Abroad pt II

Weekend 2: Brussels

After some last minute planning, me, Trace, Emily and Steve (we lost Emily and gained Steve for this trip) were off to Brussels. It was one of our only full weekends and we decided to venture out of Italy.

Although this is a city you can see in one or two days (not 3!), it was definitely my cup of tea. Belgium is known for waffles, fries and beer, the perfect trio. Delirium cafe is a must stop on anyones visit to Brussels, it holds the Guinness Book of World Records for most beer available on tap. After 3 nights of going there, I didn’t even make a dent in drinking all the beers. My favorite was the Delirium Red, it is a kriek beer infused with cranberry’s and is a must try. Also try Trappist beer which is also famous in Belgium (I’m not sure if i’m allowed to talk about beer on here, but you can’t go to Belgium and beer not be a subject of discussion).

Fries, oh my, Belgium fries otherwise known as frites are the greatest invention ever made. Frite Land was a restaurant that sold just fries and for a cheap price. I could have eaten there for every meal while I was there and frankly, I think I did. (ps get samurai sauce)

The first day we were there we did a Sandeman’s tour of Brussels to get a footing of the city. Our tour guide was amazing, funny and very helpful if we had questions. We learned about the city, the history, and culture of Belgium. He also showed us some local spots to go to.

Weekend 3: Abetone

This wasn’t exactly the best trip I took in Europe but it was a learning experience for sure. Abetone is a ski town in Tuscany, yes I said Tuscany. It was surprisingly a pretty large mountain, but the conditions were very poor. The elevation isn’t exactly ideal so it rained instead of snowed. Since I didn’t brink my snowboarding gear with me, I had to settle with cheap gloves, sweatpants, a parka for a jacket, and no goggles!!! – not exactly the best snowboarding gear. Due to bad weather and insane wind speeds, only 2 lifts were open. If you’ve ever been snowboarding in the rain, you know it’s miserable. The rain soaked my sweatpants and parka and I was freezing the whole time but I still didn’t let that ruin my experience. Halfway through the day it started getting colder and even windier. The top of the mountain was a blizzard, the bottom of the mountain was a hurricane. Being an avid snowboarder and going with girls who had never skied before, it didn’t go so well. We were in the middle of the blizzard and these two girls couldn’t get down the toughest part of the run. After what felt like 5 hours (actually 2), we finally made it down the mountain and back to the airbnb. When we arrived … no electricity. No electricity meant no heat. Nonetheless, we decided to pack up early and head home. On the bus ride home, of course I would manage to leave my jacket on the bus which contained my eyeglasses, and half my money. RIP glasses. It was definitely the nail in the coffin.

Weekend 5: Pisa

Unfortunately due to some family issues I had to return home for a week. However, when I returned a group of us went to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was only a day trip and we only spent a couple hours in Pisa but it was a beautiful, warm and sunny day. The rest of the weekend I walked around Arezzo and tried to experience as much as I could of this amazing city that I wish I would have spent more time in.

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Abroad pt I

Although I have been meaning to do this for the longest time, I have finally found enough time to fully reflect on my journey abroad this past semester. It’s been a hectic few weeks since I’ve been back, but now let me summarize my trips abroad.

Weekend 1: Trip to Florence

Going to Europe, even at the OU study center in Arezzo, I hardly knew any of the 60 people on the program. However, you will make friends quickly. It was on the layover on the way to Italy that I met Emily, Emily #2 and Trace. Anyway, the three of us decided to start small and go to Florence for our first week in Europe. This was my favorite group to travel with cause we were totally obnoxious and I’m fairly certain Italians hated us cause we were so loud. Although we didn’t do the super touristy things like see the David of Michelangelo or climb the Duomo, we relaxed and explored Florence.

The evening we arrived, we decided to hike to the top of Piazza San Michelangelo to see the most beautiful sunset in Italy and probably one the most beautiful sceneries I had seen in all of my travels in Europe. Locals and tourists flocked to this location for the magical and relaxed ambiance it portrayed.

After traveling through Spain, Portugal and England, and seeing hundreds of churches, the Duomo of Florence was one of my all time favorites because of it’s beautiful exterior. Although the interior didn’t quite match the outside, it still housed some of the most important artwork and frescoes in art history. Another museum/church I highly recommend is the Basilica of Santa Croce. It is filled with beautiful frescoes and holds the burial sites for some of the most famous people from Italy – Galileo, Dante Alighieri, Machiavelli, and Michelangelo.

This trip was the perfect kick starter for an amazing semester.

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What makes wine so different?

