Rising with the Sun

Yet again, I have gotten behind on my blogging! Here is a quick catch-up post on spring break!

A few weeks ago, I finished my last midterm, threw my hands in the air and joyously celebrated the onset of spring break. Spring break meant sunshine, a Mediterranean ocean breeze, and indulging in the chocolate festival that was going on in Piazza del Campo, featuring booths laden with goodies ranging from decadent truffles and crepes, to the mysterious chocolate pasta. I half walked, half skipped, to the chocolate-covered strawberry booth and devoured a whip-cream covered delicacy, lounging in Siena’s town square and dreaming of Greek islands and baklava. Beginning in February, Natalie, Dana, and I had been carefully planning the spring break trip of a lifetime, a cruise to Greece and Turkey. We made sure to book a flight that would get us to Athens in plenty of time to board the ship, which would take us to the island of Mykonos, a quick stop in Kusadasi, Turkey and then on to the islands of Patmos, Rhodes, Crete and Santorini. We eagerly arrived in the Florence airport three hours ahead of time to get our connection to Zurich. After waiting somewhat-patiently on the floor of the airport (trying to keep our excitement jitters to a minimum), distracting ourselves with snacks and I-books, we learned that our plans had abruptly changed. The airline informed us that our flight had not only been canceled, but that we were now scheduled to take a bus to the airport in Bologna to take a different flight to Zurich, due to strong winds. After some quick calculations we realized that we would miss our flight to Athens. Ultimately, it meant that we would miss boarding the cruise ship by a few hours. The panic ensued. The next 24 hours went a little like this.  Begin hyperventilating.  Frantically search for an information desk to figure out options. Realize there are no other flights to Athens. Make various phone calls to get in touch with the cruise ship company. Do deep breathing exercises. Miss parents. Consider calling parents. Realize it is 3 a.m. in the states. Resolve to be a strong, independent, 20-year-old in a foreign country. Well, you get the idea. We were eventually able to meet the ship in Patmos, and so began the spring break that we had been planning.



Our first Grecian adventure began with the rising of the sun in Patmos. I have a certain love-hate relationship with sunrises; mornings, particularly early mornings, are a groggy haze of blinding lights and bothersome noises until I have had a proper dose of caffeine. Yet, the stillness of the air, just before the first rays of light illuminate the horizon, is a moment of unadulterated solitude and reflection, difficult to re-create. Thus, after a chaotic journey, it was fitting to sit back and watch as the mountains in the distance appeared through the shadows and the rows upon rows of white houses came into focus. My favorite part of the rest of the day was trying out authentic Greek food. Breakfast- a parfait glass filled to the brim with yogurt, topped with a drizzle of the most decadent honey I have ever tasted and lunch- a salad composed of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and a gigantic block of Feta cheese.






Although I enjoyed every island, it was difficult not to fall in love with the beauty of Santorini. The majority of the island is situated on top of a steep incline, which can be accessed either by a cable car or a donkey. In hopes of having one last adventure before the cruise came to an end, we decided to test our luck with the donkeys. Ushered by a small sun-wizened Greek man, he motioned towards a donkey adorned with a colorful saddle and bridle. I precariously put one foot into the saddle, and attempted to get comfortable, while Speedy (who earned his name along the ride) had other ideas. Instead of waiting for the rest of the group, he took off for the top of the hill, with me clutching the saddle for dear life. I attempted to persuade Speedy to slow down by giving him encouragement and self-esteem boosts along the way; (‘Goooooood donkey…you’re the best donkey in the world…’), but my efforts were in vain.  Although the ride was nerve-wracking, the view of the Mediterranean from atop a donkey was one that I will never forget. After a bit of exploring amidst the narrow streets, vibrant rooftops, and simple, yet stunning architecture, we ended the afternoon with a Greek coffee and baklava in a café looking out onto the sunset, bringing our trip full-circle.




