the city maintains a feeling of the 'natural' that is immortalized in the works of St. Francis. In his spirit of interaction with nature, I even befriended a feline. Never in my travels have I encountered so many vocal cats intent on engaging me in conversation. Determined to engage me, one pursued me beyond conversation until I knelt down to greet him. Seizing the opportunity, he leaped into my lap. As we scanned the panorama from the Rocca Maggiore medieval fortress, an Italian family approached to inquire whether or not the cat belonged to me. Truthfully, I was his until I finally put him down to part ways. Even then he followed me partway in my descent, and this moment reminded me of the exact reason that I came to Assisi in the first place.

The religious sentiment in this city struck deep within me. My religious beliefs are quite complex at heart but this trip brought me back to my Catholic childhood. I often entered churches in Italy but usually only for the purpose of exploration and photography. This was not the case on the day in Assisi. I found myself in the pews and prayer rooms of churches. The Cathedral of St. Francis evoked an even more profound emotion than possibly any other of my life. Franciscan monks are eternally in sight in the monastery and church belonging to the famous saint. Beneath the church, I entered into an inspiring room full of the relics of St. Francis. His torn and tattered outfits were on display with his worn out slippers, and even the white robe that he wore in his last year was preserved. There was a robe sewn together in patches to mend the rips and tears. The vow of poverty was powerfully present in each relic within this inspiring room.

The final room was the most inspiring of all. I entered the tomb of St. Francis without knowing anything about it previously. I mentioned that I've been in churches throughout Italy but never have I felt a room filled with powerful faith like this one. Pews were populated with people silently praying over the stone casket of the man who dedicated every ounce his life to the world that provided for him. Women knelt on the cold, hard concrete floor inches from his body engaged in deep prayer. Monks watched over the room to protect its atmosphere of integrity and spirituality. Faith permeated the air. Not even the Vatican had this sense of powerful emotion for me. Writing this now, I can still recall the emotions overcoming every inch of my body and soul in that room.

I knew in advance that I had to make this trip. I spent over 9 hours on the train in one day, with five transfers, just to spend 6 hours in Assisi. I'm writing this on the last leg of my journey from Firenze to Bologna because I felt it was best to write while the powerful emotions remained. I insist everyone planning a visit to Italy finds time for Assisi. It doesn't require devout religious belief to discover the perspective on faith that I found atop the countryside in Umbria. I will forever remember this trip because of its architectural, natural and spirtual beauty.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Se Fué a Granada por Silencio y Tiempo, Not Entirely

Sevilla made a powerful impression on me in my first trip to Spain. The three hour train ride south provided some welcome down time following a nearly sleepless night and days full of sightseeing. My time was shared between napping and intently scanning the alien countryside passing by my window to this undiscovered world. The warm Mediterranean landscape felt like a mixture between Italy and the Dominican to me until we encountered the contrasting, snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains. This was our cue that arrival in Granada was imminent, and I had no idea what to expect. For years I had wanted to visit Sevilla, above all other Spanish cities, after hearing of its beauty. Spanish friends described Andalusia radiantly as a region of beauty and welcoming people, but I wasn't really sure what to expect. Even Sevilla shocked me with its otherworldly beauty despite having previous expectations. Granada had a clean slate devoid of any expectation and proved to be a vastly different wonder to its Andalusian neighbor.

Granada is almost like a clash of distinct cities forced to mesh, but refusing to assimilate into one. Shopping and commerce crams into an area of multi-story metropolitan buildings. History resists time in a section filled with basilicas, the thousand year old Arab market and the cathedral. Ascend uphill to a whitewashed central sphere of buildings hundreds of years old and almost exclusively white. A white that is worn by centuries of overlooking the diverse city, and surrounding landscape below. Alhambra with its Arab gardens rests on an adjacent hilltop presiding over the same contrasting city but in an area full of color, in stark contrast to the white across the way, and the white of the snow capped Sierra Nevadas in the distance. The time and colors spatter onto the Andalusian canvas to create a captivating masterpiece.

A vibrant city of youth aid in regularly painting the town full of color. The 88,000 student university is one of the most important in Spain. Picture a city of just under 240,000 inhabitants housing a college community of that size. In Granada, you will discover a city of exciting life mixed with old, young and new, Arabic and Spanish.

