Sunday, April 13, 2014

Navigating Nihon

On March 24th I began my almost 20-hour journey to Hikone-shi and the University of Shiga Prefecture. The couple of weeks prior to my departure had been hazy with everything being finalized, what seemed like, all-at-once. Evening courses were completed, visa obtained, and the flights-booked. The 3 flights went well, and any uneasiness I had was dissipated by the kindness of several strangers along the way. About 17-hours in I found myself in Osaka during the evening, where I was to meet with and be escorted to my apartment by a student from the University. I will take this moment to say there is a certain type of relief brought-on by the site of seeing one's name in big, bold print when they exit into the arrival lobby of an airport. This is when I met Julio, a fellow exchange student from California State University, Monterey Bay. While on our way out of Osaka I distinctly remember the gorgeous cityscape and booming night activity. I have never been surrounded by so many people who weren't congregating for a common event like a concert or ball game. Together, Julio and I made our way to Hikone Station first by monorail, and then by the JR (Japanese Railway). He made sure I understood how to properly read the railway maps and purchase a ticket for the right destination. With his help, and the generosity of Yamakawa-san and Iwama-san (two of the amazing staff members at USP which helped make this trip happen for me) I was able to safely settle into my apartment, soon collapsing onto my wonderful futon (bed).

Drug Yutaka
Meena is a fellow classmate of mine from Columbia College studying abroad at USP this semester. She is originally from Singapore, so this is her second study abroad experience. Our first two weeks were spent with orientation, placement testing, city hall registration, and an abundant amount of shopping. We are now pretty familiar with the immediate area and have come to know little intricacies like the Heiwado in Viva City having a wider selection of produce than the one on Bell Road. There is a dollar store called the 100 Yen Shop which has been a solid go-to place for a majority of the items which now occupy my apartment. Lastly, less than a block away is my favorite little drug store called Drug Yutaka. It carries pretty much anything one would need for day-to-day living. Meena and I have become regulars there, and the prospect of obtaining a point card is quickly becoming favorable.

Photo of Administration Building (spire, left) and Library (dome, right)
School began this past week. This being said, class sign-up is April 8th-16th. The way registration works here is very interesting. For starters, classes are typically 90-minutes and 1-day a week. During the registration period, students are welcome to sit-in on a class before they register. Classes are usually 2-credit hours and most students I know are taking around 10 classes. Me, you ask? I am only taking 6: Beginning Japanese I-III, Medieval Japanese History, Discussion and Debate, and Environmental Science in Japan. The latter three are taught in English.
Moat surrounding USP





Local park
Hikone is a beautiful city, with a population size similar to Columbia's. It is considered to be rural by many. Apart from traveling to school and various grocery stores, I have been to a few local parks, a western-style restaurant named Coco's, a shopping mall called Viva City, and perhaps the biggest attraction in all of Shiga Prefecture, Hikone Castle. In fact, yesterday was spent with my new friends Ryuhei and Daiki going to Viva City, where they helped me shop for some gym shoes. Sad to say, my decision was made easy when there was only one pair between two stores which came in my size. Next, we went to the arcade section and took Purikura. Imagine a high-tech and fully customizable photo booth. Daiki had to depart for work soon after, but Ryuhei and I stayed behind and played an intense game of air hockey and attempted to master some of the grab-claw machines.


On my walk to school

Hikone Castle



The weather was beautiful, and after some discussion we decided it would be a good day to go and visit Hikone Castle. Now THIS is what I came to see. Hikone Castle is officially one of Japan's National Treasures and was completed around 1607. If you measure the birth of the U.S. by the signing of the Declaration of Independence, then this castle is almost 170 years older than the United States. The massive architectural elements and shear sturdiness of the building are almost overwhelming. I have never been inside anything more unyielding. And as it turns out, interior castle stairs are no small matter. I am 1.9 meters-tall (sorry, it's a habit now) and these stairs are challenging for someone of my height to climb. What a tiny price to pay for the view of the city and Lake Biwa which waits at the top. On the castle grounds I was able to enjoy some genuine Japanese "junk food" as Ryuhei put it. Anko flavored taiyaki is a simple yet delicious red-bean flavored treat and a personal recommendation of mine. Takoyaki is equally fantastic and conceptually would be related to the chili-cheese hot dog in the United States. It is a round snack consisting of a wheat-flour batter, octopus, green onion, ginger, some special takoyaki sauce, optional mayonnaise and a few other ingredients I was unable to determine. I will definitely be ordering this one again. (Click the links to see examples.)
Ceiling structure at the very top.  Can't tell you how massive those beams really are

