Sunday, January 24, 2010

Many Little Bridges

Our time in Florence was pretty good. In our afternoon there, Joshy, Joey, Nadav, Seth and I went to the Accademia to see the David. It was absolutely breathtaking. The sheer size of it is incredible (especially when considering this tidbit I picked up from a nearby tourguide: between the fall of the Roman Empire and the time of the David’s carving, there were no statues made anywhere near the size of the David. That means that 500 years elapsed and yet Michelangelo had no problem taking hammer and chisel to a massive block of discarded marble to bring out the David), but beyond that, the entire body is in perfect proportion, and it is just stunning. The rest of the museum is unimpressive, though Joshy told me that I missed a room with a Stradivarius violin, which is upsetting. After that, we walked to the Duomo (closed but we marveled at the outside) and the Jewish Ghetto (the synagogue was also closed, but again, beautiful from the outside). When we got back to the hostel, we relaxed for a while and then hung out with girls. It was great to see them (and watch an episode of Lost), but after dinner I didn’t feel like going out so I watched Anchorman and had an early night.

The next day, after breakfast with the girls, we split up into two groups, Adam and Gabe went to see the David because they had missed out on it the day before, and the rest of us went to the Da Vinci Museum. On our way there, we passed the Duomo again, and went in this time. The dome is absolutely breathtaking, but other than that, I wasn’t too impressed. I may be Christianity-ed out, or maybe all churches just pale in comparison to St. Peter’s. In the Da Vinci museum, based on da Vinci’s original plans, they have created some of his incredible machines. They have early bicycles, machine guns, parachutes, tanks, and a 12-sided room with mirrors covering every wall. It was really cool, and we ran into the other boys group there which was nice.

Once we finished there, we went to the train station to catch our train to Venice. The ride itself was very pleasant (the train was the nice, express kind which we’d also had on our way to Florence, with unbelievable leg-room, which is very important for people like me) with scenic mountain views out the windows. I read Have a Little Faith and listened to my iPod the whole way (I’m finally finished with My Year of Living Biblically, by the way. Good book). We got to Venice in the early afternoon and checked into our hotel. I had gotten us a slightly better deal on a slightly better hotel by talking to the Chabad rabbi in town, but Seth discovered that if we were to cancel our reservation at the place he’d booked, we would have to pay a penalty, which made the rabbi’s deal actually financially prohibitive. So we’re not staying in the best place, but it’s a place, and it’s close to the Ghetto. There doesn’t actually seem to be that much to DO in Venice, which is a little surprising. We went for a quick walk on Friday, and then went to the local Shul for services. I knew that Venice was filled with canals, but I guess I thought that there were cars too. There aren’t. It’s really a crazy place. After Shul, we went to the Kosher restaurant Gam Gam for dinner. It is free on Shabbat, courtesy of Chabad and though they are PACKED, the food is good and the atmosphere is fun. The Chabad guys loved us because we (along with Judah and his group) sung a lot. They had their own take on the song Kol HaOlam Kulo – Kol Venetziah Kulo (The actual song says “The whole entire world is a very narrow bridge…” theirs goes “all of Venice is a bunch of tiny bridges [harbeh gsharim ktanim]”) – oh Chabad. After dinner we went back to the hotel and watched The Usual Suspects (which I found predictable) and then went to bed.

On Saturday morning, we woke up late and went straight back to Gam Gam for lunch. We had to wait about an hour and a half because they had no room for us (even though they knew we were coming). The food was good once we finally had it. After lunch we went back to the hotel and watched The Truman Show (which I enjoyed). After that, we went for a walk from our hotel to San Marco’s square which is really cool, in that it was both cool colloquially and literally freezing. Shabbat ended while we were out there and then we walked home. While I would love to take boats everywhere while in Venice, they want 6 Euro per ride (roughly $9), and Italy is just TEARING through my Payoneer card so we decided we could just walk stuff. We made it home from San Marco’s pretty frozen. After thawing in the hotel, we went out to dinner and then back to the hotel to hang out and watch Kung Fu Panda (a Seffi and Matan favorite).

This morning we woke up, had the wonderful hotel breakfast (I had Twining’s English Breakfast tea with one sugar and honey, my favorite) and then set out for the Murano Venetian glass factory. When we got to the dock for the boat ride to Murano Island, we found out that it was closed (which may or may not have actually been true). We hung around on the freezing dock for a while, and then headed home, stopping off to look at Venetian glass at several stores on the way. I had hoped to get souvenirs here, but to my eye the jewelry isn’t understated enough for the ladies in my life (Eemah and Navah), so I didn’t buy anything.