I'm sure everyone got their fill of food descriptions from my time in Sevilla so I will spare some this time. In theme with the city itself, I consumed nearly every type of food known to man. Middle Eastern and African foods found their way to my stomach along with the inevitable fill of delicious tapas. Drinks were cheap as they were in Sevilla, so going out was convenient. Granada's nightlife separated it from any other place that I have ever been. Bologna is no slouch being home to over 100,000 students that crowd bar filled streets but I may never find another place that compares to this one.

Botellón is a phenomenon that serves to initiate the debate as to why Spain is one of the most fun places on earth. Any country that has a name for the gathering of young people in a large outdoor area for the purpose of drinking is a country you go to for fun. Starting around eleven to midnight, thousands take to the designated parcel of land to begin their night socializing amid liquor, wine and beer. American college students can imagine a pregame among the masses where meeting people is easy. Meeting masses of beautiful Spanish girls with their wavy, long dark hair was a simple task. All of this is a testament to how open and friendly the Andalusians can be. We partook in two nights of this outdoor activity and I discovered two new experiences. Both nights we were invited to join groups of girls for phase two of the night consisting of bars and clubs. The first new discovery was that the all night partying associated with Spain is not an exaggeration. As I stood outside the club in the packed street on the first night, I grabbed the arm of the lovely young Valencian girl who had guided me around for the night and told her I wasn't ready to go. The shocking discovery was when I glanced down at my watch to find that it was six in the morning. The street was brimming with activity and the bar was full. I can think of very few times in my life where I had no intention of crawling into bed at this hour, but neither of us were ready to call it quits. The Spanish party scene is rightly famous, and you can expect to find people in the streets at that hour nearly every night. The only experience that may be more shocking than that was the reaction of Spanish girls to social situations. My friend and I approached a group of fifteen beautiful girls the other night in Bottelon. Every man reading this knows what an invitation that is to be devoured, but it definitely wasn't in Spain. The people are extremely outgoing and friendly. The girls took us in and took turns trying to bridge the language gaps between Italian, Spanish and English. Maybe being foreigners gave us the advantage of being a novelty but I will never forget, and probably never repeat that experience in my lifetime.

Four of the best days of my life were spent in Granada. The nightlife, beautiful and open-minded Spanish girls, food and the cultural melting pot all colored this city with a special beauty. The gardens of Alhambra were enchanting. The sunset from above Granada was a sight on our to-do checklist. Three men of three different nationalities basking in a sunset over this unique treasure is true beauty. Each of us revealing our romantic sides of bringing a special girl to this special place. This city came together seamlessly for me. The ambiance of the calm scenery combined with the vibrant music at sunset to perfectly piece together the entire trip of history and chaos. The open culture of this gem will forever feel like a home I belonged to, and can't wait to return to.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Night and A Day in Sevilla

Buñuelos, churros, solomillo al whisky, ensaladilla, pan frito con jamón y salmorejo, croquetas, patatas bravas, cervezas, chupitos: this is the Sevilla I came to know. Tasting any single one of these dishes will make you a happier person, tasting all of them is ultimate satisfaction. My 24 hours in Sevilla were defined by savory food and the continuous flow of inexpensive drinks. It took no more than a day and night in the Andalusian capital to find myself in awe, in love and a changed man. Seven hundred years of Arabic influence mesh seamlessly with the Spanish city creating an inspirational combination of  architectural grace and vivid colors. The friendly people were even a capable match for this elegant city. My friend Carlos guided us through Spain, and his friends Guadalupe and Manuel were responsible for one of the truly great nights of food and drink in my life in the amazing city of Sevilla.

I had been looking forward to this trip for weeks Spanish music filled the air in my Italian apartment in the build up to the journey. I continually insisted that this trip would be one of a kind to my travel mate, and good friend, Alessandro. A smile came over my face the instant I departed the plane, and I expressed my feeling that this would be the best five days of my life to Alessandro like a jubilant child. Our long lost friend Carlitos greeted us at the airport and guided us by bus to our hostel in the very center of Sevilla. After checking in we wandered for a very short time before finding Guadalupe in a plaza in the center of the city. The bar we went to was a doorway with room for about six people inside where one Euro cervezas were served in order to be taken out into the plaza to drink. The thought of beer for one Euro was exciting enough but when Manuel arrived to show us the town, the night turned into a true dream of tapas and fun.

