Coming Soon: Dad, Budapest & Prague

My dad returned home to the States yesterday from a 9-day trip to Europe. He came to Rome, and we also visited Budapest and Prague. I had been to Prague before, but Budapest was a first. It was a great time! It still amazes me how in Europe you can fly a few hours and be transported to a completely different culture, history, and language. I’m going to blog about the trip in a few upcoming posts. For now, here is a picture of me doing my trademark handstand in Budapest’s Heroes Square.

Erica

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A reminder: by Erica

My dearest Rome,

 

I have lived within you for about 6 months now. You’ve seen my first love letter to you way back in August 2018 https://seekingericafarandnear.com/2018/08/16/the-journey-begins/ , so I want to pontificate (pun intended and all the Vatican stuff) on your other virtues and vices.

Thank you.

Thank you for being unapologetically yourself.

I don’t love all of your garbage and trash that needs to be picked up. I don’t love your endless lines in Coin or even Simply for groceries (there are 3 other people working besides the one cashier, can’t they also help check out?). I don’t love when I give the supermarket cashier a 20 and he/she asks me for more exact change (no I don’t have 2 euros, and even if I did, I want to “break” my 20!).

But I do love you, Roma.

Thanks for the days when I can do this (picture) and rest my hand on all the imperfections of the colosseum and say to myself, “You did this, so can I.”

Love,

Erica

Some of my favorite things…

Swingsets

Lefties

The Fourth of July

Babies

Italy

Europe

Staplers

smart cars

Winston Churchill

Israel

Cobblestone sidewalks

Brunettes

Brown eyes

Big eyes

The American Flag

Reading

The smell of new books

Summer

The beach

Tans

Philadelphia

Desks

My Staircase family

Bookstores

Traveling

Wood floors

Quotes

High heels

Politics (I know, Erica *sigh*- but mostly the policy decisions)

Handstands

Cookie Monster

Sudoku

Grammar jokes

Oh! The Places You’ll Go!

Crossword puzzles

Phanatic

Truman

Dresses

My computer

Highlighters

My bed

Big cities

Kids

Mascara

Polka dots

Lists

Apple juice

Eat, Pray, Love

Mean Girls

My planner

Clear nail polish strengthener (OPI – thank you Mom for introducing me!)

Sweat pants

Paying with exact change

Baseball commentators on the radio in summer that remind me of my dad – no matter the team

Ice cube trays

Rome

Documentaries

Pillows

Pictures

Candles

Sun

Comfy clothes

Mystery news shows

Magazines

Initials

Nicknames

Big windows

Personalized stationery

Skype emoticons

Videos of friends

George Bush (yes I’m saying this and I have reasons!)

The Colosseum

Bubble baths

Grammar

Editing

Pedicures

The letter “E”

podcasts

Having a whole row to yourself on a plane

Seeing your bag on the caroseul after long flight

Being Italian but maybe most of all being American
… where we somehow found this way to bring all cultures, all religions, all nations to become a whole nation of our own. We may have a million problems, but we are all (or almost all) products of people who came to these shores (those shores for me – I’m in Italy) for a better life (sorry to be sappy patriotic).

Many expats have said to me that they see America’s failings more clearly once they’re abroad. And I would say to them – yes, but I also see my country’s strengths. I see a president I don’t agree with in his way of conducting himself or the office (and I didn’t agree with President Obama either, though I respected him and I’m conservative), but I can be thankful for the checks and balances that have saved our country in spite of our current president. I see some of this eroding in senators I respect but I guess they have a voting block too.

How wonderful is it to be a country made up of ” your tired, your poor /Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these /the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”

Again, aren’t we almost all products of something our ancestors thought – “It’s worth it to gamble and go across an ocean to have a chance at a better life?”

God Bless America, God bless Italy, and God bless the “great experiment” that is America.

Erica

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Part IV

So, here we go.

I feel like I should coin the acronym IDKWTS – I don’t know what to say… and I don’t…

Ahhh Erica it’s not about YOU and YOUR feelings! Of course it’s not.  But how else are we to “interpret” this horror? Answer: There, of course, is no way. There is no translation in the history of humanity and the history of any language ever uttered on this planet. Because this is not a “human” crime or crimes, is it? …But isn’t it ALSO deeply “human?” And by that I mean, (and I’m NO expert on any mammals or other species), aren’t we the only species to hate because someone’s last name is “Klein” or “Aaronovich?” Aren’t we the only ones that condemn someone for having a Torah portion (bar/bat mitzvah) instead of a first communion? This is nothing new. I am far from the first to say this.

