Shaffer Girls Take Italy

Check out my video of my unforgettable week, traveling with my sisters, here!


Check out my video of my unforgettable week, traveling with my sisters, here!

Thinking About Tuscania

Thinking About Tuscania

Yesterday for Travel Writing and Studio Art class we ventured to the town of Tuscania. When checking out Tuscania before our expedition, I found that it was called Toscanella until the 19th century. The town was founded by a man named Ascanius. It is said that he found 12 pups in town; hence the name … Read more

Yesterday for Travel Writing and Studio Art class we ventured to the town of Tuscania. When checking out Tuscania before our expedition, I found that it was called Toscanella until the 19th century. The town was founded by a man named Ascanius. It is said that he found 12 pups in town; hence the name Tuscania, as the Latin word for dog is “canis.” The city was built during the 7th century and was mainly important because of its “strategic position” compared to surrounding cities, which aided citizens of the town during Greek invasions.

saint peter

We got the chance to see the Church of Saint Peter (San Pietro), which is considered one of the most beautiful churches in the Lazio region. Kevin and Tyler were insistent on me squeezing in between metal bars in the basement, leading into complete darkness… just for fun. Regardless of the fact that it was near impossible for even a lanky seven year old to fit in between the bars, the thought of successfully squeezing in to find that I was then stuck inside the black hole of darkness, surrounded by either rats or dead corpses, just didn’t seem like an appealing thing to do on your average Tuesday in Italy. After continuous begging and pleading, I made a deal with Tyler that I would come back to Tuscania and go through the bars to the other side. First, he just has to fly to Paris, go to the Eiffel Tower, buy a Nutella banana crepe and bring it back for me. Oh, and it has to be warm of course. We shook on it, so it’s official. And the waiting begins.

santa maria maggiore

We also got the chance to see the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. This is actually my favorite church I have seen so far in Italy! It was so interesting on the outside and really different from all of the other churches I have come across in Europe. I read that the two columns at the entrance were actually copied from the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. I have always found that it is the unexpected, spontaneous or unique things that end up being my favorite and most memorable. I believe I took up to 10 of the same exact picture of this church in hopes that I wouldn’t forget it.

tuscania

When posting a blog the other day, a quote by Gustave Flaubert appeared to the side of my screen. The quote read, “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” While I was walking around Tuscania, I was taking in the city while snapping away with my camera, but I never took the time to sit down and reflect on how I felt about the town. Now that I sit here to write, I realize that Tuscania left me with many questions. While exploring, we seemed to be the only ones on the streets. Most of the little shops were closed, it was a dreary and rainy day and there were black crows looming all around the towering buildings. The town was mysterious and eerie. Where was everyone? Why wasn’t anyone on the streets like in Viterbo? As the town has remained ancient through the years, do the citizens here live life just as they did back in the 7th century? Looking back at and reflecting on my pictures taken, I now appreciate the beauty and mystery of the town even more. You can’t see anything like those churches in Ohio, let alone the United States. All of my questions have left me wishing that for just a day I could go back to the 7th century and see how the citizens of Tuscania lived and find some answers!

Why Hello, Spring!

Why Hello, Spring!

It is officially March and yesterday was the perfect spring day in Viterbo. It was about 55 degrees and there were no clouds in sight. I woke up Sunday morning and ran to the park, where there were kids playing soccer, moms pushing strollers and cute, old couples observing from benches nearby the fountains. It … Read more

It is officially March and yesterday was the perfect spring day in Viterbo. It was about 55 degrees and there were no clouds in sight. I woke up Sunday morning and ran to the park, where there were kids playing soccer, moms pushing strollers and cute, old couples observing from benches nearby the fountains. It was so nice to be able to run outside in the warmer weather and not have to wear a jacket! After my run I went back to the apartment to grab some homework, an apple and yogurt, and then made my way back to the park to do some reading in the sun.

winery

This past Friday we went on a field trip to Tre Botti Winery for wine tasting! While I do not care for the taste of wine, I made it my goal to find a wine that I liked while I was in Italy. What better place, right? However, I have now decided to accept that I am just not a wine fan. We were taken on an outside tour of the vineyards, mostly only seeing Jane (the vineyard donkey), since near everything was dead due to the winter weather. Then we were taken inside to have lunch and have a tasting of three wines. The winery family made us pumpkin soup, a tray of cold cuts, roasted potatoes and pecorino cheese with jam on top for lunch. I promised myself to be adventurous while I was abroad, so I tried a little bit of each. Surprisingly, the pumpkin soup was really good. However, I think the fact that it warmed me up from the freezing cold may have something to do with why I liked it so much. The cheese was another story. Although I am not sure if I will get the memory of the horrible taste out of my mind for another few weeks, I am glad that I tried it! We tasted a white wine and two red wines. I preferred the white wine the most. Italians LOVE their wine! We were told at the winery not to swallow it right away, but to leave it on your tongue to savor and appreciate the taste and quality.

