Daze in Perugia.

Ciao, amici!

I haven’t posted in awhile, but now that I’m currently studying abroad in Perugia, Italy, I think this is the perfect time to blog. I’m meeting so many new people, exploring new places and experiencing everything and anything that I possibly can. I only have until mid-December here and I know it’ll fly by so, so fast. It’s only been my fourth night in Italy and I feel like I’ve been here for weeks– that’s how you know I’m experiencing a lot already and really taking advantage of my days here.  If you’re interested in my adventures in Europe, check back here for my updates!

At first, I really wanted to make my travel posts deep and meaningful (Hannah Brencher style) but I think my journey will speak for itself. I’m sure this post is going to be long enough, so I’ll cut right to the chase: when I arrived to my apartment, which is right next to the main square in Perugia. Let me just tell you, I was NOT expecting my apartment to be as amazing as it is. It has such old Italian charm: big windows with shutters, three quaint yet spacious bedrooms, a beautiful terrace with a beautiful view, old bookcases, the tallest ceilings, huge armoires… the list goes on.

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Not to be bias or anything, but I think my roommates and I were one of the lucky ones. Amanda and I were especially lucky because we have two truly awesome roommates to share this beautiful apartment with. Not many students at the Umbra Institute were blessed with as nice and spacious of apartments as we were. I was literally jumping up and down when I saw where I was living. After I collected myself, I opened up the grand doors out to our terrace, took a deep breath and took it all in. I really couldn’t believe this was going to be my life for the next four months. How did I get so lucky?

After some orientation things I don’t want to bore you with, it was time to finally get to know Perugia a little better. Luckily my school provided all of the students with our first Italian pizza dinner at Merlin’s Pizza, which was as good as you think it is. We had limited choices, but I ordered pizza with ham on it and a glass of chilled white vino. Not sure if you guys know this, but Italy is so cool you don’t even have to tip your waiters. They don’t expect it because it’s not common at all, and they truly want you to enjoy your dining experience so much that it doesn’t even matter to them. You also have to ask your waiters for the check because they don’t want to make you feel rushed, ever. Why can’t America be this chill????

After dinner my roommates and I got ready for our first night out on the town! We had a small pregame (sorry, Mom and Dad) in our room with the other Quinnipiac students I traveled with and their roommates. I must say, I have a pretty solid group here. We all bonded so quickly, it’s weird to think I met them only four days ago. Our group first went to a little bar called Dempsey’s and get this… it’s owned by a young guy, Andreas, who is from New Jersey!!! It was really refreshing to meet someone here who could relate to my home.

After a drink at that bar we made our way to a place called the Luna Bar, which is more like a mini Italian Toad’s– for the Quinnipiac students reading this, I’m sure you have a good idea of what I’m talking about. I honestly had such a good time here!! The bartender even gave us a round of free shots because we were the first ones to arrive. Apparently Italians go out really late, which we weren’t exactly aware of at the time. But anyway, my friends and I danced so much and had a lot of fun. We will definitely be visiting this place again soon. There’s even a pizzeria right outside of the bar for (drunken) people that I’m pretty sure is open up late… it’s like my calling.

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The next day was a bit of a late start for everyone, so we began meandering around Perugia a little after 11:30 AM. At the end of August each year, Perugia has a huge sale at all of the shops with little carts set up outside each store. It was so cute and had a great feel to it. I personally didn’t buy anything, but I was really tempted. I mean, every store was 50% off or higher. My friends and I also walked to the end of the squares and got a great view of the rest of Perugia. The views are amazing here. Perugia is a hilly town with ancient, yet beautiful sights. What more could you ask for?

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After that, we stopped by a smaller market with jewelry, paintings and other antiques and knick knacks. We then explored something that’s basically considered the underground fortress of Perugia, which was a little spooky but really awesome at the same time. Amanda and I had lunch at the same pizzeria that Umbra took us to. I had the Quattro Stagioni pizza that had artichoke, spicy salami, mushrooms and ham on it. It was soooo good. We met a really sweet and cute Italian waiter there named Zach who really wants to learn English. We talked about dogs and Perugia… it was a great convo. I see him around town a lot and he always greets us with a smile! I also had my first craft beer ever at this local pub called Elfo’s in the late afternoon. It’s Perugia’s oldest pub and there’s so many craft beers, I had to have someone choose one for me. Also because I have no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to craft beer. We watched the Roma vs. Juventus futbol game there and to be honest, I felt a little bit like a local.

