New Digs

Hi everyone! It’s been a long time!

I meant to write this post weeks ago, just as a sort of update about what’s going on, but it’ll be short so hang tight. I’m back in Florence! This time, though, I’m working, so maybe not so many shenanigans as last time, but there will still be shenanigans. Mark me there.

However, since I’ve graduated and am now a working woman, I feel that this blog is somewhat behind the times. In collaboration with two fellow grads, we’ve started up a new one about our working, studying, and real-world experiences entitled “The Unfortunate Wallet.” Since we’re all ridiculously broke at the moment, we found the title appropriate. Nevertheless, I thought that if you were still interested in knowing what I’m up to, even though this has been a year-long hiatus, I’d provide the URL so you can sign up to follow our adventures in Italy, Japan, and New York. Thanks so much for your support two years ago and I hope to see your subscription pings soon! ;D

http://www.theunfortunatewallet.wordpress.com

Finishing My Program

I know, I’m super late with this, but even a month after my program officially ended in Florence, I’m still having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that it’s over. My best friend studying in Japan still has another two months left, so it’s kind of surreal that I’ve finished so “early.” In fact, I’m somewhat jealous of her because she’s still involved in the experience. Everyone from my program has gone home by now, and while spending my days in Spain certainly isn’t difficult, I sometimes wish I was still in school. It’s bittersweet, knowing that my year of living in Florence is over.

The end of term came without much fanfare. I could have missed it, to be honest. With the rush of final exams and packing, I didn’t have much time to put thought into the fact that the “most influential year of my college career” had just come to an end. It doesn’t feel over, though this might be attributed to my still being in Europe. I’m sure it’ll make more sense once I get back to California, or even when I see my mother and brother in person for the first time in 10 months. Even that doesn’t scare me, to know that I haven’t seen them in so long. With technology these days, it’s not hard to keep in contact with home and friends around the world, so I don’t feel like I’ve been out of the loop too terribly because I talk to somebody at least once every day. All that being said, the end of semester ceremony was a little different from Fall Semester’s, as it had an awards ceremony. I was pleasantly surprised to be awarded the Award of Excellence in History and Political Science, so Mom was happy!

I suppose there’s a lot of reflection to do on this year of my life, and while I will be continuing this blog until the end of the summer (when I return to Arizona for my senior year), I have to say that I’m glad to have done it. At the same time, blogging is a pain in the ass. I’m not very good at regular updates and sometimes I’m sparse on the details. I use FaceBook almost religiously, so this seems more like redundancy than actually being informative. From my point of view, anyway. Those of you who aren’t my friends on FaceBook clearly enjoy whatever I’m doing here! Blogging was an interesting exercise, though, and I might be interested in continuing a new one through my last year in college. Honestly that one might be a bit more difficult to update, what with the thesis to do and all kinds of awesome classes.

Oh, introspection, right. I’m sure I’ve grown up over the year, even though I feel the same. The more overt displays of this new maturity might be my ability to cook real food now and being able to handle solo travel. I know that loads of kids might have set goals for their times abroad, and if I did, I can’t remember them now. I think it’ll take longer than a month for me to absorb the year for what it was, and while I’m aware that study abroad is a privilege many don’t have to opportunity to explore, I sank so quickly and easily into Italian culture that I don’t feel terribly lucky yet. Granted, I’m still expecting to wake up in Florence again any day now at the start of a new week of school, so I guess it hasn’t really sunk in yet that I’m done.

I had entertained for a while the idea of staying a third semester. I’m very nearly done with my degree, could have graduated this year if I hadn’t gone abroad, but when confronted with staying longer, I had some doubts. I wanted to spend my last year with my friends, not just one semester; I wasn’t sure if I could put together my honors thesis in just a semester, and shouldn’t I spend a lot longer with my director to get a good project down?; could I handle being away from home for longer than a year? There were a lot of factors to consider, and I’d been on a deadline. The various applications for another semester were due in at the beginning of March and while my coordinator back in Arizona assured me that there wouldn’t be any problems if I wanted to stay, I still felt pressured to make a choice. What sealed it for me was saying goodbye to my dad after his second visit to Florence. I nearly started crying watching him go, and I took that as a sign from the universe to go back home once my allotted time was done. The year did me well. I’m sure I could have soldiered through the third semester but I’m satisfied with the decision to return to ASU and with the experience I’ve had.

Another deciding factor for me was the academic portion. Putting the honors thesis aside, I’ve signed up for some pretty brilliant classes next semester, and I’m eager to get to work on those. I’ll have 21 credits in total, including the thesis placeholder course (I have to fill out some paperwork in person before I can take on the extra class), so it’ll be nice to actually work hard again. Take a look at my schedule:

I only have classes on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, the last being a three hour seminar with two excellent honors professors. I’m definitely looking forward to my internship with the literary magazine, Superstition Review, as well, and the rest of the classes are going to be excellent as well. It’ll be great to study subjects related to my major again. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a job, too. Having two free days should be incentive, otherwise all I’ll be doing is homework and sleeping. Not that I have a problem with that, but I think my parents would appreciate me actually doing something productive every once in a while.