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The Colors of Venezia

I have gotten a bit behind on blogging! Stay tuned for many updates and catch-up posts in the next few days!


There is truly nothing like being on the water. Every summer, my favorite place to go is Litchfield Beach; the smell of the salty ocean breeze and the deep blues of the ocean create a sense of peace (the best description is ‘tranquillo’ in Italiano) that keeps me wishing to go back throughout the year.







Traveling to Venice two weekends ago reminded me of this feeling. After a five-hour bus ride, the only way to describe the dynamic of the group (when we FINALLY stepped into the open air) was giddy. The expanse of water leading to the city was a brilliant greenish-blue, with the sun sparkling and reflecting off of the surface, making it nearly impossible to repress the urge to fling down bags and sprint towards it. The weather in Siena has been dreary; raincoats, umbrellas, and soggy feet are the norm. Clear skies and warm sunshine were a welcome change-of-pace that just added to the sheer joy of traveling to such an exciting new city. Although beautiful, Venice had quite a confusing layout, composed of what seemed to be a labyrinth of alleys, bridges, and canals. Eventually, we found our way to the Rialto Bridge, a picturesque white structure stretching across the emerald water of the Grande Canal. Along the water, a steady traffic of gondolas flowed by, operated by singing men in stripes and bright red neck kerchiefs. We had a moment to just sit beneath the bridge, our toes nearly touching the water lapping up against the sides of the canal, to take it all in.




After settling into our apartment, the search for masks began! We happened to arrive on the first day of Carnevale di Venezia, a celebration that warrants the wearing of masks, costumes, face paint, etc., beginning in mid-February and ending on Ash Wednesday. Throughout the weekend, sightings of costumes for Carnevale varied from zombies sporting very realistic cuts and gashes, to elaborate 15th century hoop skirts and powdered wigs. Stores and peddlers on every corner displayed a magnificent collection of masks of every color, shape, and size, simply begging us to join in on the fun.  After perusing the overwhelming supply of warm magentas, vibrant yellows, and glittering golds (all of which left a trail of glitter on our cheeks), I finally decided on an intricate black lace one and we headed off to explore the mysterious nightlife of Venice (a slightly eerie combination of darkness and masked strangers). Our night ended wonderfully with a meal of pasta and gelato, along with a musical show in the middle of the canal, complete with a neon-purple dragon boat, which was the band’s mode of transportation. Yes, I said neon-purple dragon boat. Carnevale was proving to be full of surprises.


The next morning began as every morning should- with a shot of espresso and a Nutella crepe. After a sugar-rush and burst of happiness, we set off on a boat tour of the nearby islands of Burano, Murano, and Torcello. After an exciting tutorial on hand-blown glass in Murano, and a lace-making demonstration on Burano, our arms were heavy-laden with packages and souvenirs as we headed back to the main island of Venice. After doing a bit of exploring amidst the twists and turns of canals, our wandering brought us to an unexpected view of the horizon. The sun had drifted beneath the skyline, the light yellows and pale pinks of the sunset had just faded into the light gray of dusk. A moment later, a glowing orange moon illuminated the sky; you could feel the sharp intake of breath as we stood there in awe.







My time in Venice was magnificently colored in pastels, metallics, and neons. Bright colors bring me a certain thrill; happiness and color seem to go hand in hand. As we were preparing to leave, waiting for the last few minutes in Piazza San Marco, I found myself suddenly beneath a shower of confetti.  During Carnevale, the throwing of confetti on the streets (and on unsuspecting people) is tradition. Although a bit surprised at first, I cannot think of a more appropriate ending for the trip. Satisfied, and covered in confetti, I boarded the bus back home to Siena.