Every wine is different. The same wine can taste different just hours apart from each sip – this is probably the greatest characteristic about this drink. With soda or beer, one knows what they will taste. The mystery behind every bottle of wine makes it so special.

As science has progressed so has the chemistry of viticulture. With the ability to separate yeast strains, winemaking can now be controlled to get a desirable outcome.No matter how fancy or expensive the bottle, every wine is compromised of mostly water and alcohol – only 2 percent of the chemical composition allows for any variety. But oh, how that 2 percent can vary.

Last week I went to a restaurant in Sorrento, Italy and tried these two different wines. The one on the left was a 2013 Chianti red ($5/glass) and the one to the right was the house red wine ($8/liter). Although I know nothing about the origin of the house wine on the right, I could tell it was a young wine, most likely from 2015. It was not the sweetest of wines. It did have a high acidity which means the alcohol content was lower; this was also represented in the slow viscosity from the tears on the side of the wine glass. Acidity in wine is the taste of tart and zesty. The glass on the left had a dark body, rich and complex. It had a low acidity and was sweet. It also had a bitter and dry aftertaste. This is due to tannins that dry out your tongue.

Each wine had its pro’s and con’s. The red wine to the left was complex and sweet but had a very bitter and dry aftertaste. The wine to the right was very acidic but also fruity. However, my favorite was the one to the left since it had a greater complexion and was lest acidic which is what I like in a wine.

 

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Carnival vs Halloween

Carnival in Italy is a big deal. Throughout the month of February, almost every city in Italy is invaded with costumes, masks, confetti, and a ton of parties that creates a very exciting atmosphere. Carnival is the last celebration before lent begins where Catholics give up something for 40 days until Easter in April. Many compare Carnival to Mardi Gras since they are during the same time period and have the same purpose. In America, Mardi Gras is a celebration where people party in crazy costumes, masks and beads all throughout the night. However, what many didn’t know is the many similarities and differences between Italian Carnival and Halloween. Carnival is important in Italy because it celebrates the Italian tradition that is slowly disappearing. Halloween shows the innovation of fashion based on movies, people and trends.

For both Halloween and Carnival, everyone dresses up in costumes. In America, the costumes are very creative, but for Carnival, everyone wears very traditional costumes that dates back centuries. Of course for Halloween, people party a lot but Carnival is on a whole different level. For Carnival, there are block parties all around the city, subways and buses are packed with drunk people, and many streets are blocked off to people drinking in the streets. Another similarity I noticed was that many people in both situations celebrate each tradition greatly and go all out. The main difference in these two traditions is their purpose. Carnival and Halloween are celebrated in totally different months and seasons.

One thing that I learned was that in Italy, Halloween is adjusting and becoming more popular, and in some cases, more popular than carnival. Of course in cities like Venice, Viareggio, and a few others where carnival is a serious matter it hasn’t, but in many cities, the towns do not invest much into their celebration as compared to Halloween. Many Italians will say that Halloween is slowly taking the place of carnival. But overall Carnival was a great experience. The entire city of Venice, and in a similar case Arezzo, erupted with music, life, costumes, and it became a huge party.

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Tuscan Wineries

In the past two weeks, my Culinary Chemistry class has visited two wineries throughout Tuscany, Pomaio and La Vialla. Although both wineries are similar, each one has very different approaches to how they make their wine.

The first winery we visited was Pomaio. Pomaio is an eco-friendly/green winery estate with a very elegant and professional approach to their wine tour. In this wine haven, the organic vineyards are cultivated 550 meters above sea level with great exposure to sunlight and receives adequate amounts of rainfall. Throughout the tour, our guide introduced us to the different philosophies of wine cultivation, explained to us the importance of the wine cellar and how its eco-designed layout is similar to the method the Etruscans used, and a wine tasting coupled with the appropriate food to match the taste of the wine. Although they are a small micro-winery, they still produce around 15,000-20,000 bottles of wine per year, mostly of Sangiovese grape. Their production features 5 different labels of wine and two varieties of grapes, Merlot and Sangiovese. During the wine tasting, my favorite wine was the Porsenna which was 100% Sangiovese Cru because of the complex, fruity and structured taste.

La Vialla, although a green/eco-friendly winery like Pomaio, was much different than Pomaio in both their method of making the wine and their approach to how they do their tours. This winery is on a  3,316 acre, family-run agricultural vineyard, and is one of the oldest biodynamic and organic farm wineries in the chianti region. Since La Vialla has a much larger production of both red and white wines, their wine cellar was much larger than Pomaio’s. However, both Pomaio and La Vialla both had similar fermentation and production methods.

