Yesterday Babilonia, the school that I am studying at, decided to take us on a trip to the nearby city of Catania. Catania is one of the larger cities in the area, but thus far the only part of the city that I saw was the airport, so I was really excited to explore more. One thing I had known about the city previously to going yesterday is that it had to be completely rebuilt after Mt. Etna erupted in 1662 because majority of the city had been destroyed. I was curious to see how much of the ancient city remained after such devastation. Another thing that I found interesting is that when they chose to rebuild the city, many parts of the city were rebuilt using lava stone since it is a resource that  is abundantly available here. Besides lava stone, the rest of the buildings are build using other types of stone because wood is a scares material.

But here is just a small sample of impressive buildings that we saw.

Exterior of a church.

Interior of the church.

A medieval style castle.

The trench that used to serve as the moat for the castle.

One of the Catania University buildings.

Besides checking out the local architecture, we also went to the local fish market. Here locals can buy fish and other products, caught or grown locally for relatively cheap prices. Although I have been to outdoor fish markets before, I don’t think I have ever been to one this big.

Entrance to the fish market.

One of the fish stands. I got to see this poor fish get cut into pieces shortly after taking the picture...

Interesting things handing over in the meat section of the market.

One of the fruit stands!

The purple cauliflower I mentioned in a previous post.

One thing I loved about the fish market/other markets is that the prices were so cheap. Although I personally don’t like fish, I do love fruits. I went to the fruit stand to try to buy a single orange and the stand owner actually just gave me the orange for free! Here you can find oranges growing on a random tree walking down the street so they only cost pennies here. After finding out how delicious the oranges from her stand were, I actually went back and bought three oranges and three bananas for 1,50 Euro (they use commas instead of decimals when talking about money and 1,50 euro is about $1.91….crazy!)

After touring through the markets and getting lunch, we then took a tour around the surrounding smaller fishing towns. One of my favorite places that we stopped at was the beach. At one of the beaches we were able to see a cluster of rocks that are said to be the rocks the Cyclopes threw at Odysseus in the Greek mythology.

Some students playing on the rocks.

After touring the fishing villages we returned to Taormina for the night.

Sunset seen while driving back up to Taormina.

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Gardens and Ruins and Volcanoes, oh my!

It has been a very interesting past two days. The holiday season is winding down here in Sicily, so there are a lots of events happening to celebrate. But before we get to that, lets back track a little bit.

Yesterday, Caroline and I decided to go exploring through the botanical garden here in town. It used to belong to a wealthy women who lived here in Taormina who then donated it to the town for public usage. The garden is a beautiful place filled with fountains, monuments, and lots of scenic overlooks.

Statue of the women who once owned this garden.

Front view of one of the "studies" that was built in the garden to overlook the sea.

Fish pond located in the garden.

REALLY interesting duck that was swimming around the pond. Have absolutely no idea what type it is. It looks almost like a toy but I promise it was alive....

Nativity scene that was found randomly tucked away in the garden.

After going through the botanical garden, Carline and I went to look at some of the other ancient ruins located on the other side of the city. If you look back to previous blog post, you will find that I had already went to the giant Greek amphitheater that was later added upon by the Romans, but there is also a smaller one located in the city.

Local ruins on the way to the smaller amphitheater.

Ruins on the side of the roadway.

View of the amphitheater from the entrance.

Full view of the theater.

So that pretty much covers the things I did after school yesterday, so now lets move on to today.

Mt. Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in Europe. In fact, it even erupted while I was here. Yesterday morning clouds of smoke could be seen leaving the mouth of the volcano. Unfortunately the full eruption happened in the middle of the night so in the morning we just saw the remits of the main activity. Fortunately, the eruption wasn’t too major and none of the local towns were drastically effected, although some had to suffer through the sulfur smell in the air and decreased visibility due to volcanic ash.  Today, I decided that I really wanted to get a chance to see Mt. Etna while in Sicily due to its close proximity to Taormina. So we found a local touring company that has space available for today. I highly recommend using a company when going on such expeditions because trying to transverse the mountain on your own is very very dangerous.