Anyway, this entry feels empty and unfulfilling because you’d think I’d have more to say on finishing up the year. Unfortunately I don’t but hopefully as the new semester approaches and my time in Europe actually comes to a close, I’ll have more reflections to share with you. That being said, my mom and brother will be getting on a plane tomorrow bound for Paris, so I’ll pick them up on Saturday. Next entry: my trip to Dublin and life post-school in Spain.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam had to be the most international city I’ve ever visited. It was also the busiest in terms of nightlife and general tourism, not that this is surprising given the reputation that city has picked up over the years. That being said, the weekend after Easter, two friends and I got ourselves on a plane and headed out to this magnificent city to spend a long weekend enjoying ourselves. That weekend was probably the most relaxing trip I took during the Spring semester. While we got a lot done, saw what we wanted to see, I never felt rushed.

Getting to Amsterdam was something of an adventure, (un)fortunately. We literally got to the airport via taxi (the bus was taking too damn long to show up) a half-hour before the gate closed, and while I had checked in online the night previously, Michelle and Francesca had not. Francesca managed to get her boarding pass just fine but, for whatever reason, the machine refused to read Michelle’s passport and didn’t give her the boarding pass. Arguments with most unhelpful ticket ladies led to the threat of tears and finally one saint of an attendent made some calls and got Michelle her boarding pass. We booked it through security and to the gate, fairly throwing ourselves onto the plane in sheer relief. Too say we started off like nutters would not be an understatement. It’s a good thing that none of us really put much stock in our public image (not that anyone was ever going to see us ever again) because we looked ridiculous.

Our first day in Amsterdam was spent on the free walking tour that took us through the main part of the city, including part of the infamous red light district. I won’t elaborate too much on that portion of the tour, even though we took a specialized red-light tour later that evening, because we learned that a lot of the stereotypes and “common” knowledge is in fact false. However, I’m not entirely sure on the actuality of the situations, whether the girls in the RLD are under madams or essentially freelancers, so don’t quote me on any of that! That being said, the city was definitely more picturesque than I expected. I had heard that Amsterdam was very clean, beautiful, and the people friendly but I was blown away by the buildings and canals and the people were great! Food was pretty good, too, though we were a bit more international in our food choices than usual, going for Chinese and Thai rather than typical Dutch food.

Oh dear, I’m looking through my photos now and of course, I’ve put them all up on FaceBook but they aren’t in my iPhotos albums. Naturally. Hopefully they’re of the same quality.

We had three target locations that we wanted to visit this weekend: Anne Frank’s House, the Heineken Factory, and the House of Bols. Unfortunately, we were forbidden from taking photos in Anne Frank’s House, so all I have to offer you is the sign outside of the building:

Having been to Auschwitz in my fall semester, it was interesting to see the living situation of a family that had been subjected to the horrors of the Holocaust, and being able to see original copies of Anne’s diary, short stories, and novel was bittersweet. Apparently she’d wanted to be a famous author, and it’s ironic that her trauma and death ultimately made that dream come true. Horrible irony, but true.

Our experiences with the House of Bols and the Heineken Factory were somewhat similar, though I enjoyed the prior more than the latter. I’ve become more partial to liquor over the year, and I still can’t stand beer in any shape or form (though I spent a bit of time in Dublin recently trying to get over that with my friend Guinness). However, we spent more time in the Heineken Factory due to it being massive and more historically based than the House of Bols. We were taken through the entire process of brewing, getting tastes along the way that ended in two “free” pints of Heineken at the end of our tour. Apparently hops is what makes the beer bitter, but before that’s added, it’s actually relatively sweet. I’d drink beer if it tasted like that!

There was also one of those 4D rides that put us in the perspective of the beer as it went from grain and hops to the can. Of course, our expectations for this ride had been built up by other friends visiting previously, so I was thinking that we were in for a beer-can rollert coaster. It was a bit of a let down to be sprayed in the face with a bit of water and “boiled” under infrared lights.

Going to the House of Bols was something like entering a fun house that could kill epileptics. There were so many multicolored lights everywhere! Our entrance fee gained us two shots and a cocktail at the end of the tour, and the innovative part of the House of Bols is the number of liquor flavors they boast, over 300 developed and counting. One of the rooms had bottles lined up, stripped of their labels, and you were supposed to try and identify them by smell alone. That was the trippy room. It looked like a mad scientist’s lab met gay pride parade. I was pretty impressed.

At the tasting bar, I decided on a Pomegranate Collins as my cocktail of choice, given the option between nearly thirty different kinds of drinks from the automated machines. We were provided with a recipe for every drink we were interested in trying, but since all of them have Bols liquor in them (it’s frustratingly difficult to find in the States, only in NYC or San Fran), I don’t foresee making any of them in the near future. I also picked the blood orange and butterscotch liquor taster shots. Butterscotch was definitely my favorite. It tasted like candy!