orvieto

After the winery we were taken to a nearby town called Orvieto. We went to see “Underground Orvieto,” where there are old Etruscan caves. The cathedral in Orvieto was beautiful! I loved it. Inside there were many stained glass windows. Behind the altar there were four vertical rows of 11 stained glass windows each. Each window told a different story with characters, animals and settings. I wish I could show what it looked like, but we were not allowed to take pictures. After the caves and cathedral, we were allowed to explore a little before heading back to Viterbo. There were cute ceramic shops everywhere. I made sure to purchase a postcard since I am attempting to get one from each town/city that I visit!

bracciano castle

Saturday I went with Kevin, Henal and Tyler to another nearby town called Bracciano. In Bracciano there is a huge fairytale castle and the eighth largest lake in Italy. We saw that the weather was supposed to be nice so we decided to pack lunch and a blanket to have a picnic by the castle and lake! It was a great day and I fell in love with the little town. Signs of spring were everywhere. Henal and I came across a tree with pretty, pink flowers blooming, so we decided to take a few for our hair. However, springtime bees also come along with springtime flowers and I don’t think those bees were too happy with us for picking a few of the blossoms.

lake

We had quite a hike from the castle down to the lake, but when we got there we found the perfect picnic spot. Two white swans came and swam near us during our picnic! After lunch we went on a tour of the castle. Although the inside was pretty, the view from the top of the castle, looking out onto the town and lake, was my favorite. It was so pretty!

Castles, lakes, swans, picnics, flowers, friends, gelato (Oh yes, we got gelato too of course. This time I got Nutella flavored!) … it was a perfect day trip and successful weekend. I am so excited for the warm weather and am crossing my fingers that it’s all sunshine and springtime from here on out.

Let Life Happen

Let Life Happen

After hitting the snooze button twice, I reluctantly rolled out of bed to get ready for class. I dragged my purple slippered feet to the balcony window and pulled back the floor length curtain to see the usual, dreary grey Italian sky and rain pouring from the sad clouds above. I saw that it was … Read more

After hitting the snooze button twice, I reluctantly rolled out of bed to get ready for class. I dragged my purple slippered feet to the balcony window and pulled back the floor length curtain to see the usual, dreary grey Italian sky and rain pouring from the sad clouds above. I saw that it was going to be a floral rainboot and polka dot umbrella kind of day, yet again. I struggled to get ready, changing my clothes in approximately 3o seconds flat since the apartment felt about 15 degrees fahrenheit. Slipping in to my rain gear, I then walked down the apartment stairs and out into the street.

I decided to go to the café across from the apartment for a breakfast pastry, and my bleak mood altered immediately upon walking in the door. Buongiorno’s rung throughout the air and smiles were seen on every face in the café. It seemed as though I have made their day, just by entering the café doors. Upon entering any café, restaurant, office or little shop in Viterbo, you are immediately greeted with a warm smile and truly genuine greeting. Not only the café employees, but the customers as well, treat you, a complete stranger, as if you are family. I felt as though I have been coming to this café for years, as a regular customer.

After the café, I made the trek to the Santa Maria di Gradi campus in the torrential downpour and relentless winds, walking as fast as my legs could possibly carry me. I am always in a hurry in Italy, rushing to get out of the cold and rain. The quaint little shops and medieval buildings are simply blurs; I see only my feet as I keep my head down, attempting to avoid the brutal wind. My mood returned to its downhearted state. That is until I entered my classroom and was greeted once again with multiple friendly ciao’s and sincere smiles from my teacher and classmates.

The smiles and heartfelt greetings continued throughout the day, upon arrival at the supermarket, the book store and the restaurant I met friends at for dinner. In America, if you are lucky, you may get a “hi” or a “welcome to so and so..,” if it is company policy to say so. And even then, you are only greeted with a half-smile, one that is nine times out of 10 forced.