We had lunch on the way home and then watched Star Trek while we thawed. We’ve napped for a while and now it’s just about time for dinner and American football!

Talk to you soon,


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Naples, Sorrento and Florence!

On Monday night we left our hostel around 9:30 and boarded a Metro for the edge of town. After transferring to a bus, we arrived at the Olympic Stadium. There, we met the girls (Adina, Rachel, Ariella and Debbie). It was good to see them. We walked for about 20 minutes down a large street and then turned off to a smaller street with a gelateria. There I had my first ever canoli.
Now, brought on by my thoughts of canoli, I hope my readers will allow me a brief tangent on those foods that I believe all tourists should get while in Italy (aka, the best stuff I’ve had so far):

1. Pizza all over the place – the best pizzas I’ve had so far have come at the Irish pub in Rome where we watched the football game, the little restaurant after the botanical garden break-in/out and a restaurant just outside of Pompeii (you may think I listed all the places I’ve had pizza. You’d be wrong. So wrong. So much pizza). I didn’t love the pizza I got in Napoli, but that was the one time I departed from my usual margherita pizza, so that my have been the problem, after all, Napoli is the birthplace of pizza, how could it be bad?
2. Gnocci alla Sorentino (Sorrento-style gnocci) at English Inn in Sorrento – we found this place without the help of Rick and it was a spectacular discovery. The waiters are friendly and funny, with good English, and the food is delicious. The people who got pizza here loved it too, but the gnocci was the best thing any of us ordered. We ate here two nights, and the second night I got fagotini instead (more to be able to say I ate fagotini than because I didn’t want gnocci again). The fagotini was good, but the best part of the meal was when they made us extra gnocci and gave half plates to all of us for free.
3. Gelato from Gelateria Della Palma – This is a big gelateria two blocks in front of the Pantheon, and probably more worth going to this part of Rome than the Pantheon itself. They have over 150 flavors, and the all look delicious. In particular, I loved the mango and the mascarpone. The most exciting part of eating there may have been examining my cup and noticing that they seem to have a store in NYC. Something to look into.
4. Hot chocolate from Illy – Illy is a European coffee chain, sorta. They also sell alcohol, candy and, most importantly, hot chocolate. On a tip from another Nativer a bunch of us had our eyes peeled all trip for an Illy and we finally found one. The guy who made it for us slaved over the pot for about five minutes, including one point where he called over the store manager to help him – they are serious about their hot chocolate.

