I can see the finish line

Monday – Friday, 1 – 5 December

So I only have two weeks left at this point. Oh gosh.

This week was jammed pack with work. My boss was out for conference and he had given me several assignments before he left. And then when I got in on Monday I had two emails waiting for me with two new projects. One was a segment for the Influenza report that was needed that afternoon! The other was to create the rough draft for Animal Health Division’s inputs for Issue 14 of the Early Warning Bulletin (January to March-2015). I had worked a little on Issue 13 on my first week (largely just double checking grammar and spelling since English is not my boss’s first language), but this time I was actually making the rough draft! The very first draft on was all me! Ahhh! Talk about stressful. This bulletin is basically a forecast done by the Animal Heath, Plant Protection, and Food Security divisions on what might be of concern in the next three months in different areas (for example, Avian Influenza in China, Indonesia, and several other Asian countries). Once I had my rough draft I sent it to specialists in our departments, in either diseases or areas or the world, to see if I covered everything. I had a few additions, and then sent it to two of the higher ups in Animal Health to see if they had anything to add. And once they gave me their comments and I made the corrections I had to send it to my boss. Did I mention the final draft was due Monday? So that was a lot of work!

On top of that, one of my best friends here at FAO had her last day on Monday. Ai has been amazing, and I loved hanging out with her. We went to dinner with her coworkers that night and it broke my heart to say goodbye. She is going back to Japan, pretty much as far away from where I will be living the next 6 months as you can get! But she wants to come to the US one day to visit, and I will visit her in Japan one day.

I also had the rough draft for my final paper for my university (I am enrolled in a one hour class on my internship there even though I graduated in May, otherwise I couldn’t receive my scholarship!) and my normal weekly duties.

I worked really hard all week long, and although I became even more sleep deprived then I was before, I managed to get enough done that I could spend my last full weekend here exploring the city and not working! I cannot believe that Sunday (7) marked the start of my last week!!!!!

I am excited to see my family and friends back home but I will miss this complicated city so much.



Sunday, 30 November

Today is my parents last full day in Italy. Tonight they will spend the night at a hotel next door to the airport and get on their plane at 6am! Since it was Sunday we decided to go to the market. There is a really good one over at Porta Portese that is only on Sunday. It has a little of everything and the quality and prices vary wildly! We saw everything from stalls selling underwear for a euro each to woodcarvers and leather salesmen. It was an interesting experience because this market is enormous. We wandered all over and saw a little bit of everything.

For lunch we headed back to where we had Thanksgiving since it was right by where we currently were! We shared the specials again, which were different this time. Still absolutely amazing, no surprise.

After lunch we wandered back towards the general direction of the hotel, stopping at shops along the way. My parents needed to do some souvenir shopping. We walked around a lot, and even stopped to see the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore on the way.

Once we got back to their hotel and picked up their luggage we headed to Termini where I sent them off on the train to the airport and their hotel for the night.

It was really nice having them visit and it was cool to be able to show them around (although my Dad kept insisting on leading the way when we were walking somewhere unfamiliar even though that’s how I find everything, by wandering, haha). It was also nice to see Roma from the tourist’s perspective. Since I started working the day after I arrived, I became familiar with the city quickly. Now I often get asked for directions on the streets in Italian, haha. Considering my ability to speak Italian is still pretty poor (although I understand it pretty well) it’s always kind of funny. Normally I can help a little at least. If I can’t understand them well enough and I ask if they speak English, they often try to ‘guess’ where I am from. German is the most common, although British and Russian have been guessed more than once. Often they point to my hair and go ‘German?’ I have never once gotten American though.

Hopefully the next place I live is also as cool to visit!!!


Continuing Saturday, 29 November 2014

After seeing the beautiful city of Pompeii we decided to explore Naples (Napoli in Italian). My personal opinion of Naples? It reminded me a lot of U.S cities. There were a lot of skyscrapers and high rise apartment buildings. Very little of the old city remained. Just little pockets of it here and there. We walked around the coastline looking for all the famous landmarks to build up our appetites!


The first famous landmark we came across was Castel Nuovo. When Naples became the capital of the Kingdom of Napoli in 1279. They were doing some repair work so it was a little hard to get close to, but we got a good view of the back.


While we walked around we saw tones of fishermen. They were literally everywhere!


Then we saw Castel dell’Ovo, or in itailan Egg Castle. The legend goes that the Roman Poet Virgil put a magical egg into the foundations to support the fortifications. Had this egg been broken, the castle would have been destroyed and a series of disastrous events would have involved the city of Naples. Virgil had a reputation in medieval times as a great sorcerer and predictor of the future. Cool huh!