I had a fantastic time in Amsterdam. The city was beautiful and even though we stayed out late every night, I never felt unsafe. There were so many people around all the time and no one begrudged us asking for directions, even at 3 o’clock in the morning. Our tours were informative and entertaining, and the red-light district was not nearly as sordid as everyone makes it out to be. In fact, I think every woman could do with a glow-in-the-dark lingerie set at one point in her life! Christmas present, anyone? It’d be a riot. In any case, my time spent in Amsterdam has put it at in the list of my favorite cities, and I would love to go back one day. I certainly wouldn’t mind living there, if given the opportunity!

PS: You notice I don’t mention another major aspect of the Amsterdam reputation. Don’t worry. It was around and definitely . . . interesting. ;D

Easter with Tita Sue and Uncle Frank

I’d been looking forward to seeing some family members since my dad had come and gone back in February, so having my Tita Sue and Uncle Frank in Florence for the long Easter weekend was definitely an uplifting part of the semester. All of my roommates had left to go to the Amalfi Coast and I would’ve been alone in the apartment had I not been given the opportunity to run out and about with my aunt and uncle and their choir group, come all the way from Seattle to participate in the International Verona Choir Competition (probably not the actual title, but you get the idea).

Though the main reason for coming to Florence was to allow the students to experience Italian culture, I was allowed to tag along to some of their performances as well as a few day-excursions. The kids sang beautifully at every gig, especially when we went to a cozy little chapel in Bango Rippoli, a little suburb outside the city. I can’t remember the name of the chapel, so if Tita Sue or Uncle Frank could let me know in the comments section, that’d be great. Anyway, since I was just finishing up my midterms, I didn’t miss out on much in terms of day trips. We visited Cortona, sight of the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, though we never did manage to find “Brama Sole” (the villa Francis bought and fixed up). I think it was outside the actual city, which was walled and built up on top of a hillside so as to afford protection in medieval time as well as a great view of Florence.

Unfortunately Tita Sue wasn’t able to join us in Cortona, as a student in the group had come down with some sort of illness, so Uncle Frank and I had a delicious lunch with the teacher chaperones, Beth, Erin, and Mark. The little restaurant we ate at was hidden in an alcove off one of the small streets that run through the town, and the food was fresh, excellent, and beautifully prepared. (I’m spamming you with photos.)

As appetizers, we had a mix of traditional Tuscan pickings, including salame, proscuitto, fagioli, cheeses, tomato, cured beef, truffle shavings, and pesto spreads:

As entrees we all ended up ordering similar dishes, and pasta was included in every one of them, save for the gnocchi dish. Of course, I have a hard time saying no to pasta nowadays, even after eating it for the past year at almost every meal. Hell, I had pasta for dinner last night, and I’m in Spain!

One evening, Tita Sue, Uncle Frank, and I went to my favorite restaurant, “Acqua al 2″ for a little family dinner by ourselves. I was most excited about this dinner because the restaurant had been established after my relatives had moved away from Florence (where they’d lived for some years while my uncle reigned as headmaster at the local American school). It was something about the city that I knew and could share with them. I didn’t take any pictures of the food that are worthy of sharing, due to the lighting being more atmospheric in nature than accommodating to photography, but rest assured that it was all phenomenal. I’ve already made reservations for my upcoming 21st birthday this June to go with my mom, dad, and brother when we visit Florence again. Can you say “blueberry steak”? Be excited.

I have to say, I knew I’d eat well the weekend that my aunt and uncle were here, and the fact that Easter happened to coincide promised a bit of entertainment as well. Every Easter morning, Florence holds a sort of procession through the major piazze in the city, specifically Piazza della Republica and Piazza del Duomo, complete with an exploding cart with fireworks at 11:30 to commemorate St. John. I chose to chase after this parade instead of going to church and listening to the kids sing, and to be honest (no offense), this parade was way more interesting than church. There were flag tossers, white oxen with gold-painted hooves, and a procession of era-dressed men, women, and children. I took so many pictures so here’s a few of them. Despite my majoring in English, I’m finding it more interesting to show you the photos than actually write about it!!

I have some video footage about the actual fireworks and explosions but I have no idea how long it’ll take for me to upload that, seeing as this post is very nearly at maximum capacity with the photos already. I can tell you that the whole piazza was packed tight with tourists and locals alike, and while I was pretty close, I still envy the people who were right up against the barriers. Having my camera with super zoom was great and all, but it would’ve been better to be closer to the action, even if that action could very well have singed my eyebrows off and given me a serious case of black lung. The amount of smoke had me convinced that the wooden cart had actually caught fire from the amount of combustion going on, but once it all cleared with the help of some rain, the cart appeared to have remained intact.

After this event, I returned to my apartment to get dressed for our Easter lunch, which my relatives, the teachers, and I would take at another favorite restaurant of mine, ZaZa’s. We were pretty lucky to get a reservation, I think, but apparently the restaurant grows every year because we were seated in a section that I’d never seen before. That’s not to say I go to ZaZa’s every other week, but I thought I’d seen all their surprises! I was first to arrive due to my lack of car. It’s way easier to walk through Florence than it is to drive, especially on such a big holiday, rain not withstanding. People mobbed the streets and it was a hassle to arrive on time even on foot. I was wearing my white blazer at the time, too, so paranoia of getting knocked into, splashed, or stained in any way, shape, or form gave me both speed and agility that even a ninja would admire.