We left shortly after and took a taxi home because the public transportation system ends early. The next morning we got to the Termini early and boarded our train to Napoli (Naples). Before the Rome portion of my blog ends I want to mention one interesting thing I discovered there. The letters SPQR are everywhere – on buildings, on manhole covers, on street signs. We spent some time trying to guess what they stood for, but finally I resorted to Wikipedia. SPQR stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus - the Senate and the People of Rome. The acronym refers to the ancient Roman government, but is used today as well.
The train was long, but I passed the time by reading Rick Steves on Napoli and Sorrento by watching Mr. and Mrs. Smith and, of course, by looking out the window as often as possible. We arrived in Napoli (which Rick Steves, the Arbibs, and everyone we met said was a very dangerous city) and bought the Arte Card. With that, we would have unlimited public transportation for three days, as well as free admission to two sites (same basic idea as the Roma Pass). We headed right down to the Circumvesuviana commuter train (absolutely COVERED in graffiti like everything here) and boarded the line which terminates in Sorrento. We were on the train for about 35 minutes before we got to the stop Pompei: Villa dei Misterei.
When we disembarked, we went right to the ticket booth to get our tickets (free with the Arte Card) and store our luggage. Then we went back to the row of pizza places we’d seen earlier. We walked along each store checking prices until we got to the largest one. The guy there pulled us aside (when European shop owners see seven Americans walking, they REALLY want to make a sale) and asked us where there was room for a pizza kitchen in the other stores we passed. He had a point; they were really tiny. We went in and he gave us a pretty good discount. We each got a personal pizza (that seems to be the way they sell pizza here) and we bought lemoncello for the table. Lemoncello is a product of Sorrento, which is known for its lemons and other citrus fruit. It’s a dessert liquor, but we had it with lunch – it was pretty awful, but apparently it’s supposed to be served chilled and ours was warm.
After lunch, we went in to Pompeii which was really cool. We walked all over the city, with Adam guiding us with Rick’s tour. Many pieces of the city were closed off for renovations, and parts of the site had been converted to a cafeteria and gift shop. This was all a little annoying, but we still had fun exploring and climbing over walls and ancient ovens and things. I was especially struck by the size of the city. All other ancient cities I’ve been to (with the obvious exception of Rome and Jerusalem) have been little more than towns, Pompeii is HUGE. We finished our tour in the city’s amphitheatre, and took a nap on the grass in the sun in the middle of it. We did some last illegal climbing there and then hightailed it back to the exit.
Back on the Circumvesuviana we enjoyed the beautiful views of the Bay of Napoli on one side and Mt. Vesuvius on the other. The presence of mountains is an impressive feature in the backdrop, one to which I am unaccustomed. I am consistently feeling the tug of a heretofore-undiscovered desire to hike all the time – I think it has to do with these mountains in the not-so-distance. We arrived in Sorrento about 35 minutes later and schlepped our stuff to our hostel. The sign said “Deluxe Hostel,” and they were actually being serious. The lobby was beautiful as were our rooms and best of all there was free WiFi. We hung around for a while and then walked down the street in search of a place to eat. The first place we saw looked good, a place called English Inn. Dinner was absolutely wonderful. After we finished, we were exhausted and went straight back to the hostel. We went to bed early for a good night’s sleep.
In the morning we got up and went back to the Circumvesuviana and took the hour-ish long ride back to Napoli. We spent about and hour arguing over how to reserve tickets for the ride to Lecce and the night train from Lecce to Venice. Finally, we bought tickets and went for pizza. The argument was pretty mean-spirited and exhausting and totally unnecessary, but I guess this is what happens when seven 18-19 year-olds travel together. From the train station we walked a while to what Rick Steves described as the best pizza in Napoli. They had a line out the door so, consulting Rick, we walked around the corner to the best pizza’s rival. They had much more room inside, and their pizza was still very good. From there, we walked to the Napoli Archaeological museum, where all the really cool stuff from Pompeii and Ercolano (Herculaneum, a city nearby, also destroyed by Vesuvius), as well as other stuff, is now located. We had fun running through the museum and posing next to statues. Statues have gotten kind of old for many of us, though the big ones are still really cool. We tend to really enjoy frescoes and mosaics. Once we finished at the museum we were tired and still a little crazed, so we went right back to our hostel instead of climbing Vesuvius.
Once back in Sorrento we spent some time exploring the town (pop ~12,000). The place is really beautiful, with storefronts painted in bright colors, and tiny streets weaving their way through the town. The orange and lemon trees all over the place add even more color. We walked the streets of the town pretty aimlessly, stopping off every few stores. We finally ended up back at English Inn for dinner which was good again. I went to bed pretty early, because we knew we needed to get up at 6:00 a.m. to make it to the Napoli train station for an 8:50 train.
Everything seemed to be going right in the morning. We were out of the hostel by ten to seven and we made the right Circumvesuviana train to Napoli, projected to get in at 8:25. Only the train took forever, stopping for several minutes at several of the stops for no apparent reason. It became evident that the only way we were going to make out train was if we ran as soon as we got to the station. We jumped off the train at exactly 8:50, praying for our train to Lecce to leave late (our train from Rome to Napoli left 15 mins late) and sprinted. For about ten feet. Then we hit a solid wall of people and were forced to slow down to a crawl. We made it to the platforms at 8:54 – and the train was gone. After a pretty contentious powwow, we decided to ditch the idea of Lecce and instead take a train to Florence. We grabbed breakfast and boarded our train without a problem.
I'm finishing this post in my hostel room in Florence. We're staying in the same place as the girls. Hopefully everyone will get over their sulkiness enough so that we can do some sightseeing.

Talk to you soon,

Monday, January 18, 2010

Archaeological Dig and Shabbat in Roma!

I’m gonna start with Israel Experience Week because so much good stuff has happened that I’m just not sure I can remember what I did in between my last blog post and then. On Sunday, January 10th, we woke up early and all davened together. The three groups (volunteering in Haifa, Gadna, and Archaeological Dig) got on three different buses. I was really quite excited. I sat with Adina and caught up to her in Lost. When we got to Teveriah we went directly to the site and got showed around by our guide Gilad who is an archaeologist at the site. The theatre is pretty cool, part of old Teveriah from Roman times, 2,000 years ago. After a pretty brief look around, we went into the city of Teveriah and explored a bit before heading back to the hostel for (an absolutely delicious!) dinner. Joe, Joey, Gabe and I (room Joe Joe Joe Gabe) spent some time hanging out in our room and then went to bed early.

