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As of Monday, I have 8 days until I arrive in Europe.  I am kind of nervous so I sent out an email to my friends who have gone abroad, and this is the general consensus:

  • Dublin: my friend, Jenny, said I had to go because she “loved it there. It’s way more laid back then London, which you will need when you have been there for a bit.”  She also recommended going on the countryside bus ride because “it is so beautiful.” My other friend, Steph, said that Dublin was fun.  She heard Glasgow is cool and not so touristy, but she never got the chance to go.

  • Italy: Steph said, “If you’re going to go anywhere in Italy go to Rome, there is so much to see and do there.”  Sophie also suggested going to Rome, if anywhere in Italy.  She said she really enjoyed the history, and things to see there.

  • Greece: I have heard great things about the islands, but the mainland is “dirty” and “touristy.” Steph said, “Santorini and Mikonos (the Grecian islands)…is a far plane ride but it was the best trip I’ve EVER taken and I know you will love it! My friend, Brooke, says to avoid Greece.  She said that it was just too hard to get to, and you really don’t have enough time to enjoy it.  She said “save it for the honeymoon!”

  • Barcelona: This is the #1 place my friends said to visit.  Three of them said it was one of their favorite places in Europe.  Sophie said, “I’m not sure if I’m biased but my favorite city is Barcelona by far!” Steph said “It’s amazing and if you go, go to CHUPITOS.  It’s a shot bar and its unbelievable!” Read the rest of this entry »

I eat a lot of pasta.  I love Italian food and I prefer having it over anything else, whether I’m eating out or staying in.  I grew up with an Italian step-grandpa and so many family dining experiences were at the local favorite, St. Paul’s Buca di Beppo.  It’s probably not the same as eating in Italy, but it’s the closest I can get while not traveling abroad.  My personal favorite Italian dish is my mom’s spaghetti pie, a tasty spinoff from regular spaghetti.

Ingredients:

¾ lb of ground beef or Italian sausage

¼ cup of chopped onion

1-1/4 cups of spaghetti or marinara sauce

¼ tsp of Italian seasoning

1 egg, well beaten

5 oz of spaghetti noodles, cooked and drained

¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese

1 tbsp of butter

¾ cup of drained cream styled cottage cheese (optional)

½ cup (2 oz) of shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:

Brown the meat and the onion in a saucepan.  Add sauce and seasoning, stir together and let simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Cook spaghetti noodles according to package instructions.  In a mixing bowl, stir together egg, cooked (hot!) spaghetti noodles, Parmesan cheese, and butter.  Press noodle mixture into bottom and up sides of the pie pan (glass dishes work best) as if forming a pie crust.  Spread the drained cottage cheese over the bottom of the noodle crust.  Spread meat and sauce mixture over the cottage cheese.

Choose one of two cooking options:

  1. Cover with wax paper and place in microwave for about 9 minutes.
  2. Place in oven uncovered at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

After the pie has been cooked, sprinkle the top with mozzarella cheese and let stand for about 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted.  Serve pie by the slice, with a side of steamed asparagus.

I love this dish, and I can guarantee you it will taste delicious.  If you’re interested in other homemade Italian dishes, check out my friend Antonietta’s cooking blog, Cipolli, which also has helpful pictures!

I love ice cream. I eat it all the time. If I ever went on a diet, I would fail miserably because I just can’t give up my ice cream.  I’m sure there are plenty of other ice cream lovers out there too, and some of them just might be studying abroad.

Now I’ve also heard that Italian ice cream, gelato, is one of the smoothest and most wonderful ice cream to try.  I’ve had gelato here in the States, but I’ve never had the experience of eating authentic gelato in Italy.  Two of my friends who studied abroad in Italy this past summer filled me in on their top five flavors.

Allie, a 21-year-old speech, language, and hearing sciences major, said her top 5 are:

  1. Dark Chocolate (very rich tasting)
  2. Banana (don’t let its bright yellow color scare you)
  3. Tiramisu
  4. Raspberry
  5. Mint (I love American mint ice cream; I can’t wait to try the gelato version!)

Lee, a 20-year-old design major, said her top 5 are:

  1. Pistachio (green and creamy with a hint of nuttiness)
  2. Cinnamon
  3. Banana (a common favorite apparently)
  4. Stracciatella (similar to American chocolate chip, but with finer chips)
  5. Mango

Apparently, though, it is uncommon to just get one flavor at a time.  Lee said she would always come away with a cup of 3 or 4 different flavors—a good tip for any Italy-goers.

So I bet you’re asking what makes gelato so special?  For starters, gelato is churned at a much slower speed than regular ice cream.  Less air gets into the mixture this way, and it creates a much denser cream.  It’s also made with different proportions of whole milk—as in, it contains less fat!  And of course, gelato isn’t meant to be frozen like American ice cream; it is typically stored at a slightly warmer temperature.  But even with all these differences, the one thing the two will always share: you can’t resist another bowl full!

The magical and crazy world of Tim Burton’s newest film, “Alice in Wonderland,” was almost entirely computer-generated. Everything from the giant vegetation to the Red Queen’s castle exists only on top of a green screen. Yet there are a number of very real places that would have functioned well as the backdrop of an imaginary world like Wonderland. I chose a few of the most whimsical buildings that you can visit—without falling down a rabbit hole:

Photo courtesy of the "Works of Antoni Gaudi" sector of the World Heritage Collection

1. Pargue Guell. Any list of fanciful buildings would be incomplete without Antoni Gaudi, who built this site in 1914. A winding wall covered with colorful, recycled mosaic tiles surrounds his public park in Barcelona, Spain. The playful nature of the space is accentuated by the tiled dragon that greets visitors at the entrance of the park, as well as by the caretaker’s lodge, which resembles a gingerbread house.