The lighting in ZaZa’s wasn’t terribly good either, and given the number of photos I’ve already spammed you with, I’ll spare you only three more since I think they’re awesome. We all ended up having the whole nine-yards lunch of appetizer, first, and second courses, though few of us attempted dessert. I had a fagioli-bruscheta, pappa al pomodoro, and lamb chops with rustic potatoes, in that order. I had no idea that lamb was a traditional Easter dish but I suppose it makes sense. Morbid sense. I ate Jesus on Easter. Awkward.

The madness of the weekend ended with one last day trip up to Antella, a tiny town on the outskirts of Florence in the mountains, where we visited some of Tita Sue and Uncle Frank’s friends from when they lived here. In fact, the little bed-and-breakfast their friends owned gave a clear view of the American school and the house my relatives used to live in nearby. It was a beautiful area, full of flowers and green, not to mention the spare donkey. We enjoyed lunch there and the kids and faculty spent some time sharing thoughts and thanks about their experiences while in in Italy. I think it must’ve been something, coming to Florence on a trip like theirs, a real bonding experience. I remember my first band trip in high school, to the Caribbean on a cruise, but that was more novel-filled than friendship-securing. Sure, we were a tight-knit group, but I don’t think we came together exactly like these kids did.

I had  a great time that weekend and I’m pretty grateful Tita Sue and Uncle Frank came around when they did. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my immediate family, Dad’s visit in February notwithstanding. Even then, it’s been, what?, four months since I’ve seen him? At least ten since seeing my mom and brother. People always ask me how I can do it. Well, they don’t exactly ask. It’s more of a “I can’t believe you’ve managed it” type of comment. I dunno. I hate to say that it’s not debilitating, and maybe that’s a good thing, seeing as I plan on coming right back to Europe after my graduation next May (and isn’t that a thought??). My parents understand, I think. In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing them once they get here in June! Won’t that be a reunion?

Bosnian Excursion

I know it’s been a long time and my program is actually done now, but I’ll get to that later, promise. I’m spending all day today getting caught up with this blog so hopefully you’ll get two or three updates. Long updates, granted, but they’ll be here. Promise. Maybe. I’m not very good with deadlines as you might’ve noticed.

I’d like to preface this story with the fact that my sense of direction is horrendous. Please keep that in mind.

Anyway, about a month ago I managed to get out to Bosnia to visit a friend of mine studying there for the year. I’ve never been much interested in Bosnia, only knowing the scantest amount about the genocide atrocities committed there in recent history, and seeing as my friend Galen is very much a save-the-world type of guy, it’s not terribly surprising that he landed himself there for study abroad. The trip there was easy enough, minus the fact that I had to skip a day of classes to get down to Rome. From there I flew to Belgrade, Serbia. Being the country next door, for whatever reason the flight ended up being cheaper than a direct one into the capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo. Galen was there to meet me, thankfully, though he’d at first suggested figuring out my own transportation to Sarajevo from the Belgrade airport, ranging from train, international bus, and mini shuttle. This didn’t fly with me for reason stated above, so he made the eight-hour bus ride out to pick me up.

We spent the evening in Belgrade and sampled the local food with much relish. I was pleased to find that it was quite similar to the Eastern European food I’ve had experience with in the past, and I jumped on the prospect of having goulasch again. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture for you as I didn’t think to bring my camera out that night (fail), but I promise you it was delicious. The following day we spent on a bus to Bosnia, getting stopped at border control along the way, at which point my British passport received its first ever stamp. Apparently travelling among EU countries is somewhat like domestic travel. Bummer. We ended up arriving in Sarajevo around sunset, and Galen showed me around some of the city that evening before indulging in more local food and some rose-flavored Turkish delights.

Something I noticed about Serbia and Bosnia both right away was the sheer amount of smoking. Italians love their cigarettes, too, but I’m fairly certain that narrowly avoided lung cancer by the skin of my teeth, if that, during the course of my stay in the Balkan regions. Smoking wasn’t prohibited in restaurants from what I can tell, so there was an effervescent hovering of tabacco in most everything I ate and smelled. What was even more off putting was that the stink persisted for about a week after I returned home.

The following day Galen and I met up with a few of his friends to visit a tiny mountain town, Tuzla, a few hours north of Sarajevo. At this point the weekend is rapidly drawing to a close, and I’m starting to get worried about how I’d make it back to Belgrade for my flight home. I’m terrible with directions of any sort, even in places I’m familiar with, and not having any inkling of the language really bothered me. Luckily, after an seven-hour bus ride and a dubious taxi trip, I made it to the Belgrade airport intact, though not for lack of nerves and irritation.

However, this is where the problems started. My cell phone must’ve run out of money, and I was suddenly out of contact with my parents. I spent the better part of a few hours frantically trying to use both my Italian and Spanish phones trying to text/call the United States. I even bought a Serbian SIM card, to no avail. Suffice to say, I figured that my parents were not pleased at all. I managed to get on my flight and into Rome without any other problems, and since I received calls on my Italian phone for free, my mom managed to get a call through before the damn phone started dying! I only just managed to buy a charger from the airport electronics store before they closed, and by that time I’d missed the last train going out of Roma Termini. I spent the night in the airport before finally catching a train back to Florence, where I promptly collapsed into bed for about a half hour before heading to class.