And how could I forget the sakura! They started blooming about a week after I arrived and will only be around for about another week or two. I have been sure to have a couple of o-hanami, where I eat outside underneath the sakura and admire their beauty. In Japanese, hana means flower, -mi is a conjugation of miru which is to see or to look, and o- is used as an honorific and is a polite way to refer to certain nouns, phrases, and actions.
Beautiful walk home from school

Strolling around campus
Greetings from USP

Wow--all of these astonishing sights and I haven't even made it out of the prefecture yet!  Thank you for reading! Until next time,
MB

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

42 Days Until Departure!

Hello!  I am Melissa, a history major and typically a student in the Evening Campus.  In relation to the Central Europe tour, I am taking the History of the Holocaust class with Dr. Compton, who has been my catalyst and source of encouragement for embarking on this journey.  Four weeks into the class, I am learning so much.  While many of the things we learn reflect one of the darkest periods in human history, the knowledge we gain is of vital importance, lest we forget what happens when mankind becomes complacent.

At posting, it is 42 days until departure.  I just realized that our flights have been booked, which is so, so exciting!  This will be my first trip outside of the continental United States, and while I am nervous, I can't wait to see another part of the world.  I am still in shock that I am about to experience something this amazing.  I don't want to waste a minute of this wonderful opportunity!

In preparation, I've found a suitcase, a converter for electronics, an inflatable travel pillow, and some comfortable walking shoes.  And because I am notorious for over-packing, I have already started to hunt for clothing combinations that won't leave me bogged down my a huge, heavy suitcase.  

I am so, so grateful for a chance to venture out beyond my own little corner of the world.  I can't wait to post pictures and tell stories of all the incredible things we'll see!  I am ready for my greatest adventure! 



Saturday, October 19, 2013

Italy

The next weekend we went to the famous Perugina Chocolate Factory in Perugia. It is home of the Bacio chocolate. We were able to tour the entire factory, learn how chocolate is made, and even were able to sample the different chocolate that they made.


This is the largest piece of chocolate made and even made the Guinness World Record Book as being the largest. When it was made for the Eurochocolate festival, the last day, it was broken up into pieces and handed out to the people at the festival. According to our tour guide, this year in Perugia, Baci will have some other interesting event.






On October 13th, my friends and I decided to go to a Perugian soccer match. We mainly went because we met one of the players who said to come to watch a match. The match was against Pisa. It was very fun and interesting going to the match because the entire time, we did not sit down. Italians are very passionate about soccer, even though the team lost. They would yell every time something happened to their players. They had chants throughout the game and we even joined in on them, once we figure out what they were saying.



Italy

My group of friends decided that we needed to go and see Cinque Terre (5 cities). It is named Cinque Terre because people go there to hike from one city to another city. We first took a train to Florence for the first day. Me and two other girls decided to take the train all the way to Pisa.

 There was quite a few tourists there, but not as many as I thought there would be. The photo on the left is of the river Arno which runs through Pisa.











We then took the train back to Florence and I decided that I wanted to tour Florence at night. So my friends and I stayed out until 3 am, touring parts of Florence.


 This is the Baptistery in the center of the city. It is octagonal shaped and even has the gold doors representing the old testament stories. They are called the Gates of Paradise. The Duomo Di Firenze Santa Maria del Fiore is the main attraction. It was built in 1296 and has a dome in the back. It is very beautiful both at night and the day. I also found out that one of my friends that I went with to see the duomo, his grandfather had worked on maintaining the roof of the dome a few years back.
This is a photo of the Palazzo Vecchio, clock tower. The top of the clock tower was built as a town hall, but was used as a fortress and prison. The very top of the tower was built crooked because the weight of the top would have been too much and the entire tower would have collapsed if it wasn't built this way. 





 The David statue was standing outside of the Palazzo Vecchio. Although this is not the real David, it is still similar to the real one. To the right is the Ponte Vecchio. It is the oldest bridge known which may have been built during Roman times and is still now being used. It has shops built along the inside of it.
Then the next day, we headed to Cinque Terre!


 This is the start of our trek across 2 mountains. It took 2 hours to walk from Riomaggiore to Vernazza, but it was definitely worth it. The view was amazing.

Vernazza! Finally!