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We had dinner at a little pasta place later on in the night. I had fresh Umbricelli pasta with sausage and truffles, an Umbrian speciality. Perfetto! Tomorrow meant the beginning of our week of intensive Italian to really get the ball rolling on this beautiful language.

After four hours of intensive Italian, my program affiliate (CIS Abroad) hosted a dinner at a little trattoria called Wine Bartolo for CIS students. We had a four course meal that included four dishes that are special to the Umbra region. Our first course was an Umbrian meat carpaccio that was prepared perfectly. The second course was a strangozzi pasta dish cooked with white wine that had a different meat in it. I didn’t really know what type of meat was used, but it was tasty and the pasta was so homemade and fresh that I didn’t care. Our third course was a Chianina cattle meat dish with sautéed potatoes. Apparently Chianina is one of the most prized meats in the world; I could see that, because the dish was so tasty and tender. I got food snobbery from my mom so I guess you could say I really, really appreciate good food when I eat it. Our final dish was a flourless chocolate cake made with Perugia chocolate and fresh peaches. So. Freaking. Good. During dinner I sat next to our CIS advisor, Romina, who is the sweetest lady. We exchanged stories and she gave us little tips to help us with our stay in Italy. I’m looking forward to seeing her again real soon!

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CIS Dinner at Wine Bartolo

After dinner, my friends and I went to an Irish pub called Shamrock’s. On Monday nights, they have karaoke. Not to mention one euro shots and two euro glasses of Sangria. The Umbra students had our own little space near the karaoke station and everyone was having so much fun making complete fools of ourselves in front of the Italians, dancing on tables and such. It was a pretty funny night.

The next day was another long day of intensive Italian and a meeting with the U.S. Embassy, which entailed true horror stories of American study abroad students, of course. It’s safe to say most of us are experts on how to deal with safety in Europe. After class, we relaxed for a bit and went to aperitivo at a cute little ristorante/bar on a legit cliff. Aperitivo is a time every day usually between 6:30-9 PM where Italians go to grab drinks and in return, get a bunch of plates of FREE finger-foods. It’s supposed to make you hungry for dinner since dinner time in Italy is around 9 PM. Except we all got too full and ended up not even getting dinner. Although we did get gelato, because there’s always room for gelato.

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Aperitivo

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My friends and I at aperitivo!

After aperitivo, we had to be those Americans in Perugia. We just had to. So we traveled down the road from my apartment to where Amanda Knox once lived. It’s actually pretty creepy down there. Like, I think even before that whole thing happened the area was still spooky. Or maybe it was just because it was nighttime and we were just freaking ourselves out… I’m not sure. But regardless, still creepy. We didn’t find the exact apartment, which was number seven, but I know we saw it without knowing which one it exactly was. There was no number seven apartment, but there was every other number 1-10, so my guess is the town took the number off? But don’t quote me on that. I’m just assuming a lot of people go down there to check out the area, so maybe they didn’t want to draw attention to that specific apartment since new people probably live there now.

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Street that Amanda Knox lived on

Again, today was another four hours of intensive Italian. I’m not sure what tonight’s plans will be, but that’s the amazing part of studying abroad. You can pretty much do and go wherever you want. Italy is exactly how I pictured it: walking around staring up constantly because the views are to die for, grabbing paninis on the way back to your apartment, wishing you were on a vespa 24/7 and practicing spontaneity at every turn, among other things. Arrivederci for now, amici. I’ll be posting again soon!

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XO, Caisse

“Traveling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, ‘I would stay and love you, but I have to go; this is my station.’” –Lisa St. Aubin de Terán

Pinch Me.

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One recent morning I awoke from a stranger letting me ugly cry into his shoulder. 

I wouldn’t exactly call it a dream because, well, it was more of a nightmare. Fleeting, yet terribly haunting moments of a brown-eyed boy I used to call mine pranced in my thoughts. I lay in bed trying to piece it all together– a nightmare, yes, but what did it all mean?

Later that day I got to thinking, (so Carrie Bradshaw-esque, I know) what really is a dream? Figments of your imagination would be the easy way out of this question, perhaps. Or maybe it was just a way for life to say, “Ha! You thought you were in the clear, didn’t you?” But even so, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to it. If there was truth to it.

I think it’s safe to say there’s a little truth to anything we dream about. And there’s more truth within the realistic ones– the ones where your deepest hopes and fears are picked from your brain and sewn together in episodes while you sleep, a most vulnerable time. It all just sneaks up on you when you think about it.

