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Broncos Abroad

Field trip to Mani in Terra, and the towns of Assisi and Perugia

Busy week.  Thursday the Sociology of Food class was treated to a trip to an Italian farm called Mani in Terra, which roughly translates to “Hands in the Ground.” This particular farm produces a variety of items, but sells homemade honey, jams, vegetables, and olives. Just outside Viterbo, the farm and region are known for their olives and hazelnuts (aka – filberts).  While there Monica Luliano, the owner and operator, showed the class around and explained some her agriculture techniques.  Mani in Terra, as are many of the other farms around, are organic, or as it is known in the EU “biologica.” After the tour Monica showed us something very important – how to make homemade pasta. She made it look easy. We made it look difficult.  Finally we got to eat our efforts, along with some fresh zucchini and tomatoes from the garden. We all left happy and full.

Sociology of Food class learning a little about harvesting olives


Just a few things the farm has to offer. I bought a few to sample.

The next day we went to the towns of Assisi and Perugia.  Assisi is the birthplace of the Saint Francis, who is one of the patron saints of Italy. Within the city is the San Francesco Basilica. USAC arranged a tour – the history, art and structure are absolutely amazing. No words can explain it. The town of Assisi is great on its own with small, windy streets, history, and charm.

From there we bussed to Perugia. The capital of the Umbria region, the town is known for its city walls.  What was really amazing about Perugia – at least in my opinion – is its location on top of a large hill. The town has a train which transported us to the top. With the heat, I’m glad we didn’t have to struggle our way up.  After a walk around, I relaxed with an ice coffee, watch the world go around, and listen to music.

About to start the tour.

“I am dead!”

Last weekend, the entire USAC program went to Avignon for the first weekend of its annual theater festival.  It was so fun to wander the tangled streets of the old town while performers and playwrights tried to convince people to attend their shows.  The troupes would perform songs or skits in the street. Playwrights or single actors would approach people anywhere — cafe tables, corners, outside shops — to give us a small playbill and their pitch.  The pitches tended to last 2-3 minutes. I used them as opportunities to listen to French, and although I couldn’t understand much, I discovered that it was a lot easier to just smile and nod and take the playbill.

We had tickets to two shows: The one on Saturday, “The Lobby” was a one-act modern dance performance telling the story of a hotel lobby.  There was no speaking at all, just five men dancing to jazz and hiphop. Their abilities were amazing, and it was a fun, energetic performance.  Saturday afternoon we attended a performance of Moliere’s “Le Medecin malgre lui” (the doctor in spite of himself). Thank goodness Jen had both read the script and listened to an English version.  She filled me in on the plot outline before the show. It was enough to be able to follow the story. It was a farce, with lots of slapstick — watching characters get whapped in the face is funny in any language, I guess.  The staging and songs and performers were so skilled and interesting that I was entertained even when I didn’t know what was being said.

Back on the streets after that show, when I was hot, tired, and knew we would be leaving soon, I grew tired of listening to pitches and accepting playbills, so I began waving them off and saying, “Je suis finis” — which translates literally as “I am done.”  It seemed a reasonable thing to say, if I said it with a smile. But I got funny reactions – usually laughter — so I figured something wasn’t quite translating. I asked my French Conversation teacher about it today. She laughed too and explained that the French understanding of that phrase is, “I am dead.”

Yes! Another festival! And another Festival?!

If anyone read one of my previous blogs they might remember a discussion about the Slow Food Festival which took place upon my arrival in Viterbo.  It seems festivals are a way of life in Viterbo. It wasn’t more than a few days after the Slow Food Festival that Ludika 1243 started. Ludika 1243 is a commemoration and celebration of a famous battle the year…..yes….1243. We – the visitors – were not sure

One example of the Ludika 1243 festival. My photography needs some work.

what to expect, but were treated to medieval reenactments, dancing, shops, costumes and food. Of course the food!! Held in the medieval district, within the medieval walls of the medieval city, the festival went on for five days. I tried to observe and enjoy it as much as possible, but couldn’t possibly get it all in.   I think the highlight for this FIDA was the mock battle.  And the food.

