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.

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Mercato

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!!!

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.

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

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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.

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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).

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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!

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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….

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Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones:

Crypt of the Pelvises:

Crypt of the Skulls:

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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 .

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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!

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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.

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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

When it Rains…

Thursday and Friday, 7 & 8 November 2014

A major rainstorm came in on Thursday and it was pandemonium here! In reality, it wasn’t a bad storm- we have worse in Texas all the time. The problem is Rome is old. It’s been old since before old was a thing. And because of that modern systems are hard to put in. It’s why the metro is so small here (only two main lines and one little branch off). According to my host family they have been trying to expand it for years but every time they start digging they uncover more ruins and have to wait for an archeological study! And everything here is laid down with bricks. There is no nice stretch of grass beside the sidewalk. Just more and more rock! What I am getting at is the drainage here is terrible. So the Romans go on high alert during storms. It had only rained a little Wednesday evening but on Thursday all the public schools were canceled. It started to pour like crazy shortly after I arrived for nearly an hour and then stopped. Ok cool right? Wrong. Apparently the main storm hadn’t arrived yet. Again, back home, no big deal. But when you don’t have good drainage and it rains, where does it go… the metro. Considering I use both the metro and a bus to get home I was not excited (taking the bus all the way would add an extra hour to my trip home due the winding roads and horrible traffic).

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Thankfully FAO let us all out a few hours early on Thursday and even though I had to cancel my evening plans with my friends I hurried home. Part of Line A was canceled when I got off, but thankfully I take Line B. I got home around 5 and it was already dark. At 7 the skies opened up and just poured down. It lessened a lot after an hour but continued all night. On Friday my bus into work took nearly twice as long as usual because even though the rain had stopped several streets were closed down due to flooding and the bus had to drive slowly through puddles. The metro was still standing, although there were buckets everywhere to catch dripping water! Haha, if I didn’t know any better I just survived the flood. Guess I should go to Church and give thanks this weekend!

On another note anyone want to join me for lunch, haha?

Wanderlust

Saturday, 01  November 2014

This weekend I was afflicted with the wanderlust and enlisted three of my friends to join me in a wander of Rome. It turned out to be perfect because one of them wanted to go to the first magic shop in Rome to buy a gift for her brother. So we headed in that general direction and just stopped whenever we wanted! One of the first cool stops we made was a beautiful Church, the Santa Maria in Campitelli. Really it had to be one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever had the chance to go into. Just, wow.

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Pictures can’t do it justice. We spent a while there and I donated a few euros and lite a candle.

After that we headed down the road again, heading in  general North-west direction and came across the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, commonly called the Cat Pantheon! In the runes of the old senate some 200+ stray cats now make it their home. Volunteers spay/neuter the cats, feed them, and watch out for them. Many of the cats have suffered some type of injury making it hard for them to survive on their own. The Sanctuary has an office on the square where you can donate, buy trinkets, or even adopt one of these little buggers!

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At this point we decided to stop by the actual Pantheon since it was so close and I hadn’t been! Unfortunately it was closed today because it is a Roman holiday.

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So we continued our way east to the Magic Shop. We had been stopping in small stores this entire time, looking at all different things. One of the strangest stores was a chocolate shop where this monster was on sale!

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We also decided to stop a the famous 150 Gelatos store.

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Yummmm 🙂

We reached the Magic shop a few hours later after getting dinner and stopping at a few other shops.  There are some really cool stores here, from stationery stores to woodworking stores. I love how every store here is small, you are not going to run into any Wal-Mart or Target like place! We had lunch at a really nice place that is a small (but nice) theater at night and a small restaurant by day! How cool right! We ended the day at metro next to the Spanish Steps which were so crowded we didn’t even try to get close! It is a holiday, but I can always come back 🙂

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Sunday, 02 November 2014

So, heads up, the first Sun of the month the four main museums in Rome are free (Although a normal 3 day ticket for the 4 national museums is only 5 euros)!!!! I totally took advantage of this and went to the Museo Nazionale Romano delle Terme di Diocleziano (also known as the National Roman Museum of Diocletian Bath) first! The Diocletian Bathes were built in the year 298-30 and were the largest bathes in Rome. They could fit up to 3,000 people! Since their original use they have been many things; a warehouse for oil, monastery, and even a prison! They became home to the National Museum in 1889 and house what is considered one of the most important (and extensive) collections of statues in the world. And gosh… were there a lot.

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There were sooooooo many statues. Just everywhere! It took hours just to walk around and look at everything. If you love history and sculptures this is the place to go!

My favorite part though was going into the old baths!

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This mosaic is on the walls of the bath. The skeleton is pointing to the words Gnothi seauton, or know thyself, a Delphic maxims. It is thought that this is in the bathhouse to remind the people that they need to know their bodies and health or they could hasten their own deaths. Food for thought, huh.

After I had explored the Baths as much as I could (there are only so many statures you can look at before you go crazy!) I headed to the Palazzo Massimo. This is another of Rome’s National Museums and houses the national treasury. And of course more statues!

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There was just so much!!! And I was only able to do 2 of the 4 museums! I guess I know what I will be doing December 7th now!!!!

Castel Gandolfo

Saturday October 25

Today I went outside of Rome on a wonderful day trip with three of my friends! Outside of Rome, on the high hills (technically not mountains but pretty darn close) are 12 villages around these two beautiful lakes formed from volcanic craters. The 12 villages are collectively known as Castelo Romano. We were heading for a specific place, Castel Gondolfo which is right above and extends down too, Lake Albano. Pictures can not even begin to describe how beautiful this place is. The village is largely on the ridge overlooking the lake, and we truly picked the perfect day to go.
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Our main goal was to go hiking around the lake, however we decided to go see the village and get lunch first. Castel Gandolfo is best known for being the Pope’s Summer Home. Rome can get pretty hot in the summer so before air conditioning (and most people still don’t have it here) the Pope had a summer home-built up here. You can tour it on Saturdays, but the tour is in Italian and a bit pricy so we decided to pass on that. However this town is the stereotype of Italian villages. All the buildings were old and so beautiful. A group of small boys were playing soccer in the main piazza and over the day we saw three different weddings!

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Can I just say I am so happy to have become friends with these amazing ladies!!! We are all from different areas of the world and bring some pretty awesome stuff to the table! We had a great time! It’s amazing how you can met the best people in the randomness of places!

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It really was just the most beautiful village. We spent some time off the beaten path and ended up on this old abandoned road down the hill/cliff from the Pope’s home. It looks like a few years ago there was a bit of a mudslide, for there were several old abandoned buildings and even an abandoned car. As we walked more we even found some caves! I would have loved to explore them, however it looked like people had been living in them so we decided to respect their privacy.

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One thing that I adore is beautiful architecture, so I take a lot of pictures of buildings and streets. But you really don’t see cities like this in the US. The paved walkways up to the village from the train stop and then down to the lake, those have been there since the Romans. You can’t get more historic than that!

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After the village was sufficiently explored we hiked all the way down to the lake. The original plan was to hike around it but we spent too much time in the village so we only hiked on park. However we did get to see the sun set from the lakeside so I say it was worth it!

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So if you ever are in Italy, I highly suggest buying a 2,10 euro ticket for the train to Castel Gandolfo. It’s only 40 mins and incredibly worth your time!