I like to believe my dreams are presented by a tiny ‘Me’ who lives in my mind. You have one, too. She’s the part of you that knows what makes you tick. She’s the one that taps her BFF Subconscious on the shoulder and lets ’em know what exactly you’ll be thinking of that night, all without any of your consent. But she’s also the one with the meaning, the reasoning, the truth.

And if you’re anything like me, you’ll search high and low for the Meaning of it all.

As if Meaning is the Post-It note you need to slap on to your dream and tuck away in the “Don’t Even Go There” section of your mind (since you’ll need that reminder). Because Meaning is the reason you say, for anything that happens your life, “Oh. Well, that’s why. It all makes sense now.”

I couldn’t make much sense of this nightmare because my search for its Meaning had been completely fogged. As if my little ‘Me’ was taunting me into going back on something easy, something I grew up wholeheartedly believing in because I wasn’t ready for the truth: the old myth that proposes whomever you meet in your dreams is wishing to see you, too.

While I know now that the myth holds potential to be (only somewhat) true, I realized a long time ago that it’s no use to hang on to pretty words that people preach just for the mere reason that they can. It was time to put away the version of me who grew up with dream books strewn across her floor with dog-eared pages. I found that even though it’s tough and I like to poke at things for the sake of knowing now, letting things be has allowed for more happiness in life.

So maybe that’s the trick to pave the path to clearer Meaning. Maybe I need to stop doing the work and let Meaning come to me. And when Meaning finally does decide to show up, I can thank it for giving me the piece of mind I thought I needed. And that will be that.

When you falsify meaning– because it’s the one you want, not the one you need to hear– things get messy, don’t they? Dream on, dreamer but do not dwell on finding the meaning of it all yourself.

XO, Caisse

“Why aren’t we afraid of dreams? They are literally creepy riddles we have to solve given to us by a chunk of magic meat in our head.” — Krista Doyle

September 11, 2001.

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I stood in line aside other wandering eyes waiting to get through the metal detectors. It looked exactly like airport security, except it wasn’t in an airport. 

Last weekend, I visited the 9/11 Museum in New York City. 

And, well, it was hard to walk through. I was crying the entire time. People around me were crying the entire time. I watched individuals in their moments of true honesty– I saw some cup their mouths and walk away while others couldn’t bare take their eyes off what they were seeing. Displayed on the walls were real depictions of September 11th, 2001. It showed real footage, real quotes, real artifacts, real, real, real. The museum portrayed the bare truth during that crisp, clear day 13 years ago. That’s all the guides kept noting: it was a crisp, clear, beautiful day gone completely awry. The whole museum is an honest, disturbing portrayal of everything that went on.

But I’m happy this experience shook me inside-out. For those of you who don’t know, my mom worked in the World Trade Center in building seven. Her building wasn’t the two main towers and it wasn’t directly hit, but my mom was there. There. Downtown. In New York City. Not far away at all from the main towers. She experienced everything that happened alongside other New York workers. My mom’s office window was blown out from a ball of fire and her building eventually collapsed, too. She was there, a place she had come to know dearly over the years. A place that gave her much happiness.

While we were in the museum, my mom said something that really stung me. Her words radiated through me and imprinted themselves onto my bones.

“All I kept thinking about that day was you and Daddy. I just thought, ‘I’m never going to see you grow up.’ I didn’t know if there was a chance I would make it back home to you.”

After she said that, my inner first grader flashed back to the embrace my mom gave me when she finally got home. That crisp morning, my dad had a direct view of the Twin Towers from his office in Jersey City. He happened to be on the phone with my mom when the first plane hit, and warned her when he saw it coming. After first crash, my mom didn’t know if her building was damaged at all. At the time, my mom didn’t know if there were other complications coming, either. She just didn’t know. And for someone who usually has something to say, I couldn’t sympathize with my mom.  But the story of my mother’s experience that day will be something I hold close to my heart for as long as I live.

In the museum, there are two parts that are sectioned off. The first one I encountered was the Memorial Exhibition. It was an entire room with pictures of close to 3,000 beautiful, innocent souls who lost their lives that day. In that room is a smaller room where audio recordings play about the victims. It states their name, a short biography of their life and what brought them to the Twin Towers that morning. A majority of them even have a loved one speaking on their behalf.