The next day, we woke up, and davened. I read torah (Vaera, the first reading I ever learned), we went back to the theatre, Judah and I volunteered for some work that Gilad specified needed guys while everyone else brushed the theatre to prep it for birds eye view pictures being taken by a hot air balloon later in the day. It turned out that Judah and I were hauling buckets of dirt for some archaeologist who was clearing out the floor of a room. It was boring and not fun because the guy wasn’t friendly. After about an hour of that, we went to Migdal and saw a recently excavated Beit Knesset from Second Temple times. I hesitate to use the term synagogue because of its modern meaning. The Israelis telling us about it always think Beit Knesset (literally house of congregation) and translate that as synagogue. The problem with that is that it wasn’t a house of worship, that was the Temple in Jerusalem. It was a place for studying torah Ezra and Nehemia style. We dug there for a little and then headed back to the hostel. The boys gathered in our room to watch Zach and Miri and then we went to bed.

In the morning we woke up, davened and went to the theatre. My digging group, Joey, Adina, Seth and I, dug really productively. We were in a hole which was probably the foundations of the building, surrounded by four roman walls (better built that Arab walls). Our task was to level out the floor and pick out pottery that we found. After the dig we went to Nahal Tabor in the Golan (I think) for a hike. It was a very easy hike for about 2 1/2 hours and then the last 30 minute stretch was about a 70 degree incline - brutal. Joe and I freestyled to the tune of Eishet Chayil, it was pretty cool. Once we got home we had dinner (the food at Karei Deshe is really good) and then I watched Notting Hill with Adina, Ally, LeeAnn and Judah

The next day we woke up, davened, packed up and went to the theatre. The group was much less productive than the day before. We spent several hours evening out the hole. When we left the dig we went to gamla which was so cool! Gamla is an ancient town that was destroyed by the romans 1900 years ago, and was never rebuilt so it never became a tel. Our tour guide, Dani, is the guy who first discovered it and dug it up, so he had a lot to say. The hike back to the top was hard as the day before, made harder because it was raining. In the evening we got to the new hotel, which was pretty nice with delicious food. My room was the joes, me joey and joe - such fun. A bunch of boys got together and watched the movie Role Models.

On the last day of the dig we woke up, davened, and had an incredible breakfast at the hotel. We went to theatre and dug for a few hours had pizza for lunch and then it was time for the bus home.

On Friday morning at 2 a.m Jlem time, seven of us – Joey, Joshy, Nadav, Adam, Seth, Gabe Ci and I got into a sheirut along with another group of three who were also going to the airport. The driver asked us if we were in a hurry. We said yes, even though our flight wasn’t until 6:00. We got to Ben Gurion exactly 28 minutes later. Pretty impressive driving. Some of you know how much I was freaking out about going to Italy, and how stressful it was for me. When I got to the airport that feeling of apprehension didn’t go away entirely, but it began to melt away a bit. We made out way through security and all that, bought the requisite Ben Gurion McDonald’s, and went to our gate. At the gate, I started reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. Strangely, I’ve never read anything by him before. When Navah was in Israel, she finished Have a Little Faith, his latest book, which Auntie had given her for Hanukkah, and lent it to me. I found Five People lying around Beit Nativ and figured I should read the one first. I alternated between reading and dozing off until 5:50, when we began boarding. We took our seats on the plane, and passed out. I woke up for breakfast, and then sporadically throughout the flight.

We landed in Rome at around 9:00 a.m. Rome time. We made our way through the airport, took out Euros from ATMs and did lots of little things. On the plane, I began to familiarize myself with Rick Steves’ Guide to Italy, specifically the Rome section. He highly recommends (and I guess now I do too) purchasing the Roma Pass. For 22 Euro (I think), you get two passes, one for sightseeing and one for transportation. Each is good for three days from the first use. The sightseeing one allows free entry to two sights and discounted entry for certain sites after that. The transport one provides free train and bus rides for three days. We took a shuttle to the Termini, the main train station in Rome, and walked to our hostel from there. Along the way, we lost Joshy and Gabe. It was frustrating trying to find them, and frustrating that they got lost and I was worried that this difficulty was indicative of what was to come. We found them quickly enough and went to our first hostel, Freestyle. We met Philippe, the manager of the hostel and he let us leave our stuff in his room while they got our rooms ready. We went back towards the Termini to a pizza place we’d seen earlier and got our first taste of what is sure to be LOTS of Italian pizza, and it did not disappoint. Kari had told me about a pizza place to look for, but I couldn’t find it…the pizza we had was incredible anyway.