After that we went to get pizza. Naples is where the original Margarita pizza came from so we decided to try it! One thing we found super funny was the lights on the streets. Europeans make fun of Americans for being so materialist, BUT LOOK AT THEIR CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS!


Our train ride back was long but fairly uneventful. Tomorrow will be my parents last day!!! 😦

The City in Ash

Note: Sorry again, crazy busy week, you will be getting at least two or three posts this weekend!

Saturday, 29 November

After work on Friday I joined my parents for dinner and then we retired to their hotel room. Since our train to Napoli left so early it was easier for me to just spend the night (depending on the bus driver’s wiliness to work it can take me anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour and a half to get into the city center some days!).

Saturday morning we were up bright and early and headed over to Termini to jump on the train. It was a regional one, so it took a few hours, but then we arrived! The intention on this trip was to see Pompeii so we headed straight over there. The weather was perfect, not to overcast but not hot. Due to advice from one of my co-workers we decided to join a tour.

Best. Idea. Ever.

Even though it cost a little more tour guides can make the city come alive. One of my favorite tips from him was how you could tell the nicer areas of town based on the amount of crossing rocks (when it rained the city flooded so there were crossing stones in the roads) and if there were also chunks of light rocks in between the cobblestones. In the nicer areas of town the roads had two lanes, and so there were two crossing rocks. In the poorer areas they were only one way so there was only one crossing rock. The lighter rocks (often marble) were not there for decoration. They actual functioned as streetlamps! At night the rocks would reflect back the moonlight making the roads a little brighter!

Lets go exploring


The entrance of the city


The nice area’s road, see the lighter rock


Inside a bathhouse


City streets


Mi Padres


Ancient “Propaganda” or what we would call ‘advertising’ in the US


The crossing stones!


Family Picture


This is an old ‘Take Away’ (Roman fast food) restaurant! How cool! See the counters?


The Theater


The Forum looking towards Vesuvius

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All in all Pompeii was amazing. It was so massive; we could have spent two days in there easily. It is so beautifully preserved, it is easy to imagine how life must have been like. You can even still see the grooves in the roads. Beautiful. Definitely Pompeii is a must for any traveler who loves history!

However we wanted to see some of the rest of Naples so we headed back to the city center! More on that next!

The Italian Turkey Day

Monday – Thursday (TURKEY DAY!), 22 to the 25 November

Monday it was back to work for me/ a little recuperation time. I was exhausted. Having also sort of been gone the last week (I was working on a few assignments from my laptop, but no where near the normal work load) I had a lot to catch up on at work. Avian Influenza’s high season is coming up so there is a lot to prepare!

On Tuesday (23) my parents got into Roma! After work I met them in their hotel. I make lists of things I want to see when I visit cities, and I had modified my list for my parents earlier. So first thing we did was sit down and find places on the map for them tomorrow. We then decided to have dinner at the Spanish Steps that night. Typically I avoid this area because it is so crowded and touristy. Pickpockets can be bad here, my friend had 700 euros stolen out of his wallet! Yikes. But for once it was quiet. I have never seen the steps so empty! What a treat. We had dinner at a nice little restaurant that wasn’t too touristy, and enjoyed our evening.

So while my parents were here in Rome they did a ton of super cool things. They did guided tours, saw all the famous sites, did catacombs- Everything you should to have a great time in Rome. However, I wasn’t there, I was working. So I can’t really give you the details or share pictures. However I know that they had a great time, and they really enjoyed their guided tours (If you can afford it always do the guided tours). I just joined them after work, typically with enough time to show them something and then to get dinner. However we did have fun. My dad convinced me to try Boar on Wednesday. He used to be a butcher so he knows his meats. He said it was good boar but farm raised. I don’t really know how I felt about it. It was different, not bad but weird.

Now Thursday was of course Thanksgiving! I met my parents after work and we to headed down to Trastevere. This is not a real touristy area, it used to be where all the workers lived. Now it’s one of the more nicer neighborhoods in Rome. Since it is real Roman (aka none to little tourists) the restaurants don’t open till late. We went to this nice little wine shop and had a bottle and relaxed while we waited for the restaurants to open. We had decided on this beautiful little place, because when we first walked in thinking they were open, we found out that it was the family and employees having their dinner and we had to come back in an hour! My Dad and I really wanted to eat there now because, I mean, it was a real local restaurant. And those are the best in Italy.