So we left early in the morning to set out on the adventure. On the way we stopped in Catania, which is the main city right at the base of the volcano. Then on the way up, we stopped at a local shop that made all of its products from things grown on the volcano. For those who don’t know, volcanic soil is very very fertile because of the mass amounts of nutrients present in the soil as well as the material’s porosity and thermal capacity. I must say, all of the products there were delicious although some had a slightly different taste then we are normally accustomed to because of the difference in soil composition. For example, normally cauliflower is all white when grown and thats what most people know it to be. But when grown in the volcanic soil, the cauliflower takes on a purplish color.

After having a quick snack, we continued up the mountain, flighting through the rain that eventually turned into snow and then hail. In order to get into some warmth for a bit, the tour guide decided to take us caving in one of the naturally occurring caverns. It was really interesting to see all of the different types of formations that occurred due to the lava flows moving at different speeds. We could even see the seam where the rock formation came together to make the cave over a flow of lava.

A valley of volcanic rock seen while driving up the mountain.

A bat sleeping inside of the cave.

Caroline and I at the back of the cave.

After going through the cave, we continued further up the mountain to come to one of many craters found on Etna. Mt. Etna is different from some volcanoes in the sense that there isn’t just one opening where eruptions will occur. There is a series of channels which causes new craters to form occasionally.  When talking to a local who grew up in a town not to far from Mount Etna she said that the mountain looks different than it did when she was a child. Considering that she is rather young, it shows that the mountain can have noticeable changes even within 25 years.

One of the craters toward the top of Mt. Etna.

Twin craters near the base of Mt. Etna.

When getting back from Etna I got some much needed sleep while the locals celebrated one of Italy’s national holidays, Bafana Day. This is the last holiday of the winter season signifying the close of the holiday season. it is said that on this day an old woman or a witch comes on the rooftops and brings socks to the children containing either sweets, cakes, and gifts or coal, depending on wither the child has been good or bad that year. Unfortunately, the celebrations were cut a bit short because there is currently a thunder storm occurring, but I am sure there will be more adventures to partake in tomorrow.

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Theater and Chocolate!

After class today, Caroline and I decided to explore another part of the city that we haven’t gotten the chance to see yet. We went to an ancient Greek amphitheater that still remains here in Taormina. Even though it originally was built as a Greek theater for entertainment for the local citizens, it was then altered by the Romans when they inhabited this area after the Greeks. It’s hard to imagine that this place was built thousands of years before America was even discovered. Fortunately, this particular amphitheater has survived the years and wars that have occurred locally, and is still mainly intact today. There have been some renovations to the theater in order to accommodate for modern usage. During the warmer months of the year (even though winter here is only around 60-ish degrees) there are plays, operas, and concerts that are shown in the amphitheater.

View of the theater.


View from the top of the theater.


Greek inscription found in the back of the theater.


Latin inscription added to the theater after it was originally built.

Some of the ornate columns in the theater.

After going exploring through the amphitheater, we went to the third annual chocolate festival put on in Taormina. Funny thing is that my host mom is actually the organizer of the festival! Every year they have a local artist, who has actually won a few awards for his chocolate art, make a few sculptures for the exhibit. This year’s theme was the sea so many of the pieces consisted of fish and oceanic type creatures. We were also able to watch the master of the craft make a few pieces right in front of us.

One exhibit made completely out of chocolate.


A chocolate statue made to represent Venus.

The chocolate art that we got to watch be made.

As always, it was a great day here in Sicily and there will definitely be more adventures to come!

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Getting Immersed!

Getting your bearings in an unfamiliar area where you don’t speak the language is definitely an interesting experience. Last night we decided to go to a local concert that is held annually in order to celebrate the coming of a new year. Unlike in America, it’s part of the culture here to celebrate the new year rather than just go out and party then sleep through the first day of the year. The concert we went to featured local music students and professions. And although I couldn’t understand the language, I could greatly appreciate the music. It started off with young ukulele students playing both modern and classical pieces, then it continued with the local professionals playing various pieces, and finished with some popular opera pieces. One thing I was surprised about with the amount of young children in the audience that were able to sit peacefully through the concert without complaint. My program coordinator then explained that this is because here in Sicily children are introduced to classical music and concerts much earlier. In America, classical music and opera only appeals to a particular subset of the population, yet here it is ingrained into the culture.