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Olive Oil Tasting

Italian olive oil – a taste that confirms my best and worst suspicions. I am appalled by its complexity but yet even more appalled by how olive oil is still in business. Due to its strange buttery texture with minimal taste and a strange bitterness, olive oil has never been my favorite ingredient. However, in class we tasted a variety of different olive oils that ranged from strong bitter to mild bitter, strong intensity of flavor to mild intensity of flavor, and a strong aroma to mild aroma.

The four olive oils tasted were: Agricole Dioscesane, Buccia Nera, Conad and Tenute di Fraternita. The first oil tasted was Conad. The Conad olive oil had a medium bitter taste but did not taste acidic. The bitterness caused a little burn at the back of the throat. It had a medium intensity with a buttery texture paired with a mild aroma. The next oil tasted was Agricole Dioscesane. Agricole Dioscesane had a mild bitterness, a strong intense flavor of green pepper or black pepper, and medium aroma. The third oil tasted was Buccia Nera. This was Dr. Haltermann’s and I’s favorite olive oil because of the medium bitterness and medium aroma along with a strong, intense, and fruity flavor. The last oil tasted was the Tenute di Fraternita. This oil was very different from the other oils because it was darker and had a strong aroma. Also it was very bitter, acidic and had a strong and intense green pepper flavor.

In conclusion, with olive oil, you really do get what you paid for.

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The Countdown

Finals are over and the holidays are here. This means only one thing, less than a month till I start the opportunity of a lifetime to study abroad in Italy! So here’s my official countdown:

Days till winter break: officially 0!

Days till Christmas: 9 days

Days till Decadence in Denver, Colorado: 14 days

Days till New Years: 15 days

Days till I leave for ITALYYY!: 30 days!

It’s crazy to think that six months ago, I had no idea where I wanted to go and now it’s finally here. For those of you getting ready to leave in the Spring, you can relate to how hectic everything is by getting itineraries planned, getting everything ready to pack or still figuring what you’re going to need to bring (or not bring), and learning everything you need to know about the country/countries you want to visit. Anyways, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Years. Good luck next semester to everyone staying in the states, I hope you can somewhat live vicariously through the other abroad fellows’ blog posts. See you when I’m in Italy  ?

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The Foreign Policies of President Trump

In the early days of November, I attended a discussion panel about the foreign policies of each candidate running for the 2016 election. The next US president will face a vast amount of international issues, including the turmoil throughout the Middle East (especially in Syria, specifically Aleppo), Russia including all the conspiracy theories that affect international security, trade deals with China, and the controversy of the Iran nuclear deal.

ISIS: Each issue has serious outcomes which can greatly affect the future of our great nation. One big challenge would include how to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS). However, Trump remains silent on his plan to defeat ISIS and instead wants the element of surprise.

Russia: Trump has the idea of creating an alliance with Russia, which will help ease tensions in Syria. Trump and President Putin have a close relationship and close ties with each others top advisers.

China: The US and China have always had a complicated relationship. Trump believes China is a currency manipular, in which he would crack down on hacking and threaten the Chinese government to rewrite trade agreements or start using steep tariffs on goods. In addition, Trump would add military presence in the South China Sea to deter Chinese territorial claims to different islands in the region. Also, he would make rules stricter against Chinese subsidies to boost exports. Finally he would oppose Trans-pacific Partnership between 12 countries throughout the pacific ocean.

With many Americans worried, any miscalculation on any of the these foreign pressure points could have combustible consequences.

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Arabic Flagship

In the beginning of December, my roommate and our OU Cousin attended the Arabic Flagship Fall Talent Show. I was a very unique experience for all of us since we all don’t know anything about Middle Eastern traditions. Although it was all in Arabic, luckily there was a translator for us to understand. My favorite part about this event had to have been the food. Not every day do you have a traditional Arabic meal, of which included a flavorful rice dish, humus, and some of the best tea I have ever had, which was all delicious. Throughout the night, videos, poems and a range of diverse performances were performed. This night was very enjoyable and it was a great opportunity for my OU cousin to further diversify himself. I can’t wait to partake in this event in the future hopefully with my future cousin!

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OU Cousins

This year, a group of my friends and I signed up for the OU Cousins program and we all got paired with a group of Spaniards. This was probably the best decision because they all somewhat knew each other and we could go in a big group to different events and skip the 1-on-1 awkwardness. Since they were from a country that I’ve grown so fond of, it was a great experience hearing stories and being able to picture and to relate to them since I was there last summer. Also, it gave me a chance to broaden my international connections. Once they found out I was studying abroad next semester in Italy, they all started to make plans for all of us to meet up. I am so thankful for OU Cousins for allowing me to create some of the most valuable friendships.

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