The list at the beginning of this post starting with solomillo and ending with bravas consists of some of the best foods that have ever graced my taste buds. Perfectly cooked Jamón and potatoes with sauces that I will soon have recipes for provided a culinary lesson. Alessandro and I adopted a new vocabulary word, "barquitos," which is the same as la scarpetta in Italian. Barquito is literally a little ship but it is used for the action of wiping your plate clean of every last drop of sauce with pieces of bread. The six delectable dishes ordered by Manuel were devoured and finished off by our five little boats. Ten Euros per person filled our stomachs, our glasses and the hearts of Alessandro and myself. One trip to Spain and you'll quickly realize why its party atmosphere is world renowned.

A wonderful night was already behind us but even more lie ahead. The medieval section of Sevilla known as Alfalfa is now home to numerous bars and clubs of all types. We had our first taste of local chupitos (shots) in run down bars of cheap liquor. Boys were boys roaming around the streets of Sevilla playing and clowning around. We represented the nationality of our choice between Italian or American as we mingled with groups of girls. The area is filled with European Erasmus students allowing us to interact with girls from Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and more. We called the night early relative to Spanish standards and headed back to the hostel. Unfortunately, our French hostel mates must have taken in the student section of Alfalfa as well. The difference was in that we only consumed alcohol rather than narcotics. A fight almost broke out at nearly five in the morning but our eventful evening finally came to an end as we waited without sleep to welcome our first full day of sightseeing.

The Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede and the Reales Alcázares de Sevilla were two of the first stops. Along with the Giralda, these sites were awe inspiring. The Gothic cathedral is the fourth largest church in the world near the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe in sight of the Moorish Giralda began our enchanting tour of Sevilla. We viewed the Torre del Oro as we crossed the city and the river to find more vividly colorful buildings. As we were approaching the Plaza de España, Alessandro and I found ourselves in a bit of shock. We couldn't turn our heads for a second without being amazed with the beauty. There was even a point where I threw my hands in the air as if I couldn't take anymore of the shock. The Moors left there architectural mark of occupation contrasting against the Catholic history of Spain but the stark contrasts are nicely pieced together like an elegant piece of art. The colors were marvelous throughout the city but maybe nowhere as much as the Plaza de España. This square is one of the most majestic creations that I've ever seen. The reds, oranges, blues create a majestic color palate in the impressive square. Horses still patrol the inside as fountains and fountains sprayed in the foreground of my colorful photos. The creation of this plaza was a true work of art among the likes of Picasso.

Anticipation filled my mind as we fled south to Granada in the afternoon. Sevilla was a city of riches leading me to believe that Granada could only bring more. I was prepared for nothing less than one of the best trips of my life. I could have even returned to Italy that day as a happy man for the one day spent in Andalusia, but there was still more to come. Do not let this southern belle be overlooked on any trip to Spain.

Coca-Cola=2euro, agua=1euro, cerveza=1euro

Thursday, December 8, 2011

International Music: Day 7

Sorry for the delay everyone. I was on one of the most amazing trips of my life to Sevilla and Granada in Andalucia, Spain. It's almost depressing to be back in Italy after 5 days of eating like a king, spending time with amazing friends, and meeting some of the most fun and beautiful girls the world has to offer. I'll start working on my posts for the trip in the coming days. I don't foresee it being easy because I could write about 10 posts on this trip alone. In the meantime enjoy some great Spanish music...

Muchachito (Spain) - Caraguapa

Thursday, December 1, 2011

International Music: Day 6

I said I would take it easy on everyone this time. Today's song is from the homeland so if you don't know it, I hope you enjoy it.

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros (USA) - Home

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

International Music: Day 5

Today's song gets the nod solely because I attended the birthday party of a German friend last night  Imagine having the privilege of witnessing a group of drunk Germans singing and dancing to this, absolutely fantastic. Don't worry I'll go easy on everyone tomorrow after this one...

Deichkind (Germany) - Remmidemmi

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

International Music: Day 4

To the UK today for some English Music...

