"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever." - Jacques Yves Cousteau
It’s been quite awhile since my last post and while I’m not one for excuses, I have been extraordinarily busy in this past month - I moved to a new country!
While the title of my blog doesn’t really apply anymore, I’ll be keeping it. I like it and let’s face it, Rome has a special place in my heart and I have no intention to never return to the Eternal City. With that said, it was time to move on, at least temporarily, from Italy. I finished my degree in May, I wrapped up my job over the summer, and said goodbye (or rather, “see you soon!”) in August to my boyfriend as he embarked on his own new adventure. In late August I hopped on a plane and made the move to Malta, specifically a town called St. Julian’s. I’m here to do my PADI Divemaster course and, fingers crossed, do the IDC (Instructor Development Course) as well in November. I should be leaving Malta in the beginning of December and heading to the Bahamas via a holiday stopover in the States to see friends and family. We’ll see! But anyway, this post isn’t about my travel plans it’s about, go figure, diving!
Since I arrived in Malta (exactly one month ago to the day!) I have completed 47 dives which has pushed me well past the minimum requirement to become a Divemaster. I’ve dived close to every single day that I’ve been here. I been working at a dive shop six days a week for close to 12 hours a day so needless to say, my “day off” is generally just a movie marathon! I’m loving it though. So far, this has been one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had the opportunity to be apart of. I’m learning a lot, not just about diving, but about small businesses and customer relations. This small internship will no doubt come in handy when it comes time to apply to other jobs. I can already tell the skills I’m using and learning here will be priceless to me in the future.
The diving here is brilliant - some days I’m just working in the center doing “Discover Scuba Dives” and check dives on our local house reef and other days I’m paired with an instructor to take customers out on pleasure dives or courses at sites around the island. While I won’t bore you by recounting every dive I’ve done, I’ll just name a few of my favorites so far!
About a week ago we did a night dive on the HMS Maori in Valletta during which we saw seahorses, flying gernards, crabs, eels, and so much more. In a place that is famous for it’s wrecks, it’s wildlife sure comes out at night! Another great dive took place on the P29 wreck (a German patrol boat) in Cirkewwa. This is one of my favorite wrecks but one particular dive on it was quite memorable because a storm rolled in during the dive and we could see lightening from underwater! (Don’t worry, the storm wasn’t a problem. We made it out without issue!) At another point in time I was fortunate enough to be able to go dive again in Cirkewwa with some one on one coaching from a truly fantastic diver and while we were there, we dived not only the P29 but the nearby Rozi tugboat wreck as well. For various reasons, not many people manage to do both wrecks in one dive but we did and I’ve never felt to excited underwater when we did it!
I could go on but the point is, so far Malta is amazing and the day to day activity that goes on at the dive shop is just incredible. From dealing with technical divers to brand new divers and everything in between (including a couple of paraplegic divers!) we see a bit of it all here. What’s more amazing, I’ve only been here a month! I can’t wait to see what the next few months bring.
Florence has always been on my “to do again” list since I went there with my family in the summer of 2005. I remember it being a magical city filled with interesting history, architecture, and art and that we just did not have enough time to spend there. Looking back, I also most definitely did not have the understanding of Italy and it’s history to truly appreciate it either so I am so glad I could go back again. During my most recent two years in Italy, I always told myself I would go back there but it continually got pushed farther and farther down the list and replaced by new adventures to new places. I have recently made the decision to leave Italy for the tiny island of Malta to better my diving skills and qualifications for a few months and while this decision is filled with positives, the short-timing of the decision meant that I almost didn’t get back to Florence!
Andy & I fortunately managed to put two days together and make a trip out of two things we wanted to do: I wanted to go back to Florence and he (who has lived in Italy for seven years and never been to Pisa) wanted to see the Leaning Tower. Easy!
Our first stop was Florence via the super-fast frecciarosa train. Less than an hour and a half, comfy seats, & free wifi. Definitely the train to take!
Il Duomo di Firenze
Replica Statue of David outside the Palazzo Vecchio
View over the city from Palazzo Pitti
Me & Ponte Vecchio
Andy rubbing the boar for good luck
Beautiful view, delicious gelato, and a perfect evening
We spent the night in Florence and were up early the next morning to hop a train to Pisa. It’s only about an hour between the two cities on the regional train so we were there in time for a nice breakfast and to see the sites before it got too hot. What we did not beat were the crowds, although, I’m not sure if that’s even possible in Pisa. The monuments were absolutely packed but the adjoining museums were not. We spent the morning wandering through the museums learning about how the cathedral was constructed and how the frescoes inside the complex’s camposanto chapel & piazza were created, then damaged, and then restored. When we finally went inside the cathedral, the crowd was overwhelming and we only spent about 10 minutes inside the church before ducking back outside. The baptistry as well was crowded but was nothing compared to the church. We opted against climbing to the top of the leaning tower. Not only was it hot and we were carrying bags, the cost of just entering the tower was €18 (somehow everything else we did was €9!). Once we finished seeing everything we could we began our wander back in the direction of the train station and managed to find a decent place for lunch that was slightly off the beaten track. We made it back with plenty of time to spare to the train station and hopped on the afternoon train (that unfortunately took four hours since it was a treno regionale!) and made it back to Rome by 5:30. All in all, a great couple of days together!