I sat through probably 10 of the recordings, along with many other quiet, listening individuals before I had to leave; tears were streaming my cheeks and I just couldn’t bare it. I noticed a guard standing in the room, most likely because photo taking/video recording is strictly prohibited in this area. I got to thinking… that guard has to stand in that room and listen. Listen to the thousands of stories one after the other. I thought about how horrible it must be to have that job; some of the stories are happy or funny, but all of them are equally heartbreaking. Except I was simply thinking on the surface of it all. I was tainted with the image that each story had to be automatically sad. But I soon realized that the victims’ stories remind us they are still human. They’re not just a statistic, or picture on the wall. Their stories live on, so their soul does, too.

After experiencing this exhibit, 9/11 will become a day for me where I can celebrate the victims’ lives. They all had a special place in the Twin Towers, after all. And I can guarantee a few things: the victims were successful people, they had family and friends and people who loved them, and they worked in one of the best cities in America. I think that is definitely something to take in, note, and celebrate for.

The next room was an exhibit that is designed to take you at least 45 minutes to walk through. There is one official exit, but as you walk, you notice there are doors to “leave early.” Before you go in, there is a sign that reminds what you will be seeing consists of graphic and disturbing content. Another worker outside of the exhibit insists absolutely no photography or video recording is allowed.

I couldn’t not go in. I needed to know it all; I needed to know every last detail of our nation’s tragedy. It sounds twisted, I know– but, it’s not meant to be that way. Every part of this exhibit offered something I found myself forcing my legs to up and walk away from. I wanted to take everything about this day in. But one part… this one part of the exhibit I couldn’t bare to read the whole way through. It was about the victims who jumped from their office windows. I won’t go off into detail about this, but the museum recognizes the ones who made this decision to be exceptionally human and modest.

I don’t mean to sound morbid; in fact, I’m writing so people are more aware. Because before I went to this museum, yeah, I knew the gist of 9/11. But that’s all: just the gist. We know as individuals September 11th is a day that will be forever remembered, so we’re already aware, yes. But I think this museum is a part that makes this nation whole. It makes our awareness more whole. It’s not until you hear recordings of the victims on the plane, dialing to their loved ones that you realize 9/11 taught us more than recognizing it was a terrorist attack. It is awareness about al Qaeda; it is awareness that our government will do anything in it’s power to protect us from terrorism; it is awareness that all of the victims were true heroes; and it is awareness about our nation’s sense of community despite what some people think. The hours that I spent within this museum has made me hold a much tighter grip on life than ever before. It’s cliché, I know, but it’s true nonetheless.

After I left the museum, I wanted access to my laptop right away. I needed to let everyone know what I saw and how I felt about it, just like any writer should. But I don’t think I can put everything I saw into the appropriate words.  The museum is more than a lesson in history books, it’s more than a Google search, it’s more than a video on YouTube. Take one day to spend in the city and visit this museum. You’ll probably leave with tear stains on your cheeks, but you’ll be more whole, more aware, more appreciative. This blog post doesn’t nearly do the museum justice– it’s something you need to experience for yourself, and you’ll know what I mean when you visit.

Rest in peace to all of the beautiful angels that lost their lives on this day, and thank you to everyone who risked theirs to help in the aftermath.

XO, Caisse

“If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.” — Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl

Swallow Your Pride.

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I think it’s incredibly important for people to say how they feel about one another while they still can.

It’s unfathomable to me that some individuals in relationships pretend not to care. When someone avoids their feelings to make themselves believe they hold all of the power… how are you okay with that? I’m all about talking things out– if I did wrong and I’m desperately sorry,  I want to let them know. If I want to get over this bump in our road, I want to talk about it. I want to tell them I love them, that I’m in love with them. If someone is being a coward about their feelings, is it even worth it to pursue the relationship? Maybe, though, they’re just not one to pour themselves into another.  Or perhaps, their guard is up high, armed with bulletproof shields. If that’s the case, make them believe that you are their home. Prove that you, every inch of you, are a safe haven for them.

In my 19 years of living, I’ve both witnessed and experienced relationships thriving when there is an equal balance between both partners– when both are showing their love in more ways than one, when both are wanting to fix things and move on instead of playing foolish emotional games. But most importantly, when both are willing to confess their true feelings, the words they are afraid to say the most, when the moment is just plain iffy.

I have heard enough of the old trick, “Ignore them and they’ll come back to you.” I’m so done when I ask for relationship advice and I’m told, “Act like you don’t care anymore and they’ll want you back.” Because… one day, well, he didn’t want me back. And according to Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin would say my wound still bleeds at the slightest word.  So, enough of this poor advice. I’m no expert but I know that is a BS way to go about things. If you love them or you’re sorry or you want them back in your life, tell them.