Shortly after my arrival in Italy, I was told that it is easy to separate an Italian from an American. While Americans make life happen, Italians let life happen. Italians live in a world where “to go” orders, pizza deliveries and driers do not exist. They are in no hurry to get from point A to point B. While their snail-like moving pace on the streets simply annoyed me when I first arrived, I began to realize that perhaps they are not the ones who have it all wrong.

While American waitresses bring the check to your table almost immediately after setting your main course down, you have to ask for the bill to be brought to your table in Italy. Americans seem as though they are on a mission 24/7, always in “go, go, go” mode, while Italians have “pausa pranzo.” From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. each day, almost all shops and businesses are closed. This time is set aside for rest, a break from business for a few hours, time to see family or enjoy lunch with friends.

While I was rushing my way to class each day, I wasn’t experiencing Viterbo. I wasn’t giving myself the opportunity to experience Italy. I never saw the friendly smiles on the streets. I never noticed the rows of optimistic flower pots placed along little shop walls. While I was only focused on the cold and rain in the morning, I wasn’t appreciating the beautiful view I had of the Viterbo sunrise from my balcony, or even realizing how blessed I am to have the opportunity to be studying in Italy.

balcony

While Italians find it a pleasure to take time to send warm greetings to everyone upon arrival, I find that a simple greeting when entering a café is enough to turn someone’s entire day around, enough to remind them to slow down and take the time to appreciate life. Taking time to acknowledge someone sincerely, and sending them a smile, can change their entire perspective. Some view Italians’ slow pace and relaxed attitudes as laziness, but I argue that it’s not laziness at all, but appreciation and love of life. While I’ve been spending the last 20 years in a rush, always on the go, trying to make life happen, I think it’s now time to simply let life happen.

Weekend fun in Viterbo

Weekend fun in Viterbo

The weather in Viterbo this weekend was beautiful and today did not disappoint either. The sun has been making many appearances lately and I am loving every second of it. They say that February is the worst month in terms of weather here, but I am hoping that we experienced the worst in January. This … Read more

The weather in Viterbo this weekend was beautiful and today did not disappoint either. The sun has been making many appearances lately and I am loving every second of it. They say that February is the worst month in terms of weather here, but I am hoping that we experienced the worst in January.

This past weekend was a lot of fun and I stayed right here in Viterbo. I thought I might get bored not traveling outside of the city, but it was relaxing, fun and proved just how much I have left to discover about this quaint, enchanting city.

Friday I went to the hot springs with a few friends. We missed the bus by about 20 minutes, so instead of waiting another hour we took a taxi ride there, which was only about seven euros for a 10 minute drive. The taxi driver dropped us off at the hot springs, which you have to pay for and we had no idea where the free ones were. Thankfully, we had Nerea with us, a fellow study abroad student from Spain, and she was able to communicate with a local and ask her where the free hot springs were. The lady was so nice and told us to jump in and she would take us! So, the six of us crowded into her little car and she drove us there. It was not at all what I expected. There was nowhere to change and it was literally a huge hole in the ground, in the middle of a field, with steaming water. It was extremely awkward stripping down to our bathing suits since the Italians stare. A lot. We were told when we arrived here not to take any offense to the staring, that Italians are just curious. However, dying my hair brown and getting dark colored contact lenses, in attempt to blend in a little more, is a tempting thought. After getting past the staring, the rotten smell and not questioning the extremely mushy substance at the bottom, the hot springs were so relaxing! We stayed for about two hours and then reluctantly jumped out and changed back into our clothes (imagine six girls holding up towels for eachother, hiding behind small plants, trying to change in front of 20 staring Italians). We were not sure where the bus would pick us up and long story short… I have no doubt that the bus driver was doubled over laughing as he saw us in his rear-view mirror running down the road after the bus, waving as frantically as we could, to get his attention to let us hop on.

Friday and Saturday night my roommates and I went out at night for the first time in Viterbo. Heading out around midnight was a bit difficult for me, since I usually go to bed around 11 p.m., but hey, do as the Italians do, right? While I am not a big party girl, I had so much fun! All of us girls got fruity drinks and danced at the “Book Bar.” A lot of students from our program were there, but we also got to meet many local Italians! I only understood about two sentences that the Italians were saying, but they weren’t at all upset that I couldn’t communicate that easily. They actually taught me some phrases and words that they use.

sarah

Sarah and I walked up to the bar and asked for “a Blossom con no alcoholico” and the bar tender replied, “Oh my heart breaks! Per que no alcoholico?!” When we just laughed, he said “OK, but next time… ALCOHOLICO!” He put bananas and strawberries in the frozen drink and it will most likely be my “go to” drink this semester.