Italy

The past two weeks have been busy. The Umbra Institute set up a weekend in Napoli, Pompeii, Ischia, and Capri. These places were absolutely beautiful. We started from Perugia and drove to Pompeii in 4 hours. When we got to Pompeii, I immediately located Mount Vesuvius!

We saw all sorts of ruins. The most interesting of the ruins were, of course, the mummies. 
There were quite a few mummies and a few skeletons that were out. 

This is a photo of the old Pompeian basilica. It was the house where the citizens, senate, and foreigners would trade and have meetings. What was interesting about this site, was that the pillars still had some of the old paint and terracotta because the ash that was spread over the city had preserved it so well.

This was the Pompeian forum where they held assemblies and also dramas or singing. The acoustics in this area were really great. Our tour guide had one of the boys in our group go down to the bottom and start singing in front of everyone. Surprisingly, they did quite well.
We then took a boat to Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples. This little island was so pretty and had so much to offer. Unfortunately we only spent the evenings here. We had the most delicious food though. It was all 5 course meals. The photo above shows one of the beginning courses. I did wake up every morning at 5 am to get a photo of the sunrise. Of course it was very beautiful, especially because in the distance, you could see Mount Vesuvius. This photo does not show it, but I decided to play with some of the photo techniques I learned in my photo class this semester. 



 The second day at Ischia, the morning before we had to leave to come back to Perugia, my friend Fran and I ran into a man who had been in the Italian military in Pisa. We were sitting on the side of a wall taking photos of the sunrise, when this man came up to us and started talking to us in Italian. He was very kind and gave Fran and I some fruit and vegetables that he had grown for his restaurant that he owned. He also took us up in his house to get a good photo of Ischia from above. It was so beautiful and thankful that I had learned enough Italian to converse with him.

On  the second day in the South, we took a ferry to Capri. Capri is also a small island off the coast of Naples, a bit south of Ischia. This is home to some of the famous people around the world. George Clooney's summer house was on the island, along with Georgio Armani. It was a definite tourist island, but we were able to get a private tour around the whole island for only 15 Euros. The water was extremely blue, but also extremely salty. We also ended up hiking up a mountain and found the largest natural arch in Italy. It was very huge and was absolutely the most beautiful site that you can imagine.


 After our trips to Capri and Ischia, we took a ferry back to Naples and had a tour through Naples. It was a very dirty city compared to the other ones that we visited, but it also had a lot of history. Naples is known for being the home of the Margarita pizza, so of course, we ate some. Some of the other sites that we saw were the main piazza and center. In the Galleria Umberto, they had marble pictures of the zodiac signs. Our tours guide told us that if you stand in the circle and then jump into your zodiac and then make a wish, it would come true.
 This is a photo of the port in Naples. It is very important for trade and commerce. And of course, you can see Mount Vesuvius on the left.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Italy



This is one of the first sights that I saw in Italy. My house is just at the end of the 210 stairs. This amazing country has so much to offer for any visitor. I am living in Perugia, Italia for the Fall of 2013 for study abroad. It is a student town and is the official capital of the Umbria region. It has been an amazing first few weeks. The first week being here, my school, the Umbra Institute had its orientation where all the students took Intensive Italian class for 6 hours a day to learn the basics of Italian. It was strenuous, but beneficial to understand how to order food, use the public transportation, live in an apartment, and many more. I get most of my exercise just walking around in Perugia because it is such a hilly town as you can see by the 210 stairs that I walk up and down every day. 




 The Fountain Maggiore
Of course a little pizza on the first night

In the Center of Perugia


From the Perugian Fort


In orientation we went to a small farm outside of Perugia to see how a farm in Italy works. The Arcadia students went to the farm near Lake Trazzimeno. When we arrived, all I saw was fields of grapes and olive trees. I knew then this would be a grand adventure.  The owners, Flavio, Allesandro, and others taught us how to make wine. This was very interesting. We first ate breakfast, which was bread with Olive Oil and a fruit on it. Afterwards, we went out to the grape vines and picked grapes. Then we went up to the stomping tub and stomped on some grapes. The next process extracted the seeds and skin of the grapes. This is where we used a barrel and cranked the grapes down so it was just juice. Another way to “stomp” the grapes was to use a vice and turn the wheel to get the smashed grapes. We were able to drink the grape juice straight from the barrel, which was delicious. The rest of the process of making wine took place in the fermentation chamber which can take a year. Then we prepared for lunch. We had a 5 course meal with meat, wine, bread, pasta, beans, desert, etc.