The Leaning Tower
The Piazza of Miracles in the Camposanto
I am so happy to have been able to go back to these two places and especially to go back to them with Andy! I have no idea when I’ll be back but I’m confident that this is not the last time we’ll see these beautiful cities.
Seems that this blog has taken a turn from European travels to nothing but SCUBA diving posts but I suppose I’m okay with that!
Andrew has been off in Malta for the past two and a half weeks working on becoming a Divemaster. It’s long hours, busy days, and sheer exhaustion but he’s loving it. He’ll be there for a bit longer so I decided to head to Malta right in the middle of his trip so that I could get some great diving in too! My main goal this weekend was to leave having completed my wreck diving specialty and deep diving specialty. Both were a success!
For the deep diving specialty there were a few tasks I had to complete at certain depths so as to understand the effect that the pressure has on you as a diver. Mostly though, it just meant I got to go to super awesome sites at depths that I previously was not qualified to go to! One of the best was the Bristol Beaufighter - a WWII aircraft that crashed due to engine failure. While it’s a pretty small wreck and there’s no where to really explore, seeing an airplane wreck was pretty amazing. Plus, at a depth of 38 meters, we couldn’t stay for long anyway!
The wreck diving specialty took a bit more work than the deep one. I did my final two dives of the specialty on the HMS Maori - a site that I have dived several times before but this time I had to successfully use a reel to tie off a guide line both outside the wreck and then (finally!) inside of it. The Maori is also a WWII era wreck that was attacked by German aircraft. Going inside of it was amazing! Since it’s been down for so long, there are lots of little critters that have made it their home - absolutely brilliant.
For my last dive of the trip I was fortunate enough to steal Andrew away from his divemaster duties and make a trip out to Tugboat 2. Talk about an underwater playground! This “wreck” was scuttled very recently, on June 20th. The ship is in fantastic condition and was only sunk simply because there was no need for her anymore. Now, she’s an amazing dive site and will hopefully become home to lots of sea critters too. The wreck sits around 20 meters and therefore is perfect for all types of divers. Having just completed my wreck specialty and therefore been given the go-ahead to go inside any wreck I wanted to, Andy & I had a great time exploring every little bit of it. This was the only dive I have pictures from since I was not allowed to take pictures while doing coursework. Thankfully, Andy takes great video and photos with his little GoPro camera. I may need to grab one of these!
The last month has been incredibly hectic between work, school, and preparing for graduation but even though I’ve been busy and my poor blog has suffered, I have managed to go on some awesome diving adventures! Here’s the recap:
April 12th & 13th: Andy went to Malta for a few weeks to do some speciality training and I caught up with him towards the end of his trip for just a quick two days filled with dives. Malta’s the best.
The Azure Window
Swimming through tunnels at the Inland Sea
The Blue Hole!
Before the dives we stopped for some nice pictures, sans salty hair and sunburned faces!
April 21st: Scuba show! At the Olympic Stadium just down the river there was a weekend-long scuba exposition. We wandered around for a bit and when somebody asked us if we wanted to try out a full face mask with communication technology underwater, we couldn’t say no! It was super cool, but also a bit concerning seeing as what we’re wearing costs about €800!
May 4th: Yesterday, we took the train up north to Porto Ercole to catch up with some friends that were already up there working on their Advanced Open Water courses. We weren’t overly impressed with the dives themselves but it was still a lot of fun and we did see some cool creatures. Besides, any day of bad diving is better than a day of no diving at all!
Lots of little fishies on the reef
Over the weekend I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to experience the combination of two of my favorite things, one of which I’ve been in love with since my parents first took us to Pompeii (that’s a whole different story!), the second of which was much more recent and still has quite the learning curve attached to it: Roman archaeology & scuba diving.
As many of my close friends have already heard, the dive shop we went through was not the best and the chances of me ever working with them again (without my own set of kit) is slim but that’s not the point of the blog. The point is, WE WENT SCUBA DIVING IN AN ANCIENT ROMAN VILLA. I mean really, what did you guys do this weekend? ;)
The first dive was a bit disappointing. It wasn’t organized very well and it wasn’t very clear exactly what we were doing or where we were going. All we knew was that we were going to swim around a Roman column and see some of the hot beds on the sea floor. The “column” was a huge 12m high building foundation, not exactly what I was imagining but still pretty cool. The hot beds were bizarre and distinguishable by their yellow and sulfur coloring in the ground - they are rushes of hot water that zoom upwards in columns of bubbles and are really warm! They’re like a mini underwater jacuzzi!