I am so excited for this week because my dad surprised me and told me that he is coming to visit! He was asked to go to Germany for work, so he is going to stop in Italy before heading there. I can’t wait to show him around Viterbo and take him to a few of my favorite places!

Ciao for now!

Ciao from Viterbo!

Ciao from Viterbo!

Ciao from Viterbo (pronounced “vee-tear-bo” I learned)! The first few days have been a whirlwind. I’m pretty sure I have experienced every possible emotion since Monday. Anxious (on the way to the airport), sad (saying goodbye), the “what in the world have I done?” emotion (walking by myself to the terminal), happy and loved (reading … Read more

Ciao from Viterbo (pronounced “vee-tear-bo” I learned)! The first few days have been a whirlwind. I’m pretty sure I have experienced every possible emotion since Monday. Anxious (on the way to the airport), sad (saying goodbye), the “what in the world have I done?” emotion (walking by myself to the terminal), happy and loved (reading notes from friends and family on the plane), proud (for locating the correct gate in the Chicago airport… a big accomplishment for me), eager (15 hours travel time = lots of time to think about what is to come), hopeful (meeting friendly study abroad students on the group flight), exhausted (sleeping for a total of 15 minutes on all three flights combined = not the most cheerful Hannah), excited… yet overwhelmed (first Italian meal served: three different types of bruschetta, three different types of pizza [each piece bigger than my head] and some sort of yummy chocolate dessert), lonely (not proud to say I was the biggest baby on the first night), ecstatic (when a cute Italian offered to show us a café with wi-fi, and I got a hold of mom through Skype!), satisfaction and contentment (after finally moving into the apartment, taking a much needed hot shower, and climbing into bed).

flower shop

Today I had my first Italian breakfast: a croissant with jelly and pineapple juice. We then had orientation and were taken to our apartments. Everyone lives in different apartments, all over the city. We have a three bedroom apartment and I was assigned my own room (so lucky!). You can walk out onto a balcony from my room and it overlooks a cute little flower shop below! I can also see the city and older, medieval buildings with my view. It is freezing and so dark in the apartments since electricity costs so much money here. Italians only leave the heat on for a few hours a day we were told and never at night. Walking up the stairs to our apartment building is also a bit scary since all lights are to be turned off, unless extremely necessary, to save money.

We were taken on a tour of the city today and I wanted to stop every 30 seconds to take pictures, but I figured I have the next four months to explore and take pictures, so I kept my camera in my bag and just took the city in. Every corner you turn looks like a set from a movie. Cobblestone streets, colorful orange, pink and yellow buildings with clothes hanging out to dry, rows and rows of vespas and beautiful, old, medieval buildings and houses with numerous pots of beautiful flowers leading down their staircases. viterbo

For dinner we went to a pizzeria (there is one about every 30 steps you take here). It was my first time looking at an Italian menu. When we sat down, we were each brought a glass of white wine. It was so funny to be served wine, since I am only 20 years old. I ordered penne pasta. The waitress spoke Italian only, so it was a bit hard to communicate. When I didn’t finish all of my meal, she looked very confused and asked me if it was good. I said yes, good! She then asked, in Italian, if it was good, why didn’t you finish it? I rubbed my stomach and said “very full” (I REALLY need to learn some more Italian) and she said “Ahhh, si!” She then rubbed her stomach, and laughed, saying “peliculo!” meaning tiny, followed by an “expanding” hand gesture… which I think meant I need to expand my stomach for all of the Italian food.

P.S. One of the most important things I learned today: Italian cars DO NOT stop. They will hit you, so watch out!

And the Journey Starts… Now!

And the Journey Starts… Now!

Today’s the day; that “someday” that I have always dreamed about is here! The bags are packed, the boarding passes are printed, the countdown has ended. Today the journey starts. I know that the next five months will be five of the most challenging, exciting and amazing months of my life. I had a great last … Read more

bon voyage
Today’s the day; that “someday” that I have always dreamed about is here! The bags are packed, the boarding passes are printed, the countdown has ended. Today the journey starts. I know that the next five months will be five of the most challenging, exciting and amazing months of my life.