Just a little snack.


One festival isn’t enough for Viterbo. Overlapping with Ludika 1243 is the Tuscia Film Festival. I haven’t made it to a film yet, but did take a peek at the venue. Of course it is also in the medieval district, and with outdoor seating. I am excited to catch a film – and maybe learn a little more Italian – this weekend.  Naturally with a little wine.



I have to get ready for my class – my Cuisine Introductory Aperitivo Class.

Amaneceres y atardeceres, Sunrises and Sunsets

In Donostia (Basque name for San Sebastián), the sunrises and sunsets are dazzling and superb. I found it bizarre that both the sunrise and the sunset was over the sea. The sun rises over the sea in the east and the sun sets over the sea in the west. Here are some beautiful pictures of each.

Sunrise in Donostia/San Sebastián

Sunset in Donostia/San Sebastián

A weekend in France. Bayonne, Biarritz, and La Ruhne.

On Saturday, a group of students and myself visited Bayonne and Biarritz which are located just over the Spanish-French border for our first excursion. Bayonne is an ancient city. In the time of the Romans there existed a Roman encampment and an important established population. Bayonne was a strategically developed city because it is the highest point with views of the surrounding areas. Roman walls from the third century were still visible in the city. There was evidence of various battles as seen by the fatigue in the buildings throughout the centuries.

Roman Walls in Bayonne

French woman overlooking our tour group in a disapproving manner

Ancient Castle with evidence of battles that have been fought here over the centuries.

During the Middle Ages, Bayonne passed into the hands of the powerful Dukes of Aquitaine. When the King of England, Henry II Plantagenet married Eleanor of Aquitaine, Bayonne became part of the English crown. Bayonne remained in the hands of the English for three centuries until the middle of the fifteenth century when it once again came under French rule.

Saint Mary’s Cathedral is the most worthwhile site in Bayonne. The Cathedral was begun in the thirteenth century and it took over two centuries to finish. You can distinguish the older parts of the Cathedral by the yellow stone from the sandstone. When they ran out of sandstone, they used other types of stone that are gray. The Cathedral was crafted in a gothic style and contained beautiful stained glass windows. There have been efforts to restore the inside of the Cathedral to the original colors. The most famous painting depicts the story of the first Bishop who had his head chopped off by barbarians. He picked up his head and continued preaching the word of God. The most famous stain glass window depicts Jesus Christ performing a miracle for a woman by removing the devil from her soul or an exorcism.

Saint Mary's Cathedral from the entrance

Painting of the first Bishop of Bayonne carrying his head after decapitation by barbarians preaching the word of God.

Zoomed in picture of the Bishop carrying his head.

Stained glass window depicting the exorcism

Restored inside of the Cathedral to original colors

Cathedral from the cluster

After the Cathedral visit, we walked the streets of Bayonne which are famous for their chocolate shops. Chocolate was discovered in Mexico, brought to Spain where the royals drank it in hot drinks, and then the Jews brought it to Bayonne when they were fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Bayonne soon came to be the chocolate capital of the world. The Rue Port Neuf is the pedestrian “chocolate street” where many of the town’s oldest chocolate makers have their shops still today. After a stroll through the streets, I checked out the Basque Museum and ate a classic French lunch in the Le Victor-Hugo.

After lunch, we headed to Biarritz. Biarritz is a very well-known international seaside resort with fine sand. The lighthouse at the north end of town has amazing views of the town and the surrounding coast. Biarritz is the Queen of the beaches, sheltered from the changeable wind.