Metronomy (England) - She Wants

Monday, November 28, 2011

International Music: Day 3

It's already getting more difficult for me to choose what'll be up next, and it'll only get more difficult as I'm receiving a collection of German music today. We make our way to France for a little French House/Dance music so good luck...

Justice (France) - D.A.N.C.E

Sunday, November 27, 2011

International Music: Day 2

Today we travel back to the western hemisphere for a taste of Cuba. It's interesting that I encountered this song in Europe. Enjoy the beautiful rhythm of Havana....

Buena Vista Social Club (Cuba) - Chan Chan

Saturday, November 26, 2011

International Music: Day 1

For an undetermined period of time I'll be bringing my readers some international music that you may not be familiar with. Today is the only day that I'll post two. Video two may be inappropriate for some, but it was sent to me in honor of my upcoming trip to Spain. Be sure to play it at a high volume. Watch at your own risk and enjoy the next few days of new music...

Vanessa da Mata (Brasil) and Ben Harper (USA) - Boa Sorte

Sak Noel (Catalunya/Spain - Depending on your point of view) - Loca People (La Gente Esta Muy Loca)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving In Italy: Second Time Around

Black Friday sales were not in the cards for me the day after Thanksgiving. Instead, I rolled out of bed to an exam in monitoring and evaluation. Actually, I was a bit fortunate that I even had to wake up after returning home to a full house. As Thanksgiving approached, I debated my plans for weeks. Each effort of planning turned out to be useless because I woke up and set out for Siena on a whim. I figured the train ride would provide ample time for study but I hadn't prepared for the lack of sleep the night before my exam. I returned just before midnight to discover a party in my apartment lasting well into the morning. The end of the party wasn't the beginning of sleep due to the return of the drunks at approximately four in the morning. Somehow, I managed to not be all that annoyed under the circumstances, possibly due to the study preparations of the train. Having filled in the beginning and end of my day, I will work my way into the meaty middle.

The initial schedule of events included the traditional Thanksgiving turkey bit. A few possibilities presented themselves for setting up a real turkey dinner but it isn't an easy task in Italy, and especially difficult when your apartment doesn't have an oven. I attempted to work my way into the plans of some American girls seated next to me during my standard Tuesday Champions League session at a bar; the match was between Napoli and Manchester City for those interested. The situation was just a joke and I may have actually been included in the plans if not for the most unfriendly, yet somewhat stereotypical response of an American study abroad student. I let the girl nearest know that I was American too but I happened to be with a girl who wasn't. The response I received when facetiously informing her of my nationality was, "but she isn't," in the most uncongenial of tones. Last I checked Thanksgiving was supposed to bridge the ethnic gap but that could just be one interpretation of the holiday, somewhere down below its true modern meaning as a holiday of excess gorging. With the last ditch effort denied, I reasoned that I could take a trip to Lucca instead. In the end, I couldn't decide. I could only commit to purchasing a ticket to Florence Thanksgiving morning in order to give myself the freedom to decide upon transfer.

I eventually chose to make the trip to Siena but to Florence in time to reminisce on my first Thanksgiving in Italy, a trip that played an important role in bringing me back to Italy. Tradition sat on the sidelines for a year. Not only was turkey out of the picture but something inspired me to spare animals in general in light of the annual turkey massacre. This Thanksgiving was a vegetarian one in which I actually focused on giving, rather than receiving. Train rides provided the perfect outlet to reflect on the many things I am truly thankful for. Wandering foreign cities on my own helped bring some needed clarity to my life, as I often find traveling alone does. My Thanksgiving was a day of re-centering myself and studying for another exam which I surely aced.

Upon my arrival in Siena, I commenced my own tradition of wandering without a map. Italian cities are quite simple to navigate once you become familiar with them. Traffic is very limited within the center of the city. The walls surrounding the city are still intact with the gate providing a glimpse into the time of Italian city-states. The city itself is one of the more beautiful ones that I've seen, and I definitely recommend it. Christmas lights were being hung through the narrow streets in preparation for the ever enchanting Christmas holiday in Italy.