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Old Friends and Good Coffee



Last weekend, seven girls and I set off with high expectations, packed itineraries, and dreams of touring ancient ruins.  Beginning at the crack of dawn (anytime before eleven qualifies), we caught a bus and after three hours were exploring the much-anticipated Roma. After disembarking from the bus, I was overwhelmed with the first “what have I gotten my self into!?!?” moment of panic since arriving in Italy.  The quiet and familiar streets of Siena, seldom frequented by cars, were replaced with screeching brakes and honking horns. Graffiti decorated every open wall-space as we approached the hulking metro-station, which was surrounded by six umbrella- peddlers, all who were eager to be the first to attract our attention. Throngs of people surged towards the escalators, some running down stairs, desperate to catch the arriving train. Clutching my bag closely, a ticker tape of various pick-pocketing stories scrolled through my head. It was at this moment that I wished to go home to Siena. Mere minutes after arrival in this big city, I missed my cozy medieval apartment, familiar barista at the corner café, and simply, the slow and easy pace of life that seems to emanate from Siena. I realized later, that this aversion to the hustle and bustle of city life should have been no surprise. The places that I call home (Marion, South Carolina and Wofford College) each possess the same beauty and comfort that I have so quickly begun to associate with Siena.  


St. Peter’s Square,  Vatican City



The story of my experience in Rome gets much better, I promise. After getting settled at our hostel and devouring a nice hearty dish of pasta, I was feeling more optimistic about stepping out of my comfort zone and into the chaotic streets of Rome. (Side note: Food is usually the way to make me happy) The rest of the day involved multiple photo shoots; we posed in front of the Colosseum, took a series of wishing pictures at the Trevi Fountain (by far my favorite place in Rome), and a few more snapshots on the Spanish Steps. Over the next two days we admired art at the Borghese Gardens, visited the Trevi Fountain twice more (the more wishes the better, right?), and went to the Vatican to wave to Pope Francis on Sunday morning. However, my favorite part of Rome was not when I was looking up in awe at the Collosseum or wishing at the Trevi Fountain; it came when I was having coffee with a couple of friends.





Last summer, I spent six weeks abroad in Israel, excavating on an archeological site called Horvat Kur. One of the best parts of the excavation was working alongside an international team of diggers from all over Europe. Over the course of six weeks, I made unique friendships that only come from waking up at 4 a.m. together, emptying goofas, and washing tesserae. It was difficult to leave at the end of the dig; it was clear that something wonderful had come to an end and that these friends were ones that I would always remember, but never see again. Fortunately, I discovered that Facebook could be truly useful when it comes to connecting old friends. When I was scrolling through my newsfeed, I happened to see that Sirpa and Saimi, two Finnish friends from the dig, had decided to take a vacation in Rome. After sending a few messages, we managed to meet up at a coffee bar at Piazza del Popolo, only a few metro stops away from my hostel. We reminisced about Horvat Kur, over cappuccinos and pastries (YUM) reminding me of a very different breakfast in Israel involving powdered coffee and packaged pound cake. I definitely prefer the Italian breakfast, but it was hard not to feel a little nostalgic for the days of sitting by the Sea of Galilee at twilight after a long day of digging. In reflection, I am amazed that two women from Finland and one from South Carolina, who met in Israel, would meet again in Italy. It is experiences and friends such as these that motivate me to continue to travel. In the near future,  plans to go to Venice next weekend! Arrivederci!



Saimi on the left, and Sirpa on the right



Sirpa (in the center) explains the progress of the excavation at Horvat Kur. Photography by Benjamin de Groot



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‘Non capisco’ ( I DON’T understand)



A view of the bell tower in the center of Piazza del Campo 

After spending a mere week and a half in the beautiful town of Siena, it is difficult to describe the wide array of emotions and sensations that I have experienced thus far.  Over the course of ten days, navigating the slippery cobblestone streets has become less of a dazed wandering, with the repeated unfolding of maps and squinting at street signs, and more of the confident striding of someone who knows where she is going. A few highlights of the past few days include tasting the deliciousness that is Nutella pizza (YES THIS DOES EXIST), attempting to hone my limited wine knowledge at a Chianti vineyard, and exploring the slightly creepy, yet very cool, aqueducts beneath Siena.