The second dive was way more interesting. We swam around Claudius’ Nymphaeum and saw plenty of statues and original flooring. The statues weren’t actually original, the originals have been moved to safety at a museum looking over the bay but copies replace the statues underwater. We swam along the statues of the nymphs, saw a statue of Odysseus, followed the old road that led to the nymphaeum, found an ancient sewage cover, saw some of the original terracotta decoration that ornamented the floors, and looked at a doorway arch that had broken and fallen down.
One of the underwater maps of the site:
One of the Nymphs:
Odysseus (sans head!) and his jar of wine he used to blind the Cyclops:
Me filming as we swam along the road:
Terra cotta floors:
Me & Andy!
While we weren’t overly thrilled with the service at the dive shop I don’t think anyone could argue how cool that dive site was. Sure visibility was poor, silt and sand were easily kicked up, and some of our fellow divers were less than aware of their surroundings but it’s still one of the coolest dives I’ve ever done (and probably will ever do). Definitely one for the books!
For my last spring break as an undergraduate student ever I travelled north to see one of my best friends that I’ve known since we lived in Naples in 2004. Since she’s studying in Germany for the year we decided we had to catch up at some point and since Copenhagen made both of our “To Travel” lists we decided to go for a few days!
First of all, it was absolutely freezing. The high every day was 0°C (32°F) but, the wind chill brought it way, way down. I honestly don’t even want to know how cold it really was but I will say - the wind was physically painful to be in at points so naturally, we became regulars at a few of the local coffee shops!
Don’t get me wrong though, Copenhagen was lovely. To be honest I think it’s more of a city to live in than a city to tour in. That could just be because it was so cold but the sad reality is, if it’s that cold in March I don’t even want to think about how cold it is the rest of the year! I’m sure May-July is awesome though. During our first day there we were both a bit tired from travelling and decided to just wander with the ultimate goal of finding the Little Mermaid statue. We took a few wrong turns, found some of the random statues pictured in the post below, braced ourselves through a few “wind tunnels” that were the canals, but we did find her! She’s nothing amazing but it was really cool to finally see the statue that everyone talks about.
The next day was a bit more structured - We made our own walking tour aimed around visiting (warm!) churches, seeing some of the more picturesque bits of Copenhagen, and finding food when we got so cold we needed to thaw out our toes.
The canals of Nyhavn…
We walked around the famous Tivoli amusement park but unfortunately it (and many other places in the city!) was under construction and plans to reopen in April. No roller coasters for us!
The last day we were in Copenhagen we woke up to quite a bit of snow, snow that didn’t stop falling almost all day. There was a lovely park really close to the apartment we were staying at so we decided to see what it was like covered in snow.
This is a statue of Hans Christian Andersen in the park on the second day, the picture after is when we got all the snow!
The park was just beautiful, albeit cold, but beautiful.
With all this snow we obviously had to take refuge where we could. Quite often refuge came in the form of coffee shops. Luckily, this cold led us to one of our best discoveries of the trip: hot chocolate made with real chocolate…on a stick!
The last time Connie and I saw each other was summer 2008 when I flew to Seattle to see her, before then was summer 2007 when she came to visit me in Honolulu, and before then we were roaming around Europe together with our swim team in 2004. During one of our swim adventures in the winter of 2004 in Munich, we were set free on our own to get ourselves from the pool to the hotel. Being the rebels that we were, we made a pitstop at a Burger King to get milkshakes….even though the snow was falling. Nine years later, the tradition still stands.
Milkshakes in Copenhagen!
The statues of Copenhagen: Every time we turned a corner in Copenhagen we came across another statute and, as you can see, they weren’t exactly the most conventional. Often we really didn’t know what to say and “interesting” became our word of the trip! These were not the only statutes, just ones I have the best photos of (and most questions about)!
Warning: This post is all about food so even if you’re not hungry, grab something to munch on because after writing this, I’m starving!
This past weekend was spent touring around the northern Italian city of Torino for a 1-credit course in food and food culture. Torino’s considered to be Italy’s “food” capital and it definitely did not disappoint. Although, Torino or not, I would have probably gone on any class trip that offered me credit for a weekend of travelling, eating, and drinking!
We started the trip at a vineyard in La Morra…
An antipasto of walnuts, celery, and soft cheese that paired perfectly with their white wine….
Our second antipasto: Carne cruda on bread, aka, raw sausage meat. I know what you’re thinking and I don’t care. It was probably one of the most delicious things I have ever had! (It’s also very traditional of the region.)
Our primo was handmade ravioli filled with meats. I used to think pasta was pasta was pasta. I have never been more wrong in my life. These fresh little pieces of heaven were amazing.