I had a great last day in the U.S. with my family. Church and a Panera breakfast (I will miss chai tea lattes & cinnamon crunch bagels a ton… but something tells me that the lattes and croissants in Italy won’t be such a bad replacement), followed with an evening of relaxing, a family dinner and watching the movie “Letters to Juliet.” I will miss family days so much while I am gone.

I could not have made it to this point without my family and friends. I am so blessed to have them in my life and am not sure how I will deal without seeing them for almost half a year. While I am very sad that I will miss my baby cousin’s first steps, family birthdays and goodnight hugs, I know that this will be the experience of a lifetime.

So, here I go. I leave for the airport in two short hours and I am giddy with excitement and nerves! I will do my best to blog as much as possible and keep everyone posted. And the journey starts… now!

Friday Five

Friday Five

[Ice skating: one of my favorite winter activities] This is my last “friday five” post from the United States until the end of May! I can’t believe in four short days I will be in Italy. As I was overwhelmed with the thought of packing for the next five months, I procrastinated until today to … Read more

ice skating

[Ice skating: one of my favorite winter activities]

This is my last “friday five” post from the United States until the end of May! I can’t believe in four short days I will be in Italy. As I was overwhelmed with the thought of packing for the next five months, I procrastinated until today to do any packing. I would like to say that it is just simply cruel to allow a girl only one 50-pound suitcase to fit her life in for a week, let alone five months! Let’s be real, that wasn’t going to happen. My shoes alone take up most of one suitcase. Needless to say, I will unfortunately be paying the extra fee to bring along another suitcase.

This week was full of fun surprises, such as the multiple cards and gifts I received in the mail from friends, wishing me good luck in Italy… or should I say “buona fortuna.” A few other highlights of my week include the “bon voyage” party my family threw for me and the cutest Victoria’s Secret luggage tags my sisters and mom bought for my trip.

Happy Friday!
card

[The sweetest card & gift from my friend Maggie]

bon voyage

[Bon Voyage party]

luggage tags

[VS luggage tags]

ava

[My baby cousin, Ava, all bundled up]

The Countdown has Begun

The Countdown has Begun

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Two Sundays ago marked the start of my three-month countdown until studying abroad in Italy! I leave on January 7. I cannot believe in three short months I will be flying half way across the world, making Italy my new home for almost half a year. The thought is so exciting, yet terrifying at the same time.

I have always dreamed of traveling. One of my best friends, Olivia, and I would always talk about how one day we would live in Paris and own our own cafe. We even planned to call it “Alyssa Deann” after our middle names. I always imagined riding a vespa around Rome, like the Olsen twins in When in Rome, and tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain, just like Hilary in the Lizzie McGuire Movie. Watching these movies growing up always made me more determined to one day turn those fairytale moments into reality. I am scared to death, but there is no going back now! I am so happy that I am pushing myself to be fearless. I think Taylor Swift would be proud (yes, I am probably T. Swift’s biggest fan)!

While the thought may be scary, if you are at all interested in studying abroad, I suggest that you talk to Dawn Adams at the Center for Global Education in van den Eynden Hall. Even if you are on the fence about traveling abroad, promise that you’ll find out more! You will never regret taking the time to look into such a wonderful opportunity.

As my countdown continues, I created a bucket list of the things that I want to make absolute sure I do while I am in Europe. I am so excited to see what I get to cross off the list!

Favorite Part of Italy

Favorite Part of Italy

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I believe every person has his or her favorite part to each vacation. I just got back from Italy, and in my opinion, my favorite moment was singing in The Pantheon. It happened at the end of our choir tour in Rome, where we had spent almost three hours walking around, taking pictures and learning all about the city. Finally we came to The Pantheon and since Dr. Shearer had mentioned to the choir that we might perform an impromptu concert, we all went straight to him at the end of the tour to ask. He said to get into a big circle and choose a song to sing. We all agreed to sing “E’en So Lord Jesus Quickly Come.” As we began to sing, people started to stop and gather around us. You could feel all the eyes in the room watching us. I noticed a few people taking pictures and videos of us, which was a great feeling because people were actually enjoying watching us perform.

As we left, there was still that energy and intensity in myself that felt so amazing. A few people even stopped me before we left and told me that we sounded amazing and they really enjoyed hearing us. The experience was truly my favorite. Even though we did perform in three other churches while in Italy, this was my favorite performance and really inspired music in me to come out for the rest of the week.

I am adding a video that I had found of this performance and trust me, it sounds amazing, so please take a listen.