We arrived in the Florence airport last Monday afternoon, and were taken immediately to our apartments and homestays in Siena. Our apartment, which I share with three roommates, (Natalie from Wofford, Christine from Wisconsin, and Camilla from Siena) is located only a few steps from the Piazza del Campo, the center of town, and has already begun to feel like home. I have quickly learned the Italian method of making coffee (No Keurig machines here folks) on a burner in a contraption called a moka, which you fill with coffee and water and “wait for it to make a weird noise,” as Camilla described, indicating that it is ready. Mom would be happy to know that I am using the stove for something; although, I don’t think making coffee is quite what she meant when she said, “Come back from Italy knowing how to cook.”


When we don’t make coffee at home, we like to enjoy a cappuccino before class at a coffee bar

Although living in Italy has been whirlwind of majestic scenery and delicious food, there has been quite a language barrier. We have already been on the receiving end of furious yelling and gesturing from the driver of a car, (the yield for pedestrian concept is not frequently practiced), more fervent gesturing and exasperated sighs from the cashier at the grocery store, and a much more pleasant, yet equally as bewildering, interaction with a cute little old Italian man at the Chianti vineyard. Thankfully, this conversation ended with a warm hug, kiss on the cheek, and shouts of ‘Ciao!’ and ‘Arrivederci!’ as we left the vineyard. Needless to say, the Italian language is one of passion, beauty, and expression, and I am excited to learn (and hopefully speak) more of it.  Last Thursday, five classmates and I began our very first Italian classes with our professor, Rita. While teaching us Italian, she gesticulates wildly, over-emphasizes pronunciations, and best of all, frequently uses sound effects, such as the cappuccino machine sound and animal noises. As Dana (from Wofford) aptly described, “Mostly it’s like we’re playing charades; she acts it out and we guess what she means.” Italian is definitely a work in progress; for now, thank goodness the confused/I don’t understand expression is universal. This weekend, we head off to Rome. More adventures to come!

Exploring the beautiful city of Siena



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Ready or not…

T-minus about 32 hours until departure to Siena for three and a half months! Wow! What seemed to be a lifetime away when submitting applications in late September and struggling with student visa forms in October, has finally become a nerve-wracking, slightly nauseating reality.

My plane ticket will read Florence, SC to Florence, Italy ( + a few stops in between). Thus, it is only appropriate that my cover photo be a picture that I took SIX long years ago on my last (and only) adventure to Florence. Memories of that 10-day choir tour of Italy involve my over-zealous choir director urging us to sing in the streets of Florence in front of a crowd of confused, onlooking Italians, a holding-up-the-tower of Pisa photo (my expression involves a cringe-worthy 14-year-old duck-face), and several awkward interactions involving my inability to explain why I looked Italian, but did not, in fact, speak Italian.

20-year-old me is excited to re-experience the wonders of Italy, hopefully a bit more deftly, with an introductory Italian course and slightly less embarrassing photo-ops.

My excitement to go abroad has been intensified by my adventurous grandparents, who recently returned from galavanting across the Mediterranean. While they were traveling, they got to experience Sicily, and spent some time doing research about our family history. It turns out that both of my paternal grandparents’ ancestors are from Sicily, and while they were there, my grandparents worked on an intriguing , yet quite complicated family genealogy. Turns out that when you do a family history, you uncover family secrets! (Spoiler alert: It’s only interesting if you care about spelling our name Di- or De-Marco) Anyway, the point is that I’m excited to spend the semester in a place that holds such an important part in who I am and what the name DeMarco really means. Not to mention, the added plus that it is so renowned for its art, history, food, and of course COFFEE, or as the Italians say, caffè. Maybe my love of coffee traces back to Vincenzo DiMarco, my great-great grandfather… but I’ll give any excuse to indulge in one of Italy’s famous cappuccinos.


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