After lunch we went back to our hostel and moved into our room. We had a seven-person room, which was lucky as we expected to be split up. It was weird that the room was actually around the block from the hostel office in an apartment building. Weirder still was that the common room of the apartment (which has thee hostel bedrooms attached to it) is also where one hostel employee, Yusuf, lives. Yusuf sleeps on the couch and makes free breakfast and dinner for his guests. He also loves me because I told him that my name was also Yusuf – sorta. We threw our stuff down, and headed out to the Coliseum. When you get near the Coliseum, you KNOW it. It is so massive and just dominates the view. We took lots of pictures overlooking it before we even approached. I know, Navah, you don’t want me to go because it’s $50 and just filled with trash inside. Well, we got in free because of the Roma Passes, and inside was REALLY cool. I’m not sure if it’s because I had just come from an archaeological dig, or because I had seen Gladiator somewhat recently, because I’m a guy or just because a lot can change in five years, but the Coliseum is awesome. Sure, it’s missing the floor, so you can just walk around it in a ring on the inside (and up one floor also), and sure, it was build by Jewish slaves, but this 50,000 seat stadium is a crazy testament to Roman barbarism and brilliance all in one (I’m talking like Rick Steves’. Weird.)

With the Coliseum behind us, we went back to the hostel and discovered that Judah, Adam and Ben were also staying in our apartment. I was spending much of the day making final arrangements for Shabbat dinner. What I finally got worked out with the Chabad rabbi was that he could put up the four of us who are Shomer Shabbat for dinner, but the other three would have to eat at the hostel – they were cool with that so that’s what we did. The four of us went to shul and sat through a crazy service. Everything was said out loud and most of what I think of as Kabbalat Shabbat was left out. I’m not sure if that was local Italian tradition or Sfardi. I was told to seek out the Arbib family, Vito and his son David. The rabbi of the shul told me that he was an Arbib, but I was looking for his brother. He gave me the address, and we found the house – eventually. It was nothing like what I was expecting. The Arbibs own the penthouse of a six floor apartment building. It was the most beautiful home I had ever seen. We figured that it was probably worth significantly more than any of our lives. We met a man, Rahamim Tshuva, who was a friend of the family’s, also there for dinner, but we sat for about 30 minutes before we finally met Mr. and Mrs. Arbib and their 16-year-old son David. Their older son is studying at IDC after a year at HaKotel. Dinner was delicious. The wine at the beginning for Kiddush was even good, and I don’t like wine. Vito told us that he makes all the food himself (it was actually brought to the table by a servant) and that he is Libyan, and that is the style of cuisine. They were very generous and nice, but there were awkward moments when they were all speaking Italian and we just spoke quietly amongst ourselves. David gave a Dvar Torah and we did a little singing. During dessert, Mrs. Arbib insisted that we come back for lunch and there was no way we were turning her down. We asked and she said we could bring our friends as well. We went back home and fell asleep quickly.

On Shabbat morning we woke up and showered and got dressed and left around ten a.m. We went to the National Museum (free for us with the Roma Pass, so I deemed it Shabbat appropriate – in hindsight, maybe I should have gone to Shut, but I didn’t really enjoy the place we went to Friday night and we didn’t know of any other options) and walked through all of the galleries. They have statues of Agustus Caesar and Socrates, one of the statues of The Discus Thrower, great mosaics and frescoes, ancient Roman coins and ornaments – it was awesome.

After we finished at the museum we killed some time just walking around until we ended up at the Arbibs’ again. Imagine our surprise when we walked into the dining room and saw the other guys group (Aaron, Max, Jonny, Asaf, Brian and Jesse) seated around the table. We had fun talking with them and singing zmirot, which Vito loved (Especially the more Sfardi sounding tune for Dror Yikra). He was so happy with our singing that he gave us all a little bit of his 21-year-old whiskey – it was pretty cool, especially the way it annihilates your sinuses. We did Mincha with the Arbibs, and then it was time to check out their bathrooms and hit the road.

After lunch, we walked over to a sports bar on Via Nazzionale and some of the boys went in to see if they would show the Vikings/Cowboys game on Sunday night (7 p.m. here, 1 p.m. in America). They told us they would. After that was settled, we walked toward the Roman Forum, intending to follow Ricky Stee’s (my pet name for Rick Steves, because it reminds me of my favorite place to eat, the Frankie Si cafeteria at Heb U) walking tour there. I read some cool facts on the way over, and Rick really set the stage, writing about where Marc Antony offered Caesar the crown and where great orators would address the people of Rome.