And it was work the wait. Best Thanksgiving dinner EVER. We ordered the chiefs specials and shared them amongst ourselves. This was actually one of the few things I took pictures of this week.

Our appetizer with homemade bread, and local cheeses and prosciutto.


Two different pasta dishes, a gnocchi and my favorite – Carbonara.


And our meat, which was some kind of beef, wrapped around carrots and onions and slathered in a delicious tomato sauce. I don’t remember what it was called (it was in Italian come on!), but oh my gosh it was amazing. I have never had meat that tasted so wonderful.



And of course desert. We were all painfully stuffed at this point, but my Dad and I have a real weakness for Tiramisu. When we ordered it our waiter asked us if we also wanted a Birramisu… We had to try it (While Tiramisu is made with coffee, Birramisu is made with beer)! Which was almost better in my opinion. It was sweeter and didn’t have the sometimes sharp coffee taste of Tiramisu (I don’t like coffee but I love Tiramisu, I know, I know).


This is how to eat Italian. Local, amazing, and surprisingly inexpensive!

During dinner we planned out my parents last Saturday, which was to be at Naples to see the beautiful ruins of Pompeii! We headed home, full of delicious food and happy memories, ready to meet up tomorrow for one last weekend of fun!

Ciao Bella Venezia

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Today was my last day in Venice, although my parents were staying for a little longer. We got started early, and who wouldn’t with this beautiful view. My Dad sure knows how to pick a place.


Today we decided to go over the Grand Canal to the very tip of the entrance on that side, near to the Dorsoduro, to take in the sights. It is a bit of a walk though so we took our time. This morning the gondola’s were in full production and it was pretty funny watching them trying to get under the short bridges.


If you plan a trip, (be it to Disney or Europe) always try to plan it during the off-season. Things may not be open as late or as long, but the lack of crowds is always worth it (take it from a former Disney Cast member). I don’t think my parents realize how lucky they are to have seen St. Marks almost empty!


Family pictures! I got a few on my camera!


It was a bit of a walk to get across the Grand Canal so by the time we got there we were awake and eager. It didn’t help that we decided to do this during high tide so one minute we are standing on the edge gazing at the beautiful view, the next I am screeching like an alley cat as I tried to keep my feet dry.


(My Dad swears this is an outhouse… sometimes I wonder how we are related).

After that nice walk we went back to St. Mark’s Square to do some of the museums there. First we visited The Correr Museum. The museum is build in the Napoleonic wing, built in 1806-1814, when Venice was part of the Kingdom of Italy for Napoleon (who would have guessed right?). Of course it wasn’t finished until after Venice was under someone else rule, because you know that’s just how this happens. Like most older buildings in Italy, the rooms are masterpieces, with ornate paintings on the walls, carvings, and an all over atmosphere of history and strength.


I liked this room the best. My Dad might have taken a picture of me in a very maniacal pose…  DSCN8708 DSCN8706

Now the Correr Museum actually connects to the Archaeological Museum, so we journeyed into that next. It had some really interesting pieces, but I think the coolest is below.


It’s probably hard to see exactly what this is. The map on the wall is a very famous map of Venice, you can get a print of it anywhere. Underneath that glass however is the original 6 wood blocks that were used to make it. They are massive, it’s crazy to imagine someone sitting there and carving such an intricate woodblock. How beautiful!!

At this point it was time to get lunch and go back to the hotel so I could grab my bag and walk to the train station (it would have been faster to take a water taxi but I like walking around cities like this).


The smell of fish once it’s not super fresh makes me super nauseous, like about to throw-up nauseous. I am happy to report however that Venice doesn’t smell like that (I was actually really worried about that, because I did not want to be gagging the entire trip). Typically when I am near the ocean or fish restaurants I have a puerperal stomach ache from nauseousness. Venice is very clean however, and it doesn’t smell like fish at all!


Bye-bye beautiful city. I already miss you.

Also can I just say, if I could possibly fit one of these masks in my luggage without breaking it my wallet would be in epic trouble.

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Back to work and FAO!

Where the Dead Lie…

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Today I wanted to explore some of the Crypts and Catacombs of Rome. My friend Ai (name changed) joined me for this epic adventure. I am glad I had her! We saw some beautiful and terrifying things. Together we made a list of places we wanted to see and hit the road (We didn’t even do half! There was so much!)!!

The first stop on our journey was Saint Sebastian at the Catacombs (San Sebastiano ad Catacumbas). I really wanted to visit here, and the catacombs are not open in December and on Sundays. Since this was my last Sat free before December we went there first! So we started down the Via Appia!