Admittedly not the best ending of a trip. I wish it had gone more smoothly but I was ultimately glad to get back to Florence at the end of things. It was an interesting trip and fun to see Galen again, but I’m not sure I’d go back to Bosnia without any sort of incentive. Next post: Easter!

A Spanish Spring Break

I have to say that my decision to take spring break on my own was probably for the best. I mean, I like hearing about my friends’ trips and I think it would have been fun to have gone along for the ride, but at the same time the time alone was such a respite. I didn’t have any homework to worry about, no cares as to how loud to play my music (the weird Japanese stuff, not the American pop that’s acceptable to most kids my age), and I got to laze about all day without anyone walking into the room. Not that I was terribly bothered here in Italy by roommates or otherwise, but sometimes it’s just nice to have a self-centered lazy week.

That being said, the trip started off as something of a nightmare. A fair warning to all you looking to take RyanAir flights in the future: weigh your bags before you leave your house. I had foolishly thought that I would manage a 15 kilo checked bag and be under or just above the limit. Incorrect. My bag ended up being 22 kilos, and RyanAir’s “friendly” policy requires each extra kilo above limit to be compensated by an additional 20€. Guess who ended up forking over 140€. *points at self* Yeah, great start, right? Getting onto the plane proved to be an ordeal as well. I was still upset over paying so much money that I kept forgetting to keep my boarding pass out of my backpack, and I’m sure that the check-in ladies were that close to just booting me into the runway so they wouldn’t have to deal with my fumbling. Once on the plane, I cleverly seated myself behind a woman having a panic attack from the heat in the very full plane. Needless to say the flight was delayed about twenty minutes.

I finally arrived in Alicante, Spain around the proper arrival time of 11PM and was picked up by family friend Mayeyes. I was worried about how my Spanish would be, since learning a new language sort of trounces any other language that you don’t have a full handle on,  but I managed to understand well enough to formulate some sort of response, though Italian made more than its fair share of interruptions. Mayeyes left me at the family apartment to my devices, and I promptly crashed into bed, not even bothering to throw some sheets over the mattress and making do with a pile of blankets.

The following day was partially spent at the beach. I stopped by a local bar to pick up my favorite summer lunch, a Spanish tortilla sandwich with plenty of olive oil and a Fanta Orange. The weather was lovely for most of the morning until about 12:30-1:00 when the wind picked up. I made my way back to my apartment and wiled away the rest of the afternoon on my computer, shortly discovering a pathetic fascination with Judge Judy episodes, courtesy of YouTube and a lot of time on my hands. I spent the evening watching Jurassic Park on TV, which was cool since I haven’t really used a TV for a while.

Day Three found me handling an exchange of sorts. I didn’t get much out of the deal, but eh. Such is life. My friend Nick had left his debit card in Florence, and since he knew I’d be in Spain (where he and his friends had decided to travel for the week), he begged me to bring it with me and he’d pick it up. Due to close proximity, him being in Valencia, the hand-off was made, and we ended up having lunch at a family friend, Maribel’s, house downtown. It was nice having someone else cook for me for a change, and a home-cooked meal by someone who has been cooking for years definitely made a difference in my eating standards. Since I was trying to conserve my money after that debilitating RyanAir charge, I resolved to take advantage of hospitality and had lunch with Maribel again the next day.

Day Three’s evening had me in the city with Mayeyes hunting down a pay-as-you-go phone for my stay and for my return in May. It’s important to have some sort of contact device not relying on WiFi, so we got me an international SIM card and Mayayes offered me one of her old mobiles that she no longer used. I’d also picked up an old phone from Maribel’s daughter, Maria, which no doubt will be used by my brother whenever he gets to Spain. All in all, it was a productive day once I saw Nick back to the train station. I crashed around 2AM after long Skype chats back home and no dinner, since lunch pretty much added an extra ten pounds to digest for the remainder of the trip.

The rest of the week sort of languished in a haze of beachy contentment and (lots of) Judge Judy. I took advantage of the DVD player to watch more Jurassic Park and the concert DVDs of my favorite Japanese artist, Gackt, since his DVDs are Region 2 coded and therefore incompatible with USA devices, damn them. I checked through the apartment inventory for anything my mom might need to bring with her later in the summer, chucked the spoiling food, and settled the winter clothes I’d brought with me into their drawers to await my return.

Soon enough I was packing up my things to get ready to return to Florence. I wasn’t really raring to go back, since school can be monotonous and the relaxation was well appreciated. I also knew that I might have a bit of trouble with getting back to Florence from Bologna. The last train out of the station that night would be at 9:30PM, and my flight was due to arrive at 8:30. Hardly enough time to collect a checked bag, get to the station (that was a half-hour’s bus ride from the airport), and safely get onto my train. Nonetheless, I was willing to give it a go, since I really had no choice.