We spent a few hours walking all around the Forum, but we couldn’t get in because it closes at 3:30 p.m. That was a let-down, but we saw most of it. From there we walked around Palatine Hill and Capitol Hill and saw lots of beautiful buildings. Once we finished that, we walked home, and had the great free dinner that was waiting for us at the hostel. Yusuf had made penne vodka and it was great. After dinner, Joshy, Joey, Gabe and Nadav went out to buy beer, but they came home with a 5-liter jug of white wine instead, intending to split it between the four of them. It was a pretty hysterical moment because of the sheer size of the jug. They finished it and then we headed out. A few people had wanted to go on a pub crawl, but instead we went to the Spanish Steps and hung out with the girls (Adina, Rachel, Ariella, Debbie and Jordana).

(In this next paragraph, names are changed, with Italian flair, due to privacy considerations) We hung out there for a bit, and then went to the McDonald’s nearby, apparently one of the largest, and by far the classiest in the world. Rachel and I were splitting a McFlury and then we turned around and saw Giuseppe throwing up. A lot. After a few minutes, we got him to stop and Joey took him outside while Debbie, Jordana and I cleaned up. While in the bathroom washing my hands after cleaning, I spotted one sink filled with regurgitated pasta. I knew then that this was going to be a difficult night. I found Napoleon sitting out front with Debbie and he confessed to me that it was he who had thrown up in the sink. Meanwhile, Giuseppe was sitting outside with Joey, still throwing up. Joey was trying to get him to drink water, but he was refusing and when he did drink, he threw it up about five minutes later. The other boys group showed up at that point and started taking videos and pictures of the whole thing. Paolo, Benedetto and Fabio went home, because the Metro allegedly stops running at 11 and we wanted to make sure that they had a way home. Giuseppe told us, in perhaps his only clear thinking moment of the night, that he would pay for a cab. Joey, Napoleon, Giuseppe and I got into a cab, but had to quickly get back out because Giuseppe wasn’t done throwing up. We sat at the curbside for another half an hour or so before we finally were able to get in a taxi. We made it home, and as soon as we walked into Yusuf’s room, Giuseppe bent over and started retching. He was running on empty though, so we gave him a garbage can for good luck and put him to bed, same deal with Napoleon. It was a very crazy night, but fun to look back on now.

On Sunday morning we got up and had breakfast and then went back towards the forum on out way to the Jewish Ghetto. We went in – for free because it’s the same admission as our free Coliseum admission – and saw the Arch of Titus up close. One interesting fact that you may not have known is that apparently the vast majority of costumed gladiators who charge for pictures with them outside of the Coliseum are Jewish. One of them, spotting my kipa, grabbed us and pulled us aside. He pointed to us and said “You Jewish! I Jewish too!” He pulled out a Jewish Star necklace and showed it around. He then said “You want picture with gladiator? For you, picture free.” And then, “I have a message for all the goyim f*** you!” He made us take pictures with our middle fingers extended, cursing non-Jews. It was pretty weird. After that experience, we made our way over to the Jewish Ghetto and walked past the Great Synagogue, in search of the Kosher Deli that cousin Ronit had told me about. We found it and had lunch. It was no Kosher Nosh, but it was ok.

After lunch, we wanted to go to the Great Synagogue, but it turns out that that was actually when the Pope was speaking so we couldn’t get in. We went back towards the Pantheon to get gelato from gelateria Della Palma, heavily recommended by both Navah and Rick Steves. It hadn’t yet been three hours so Nadav, Joey, Seth and I figured we would wait it out. We all went to the Pantheon and then the Trevi fountain. The Pantheon is very ugly from the outside and very pretty on the inside, very large, with a very wide dome. The Trevi is more impressive, with water cascading around a depiction of Neptune. Aftet the Trevi we split up with the four of us plus Joshy going to the Four Rivers fountain and Adam and Gabe going back to the hostel. The Four Rivers was less cool that the Trevi but still pretty awesome. The four rivers are the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile and the Ria de la Plata, representing the four known continents at the time of construction. Each is depicted in human form which is pretty cool.