New Years Day Concert

Caroline and I at the New Years Day Concert.

Today was my first day of class. The whole reason I am even on this trip, besides to gain world experience, it to take a class on the history of Sicily. Sadly I am taking class in English because I am no where near good enough in Italian to take it the native language, but on the side I hope to pick it up. My host family has been very helpful with that because they try talking to me in Italian so I can get some practice in the language. Of course there are times where I can’t understand but thanks to technology we can find a way. If they can’t find the word in English or I can decipher the Italian word, then we pull out my iPad which fortunately has a translation app.

After class the school took us and other students that are here studying for a couple weeks on a tour of the town. I actually really love the way the town is set up. Pretty much everything runs off one main street that extends for ages. Then from there, millions of side streets extend off. The other thing I love is that this is mainly a pedestrian town. Cars are only allowed on certain side streets and around the circumference of the city. Besides that, everything is walking. And considering this town is placed on a mountain side, everyone here is in great shape. The only street that is level is the main road. Everything else is either up or down a stair case. The thing about this set up that had me the most confused is that the staircases off the main pedestrian street all have street names. Never in America have I seen a staircase be considered a street. If that’s wasn’t the case here then you would have a lot of houses, shops, and other businesses without an address.

The "street" to get to school.

The corso at night.

View of the city at night.

When going on our city tour Caroline (my friend from school who is also on this trip with me) and I discovered a million places that we plan to explore while we are here. Our list includes everything from certain cake shops to historical landmarks. What’s great about taking Sicilian history in Sicily is that as we learn about lessons we can visit some of those locations or see how the influence of the different settlers have left their impression. And today was just day one. So every day as we learn a little bit more, the city looks just a little bit different because we are more aware of what to look for. Every minute here is an eye opening experience and I can’t wait to discover more.

Fun fact: All of the water in Taormina is drinkable because its natually filtered through the volcanic rock. Therefore, this statue is also a water fountain.

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Welcome to Taormina!

After all that traveling, I have finally arrived to my final destination, Taormina, Sicily. Today happened to be a gorgeous day, making the welcome all the better. People from the school where I am going to be taking a class met me and some other students at the airport. It was pretty fortunate that they were willing to do that so that I didn’t have to worry about finding a taxi or something. When we were driving to over to Taormina I noticed that here in Sicily they also drive on the right side of the road. I thought everywhere in Europe drove on the left side, but I guess that goes to show how much I need to be educated about the way things work around here.

Another thing that I noticed on the drive is a volcano. Yes, a volcano. For those of you who don’t know, Sicily is home to Mt. Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in all of Europe. And there it was, staring at me in all its glory right through the car window.

Mt. Etna

View of Mt. Etna from the car window.

Once we finally got into town, I began to take in the scenery of where I would be staying for the next 14 days. Although there are many more pictures to come, here is a little sample of how breath taking this place is.

View of the city in the daytime


View of the city at sunset

Besides seeing the city a little bit today, I got to meet my host mom for the duration of my stay. She seems really awesome thus far and even though we have some trouble communicating because of the language barrier, she is more than willing to work with me to make sure we understand each other which is very important. One thing I learned, always be honest with how well you understand the language when visiting another country. I know sometimes in America if we ask people to repeat something a couple times, we eventually just smile and nod to pretend like we understand when we actually don’t. I wouldn’t recommend that here because you never know how important what they are saying may actually be. So even though it might be a struggle, just keep going over it again and again to make sure you fully understand what someone is trying to say to you. But don’t worry. People know when you are foreign and you aren’t expected to understand. They will work with you.