Of course, as fate wills it, my flight ends up being delayed about 45 minutes. So much for making my train. By the time I arrived in Bologna and collected my baggage, it was pushing 9PM, and there was no way I’d make it to the station on time. I went to the help services in the station and learned that the earliest train leaving for Florence Santa Maria Novella station would be at 2:17AM, and the waiting room was just around the corner, thank you for your patience. My mother and I both figured that this would be my best bet, even if I had to wait in a room filled with homeless people and creepy drunks. I went to purchase a ticket, but lo and behold, the train was booked up entirely. Unless I wanted to pay for a sleeper compartment, which was more than double the price of an ordinary ticket, I would have to wait until the 5:15AM train.

Suffice to say, I bought the 5:15AM ticket. In lieu of staying in a hotel for one night, I schlepped back to the airport and made a long night of reading Game of Thrones and drinking disgusting hot chocolate from a machine. At 4AM I investigated the shuttle bus station only to find that the earliest running time was at 6. More than a little irritated, I managed to secure myself a cab. I arrived at the station well ahead of schedule and found myself a spot in the creepy waiting room. Twenty minutes before boarding time, I made my way to platform and sat there. For nearly an hour. Yes, my train was also late. By the time the damn thing finally arrived, I’d almost resigned myself to being forever trapped in Bologna. I got on and had to stand for the entirety of the hour ride back to Florence, since the train had come from Vienna and everyone was sleeping. I arrived at around 7:15, booked it back to my apartment, and barely managed to kick off my shoes before falling into bed and crashing.

I did not make it to my 9AM class that morning.

I’m fairly certain that this was the worst travel experience I’d ever had, and I suppose I’ve been really lucky in the past to avoid these sorts of situations. And to think, I’m taking the same route again in May when term lets out, and I’ll have 2 bags this time! Ugh. There are maybe six weeks left to my Italian year abroad, and it hasn’t quite hit me yet that I’ll be leaving back for ASU soon. It’ll be interesting to see how everyone back home has changed. I’m sure I’ll blog about my musings sometime soon, though I haven’t been very good at consistency lately.

That being said, I’ll be going to Bosnia next weekend to visit a friend, and that trip promises to be something interesting. I’ll let you know how it goes. Ciao~~

Carnivale in Venice

This past weekend I finally got the opportunity to attend Venetian Carnival, an event that blows “Phantom of the Opera’s” masquerade scene out of the water with the number  of people, costumes, and frivolity that occurs in the span of a few weeks. Supposedly put into place upon the victory of the “Repubblica della Serenissima”, the festival became official during the Renaissance and, after a long absence, the Italian government reinstated the celebration of Carnival as a way to pay homage to the history and culture of Venice. Apparently, nearly 3,000,000 tourists visit Venice EACH DAY for Carnival. I definitely didn’t see that many people when I was there, though Piazza San Marco was always packed despite the cold and snow.

I decided to stay overnight, though most of the kids I knew only planned a day trip through some of the travel agencies catering to students in Florence. I wanted to experience as much as possible from Carnivale, and my friend Nick and I took a train at 4:35AM to get into the city before the rush of people arrived later in the morning. Unfortunately, Nick and a few of our other friends left early the following morning for a soccer match in Milan, and I ended up heading out to the islands with a few girls from UConn. I didn’t know them terribly well, but apparently we liked each other enough to plan a trip to Amsterdam together in April! I’m really excited for that trip. Hopefully the cold will have worn off by then and we get to see all the tulips that Holland’s so famous for. Oh, and the windmills. I really want to see the windmills.

 

The most famous event of the Carnival season takes place this weekend: the contest for the best mask (La Maschera piu bella). Since I went last weekend, I forwent attending today and tomorrow, so I’m sure that I’m missing out on some awesome photos, but I collected quite a few while I was there. Enjoy!

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The Conquering of Rome

WARNING: LONG

That title is not to be misconstrued at all. This trip was literally an epic conquering of a massive city, and we did it under 48 hours. I remember hearing from my Uncle Ian that he saw all the sights in Rome in two hours, though he claimed this was at night with considerably less tourists around. I didn’t believe him.

Now I do.

After a night’s recuperation back in Florence, Danielle and I headed out the next morning to Rome. This train ride, four hours long, cost a measly 38€. Both ways. As in, we paid 17.50€ for a one-way ride to Rome. Venice screwed us. In any case, I managed to get some sleep on this one, proving once again that I can fall asleep in any moving vehicle (including water taxi, by the way), and we arrived at the Freedom Traveller Hostel around 5:30PM. I wasn’t quite as impressed with Freedom Traveller as I was with the Venice Fish. The atmosphere was definitely one of individual travel, lacking the mingle-y feel that we found over the New Years. We had a private room for the three nights we stayed, and while all we did was sleep there, I think we both were hoping for another experience similar to the Venice Fish.

In any case, we dropped our things in the room and promptly left for a rather sketchy pasta dinner at the restaurant across the street. The food was fine, but the drunk guys oggling our fellow females all over the creepy back room was not so nice. We headed out quickly enough to the Metro to purchase a three-day ticket. Wasting no time, Danielle shuffled us off to the first stop on her list, the Colosseum.