It was a long ,walk but a beautiful day and we really enjoyed ourselves. Finally we reached Saint Sebastian. So some history; the ancient Romans cremated their dead and this site was originally a large pit used for cremation and dormitorios (family crematoriums). With the arrival of Christianity people started burying their dead instead of cremating and began digging tunnels in the soft clay here. The subterranean burial area became known as ad catacumbas, which means “near the hollows.” This is  the first recorded use of the word Catacombs for a christian burial site! How cool right? The remains of St. Sebastian, who died in c. 288, was buried here in the 4th century (around 350 AD). He was the Saint of soldiers, plague-stricken, archers, holy Christian death, and athletes. Because of his holiness many people wanted to be buried here so there are several miles of catacombs, four stories in total. In the 4th century (no one really said if it was before St. Sebastian was buried here or after) the Roman Family dormitorios were covered with dirt and the basilica was built on top. Later St. Sebastian’s remains were removed during war times, and were eventually returned to the Basilica proper (although there are at least three other places who claim to have his remains). More recently the dormitories have been uncovered (they are right under the main chamber of the Basilica) and part of the Catacombs are open for tours. It costs 8 euros for adults, and includes a tour guide who walks you through the catacombs. Our tour guide was fantastic, very informative and it was well worth the money. I only wish we could have seen more as they only take you through a small part. Unfortunately pictures are not allowed in the actual catacombs but I grabbed some cool pictures from the internet, haha.

Below is a typical hallway in the catacombs, although some could be much narrower, were a broad man would have trouble going through normally. They were also a LOT darker. Our tour guide checked repeatedly to make sure no one was becoming claustrophobic.

ST SEBcats

One of the first stops was at a junction of the catacombs where our tour guide pointed out a carving on a slab of stone near a crypt. I actually found a picture of it online (very distinctive) which is below. I have always known the fish is a symbol of Jesus, but I thought it was because of feeding the poor. Turns out that’s not quite right. She explained that greek for fish is “ichthys” and early christians made an acrostic from this word: Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, i.e. Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. So basically the fish spelled out Jesus’s full name. The symbol next to it is an anchor. She said it symbolizes hope and stability, and the symbol to the left was a name if I remember correctly.


It was near impossible to find a picture of the room where St. Sebastian was originally buried. Below is the best one. The tomb is under the alter.


Now imagine a huge cavern, with three mausoleum like buildings jutting out of walls, cutting the room in half as you walk down to the bottom. The three rooms were the dormitories, each dedicated to a ‘family.’ Only the one pictured below still had its name plaque, which showed not only did the family get buried here, but their servants and freed slaves and any of their family. It was  hard to find good pictures of the Roamn dormitorios from St. Sebastian, but I did find a picture of one of the frescos in the rooms and a picture of one of the inside of the rooms. They were still beautifully preserved due to their earlier burying. The romans often decorated with plants and animals because it symbolized life. As christianity became more common the rooms were extended/developed to include room for christian burial. You can see in the very back a section that was covered to become a chamber for a body. In the right corner you can see the corner of extremely narrow and steep stairs that led to more christian burials.


After that we headed to the prayer room, where people used to feast and then carve prayer onto slabs of marble for the Saint on his day. Our tour guide even read some of them to us! She really was fantastic.

After that we headed back up to the actual Basilica where St. Sebastian now rests. We could take photos there so these are mine now!


One neat thing about doing this with Ai is she is Japanese and doesn’t know much about Christianity- for once I actually knew more! She had so many questions, like why we bury our dead. It was really interesting talking to her about it, I tried to answer her questions as best I could!


I would definitely suggest visiting here if you are in Rome. Even if you don’t want to do the catacombs coming into the Basilica is free, and it is home to many interesting relics like a stone allegedly imprinted with the footprints of Jesus and one of the arrows which struck St Sebastian together with part of the column to which he was tied during the martyrdom. Plus the bodies of St. Peter and Paul rested here for a short time. There is so much history to be had!

After Saint Sebastian’s we walked up Via Appia towords the center of Rome. On the way we walked through Appia Antica Park which is home to The catacombs of St. Callixtus. We didn’t get to go in those however becasue we spent too long in St. Sebastion and they were closed for lunch! We walked down the park and then headed back to town.  


I mentioned to Ai how I missed American Chinese food so she suggested we go to a very good ‘real’ Chinese restaurant she knew. It was a great idea! I let her order all the food since it was ‘real’ Chinese food. She showed me the proper way to use soy sauce (in Japan they mix it with a little vinagar and chili paste! She likes it HOT) and taught me the diffrences in chopsticks. It was great haha, well except for the tofu and meat dish, that was a little… diffrent? for me haha.