After our fountain tour, it had just about been three hours, so we went back to Della Palma. I got Kit-Kat and milk chocolate (not very creative, I know). From there we went to our new hostel, Mosaic, just down the block from our old one. While Freestyle had a homey feel, Mosaic feels much more structured, but it also has better accommodations. We napped a little and then went over to the sports bar for dinner and the football game. We had pizza dinner while we waited for the game to start (great pizza) and Brian and Asaf showed up from the other guys group. After we’d watched the game a little, the girls showed up and I moved to a booth with Adina, Rachel and Ariella. We had fun talking and paying a little attention to the game (Vikings/Cowboys doesn’t interest me too much, as long as the Cowboys lose), and it was nice to hang out with them. From the bar, Joey, Joshy, Seth, Gabe and I joined the girls and walked to the Trevi Fountain again to see it lit up at night and eat Gelato there. I went slightly more adventurous that time and got nutella and mango (the mango was out of this world). We all stood by the Trevi for a bit and then Adina, Rachel and Jordana went home. The rest of us went back to the Spanish Steps and walked/ran to the top, which provided a beautiful vista of Rome laid out before us. A great way to end the night.

Today we woke up and boarded the Metro for Vatican City. Once inside the Museums (8 Euro instead of 15 with a student ID), we split up into two groups – I walked with Joey, Joshy and Nadav. We went though the whole museum, and saw a lot of cool Egyptian and Mesopotamian artifacts, as well as Roman and Greek statues. After those exhibits, you enter the maze of rooms, many of which are painted, I believe, by Rafael, which ultimately leads to the Capella Sistina, the Sistine Chapel. The paintings on the ceilings and walls were unbelievable, really impressive. The final several rooms before the Sistine Chapel are filled with Christian modern art. It was weird, because I generally love modern art and there were definitely some good pieces, but on the whole I only like Christian art when it is old, because I appreciate it for its age. The Sistine Chapel really is magnificent though, and its beauty grows the more you stare into the ceiling.

Following a tip from Ricky Stee, we left from an exit in the corner which is only for tour groups and let us right out to just outside of St. Peter’s Basilica, which we entered straightaway. Talk about impressive. The sheer size of antique churches is usually what impresses me the most and this puts all other churches to shame. According to Rick, the floor plan of the Basilica covers 4 acres, and fits 95,000 worshippers. The place was just beautiful and baroque and BIG. Once we finished walking through the Basilica, we went out to St. Peter’s Square and looked around there too. Also really, really cool and pretty – a breathtaking display of architecture.

The group of three had skipped the Basilica and raced through the Museum and were already on their way home so we started walking in what seemed to be the right direction. It wasn’t. We wandered for about an hour, finally leaving the road and following a wooded path down in what looked to be the right direction. We hopped a fence and ran into a couple who told us that we were in the Rome Botanical Gardens. Realizing that we shouldn’t have broken into the gardens, we got out quickly and kept moving. We eventually got to a pizzeria named Miraggio where we had probably the best pizza on our trip so far. We were so far away from the touristy areas of Rome that the people at the pizzeria spoke no English and I needed to used my Italian (thank God for Spanish cognates) to order and pay. After lunch, we made our way back to areas we knew, and I insisted on another stop at Gelateria Della Palma. This time I really went crazy and got mango, chocolate caramel and (because the guy said they go well together) mascarpone. It was so delicious. From there we got on a bus back to the Termini and headed back to the hostel. Tonight we plan on hanging out with the girls, grabbing dinner and walking around, and tomorrow we have a train to Sorrento for the next leg of our journey. Should be fun.

Talk to you soon,


P.S. I'll add pictures later

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Years and Visitors!

Sunday night was the last of our Beit Midrash classes. Jordana and I showed up an hour late because the staff wrote the wrong time in the weekly email but it was ok because Yonina was ok with staying late and going over what we'd missed and then just talking about stuff.

On Monday I had Isaacs and Talmud (no Hebrew because that's over!). I spent all of Monday night working on college stuff for applications due on 1/1/2010.

On Tuesday I had no school and again spent much of the day (sleeping and) working on college stuff. Tuesday evening was the Nativ formal, but I went to the Old City instead to hang out with Navah and Raffi and Alex by the Kotel

It was great to see Navah. Alex and I walked to the Old City from Beit Nativ together, but Navah was at a pharmacy getting meds for her kids so we had some time to kill. We walked up and down Mamilla and went into a bunch of stores. When we finally went into the Old City we saw Navah's group immediately but not her. We sketchily tailed them to a spot overlooking the Kotel right next to the Muslim quarter and then broke off on our own when we saw Navah down below. We ran and gave each other a hug and it was lovely. Navah brought me a goody-bag of stuff from home with pumpkin bread, twix bars, SI (see above for my Kotel reading material of choice) and two tshirts from Navah (the UNChallenged 100 years of UNC basketball one and the State Radio one she got me at the concert they played at UF). We davened maariv at the Kotel then she and her group went on the tunnel tours and Raffi, Alex and I sat in the cold and rainy grossness outside. Then Navah came out and we said goodbye and went home.