Taking photos at night is bleeding hard, you know? Everything comes out blurry.

We spent a bit of time just staring at it, munching on some proscuitto-mozzarella calzoni, before heading onwards to our next destination, the Pantheon. On foot. There’s no Metro to the Pantheon/Piazza Navona. It’s too close to the Spanish Steps. Close being like a twenty minute walk. Rome made up for the distance with plenty of lit streets and copious amounts of people. Unlike Florence, Rome seems to be alive at all hours of the day. It was somewhat refreshing to know that somebody else, more like a city full of somebody elses, actually stayed up late to go out to dinner.

We passed all sorts of ruins and modern buildings, a strange juxtaposition, and Rome seemed equally ancient and futuristic at the same time unlike Florence, which seems to ooze “I am Renaissance love me for I’m old.” Something like that. Our walk led us down the backstreets and the promenades, but we finally made it to the Pantheon, bypassing Piazza Navona for that night. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside, since we’d missed closing by three hours; however, the view from outside was just as good as the Colosseum. The next stop was the Trevi Fountain, predictably crowded with tourists and Italians both, and its surrounding cafés were full to bursting. Danielle and I obligingly threw our coins into the fountain (over our left shoulders), and I made yet another promise to return to Rome. That fountain will know if you don’t.

We then made our way to the Spanish Steps, where we ended our evening. Not as crowded as it usually is during the day, the Steps were still a sight to see, being the location of Rome’s haute couture shopping strip. Danielle and I made a pact to come back the next day and indulge in some McDonald’s like every other Italian person did on the Steps. I kept thinking about my Food Culture professor and what he would say to me. I’m definitely not telling him about that! After a few lingering looks at the frightening Prada prices, we trooped back onto the Metro and made our way back to the hostel for a good night’s rest. After all, we had to tackle the Vatican the next day!

Our first stop was the Vatican museums. Luckily we’d thought to buy tickets ahead of time and we got to skip the line going into the building. Even on an off-season, there were plenty of people eager to see the Vatican’s treasures. Unlike the last time my family and I went, we made it through the entirety of the museums, seeing every department and even stopping at the pizzeria for a taste of how the Vatican feeds its visitors. Apparently they save the best pizza for the pope. My favorite department was probably the Australian Aboriginal exhibit, photos and artifacts alike, but it was nice running through the Egyptian department again. Of course, we couldn’t skip through the Vatican without seeing the Sistine Chapel!

Post-Vatican saw us hunting through the city for all the sights we’d seen the previous night. By the time we’d actually left the museums and basilica, evening had fallen and we stumbled upon Piazza Navona in the throws of an outdoor market-fair complete with a merry-go-round and carnival games. Since the Pantheon was right next to the Piazza, we poked our heads in for a look-around before heading to a recommended café called, “Tazza d’Oro.”

That evening we decided to spend a nice evening at another recommended restaurant, Maccheroni. Without a reservation, though the manager put us on a time limit, wanting us out by nine for his reservation at 9PM. Danielle started with a cheesy prosciutto pasta and I chose a pasta-garbanzo soup. Our entrees were stuffed zucchinis and chicken cacciatora respectively. I realize you’re being bombed with photos so I won’t put dinner up, but you can see the entirety of my Rome and Venice albums on my Facebook page. Hope we’re friends!

Our last full day in Rome was spent at the Colosseum. We got up bright and early to arrive on the Metro around 10:00AM. The line was already massive and we were herded on all sides by tour guides attempting to sell their services for a “cheaper better price” than the official ones. Fool that I am, I forgot my British passport when we went to buy our legitimate tickets from the Palantino and had to pay full price, and for whatever reason they didn’t offer student prices, which was also unfortunate. However, for the 12€ we did pay, we say the Palantino, the Roman Forums, and skipped the line into the Colosseum as well. It was a pretty good deal. I forked out a little extra to get an electronic guide for the Colosseum itself, since the history of that was more of interest to us than the ruins just across the street.

The Colosseum was, of course, colossal and magnificent. I can only imagine how it looked in its prime with gladiators, wild beasts, and savage hunts on display for all the public to see. In honor of our visit, Danielle and I even watched “Gladiator” with Russell Crow once we returned to Florence. The CG version of the Colosseum didn’t measure up to its real-life splendor. Though it’s ultimately falling to pieces due to centuries of neglect, I’m glad that it’s been preserved as much as it has. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back at some point. My Ancient Rome class will probably land me there again in the coming months.

Danielle left back for Spain on the 7th, so I know that this blog post is coming very late. The semester is starting up soon and I’m working through orientation and brand-new roommates. This semester has so many new people and even a new building to get used to; I hope everything works out as planned and not like last semester. The group living with me seem good thus far. We’ll see how things progress as the time goes on. I’m sharing a room now so I’ll have to keep careful track of my things. It’ll be strange not being able to just drop my books and bags wherever I like. Again, we’ll see.

Updates on classes to come. I get my schedule tomorrow! Ciao!