With our tummies full we headed to our next destination- the Santa Maria della Concezione Crypts. This church built as part of a Capuchin Friary in 1626. If you have never heard of the Capuchin Friars you are missing out. They are the friars who wear the brown rough cloth cassocks. They were renowned as healers, and often included a patent center at their Friaries. It’s a pretty interesting order. However, back to the crypts. Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who was a member of the Capuchin order, in 1631 ordered the remains of thousands of Capuchin friars exhumed and transferred from the friary Via dei Lucchesi to the crypt at Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. Now the legends vary, but the one I saw the most variations of at Santa Maria was that there was an artist imprisoned/hiding at the church. The crypts were overflowing and he asked permission to make the rooms better organized/beautiful/so on… Well you are about to see what he ended with (these pictures are all from the internet, again no photos). There are 6 rooms in all.


Crypt of the Three Skeletons:

The focal point in this room is the center skeleton on the ceiling. It is enclosed in an oval, the symbol of life coming to birth. In its right hand it holds a scythe, symbol of death which cuts down everyone, like grass in a field, while its left hand holds the scales, symbolizing the good and evil deeds weighed by God when he judges the human soul. A placard in five languages declares;

What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be….

Santa Maria della Concezione Crypts 4

Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones:

Crypt of the Pelvises:

Crypt of the Skulls:

Santa Maria della Concezione Crypts

The Mass Chapel:

As an area used to celebrate Mass, does not contain bones. In the altar-piece, Jesus and Mary exhort St. Felix of Cantalice, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Anthony of Padua to free souls from Purgatory. The chapel contains a plaque with the acronym DOM, which stands for Deo optimo maximo (“To God, the best and greatest”), a term initially used to refer to the pagan god Jupiter, but claimed by later Christians. The plaque contains the actual heart of Maria Felice Peretti, the grand-niece of Pope Sixtus V and a supporter of the Capuchin order. The chapel also contains the tomb of the Papal Zouaves who died defending the Papal States at the battle of Porta Pia.

Crypt of the Resurrection:

Featuring a picture of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, framed by various parts of the human skeleton. The key to interpreting the crypt’s displays of funereal art lies in the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body and everlasting life .

Santa Maria della Concezione Crypts 3

Those pictures are what we saw, up close and personal. There were literally light fixtures made of bone, and flowers patterned from vertebrates and jawbones above our head.  The mummies, walls made of skulls and femers…. The air had a strange taste and odor. It was beautiful in a disturbing somber way, but I don’t think I would ever do it again!

 The reflection that he must someday be taken apart like an engine or a clock…and worked up into arches and pyramids and hideous frescoes, did not distress this monk in the least. I thought he even looked as if he were thinking, with complacent vanity, that his own skull would look well on top of the heap and his own ribs add a charm to the frescoes which possibly they lacked at present. -Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 1869

So to follow-up that interesting journey we decided walk across Rome again to head to one last landmark, with a few detours, including the Trevi fountain since Ai has not yet had the chance to see it!


Our last stop was the Basilica di San Clemente. Underneath this seeming normal 1120 church is an underground treasure the original Basilica, which dates back to 392. And below that is the remains of a first century Roman villa that served as both an early site of clandestine Christian worship that also contains a Mithraic temple and a babbling stream.  For 3 euro you can go down to these lower levels. It was very dark and quiet and had an incredible presence. So how did these buildings end up so far underground (at the Mithraic temple we were some 13 meters underground according to one person)? Well remember Rome is next to a huge river. Over the years silt deposits build up, and eventually the locals just finished the job as it became hard to get into their buildings and then built over them!

It was incredibly dark, but I got one picture.


There is so much history buried under Rome! It’s amazing! Here’s a good Nat Geographic article on underground Roman Ruins.

It was an incredible day! We topped it off with some Gelato and then headed home- Tomorrow was Assissi 😀

If you are planning a trip to Rome and would like to visit any of these sites the addresses are below along with a link to a web page with more info:

St. Sebastian at the Catacombs: Also known as Saint Sebastian outside the walls (not to be confused with the Saint Sebastion of Palintine Hill which is inside the city walls) –  Via Appia Antica 136, Rome, 00179, Italy

Appia Antica Park & Catacombs –Via Appia Antica, 110/126, 00179 Roma

Santa Maria della Concezione Crypts – Via Vittorio Veneto, 27, Rome, 00187, Italy

Basilica di San Clemente – Via Labicana, 95, 00184 Roma