But here are my pictures of Auschwitz II.

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The actual place. That picture we’ve seen so many times. The train tracks…

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I thought this trampled-on rose was “thought-provoking” – in an awful way – to find…

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The ruins of Crematorium II-V from afar:

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For the rest of this post, I can only show pictures and the inadequate words of the signs displayed – in English and Hebrew (on purpose) – sorry I cut off the Hebrew in the second picture.

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Maybe more to come in a future post. Not sure. Not sure what can be said.

Erica

 

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Part III

How is it that I’m on “part 3,” and yet I hardly feel like I’ve begun? Because this is the part that, unsurprisingly, I have always been and still am hit the hardest.

My interest bordering on obsession with the Holocaust, Jews, and Israel began when I was 7 or 8 years old. I was at the school library at Holy Family, my grade and middle school, and the librarian recommended that I try the book “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry. It’s a story of a Jewish girl escaping Denmark during World War II. If I remember correctly, I had said something to the librarian (Mrs. Hall) like I had “run out of books I want to read” because I was always, always a voracious reader and apparently because I’ve always had a bit of an attitude (haha).

I remember starting it that day and not being able to put it down. I remember that my Dad called me and my sister to dinner, and I went into the bathroom Greta and I shared to wash my hands. I remember literally sitting down on the floor of the bathroom (it was an odd bathroom, with carpet), and having to be called again and again to dinner. (Note: sorry for this next mouthful of a sentence, but I’m not sure how else to put it.):  I remember thinking as an (about) 8-year-old – if I was going to tell someone – namely if I would have told myself a day ago that humans gassed other humans “in bulk” – this is awful, but I thought of Sam’s Club, where you buy bulk products and not “regular size” – if I would have told myself this, I would never have believed it. Except it was true. It was real. If it were a made-up novel, it would be too ridiculous to be real. But it was real.

Even at 8, I remember very “child-like” questions that entered my mind. For example, I wondered that if the Nazis truly believed Jews were “sub-human” like they proclaimed, why would they do experiments on them? Because, I thought, if Jews are not the same, then why would they think experiments on Jews would have the same results on “real” humans? Didn’t the Nazis see the fault in their reasoning if they truly believed this?

So I begin this post with the infamous sign – “stop” both in German and Polish with the skull and crossbones (with a guard tower behind it):

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“Crematorium 1” is mostly preserved in its original condition. It started operation in August 1940 in what was originally an ammunition bunker. The largest room was changed into a gas chamber. There were three furnaces or incinerators for burning bodies. After the Nazis completed Birkenau (also known as Auschwitz II, which I will cover in the next post) in July 1943, the operation of this building ended.

In the rest of this post, I’m going to post mostly pictures because this part of the “experience” was and is not only indescribable but incomprehensible, unimaginable, unfathomable
Note: The “captions” for the pictures are above their corresponding picture.

Crematorium 1:

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Sign/plaque when you walk into the building (English and Hebrew on purpose):

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Actual canisters that contained Zyklon B, a pesticide used for killing people in the gas chambers:

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The gas chamber itself:

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Hole in the ceiling where the Zyklon B was inserted:

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Incinerators:

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Enough seen. Enough said. Never enough seen. Never enough said. 

 

 

And I’ll leave you with a  picture of the fencing containing “Auschwitz I”:

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Erica

Sciopero… again

Today is another 24-hour mass transit sciopero, or strike, in Roma. It’s at least the third since I’ve been here, and the stated reason is the “health and safety” of workers. As the “24-hour” hour nature of the strike denotes, it seems in Italy they don’t strike “until…” they get what they want, but they strike for a set period of time to show their dissatisfaction.

This all means that I’m walking 6.1 kilometers, or 3.8 miles, to work right now. Given the hour + it will take, I thought I’d write a blog while I’m walking.

Im not very good with directions, so unless I physically go from point A to point B, I can’t imagine the orientation of things and places. I’ve often wondered how to physically walk from where I live near San Giovanni to the Vatican, for example, because I always take the metro. I guess I’m going to find out today because where I work is near the Vatican!