Although I have a million more things that I could say at the moment, I really need to go to sleep. Even though its only 4:15 in the afternoon on the East Coast, its currently 10:15pm here and after traveling all night it feels like much later. But as always, there are more stories to come…

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En Route!

Let me just start by saying, ten hours is a really long time to be on a plane. As previously stated, I have never traveled outside of the country, or very far from the east coast, so this is the longest time I have ever had to sit on a plane. Fortunately I got very lucky and secured a window seat with no one next to me, which allowed me to spread out a bit during the flight. We just hit midnight here on the plane…well, at least in Eastern Standard Time. I was hoping there would be a little celebration or something on the plane, but instead there was a very lack luster “Happy New Year Everyone on behalf of your Delta flight crew,” which most people promptly ignored.

Right now I expect that I am somewhere over Europe, a little past France and should be landing in Rome in a little over an hour. Due to the fact that my Italian is limited to what Rosetta Stone was able to teach me in a little less than a month, I’m just hoping that I am able to navigate Rome’s airport well enough to make my next plane. But, I might be able to find a little help in getting there.

When in the Atlanta airport, I stopped to get some hearty food and a drink in hopes that it would help me sleep better while on the plane. Plus airplane food isn’t all that great. And when I say not all that great, I actually mean pretty terrible. While sitting at the bar at the airport Friday’s restaurant, I was fortunate enough to make a friend. I had mentioned on my phone call with my mom that I was traveling to Sicily and when I got off the phone, the man sitting next to me asked me if I was traveling to Catania like he was. Turns out, both of us are on the same flight to both Rome and then Catania after! He is a US Marine who is currently stationed out that way and is returning after going back home for the holiday. Lucky for me, he had been living in Catania for the past six months and was able to answer a lot of questions that I had about making my way through Sicily. We discussed everything from where to find a good price for a pre-paid phone and how to get the best rate on my currency exchange to local customs that I should be aware of and how they may differ from what I’m used to. So even though I couldn’t even tell you this kind stranger’s name (since neither of us ever asked), I still like to think that I made a friend, even if only for a brief period of time.

So moral of the story, always be open to meeting new people because they just might surprise you…or at least be on your flight. But regardless, whenever traveling to a new place, especially somewhere foreign, try to meet as many people as you can. It’s part of the experience.

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The Adventure Begins!

Going abroad is something that everyone should get to experience at some point in their life. Unfortunately, I have never been able to find the opportunity to do so….that is until now. When starting college at Carnegie Mellon University I knew that studying abroad was something that I desperately wanted to do. It always just sounded so exhilarating and exciting to be immersed in a culture different than my own and I have always been the adventurous type.

Before I knew it though, I was finished with three years of college and I still hadn’t left the country. There are various reasons that I never found the time to go abroad. Some of these reasons were that I was always heavily involved in extra-curricular activities, my degree program was more sequential than I anticipated, and of course, finances. So then I found myself starting my senior year with almost no time left to make my desire of going abroad happen.

Because I am a community advisor (CA) at CMU, which basically means I am the student in charge of one of the residential areas of campus, I have weekly meetings with my awesome housefellow Holly Hippensteel. During one of our meetings I told her that I wanted to go abroad, but didn’t think I would have the chance considering that I had only one semester left at school. And no senior wants to miss their final semester of college. But it was this conversation that got the ball rolling.

Holly helped me find a short term study abroad program in Sicily that would both fit into the winter break time span for my school as well as complete the history credit that I need to graduate regardless. And after quickly jumping through a few hurdles of getting the class credit approved as well as convincing my family that it would be feasible for me to make this trip happen, I found my self preparing to go!

I have to give a special thanks to the CIT Dean’s Office and to the Tartan’s Abroad team for giving me the financial support necessary for me to make this trip happen. Without it, I don’t know if I would be planning to hop on a flight in about four hours from now.

But, here I am. A senior in college. One who has never been abroad, let alone off the east coast, now heading to Taromina, Sicily for two weeks to take History of Sicily and experience a whole new culture.

I have to finish getting ready to take off, but for those who are interested, you can follow my first international adventure here!


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