Each of the above dishes was paired with a different wine made in house at the vineyard. Their prized wine that we enjoyed at the end of the pasta course was this 2007 Barolo. Who knew that there were only 11 vineyards in Italy (and therefore IN THE WORLD) that could produce a DOCG quality Barolo? Delicious.
There was a lot of wine involved in this meal but we did learn a lot too. We learned how to properly taste wine and check it for color and alcohol content and analyze through smell and taste. The restaurant also had helpful boards situated around the room including this one featuring the life cycle of wine grapes.
The next day was our trip to one of the best outdoor markets I have ever been to called Porta Palazzo. The market is situated in an area that traditionally houses immigrants and therefore features not only food from around Italy but from around the world. I’ll just leave a few photos here, I know I took way too many!
Yes, that is a stingray. No, I did not know you could eat it!
I thought of my Dad when we came upon this stand. It was an entire stand full of “love!”
Goose eggs, anyone?
Tis the seasons for….pumpkins? Actually it is! Who knew!
Zucchini flowers! I never even knew these existed before moving to Italy. They’re so yummy, I wonder when they’ll catch on in the States!
The following afternoon was spent visiting a very small chocolate factory in the heart of the city. It was family owned and opperated by two brothers whose grandfather started the business. I had no idea how much work went into the production of chocolate! It takes way more time than I thought to crush the cacao beans, melt them down, add milk and sugar, cool it properly, and make it into a mold. The best part of the tour though were certainly the taste tests!
After our long day of shopping and eating chocolate we were all in need of a pick-me-up before heading off to our next stop. This is a traditional drink from Turin known as a bicherin, it’s coffee, chocolate, sugar, and whipped cream. What’s not to love?
(Humpty Dumpty was at the café too!)
Our last stop of the trip was Eataly. Eataly is a relatively new concept in Italy and is a Wegman’s/Whole Foods type grocery store. It boasts organically grown food, food from every region of Italy, and supports the Slow Food movement that aims to save traditional methods and recipes from getting lost in the growing popularity of grab & go fast food.
Pasta gragnano, mozzarella di buffala, and tomatos….yum!
All in all? Good weekend with great food and even better friends!
As a Roman archaeology major living in Rome I know a lot about ancient Rome and as a result can pretty much point to anything old in the city and tell you something about it. What I cannot do is walk past buildings that appear more modern and tell you the who-what-when-where-why on them. This semester, I decided to try to fix that gap in my knowledge by taking a course entitled “Mussolini’s Rome” and it is incredible! I am shocked at the amount of fascist buildings, symbols, engravings, art work, and inscriptions still present in the city. Unlike Germany who tried to eradicate anything and everything that even hinted towards Hitler or their Nazi roots after the war, Italy did not (and could not) do this when it came to Mussolini and the fascists. In the case of Italy, it’s quite difficult to get rid of something when that something is essentially the entire city. Long story short, while in power Mussolini revamped the city: He laid out new plans, built new and functional government buildings, made bigger roads, and glorified Rome’s ancient history. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Well it kind of is! Until you throw in that whole “dictator” bit!
Thanks to this on-site course, I’ve seen a lot of places in Rome I have never been to before. The photo above is of the main library at La Sapienza University – Italy’s leading university. It was moved and rebuilt by Mussolini in the 1930s and it is incredibly evident on campus. The front of the library even features the three pillars of fascism. The statue out front pictured above is of Athena – Mussolini was going a little bit more towards the “fight to win” mentality than what the Catholic church would have preferred and when the campus was inaugurated, Mussolini stood on those steps to give his speech. Today on the campus their is a small church however it certainly wasn’t there when Mussolini put this all together. He was supreme ruler in his mind.
One of the sites that really struck me the most though was that of “Il Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura,” or rather, Rome’s Judiciary Council.
The building, built and embellished by Mussolini of course, embodies the war mentality and it was a constant reminder that not only should the fascist citizen fight, Mussolini’s fascist government was watching over you.
The building is a bit daunting, especially when you look closer at the individual windows…
If you’re thinking “Hey, that face is a bit reminiscent of Mussolini!” then you’re right! It’s no coincidence that his face is plastered up there in the illusion of an eager yet austere soldier. Mussolini was watching, always watching. Oh, and never mind the fascist eagles situated below – they were the symbol of Imperial Rome. Mussolini did everything for a reason, that’s for sure!
While walking to this on-sight class the other morning I had to walk past a much more modern addition to Rome, a statue of Pope John Paul II.
When this statue was put up in the city everyone screamed that his face looked much too like the former dictator and the artist was essentially forced to change the statue. I’m having bad luck at finding a good photo of the statue before it was changed but if you ask me, it’s still a little bit weird - doesn’t look very warm and inviting!
All I can say is, Rome sure is an interesting place! I definitely don’t get bored learning about this city!