I quickly found my way to the duomo and the Battistero di San Giovanni. The only thing that annoyed me about this trip was the commodification of religion to tourists. Three Euros allowed me to walk on the marble mosaic floors of the medieval duomo and over the she-wolf of Siena. My complaints in Italian to the woman manning the baptistery were met with stone-faced indifference. She was unmoved by the thought that paying for prayer was unjust so I only sneaked a peak inside the baptistery while pleading my case. Forgiveness may be the first thing I request at the next church I enter after being quite spiteful and refusing to pay, not donate, for everything from admission to the lighting of candles. I was able to relax somewhat afterwards in front of the Palazzo Pubblico in the Piazza del Campo. Mingling with store clerks was also a significant part of my day including learning the colloquial term for kitten, "micio." Socializing in Siena came to a stop but another stop at a grocery store to feed my chocolate chip cookie addiction caused me to miss my train back north to Florence by a minute. The chocolate happened to be well worth the time wasted though.

As I stated earlier, Florence made the cut for Thanksgiving because I had spent an eventful holiday in there three years before. The walk down memory lane took me to many of the familiar places from my first time including the hospital, which I had been because of the Turkey's revenge of 2008. Nearly two weeks of my life have been spent in this city but I managed to find a number of places that I hadn't ever remembered before while wandering semi-aimlessly. Occupy Firenze was in full swing as were the stereotypical obnoxious American study abroad girls. You may wonder why I point that out again and I will use my interaction to serve as the purpose. Two girls jogging down the street loudly yelling to each other passed by in search of the duomo. Having to direct two girls who had presumably lived in Florence for three months, due to the timing of the semester, to the main attraction of the city they lived in demonstrates the level to which they assimilate into the local culture. Obnoxiousness aside, Florence was a time of true reflection for me. One amazing trip three years ago brought me to where I am today, and this was an opportunity to recognize the path I had taken in life. Every site rehashed memories of a not so distant, but distant past. Time on my own in this city was the perfect way to end my Thanksgiving and exactly what I needed to find.

Sometimes being surrounded by family, friends and food prevents a real understanding of the fortunes we have in life. My journey alone provided a great deal of perspective as a result of the break from tradition. I hope that everyone else had a Thanksgiving as wonderful as mine. I am thankful for everything that I have been given in life, and I will never forget that. And remember, Life is beautiful. It will be as perfect as you make it.

Happy Thanksgiving Family, Friends, and All....

Monday, November 21, 2011

One Month Left: The End of a Beautiful Ride

As November 20th approached, I anxiously awaited the date in the back of my mind. That date marked the one month point from my departure out of Milan into JFK in New York. In the early months of my arrival, I anticipated the end date with excitement. A new life with a further degree and the possibility of a new job were the goal to attain. The reality is a more depressing one of fighting off the unfortunate future of leaving behind the life I had created here in Italy. My life over the last few months has been too good to be reality. Amazing friends and an exciting lifestyle may have spoiled me forever. These months have been filled with life changing moments and I couldn't help but relay my disappointment of its imminent end as I spoke with my mom yesterday over the phone.

There was a time when I prided myself on being an open person but this place has enlightened me to the fact that my previous belief wasn't entirely true. Nearly every culture is closed off in its own ways. The opportunity to live within another provides an outlet for criticism of your own, and the one you live in. For me, it created an outside prospective on both that flung open my doors to the world. I've experienced the simple and the ridiculous that have helped instill this change. While I was never a person to hate homosexuality, living with more than one man with at least a partial preference for men has been an interesting experience. I've been hit on more than once by another man, and even thanked a guy for telling me I was sexy but I've loved nearly everyone I've lived. My acceptance for happiness in whatever way it is created is what holds my doors open where they previously blew shut. The old me condemned the majority of public displays of affection. Now, I find myself laughing at the ridiculous and smiling at the inspiring, beautiful ones, both of which are famously prevalent in this country. Travel has brought me to places that many people will never have the opportunity to see, and engaged me in conversations that many will never have. This experience opened friendships throughout the world that I hope to make last a lifetime.