Wednesday was my last day of classes. I had double Isaacs as a makeup for an earlier class that he needed to cancel. During Talmud I gave my presentation on Metatron (an angel in Jewish mystical literature who is pretty cool/crazy and often equated with Hanoch, the minor character in Genesis). A brief digression into the realm of Jewish text: The book of 3 Enoch, also known as the Hebrew Book of Enoch or Sefer Heichalot (Heichalot literature is a whole rabbinic genre that talks about the efforts of various rabbis of the Talmud to get to Heaven to learn secrets from God) is an apocryphal work about Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha's ascension to heaven with the angel Metatron. The book describes Metatron thusly: Metatron is the size of the world and made out of fire, he has 72 wings, 36 on each side, with each wing also the size of the whole world, he has 365 eyes, each eye like the sun, with eyelashes of lightning. I once knew a girl like that (alternate line: what was Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha smoking?!)

On Wednesday night we had Erev Nativ (it was moved to Wednesday because that's the date that worked for our speaker) with Adina's dad! Rabbi Allen is the founder of Hechsher/Magen Tzedek, the justice certification that came out of the whole Rubashkin's/Agriprocessors balagan. Basically they are working to put a certification on products of companies with fair workers practices. They aren't really up and running yet, but look they are doing good work. Look for their symbol in the coming months:

Thursday was New Years Eve. We spent the day hanging around (I was working on college apps) and then we all went out. Sorta. The bar that we usually go to had a cover that night, but since Gabe and I don't drink we weren't going to waste our money there. We went with Ariella and Britty (a friend of mine from Schechter and of Ariella's from Nyack who is at seminary) to get ice cream and then went for a walk through Mamilla to right outside the Jaffa Gate. We talked (Ariella did most of that) about the New Year and about life in general. The intellectual atmosphere was fun and we were all happy with how we spent New Years.

On Friday I submitted a college app and then I went to Shira Hadasha with Navah. After services we talked to Rachel Immerman for a few minutes and then Navah, Joshy and I headed off to Navah's friends from Columbia, Michael and Adina. They are a lovely couple and dinner (with them and four other friends of Navah's including Yael Steiner who I know) was delicious and fun.

On Shabbat morning Navah and I couldn't amicably decide where to go to shul, so we ended up just walking a little and then hanging out in the room. For lunch we went to Navah's friend Sylvie's apartment. Lunch was with a bunch of people Navah's age but it was fun. After lunch, Navah and I walked down to meet Bentzi and we walked with him for a while. When we got back to the room we hung around a bit and then did maariv and havdallah/walked around for a while trying to find Nativ maariv and havdallah, failed, and went and sat in my room again. On Saturday night Adina's parents and sister took Ariella, Josh, Jesse, Debbie, Jonny, Shara and me out to dinner at River Noodle Bar. Dinner was great and Adina's parents are really nice (surprising, right?) In all seriousness, Adina is one of my close friends here and it was great to meet her family.

On Sunday we had our Silicon Wadi final which went well, I think. That night I spent time studying and working on Isaacs stuff.

On Monday I had my Isaacs final which also, hopefully, went well. After that final I went back to bae and hung around for a bit. At night, Raffi, Alex, Elan, David, Gabe Co, Navah and I went out to dinner...sorta. We were going to go out together, but Japanika sushi had a long wait for big groups. Navah and I went there and had a lovely dinner. After that I went out with Raffi, Alex and Elan for a few hours.

Today Gabe, Jesse, Jonny and I went out to lunch at Yummi's with Peter, our 45-year-old friend from our Talmud class. We had a great time hanging out and then we came back to base. Tonight our Erev Nativ Speaker was Rabbi Steven Wernick, new CEO and Executive VP of USCJ and son of the great Rebbe Wernick, my teacher through high school and fearless leader of the Men's Minyan. He spoke about his vision for the Movement and values that he feels the Movement needs to adopt in order to achieve his vision. I'm still digesting so I have no clear opinion on him yet, but I generally liked what I heard.

That's all for now - the internet is down in Beit Nativ so I'm freezing my fingers off to get this to you sitting outside the Yeshiva.

Talk to you soon,