I’m not necessarily complaining, although it is quite inconvenient. But what other city in the world would I rather be “forced” to walk through? None. Zero. I choose this city. After all, I’m walking head-on to the Colosseum 😍 right now. What a commute!

Never enough pictures of this place!

Oh, I just passed a big American tourist group!

I work from 10:30 to 7:30 today. I have a few 1.5-hour breaks, which wouldn’t be enough time to be worth it to go home and back even if the metro was working as normal.

I just passed the Arch of Constantine!

Anyway, my students are in groups of only 2-3 or private lessons, so I don’t teach classrooms of school kids like I did in Reggio Calabria. It’s a change, and obviously there are pluses and minuses to both.

Part of the Roman forum and Altare della Patria/Altar of the Fatherland/Vittorio Emanuele Monument!

Back to the post. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I don’t feel especially passionate or “called” to be an English teacher. It’s not what I want to do for the rest of my life, but it gives me a way to live abroad, which I obviously love, and make money. I still don’t know exactly what I want to do, and I’ve had quite a rocky path since law school, but hopefully that path is leveling out now. But that’s for another post (or posts).

Another picture of Vittorio Emanuele from Piazza Venezia!

Okay, I’m going to have to pick up my pace a little bit. Thanks for accompanying me on part of my way to work during sciopero!

Erica

Istanbul: Topkapi Palace & the Hagia Sophia

I arrived in Istanbul on December 26, 2018, at about 6:30 p.m. from a flight from Bucharest, Romania. I had flown from Rome to Bucharest and then to Istanbul. (My first time “in” Romania! Yay!)  I got off the plane and waited with a mob of other people to go through passport control. I had my Turkish visa printed and ready…

I stayed in the Fatih area of Istanbul, which is on the European side. I picked the hotel and the area because it’s the neighborhood with famous historical sites such as the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.

I set up a 2-day guided tour with a company I found suggested on TripAdvisor. I thought it was a small-group tour, but when the guide came to meet me at my hotel in the morning at 9 a.m., I found out the tour was just me and my guide. I almost would have preferred a few other people, but it ended up working out fine.

I love taking guided tours when I first get to the city. I will have already done a lot of reading and research on the history and culture of the place, but I like how I get a broad overview of the city and its important places on a tour. It allows me to familiarize myself with the surroundings and figure out what I want to go back to or see later. I’ve found this is my favorite way to enter a new place, and I’ve done it in many countries around the world. Because I’m such a history buff, it gives me an orientation about the historical and cultural aspects of a place as well, which is one of my favorite parts of traveling.

Our first stop was Topkapi Palace. This is where the sultans lived with about 4,000 of their closest family, friends, children, servants, concubines, eunuchs, and courtiers between the 15th and 19th centuries when it was the court of the Ottoman empire.

Although the palace compound extends around much further, the “museum” opens with the Middle Gate, also known as the Bâbüsselâm or the Gate of Salutation (below). It leads into the palace proper, and with the two towers flanking the gate, it was supposed to serve as a symbol of the pomp and majesty of the Ottoman empire. It has subsequently become an icon for the whole palace.

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Middle Gate, also known as the Bâbüsselâm or the Gate of Salutation

On the upper part of the gate, there is a calligraphic inscription of the Muslim profession of faith: “There is no god but God; Mohammed is the prophet of God.” (below)

Only the sultan was allowed to pass through this gate on horseback. Other state officials such as the grand vizier had to dismount their horses before entering.

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Muslim profession of faith: “There is no god but God; Mohammed is the prophet of God.”

Inside the gate lies the Second Courtyard which includes the Imperial Council Chamber (below), where the Dîvân (Council) made laws, citizens presented petitions, and foreign dignitaries were presented to the court. The sultans were said to have eavesdropped on proceedings through the window with the golden grille.

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Imperial Council Chamber

One of my favorite things about mosques and Islam art is the decoration. In Islam, depictions of the prophet Mohammed and of God are forbidden, so much of their architecture and decoration is mosaic tiles of geometric or floral patterns and fanciful or elaborate script. Here are some examples from Topkapi Palace:

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I explored the rest of the palace grounds, which included palace kitchens, the Imperial Treasury, the harem where the wives and children of the sultan lived, the Marble Terrace, and much more. I could go on with various pictures of buildings, but suffice it to say it was definitely a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the sultans and the Ottoman empire’s ruling class.