Lighthouse in Biarritz

Panoramic of Biarritz from the Lighthouse

Coast of Biarritz

On Sunday, my host parents and I went to La Rhune, the highest mountain in the Basque country at about 950 meters. They had never done this hike before so we got lost from the main trail. We used the trail less travelled with large ferns and plants poking us constantly. We stumbled upon horses and sheep with bells tied to their necks making majestic sounds as we hiked. The views were phenomenal on the way up, but unfortunately, clouds rolled in as we approached the summit. The views from the summit were foggy. Needless to say, but we took the more travelled trail down. This was a great adventure.

Karmele and Mikel hiking up La Rhune



An Afternoon at Aix-les-Bains

Oh lake! silent rocks! shaded grottoes! dark forest!

You whom time can spare or even rejuvinate,

Preserve, noble nature, preserve from this night

At least the memory!

Alphonse de Lamartine

The class I am taking — French Romantic Arts, taught by BSU professor Jen Black — took a field trip to the resort town of Aix-les-Bains.  There was, of course, an academic purpose: French Romantic poet Alphonse de Lamartine wrote his famous poem “The Lake” here.  So we sat by the lake and read the poem out loud and talked about it.

Then, like good Romantics, we wandered about spending time in nature, being idle, and writing about it.

We also had lunch:

San Sebastián

Hola, Que Tal Amigos? Please let me introduce myself, I am Ryan Brevik, and I am traveling to San Sebastián, Spain to immerse myself in the Basque and Spanish Cultures.

Photo of Ryan and his backpack leaving Boise.

After a grueling thirty two hour journey through Seattle, London, and Madrid (cheap airfare), I have made it to San Sebastián where I met Tito, the USAC housing coordinator. Tito is the ideal person to see after a long trip due to his kind demeanor, warm smile, and considerate personality. He set me up in the Hotel Codina for a quick night’s rest. The highlight of this long travel day was the breathtaking sunset as I flew into San Sebastián.

Sunset over the Bay of Biscay, San Sebastián

The next day Patricia, the USAC director, led orientation to cover the basics of safety, course information, and cultural customs. Then, to my surprise, she passed out the Spanish placement test. I was not expecting an eighty question written test and an oral exam, however, I placed into Intermediate Spanish which is exactly where I thought I would be. Whew! After sweating through this test, it was time to meet my host family. Tito called them up, showed me how to get to their house and sent me on my way. I was nervous to meet my host family, but as soon as I walked through the door into the apartment and I was greeted by Karmele that sensation dissipated. I could not have asked for a better host family as they treated me as if I was a relative they hadn’t seen in many years. I highly recommend a host family in the USAC program because it truly is the best way to immerse yourself in their culture.

Ryan's host family and their extended family smiling and eating on their balcony.

My host family is Karmele (female in the red shirt) and Mikel (male in the green shirt). Karmele’s uncle and aunt were in town from Galicia so their entire family was at their house when I arrived so I joined them for lunch. These are the kindest, most accommodating people I have ever met even though I struggled speaking Spanish to them. The only English spoken was when I asked for clarifications to my misunderstandings. This was difficult, but as you can see by the smiles above, I had a fantastic time meeting their family and I think they had a great time meeting me. Hasta Luego!



Observations of Kindness

During a time when so much of the news cycle is about awful things, I’d like to write about my observations of small acts of kindness while I’ve been in France.  I know these take place everywhere, but being in an unfamiliar place has given me the opportunity to be aware of interactions I often take for granted during daily life.

Contrary to the stereotype of the French as rude, I have encountered nothing but kindness.  There are specific thoughtful acts: Our landlady met us at the airport and took us to the grocery store before bringing us to the apartment.  One afternoon outside the Musee des Beaux-Arts, a woman saw us looking at a map and offered her help. In broken English, she gave us directions to the street we needed, and then — blocks later — surprised us from behind by grabbing our elbows and redirecting us when we took a wrong turn.  Paule, a woman Jen met in cooking class, who invited us for a tour of her home village of Saint-Cyr-au-Mont-d’Or and treated us to ice cream in her backyard.