My life will change drastically in one months time. Culture and culinary delights will be among the bits and pieces of a life I will miss. The convenience of finding everything in one place and easily will return. Stopping for groceries multiple times a week at specialty stores of meats, cheeses, wines or produce will be in the past. The shoemakers on the corner will be replaced by foot lockers and department stores. The social culture of Italy will be replaced with something much less personal. Streets that are full and lively even in the winter will be replaced with a colder reality of people on the move. A life consisting of driving from work, gym, home, or even spending evenings at a bar for happy hour scares me. Any thought of spending time on the couch watching TV alone, or with roommates, instills in me a fear of life lost and wasted. My world has opened up too much for the norm. I can picture myself just as easily roaming through South America as living in New York. There is too much left out there for me to experience, and I can't let this realization fall by the wayside in a life stuck in the mud.

For the first time in my life, I truly feel it home. I understand the contradiction in that to the previous desire to see the world but life is never simple. Embracing uncertainty is one of the greatest characteristics one can develop in life. There are no best laid plans, and you can never truly know what you want. As for me, this year has opened my eyes to unpredictability. I don't foresee myself ever knowing what I truly want, but I don't need to. If you know exactly what you want in life, you haven't lived enough. If there is a term that confines you to any box whether by fashion culture or any other means, then life is too simple and boring. In one year, I've grown from having answers to a philosophy of uncertainty in which chaos reigns among the unexplainable.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

CioccoShow Bologna: Three Times

Wednesday last week was the beginning of one of the greatest weeks that exists. Cioccoshow 2011 commenced in Piazza Maggiore. A three to five minute walk from my apartment to the chocolate center of the world is pure heaven for this choco-addict. I've been anxiously awaiting the chocolate diet fad as the next big health kick to jump on board.  I could eat it all day. I could eat it every day. I could survive on a diet of solely chocolate. I have already actively participated in this festival of chocolate three times, and with today being the final day, I will surely make it four. Today I will tell you about my three experiences of Cioccoshow while inciting violent jealousy with pictures of delectable goodies.

Chocolate show experience number one was on day one, of course. You didn't think I'd miss the grand opening did you? My male roommates and I eagerly awaited this moment of ecstasy because everybody knows "it's ciocco time," right Nico? I gladly accepted a few free samples to complement my cup of strawberries drowned in hot chocolate. Every single stand was approached at least twice. It's nearly impossible to make a decision to purchase in such a competitive environment. The prices aren't the lowest but the quality is the highest. In the end, I even previewed the salame al cioccolato which was more delicious than it sounds.

Chocolate show experience number two was a walk through chocolate heaven with three French friends. First point to make is that French is not similar to Italian if you can't understand the accent. Despite the occasional encouragement from my one friend to attempt some French, it is a bit intimidating to imitate. I commend her efforts anyway but I settled for quietly absorbing the French being spoken. Second point to make is that I had the will power to abstain from purchasing anything this time out. I admired the chocolate french fries, chocolate pizza and chocolate pasta that requires cooking. A brief moment of displeasure even came over me after a coffee flavored chocolate sample made its way into my mouth. Sincere attempts have been made to acquire the taste for coffee but they continue to be as unsuccessful in Italy as they were back home. Even chocolate can't overcome my disdain for the disgusting drink but the rest of the night filled with food, wine and chocolate was perfect.

There's pasta, then there's pasta...

We come to serenade you dear Chocolate
Outing number three came in a group of very friendly and extremely lovely German girls. Germans always impress me because every one seems to speak perfect or nearly perfect English. It seems as if every German I've met so far speaks between three to five languages fluently making me quite jealous. There's also a physical difference because out of 10-15 girls, there may have been just one shorter than me. Personal entertainment always comes with being in this group because the girls get a great deal of attention. Italian men love blondes, sometimes excessively, so I laugh as stares are directed in their direction constantly. German was probably a bit easier for me to pick up on some compared to the French, and I spent my evening listening attentively in an attempt to acquire some familiarity with yet another language. Live music played in the piazza beside are group on this evening as we warmed out hands with cups of delicious hot chocolate. Another tour resulted in the collection of more free samples in the alluring atmosphere of the foggy night of music and chocolate in Piazza Maggiore.

Chocolate that way!!!

Who needs Louis Vuitton - have some Cocoa Chanel
As I write this now, I am contemplating tomorrow's journey to the Cioccoshow. One last day of awesomeness is needed to sustain my chocolate dream as long as possible.