My next stop, the Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom), is what originally drew me to Istanbul from having studied it in school. I was attracted to it for its historical, religious, and cultural significances. It was commissioned by the Byzantine emperor Justinian, consecrated as a church in 536, converted to a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 (and renamed Aya Sofya), and declared a museum by Atatürk (the founder of modern Turkey) in 1935.

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It’s famous for its mosaics, which the Muslims covered up with plaster when it became a mosque. It was only after being declared a museum that they began to recover some of the mosaics that were hidden after the conversion of the structure. Below are some of my pictures.

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The dome

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Ottoman medallions (below, and seen in the pictures above) are inscribed with the gilt Arabic letters with the names of God (Allah), Mohammed, and the early caliphs Ali and Abu Bakr.

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More to come!

Erica

Walking in Rome

I took a late afternoon/early evening walk around Rome on Sunday as I sometimes do. Here are just a few pictures from my walk… and more evidence for my theory that it is nearly impossible to take a “bad” picture of the Colosseum.

Erica

P.S. I want to start blogging more regularly. I still have to finish my Krakow posts and my Istanbul posts. Once I get those done, I want to chronicle more of my everyday life here. Here’s to my New Year’s resolution to start blogging more regularly!

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My “neighborhood church.” This is less than a 5-minute walk from my apartment (and please don’t think this is bragging – I think this is “so cool!”) – See below from Wikipedia

The large Latin inscription on the façade reads: Clemens XII Pont Max Anno V Christo Salvatori In Hon SS Ioan Bapt et Evang. This abbreviated inscription translates to: “Pope Clement XII, in the fifth year [of his Pontificate, dedicated this building] to Christ the Savior, in honor of Saints John the Baptist and [John] the Evangelist”. The inscription indicates, with its full title, that the archbasilica was originally dedicated to Christ the Savior and, centuries later, co-dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. As the Cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of Rome, it ranks superior to all other churches of the Roman Catholic Church, including St. Peter’s Basilica. (the bold is added by me). As a Catholic girl who went through Catholic schools kindergarten-senior year, it still awes me.

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This is an “opposite” picture. I was waiting near the Trevi Fountain, and I was talking to my dad on Skype messenger. He said, “I can’t believe how many historic sights you have within a walking distance.” So after my dad messaged me, I took a picture of the Trevi Fountain of the people taking pictures. So lucky! (I don’t even like the Trevi Fountain!)

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Piazza Venezia during Christmas

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N.B. These are bad pictures (because I’m not a photographer) with lots of glare, but still the Colosseum looks beautiful

Istanbul: Coming Soon…

Hello!

Happy New Year and Buon Anno! I’m having trouble downloading all of my Istanbul pictures to my computer, so for now, here are a few of my favorites I’ve been able to download so far.

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  1. I get excited when I get new stamps on my passport. It’s not as “fun” in Europe anymore when you don’t get stamps when you’re anywhere in the EU.

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2. Europe (our left), and Asia (our right)

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3. Not a great picture, but the inside of the Hagia Sophia. It was the place I wanted to see the most in Istanbul because it used to be a church built at “Constantinople” in the 6th century (532–537) under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. When the Ottoman Turks conquered Istanbul in 1453 under “Mehmed the Conqueror” they converted it into a mosque (in 3 days!) – not really 3 days, but more to come. They covered the Christian mosaics with plaster (or something – I’m not good with materials). Muslims don’t believe in depictions of Mohammed, God, or holy people, so their mosques are decorated mostly with Arabic script and floral or geometric patterns.
It was changed into a museum in 1935 under Mustafa Atatürk, the founder of the current Turkish republic. He wanted it to be a more secular representation of the country.

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4. One of the mosaics that hasn’t been fully restored.

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5. The Blue Mosque from a window in the Hagia Sophia

That’s all for now. More to come!

Erica

P.S. For those readers who talk to my dad, he has pledged to come (to Europe) in the spring now that he has so much time as a retired person. 🙂 He came to Europe a few years ago when I was living in the south of Italy, and we had a great time in Germany together. Let’s put “pressure” on him to come again!