I should warn you, though, this is not a guaranteed one way ticket to their heart. Sometimes, spilling your guts goes awry. (Yet, I still believe wholeheartedly it’s better to say how you feel before things end than to bottle up your feelings for a broken heart and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, anyway.) If you do end up sharing your true feelings and your S/O is still unsure, or worse, adamant about not being with you, then okay. I mean, it’s not technically okay, but at least you told them. And if you’re worried they’re going to run and tell their friends what “desperate” and “embarrassing” things you said to try and win them back, then okay. Again, at least you told them. Because then, at the end of the day you’ll always be the one who has the bigger heart and the courage to say it all. You’ll be the one who dealt all of their cards, who can now walk away without a weight on their chest. You’ll be the one without regret. When you spill your true feelings and the relationship is still not working, I believe you can move on faster. There is no room for the “what ifs” or the “what could be’s” since what had to be said was already said. You walk away more humble than ever despite a case of the break ups, and now it’s a lesson in  your book that will become more acceptable over time.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand what is so wrong about wanting to let someone know your true feelings, to tell them you’re done and you’re finally swallowing your pride. You may believe your pride can shield you from the pain, but covering up something for too long often leads to an anti-climactic outburst– a mere balloon filled with air only to be left in a dud on the ground. Pride is boring, while spilling your guts is incredibly risky in the game of life. You are not “too good” to apologize; you are not “too good” to be honestly and desperately you.

I used to apologize for telling people how I felt. But now, I am an open book. I’m not sorry for loving you, even after all of the hate you’ve given me. I’m not sorry for caring about your well-being. I’m especially not sorry for writing this post. I want the world to know that I’ve swallowed my pride. And you all should, too.

XO, Caisse

“No one in history has ever choked to death from swallowing his pride.”              — Nishan Panwar

Thank Your Parents.

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As my freshman year of college ends, naturally my emotions are getting the best of me.

And I must warn you, I am a HUGE sap.

It’s really true what they say– that you find your lifelong friends at college. I’ve had an insane amount of ups and downs this year, but, hey… that’s what life is all about, right? The thing to remember is, I experienced them with the people that I am so very grateful to have met, who stuck beside me the entire time.

Now I must say that besides cherishing every moment of my freshman year and loving the freedom I have, I’ve also realized that you appreciate home so much more when you go away to college. You appreciate everything you’ve unfortunately taken for granted while you were in high school, essentially the little things: the home cooked meals, the showers with no flip flops on, the beach, driving your car… the list goes on. And obviously, you miss your best friends from home everyday because they just don’t compare to your college friends. But the most important thing I’ve learned to appreciate that much more are my parents. Don’t take this the wrong way, though. Of course I appreciated my parents so much already, more than words can explain. But like I said, being away from home gives you many realizations that might have never crossed your mind beforehand. Your parents aren’t there to hold your hand or fold your laundry. They’re miles away, worrying, and hoping you’re enjoying your college years.

With that being said, I want to thank my parents. I want to thank them for allowing me the opportunity to attend a $56k a year private university. I want to thank them for sending me care packages and notes that brightened my days, weeks, months. I want to thank them for dropping me off and picking me up from school countless amounts of times. I want to thank them for a great deal of things that would take up the majority of this blog post. But most importantly, I want to thank them for loving me unconditionally, for showing me the true meaning of love and sticking to my guns about it, and for always expressing how proud they are of me every single day. (They’re definitely the root of why I’m a sap, but I’m completely fine with that).

There is no better feeling than knowing you are so loved and making someone else proud. The more I think about it, the more I see that the passion and drive of becoming a successful journalist is behind my parent’s words. To hear they are already so proud of me as I’ve only accomplished somewhat minor things during my lifetime is crazy. To hear they are proud of me when I am actually fulfilling my dreams… well, that’s even crazier. And that’s why I want to accomplish my goals so bad. Not only for myself, but more so for my parents because I owe them so much. I know I could live a million lifetimes and never fulfill what they have sacrificed for me, but in the end if I continue to make them proud that may be enough.

So, thank you, Mom and Dad. Thank you for honestly everything. I will never be able to express my gratitude and love for you both. I can only hope to be as great as you both are when I am a parent myself. You’ve truly taught me how to have huge dreams, intense passion and a big heart. I think that is so incredibly important for a person to have. I am one of the lucky ones because of you both. Thank you.

XO, Caisse

“A father’s goodness is higher than the mountains, a mother’s goodness deeper than the sea.”  — Japanese Proverb