There is also a general attitude.  Servers are generally jovial as well as patient with my bad French. Every day on the bus or tram, I see people of all ages, colors, garb, or gender offering their seat to someone older or encumbered.  Proprietors sing out “Bonjour!” when you enter a store, and people kiss each other’s cheeks upon meeting and parting.

Tour of Viterbo

I had my first class – Introduction to Italian – and come to find out Italian is difficult to learn. About three hundred years ago I studied Spanish. This has both hurt and helped with the Italian.  I understand the logic of the language but keep breaking into Spanish.  I’ll get it eventually. Fortunately the residents of Viterbo – and throughout Italy– are extremely warm, nice, and patient.

Our guests arranged a tour of Viterbo yesterday. Our guide Emma (wish I remembered her full name) was a wealth of knowledge and information. I stuck close by so I could hear everything…..and I was afraid of getting lost.  Emma stated that Viterbo is known as the City of Popes. Apparently the Pope, or should I say Popes, lived in Viterbo during times of unrest in Rome. Why Viterbo?  Funny you should ask. OK, you didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway. Two reasons. First, it had – and still has – a wall around the city, so it was safe.  Second, the water. Viterbo has fresh water coming in, and during that time day water was gold. It’s gold now, but not everyone realizes it.  There are beautiful fountains all around the medieval city. To protect the water quality, it was forbidden to do anything but gather water for drinking – no livestock or pet drinking, no washing, no dumping, nothing. The priority was to protect water quality. I knew the U.S. water use and allocation doctrines have their foundation from the days of the Roman Empire, but did not realize that water quality protection was always a priority. Wish we could take a lesson from the distant past and learn.  Shameless plug – take my water policy class if you want to learn what I’m refereeing to.  Back to the Popes. Several lived here and are buried here. Including one in the cathedral. This particular Pope held the position for only a few months. He was a scientist and doctor and his claim to “fame” was a book he wrote and distributed for free to the poor. The book outlined the illnesses from the era and how to manage and cure them.  How did he die? Apparently he was working on an experiment and it blew up.   The two people who read this blog will notice the picture of the cathedral and the pock marks in the columns. These are the result of aerial bombings during World War 2.  The Cathedral was badly damaged, but the residents decided to keep some reminders of the war.  Lions are the —- for the lack of a better word – mascot of the city. Thus you can find numerous carvings of lions.

Quick summary – Viterbo is a maze of small, beautiful streets, with countless shops, restaurants, cafes, and gelatorias. I will need to investigate more.

Just one example of where the lion dominates

Example of an arch under a staircase

Bridges were used for stability between two buildings

Amazing structure. Bombed in WW2, those who reconstructed it decided to leave the damage to the pillars.


After a few days of personal travel, I made it to Viterbo where I met the USAC directors, visiting students and faculty.  One thing to note is how refreshing it is to observe students who are traveling abroad for the first time. It is through their lens that I notice things about traveling I long since forgot;  little things, like ordering food, and big things, like eating food.  Once we all arrived the USAC hosts showed us around the town, and took us to a pizzeria for dinner. And, as luck would have it, the Slow Food Festival happened to be in full swing. In order to take in as much culture (aka food and wine) as possible, a few of us went to the festival after dinner. I’m still full thinking about it.

A small sample from the Slow Food Festival. Whose beers are those?!

The next day was the start of the orientation. The hosts took me to my apartment, which is located in the town walls. Is it nice, has everything I need, and only a five-minute walk to the university – so basically perfect. This is where I fully realized how organized, efficient, and just plain awesome Viterbo USAC hosts really are. Holy cow, they have everything covered. Including where to find peanut-butter; apparently this is the most sought-after item by U.S. students. Let this be a lesson to those thinking of traveling abroad – if you like peanut butter, bring it with you.

One port into the city wall and the main (old) city of Viterbo.

Viterbo is a UNESCO site, and a well deserving one.

With my housing set, class schedule set, and grocery shopping set, I’m ready to start. What’s up first? Basic Italian.  How hard can it be?