Venetian New Years

A lot has happened since Christmas updates and admittedly I’ve been sleeping a lot recently, thereby neglecting my blogging duties. I’ll do my best to recall what we did (because we did a lot) before Danielle left for Spain again, and I’ve been scolded by my mother for not being very detailed in my recent postings. Seeing as most of my followers also follow my cousin, I felt like I was being redundant in my content, since we’re talking about the same events. Anyway, I’ll be as thorough as possible, but be prepared to read, okay?

For the New Years we stayed in a hostel called the Venice Fish. I’d heard mixed reviews about it from kids in my program last semester, citing the atmosphere in both positive and negative contexts, but the price ultimately won Danielle and I over. The same could not be said for the train tickets from Florence to Venice. Stupid us, thinking that we could purchase the reduced price tickets at the actual station. We ended up paying double what we thought for a one-way ticket to the city, which neither of us was particularly pleased with, but the ride was pleasant (in that I slept the entire way there). Roughly two hours later, we were in Venice.

I just have to say, I’m so glad that Danielle was there to get me to that damn hostel. I’m horrible with directions, and despite having been to Venice before in the past, I get lost so easily. The entire city structure is so convoluted, not to mention sinking. Anyway, we made it to the hostel without losing anything and promptly began mingling with our fellow hostelers. The Venice Fish was clearly English friendly, the staff manager Chris being from England, and we ran into two more girls from the States spending their last few days abroad in Italy before going home. There plenty of Australians about as well since this time is the middle of their summer holiday season.

Seeing as we arrived on New Years Eve, the drinking started almost immediately. Danielle and I visited the local grocery store with new friends Brenna (of San Fran Marin County) and Ed (of Newcastle, New South Wales) to fetch the booze and picked up two bottles of prosecco to celebrate with later in the evening. Everyone in the city had apparently decided to convene on that grocery store though, and even though Danielle and I had maybe four items between the two of us, it took us about half-an-hour to maneuver the store and pay for safe passage onto the street with our goods. Upon returning to the fish, we got drawn into a game of King’s Cup (my first time playing) with Rue and Drew (also of Australia), Cori and Ray of Harvey Mudd/UCLA respectively, and a whole slew of Brazilians, Mexicans, and Koreans. We all paid in for the communal 10 liters of sangria, and that puppy was drained by the time we all left for Piazza San Marco to watch the countdown.

Communal Pot of Sangria. Yeah, it existed.

Our new lot of friends.

We headed out to the Piazza with Ed, Brenna, Chandler, Cori, and Nick, joining the stream of people also on the way to the center of the action. There was general excitement in the air, people randomly bursting out into songs both foreign and unintelligible. The piazza was packed full to bursting, ever nook and cranny filled with kissing couples and empty wine bottles. We needed to form a sort of conga line to stick together. There was no way to get close to the front or center of the mob but once Ed and Nick put us up on their shoulders a few times we could get a good view of the concert deck and plasma screen showing the count down to midnight.

The countdown ended in an explosion of cheering and popping champagne/prosecco bottles. We’d brought one to share around the eight of us and it was so bubbly and sweet that I couldn’t handle much of it. The crowds definitely put me off any desire to go to Time’s Square for a New Years celebration. Once people started heading for the docks to watch the fireworks, the center of the Piazza turned into a dumping ground for broken bottles, exploding crackers, and fireworks. Of course, this didn’t stop some of the girls in our group from rushing out to dance! By the end of the night we all ended up beating off drunk old men in the middle of the impromptu dance party in front of the stage and finding our way back to the Fish for some well-earned rest.

New Years Day saw Danielle, Ed, and I making our way to the island of Murano, famous for its glass products.

The artists there are clearly very good at what they do. We spent most of the day looking through the various glass houses for a demonstration of glass blowing and we finally came upon it at the end of our trip when we were tired, cold, and hungry. The entirety of the showroom had been on sale and Danielle bought herself a beautiful yellow-orange spotted clock. Afterwards we watched the master glass artist blow a vase and sculpt the Ferrari horse in under a minute, and Danielle got the chance to blow a massive glass bubble. I caught it on video and I promise it’ll be up eventually! I think it’s already on my Facebook, so go take a look if we’re friends.

Taking a water taxi was almost as debilitating as the initial train ride. It didn’t cost as much but our first taxi broke down after two stops, leaving us stranded on a remote side of Venice for over an hour. The ride back was much easier, though, and the sunset was lovely, illuminating the cityscape of Venice in a bright orange haze.

 

Next: The Conquering of Rome!

Follow Up: Photography Final

This might’ve been a long time in coming, but here we are! My photography final went very well and I thought you’d like to see the product. I’m only posting 5/8 photos here, though, since content of the last three might bother some people. Let me know if I should put them up anyway. It’s for your personal sensibilities that I don’t.

My theme was the “Sexy Paradox,” in the attractiveness has such a desperately wide spectrum that in one group of people, both extremes can be considered highly unattractive. That is, sexiness is entirely subjective. I know, not the most original topic, but I had a great time shooting and editing the photos with a bit of help from Daniel on some of them. Enjoy!