2. St. Basil’s Cathedral. With its Candyland-inspired “onion domes” and central location in Moscow’s Red Square, this building is as much a symbol of Russia as the Eiffel Tower is of France. Legend has it that after Ivan the Terrible commissioned the Cathedral in the 16th century, he blinded its architect so that another equally beautiful structure could not be built elsewhere.

Photo courtesy of the Hundertwasser Non Profit Foundation

3. The Crooked House. Created by Szotynscy Zalesk in 2003, and inspired by a series of fairytale illustrations, this sagging “house” actually contains a number of restaurants and shops. It is located in Sopot, Poland, and has become the most photographed building in the entire country.

4. The Forest Spiral. This curving apartment complex is located in Darmstadt, Germany and was built by Austrian Friedensreich Hundertwasser in 2000. According to the author of the Armchair Travelogue blog, all 105 of the apartment units are accessible by a series of spiraling ramps, instead of stairs or elevators. Its façade is not only made up of eye-catching bands of color, but also features a garden of various trees on its “green roof.”

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Last week,  friends showed me Chatroulette–a social website that syncs the web cams of those signed on, like a video-conference, except the meeting is random.

The website displays two windows: video of you and video of stranger. You control what your partner sees or hears (video and audio can be turned off) and you can disconnect at any time. Your computer identity is obviously hidden but that’s it. The stage is yours.

Which is to say the potential is questionable (things tend to get increasingly graphic as the night wears on).

But I wondered if this social circus could offer any sound travel advice.

So I tried starting interviews with four questions:

1. Where did you travel abroad?

2. Can you recommend a place to eat/drink or a regional dish/drink?

3. What’s fun there (music, dance, drama, film, sport, party, shopping, adventure)?

4. What can you find there that you can’t find at home (or in the U.S.)?

The interviews were a gamble. Most never got off the ground. Some showed promise at first, but never went beyond how wild and stupid things got overseas. One got ugly, which I had to terminate. But a few were remarkably civil and fun.

The following are four interviews I had with strangers who had something to say.

Because of the length of the conversations, this post is split into two parts, and I’ve taken the liberty of cutting out the trivial and tangential.

Some typos were fixed for readability. Names have been added before the fact.

Here’s part one:

Read the rest of this entry »

Calling All Movie Buffs

With Avatar taking the #1 spot nation-wide, I decided that I must concede and go and see it.  I have refused for quite sometime now, but I am finally giving in.  I started researching a little bit about the movie –as far as I could tell, it didn’t have a plot—and was not only interesting in the avatars, but the beautiful backgrounds as well.  I found out that they were filmed in where else, New Zealand, home of the hobbits.  Something else I found out is, contrary to popular belief, New Zealand is not the only place movies can be filmed.  So here is a list of the highest grossing movies ever, and where each was filmed.

  1. Avatar— Wellington, New Zealand

James Cameron may be called conceited at times, but no one can say he hasn’t thought enough about this movie.  He used words of Moari, which he picked up years before filming even began in New Zealand.  These ancient words weren’t the only things New Zealand about Avatar: most of the battle scenes were filmed there.

2. Titanic (sorry study abroaders, to see these scenes you have to come home)

3. Lord of the Rings— Wellington, New Zealand

From the Shire where we first meet Frodo, to mountains of Mordor, the land of shadow.  There is no New Zealand; New Zealand is Middle Earth.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean—St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica, Bahamas http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0383574/locations

5. The Dark Knight—Hong Kong China, and numerous places around London “As Batman readies to jump off the roof of the 90 storey ifc (International Finance Centre), Hong Kong’s tallest building, he takes a deep breath—partly because he’s looking down at magnificent Victoria Harbour.”

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone –-Glen Nevis, Fort William, Highland, Scotland, UK (Quidditch scenes: background landscape) Have you ever dreamed of being a spectator at a Quidditch match? Exactly, who hasn’t? Well if you go to this location in Scotland you can be one step closer to that dream.  If you are Russian, you are in luck because according to this website they already have formed their national team!  Down side? No brooms, no flying snitch, and -15 degree temperatures.

If you are asking yourself: how do I get to Scotland to see this place?  I have another Harry Potter response for you: take the West Highland Railway Line.  AKA the Hogawarts Express.  This train is where all of those infamous shots of Harry looking out the window take place.

If you happen to be in England and a huge Potter fan, go to Gloucester Cathedral in Gloucestershire, England, and you may get a glimpse of Harry, Ron, and Hermoine at Hogwarts.

7. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

9. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

10. Star Wars Phantom of the Menace—Royal Palace, Caserta, Campania, Italy (Naboo Royal Palace) After Carrie Fisher played Princess Leia, Natalie Portman took on the role of Queen Amidala, and if you ask me, she alone made this place famous for calling it home.  Not only can Natalie Portman boast that she ruled in this magnificent building, but also Tom Cruise proved that hijacking something in this building is impossible.

Happy hunting movie buffs!