 The tub of grapes!


Out comes the juice

 Alessandro, one of the owners working out the grape juice.








The first weekend we also spent some time in Siena. It was rough because we took the bus and the bus was 40 minutes late. So we waited at the bus stop until finally the bus came. Then, we took the bus and got to Siena. It took about 1.5 hours. When we got to Siena there were 7 escalators all the way up to the top of Siena where the tourists sights were. As we were taking the escalators to the top, there were two Italian boys who just ended up sitting down on the escalators on the other side. We had to ask a few Italians where the main center, Palazzo Comunale/Piazza del Campo was, but soon we found it. It was amazing. Made in 1297 by Consiglio dei Nove. The clock tower, Torre del Mangia, is the highest in Italy. It was built in 1344, by Lippo Memmi. It is 102m tall and 400 steps. We ended up not going up in it, but it was still amazing to look at. Inside the Torre del Mangia, was the bronze dog, Capitoline Wolf. Also within the Comunale there was a fountain. Its name is Fonte Gaia (Happy Fountain) and was built in 1346. Then a few of us went to the Cathedral and Baptistery of San Giovanni. The Cathedral stands in the Piazza del Duomo and was started by Giovanni Pisano in 1196 -1215. The interior contains a black and white striped theme with vaults of blue and gold stars. The Duomo Nuovo (New Cathedral) was the finished result. We unfortunately did not go into the Cathedral, but it was still amazing from the outside. We then walked to the Chiesa Di San Domenico. On our way, we went by the Casa di Santa Caterina. It was built in the 13th century and for Santa Caterina which has a portrait of her in the chapel. Apparently Santa Caterina took her vows and performed some miracles in front of the chapel. Then we walked to the Studio Communale which is where Siena plays futbol. After that we quickly went to the Fortezza Medicea. We went to try and find the entrance, but I’m pretty sure we ended up going the wrong way around and did not have time to find the entrance and left after taking pictures with the beautiful fountain in front of it. Then we found a beautiful place to take some photos. They were amazing. 




 The San Domenico and San Giovanni can be seen in this shot.












The next week we started classes. The classes are amazing and I learned so much already in the first week. The culture of Italy is quite a bit different than American culture and you can see that any where you go an see in Perugia. At the end of the week, some of my friends and I decided to take a day trip to Assisi. Assisi is the beautiful sister city of Perugia. We rode the train for 30 minutes and got off at the train station and took the bus up to the very top of Assisi. In 1000 BC Umbrians built Assisi and was ruled under the Romans in 295 BC. St Francis, a soldier of Assisi in 1182, fought against the Perugians until his death in 1224. We started at the top of the mountain at Piazza Matteotti and walked up to the arch of Assisi, then we went down to the Piazzo San Rufio and toured the church at that Piazza. I think it was the San Rufio. Then we walked up to the Rocca Maggiore. It is the most beautiful sight of the Umbrian landscape. We spent quite a long time up there. The Rocca Maggiore is fortress built in the 14th century  to ward off the Perugians. Then we walked down again to the Piazza Santa Chiara where all the tourists were. Santa Chiara is St. Francis’s counterpart and was said to have founded the Order of the Poor Sisters. She is buried in the crypt of the chiesa. Later, we walked up to the Piazza del Comune. There we found a small “museum” where this guy went crazy on us when we didn’t give him money. So I hid, “gave” him 0.01 euro cents. He was creepy so we left. Then we went into a small chiesa that was beautiful inside named, St. Maria Sopra Minerva. It didn’t say much about the church, but it was beautiful.




Gum on a fence



Then we went to the main Basilica di San Francesco. This is where Pope Francis will come to visit in a few weeks. Inside the church we met up with some more Umbra students. There were many frescos inside the beautiful church and it was divided into three parts, the upper church, the lower church, and the crypt. The church is built on Hell Hill (Colle d’inferno) in the 13th century where many people were executed in the gallows, until St. Francis decided to be buried here and renamed it Paradise Hill. There are 28 frescos each corresponding to the New and Old Testament writings with each fresco describing the event above it. The crypt is where St. Francis lies, although I unfortunately was not able to go down there because I did not see it. Anyway, later we left and tried to take the bus back, but we were too late, so we walked 45 minutes down to the train station. It was a horrible walk because there was no sidewalk so the cars were literally 2 feet away. Pazzo!







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