Christmas in Florence

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Buon Natale, etc everyone!!!

I’ve been pretty busy since our last update, getting everyone moved out of our Via Giusti apartment and moving into my new Borgo Oggnisanti apartment, traveling to various countries (or country as is the case), and making sure there’s food on sale during Christmas Eve day. You never know in a religious country like Italy. In any case, I’m spending Christmas away from the family here in Florence, but my cousin Danielle has come out for her winter break. We’re taking the country by storm (and eating more than our weight in delicious food of course). Before I get to Christmas celebrations, I should probably give you a run-down on everything that’s happened in the past few weeks.

The move-out of the fall semester Palazzo Ruccelai students was something of a nightmare. We had to get the apartment cleaned up, furniture returned to original rooms, and garbage removed in entirety. Nightmare. Not to mention the tension between housemates leading up to the actual date. I swear, girls are vicious. I realize that the last time I wrote about my roommates, I got in “trouble” with school administration (because heaven forbid I tell the truth on an obscure blog easily lost in the catacombs of the Internets), but I’m sincerely glad I’m not living in that environment anymore. Passive aggressive behavior pisses me off. Problems should be addressed promptly and with honesty, but apparently this is beyond certain persons. Never mind the fact that we’re unlikely to ever see each other again, some students not even attending the same universities as each other. Even the girls who attend ASU are unlikely to ever see me, unless they’re interested in 400-level English lit classes (which they aren’t) or have a sudden urge to grace Barrett with their presences.

It’s astonishing, the growth rate of maturity. As in, stagnation seems disgustingly prominent.

Anyway, with the leaving of my former roommates came the arrival of Danielle and our trip to Reit im Winkl. We were set up for our very first White Christmas in Pension Louise with Rudi, Kornelia, Alexandra, and Mikel. Behold the view from the second floor!

Very Winter-Wonderland isn’t it? This was my first time I’d been in snow, and man, was it cold! Of course, with the proper attire, there wasn’t much of a problem, but I don’t think my face has ever been quite so freezing. Wearing a ski mask all the time wasn’t exactly prudent. Not to mention it’s creepy.

Rudi and Kornelia stuffed us stupid. Italian food culture and German food culture are drastically different, the latter more like the American mentality of “eat a lot.” That being said, after eating relatively balanced meals here in Florence, going to Germany and gorging on heavy comfort foods like potatoes, goulasch, schnitzel, and hot wine probably dropped about ten pounds on every part of my body. I can’t even bring myself to step on a scale. Ugh, I’m looking at a new pants size, I know it.

You'd get fat if you ate stuff like this, too. This is Kaiserschmarrn.

Coming back to Florence meant getting ready for our meagre Christmas away from family and friends. We had no Christmas tree aside from the six-inch tall decoration sitting on our kitchen table, but luckily I’d made a reservation at a cute, Tuscan restaurant called “Acqua al 2″ for actual Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, we had to figure out what to do with ourselves on Christmas Eve. With the heating out in the apartment (and still not functioning btw), we were so cold that we didn’t even bother with a conventional dinner and just made soup from a packet. I slept hard that night. Travel in any form is tiring, and even though the flight from Germany only took a collective three hours, I was ready to sleep well into the next day.

Christmas Day was as satisfying as it could be. Sitting and opening presents by ourselves at noon couldn’t really compare to our home traditions. Apparently my brother woke up at 4AM raring to go and my parents finally obliged him at 7:30 before going to our neighbor’s place for Christmas breakfast. I missed that. I’m certainly not sorry to be here, but I’m glad for the advancement of technology. FaceTime has never been used for such a long period of time. I think my parents called me four times that day and Danielle and I definitely presided over whole-family-clan-Christmas-activities for nearly four hours. It was almost like being home again. This wasn’t my first time missing a big family gathering. I spent the Easter of my high school junior year in Japan, and I can say with certainty that I might miss a few more holidays in the coming years. Maybe Apple will invent hologram technology by then?

Dinner at Acqua al 2 was splendid. I’d only been there with my friend Daniel once before, but I’m glad we went again. Danielle and I indulged in three course meals, but we skipped dessert. I couldn’t find room anywhere to fit it! I don’t have any pictures for you. The lighting is kept low in the dining rooms, and taking photos with my camera at 1/2 second or even slower is incredibly difficult without a tripod. You’ll have to do with my description. I started with a carrot salad (just carrots), primi piatti was farfalline (bowtie) con zucca (pumpkin), which was to die for, primi secondi was fillet mignon with reduction of balsamic vinegar. Previously, I’d had fillet mignon with blueberry sauce, and I can’t make a comparison of the two. Both were absolutely delicious. I’ll just have to have them again. Oh well.

Danielle and I have also done a bit of post-Christmas shopping. We hit H&M with all the combined might of our credit cards (not really) and picked up a few things for New Years, which we’re spending in Venice this year. I bought a cute little black dress, a champagne scarf, and a new pair of high heels. I won’t be going shopping for a while. It’s so hard to resist, though! Fashion’s so accesible here.

Now that the Holiday craze is settling down a bit, we’re not doing much by means of site-seeing. We’ll hopefully be able to drag ourselves out of bed to climb the Duomo tomorrow. Hopefully. We haven’t been doing a good job of getting up early. I don’t have the best track record for being an early riser, but this is just ridiculous.

Hope you enjoy these Christmas lights! I definitely do.

Shooting in Florence

I’m not sure if anyone’s heard about this yet, considering it happened not even half-an-hour ago, but there was a fatal shooting here in Florence, not even fifteen minutes away from where I live. An elderly man, depressed and angry, shot two African merchants in the San Lorenzo marketplace before committing suicide near the Duomo Piazza. My friend Daniel was walking home around the time that this happened and he heard the gunshots, thinking they were fireworks. He made it home safely, thank God, but he’s understandably shaken.

It’s hard to believe that some place so picturesque and peaceful as Florence could be the site of something like this. I mean, racists taking a gun to the subject of their hate seems more of a tale for the Confederate South rather than the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. I’ve always felt safe here in Florence, and that’s not to say I don’t feel this way any longer. A few weeks ago, I had a run-in with an unsavory character while walking home from a party at 2AM. I dealt with him appropriately (aka throttled him) and got home safely, but thinking back on the incident, plenty could have gone wrong. I realize that isn’t anything like a shooting, but I reiterate that I’ve never felt unsafe here. Despite creepers in alleyways, I know I can take care of myself if things have to get dirty. But a gun?

Thinking that this is an isolated incident would be naïve. Granted, I don’t imagine this will be happening again in Florence any time soon, but I realize things like this happen all the time. It’s not pretty and it’s not okay, but we can’t say that it isn’t unusual, sadly. I’m glad that Daniel didn’t get caught up in it, though I imagine he’s not feeling very well at the moment, but it certainly puts things in perspective. People with guns in states of mind like this man don’t exactly discriminate.

No Mom, I won’t be going out tonight.

More information: http://uk.ibtimes.com/articles/266427/20111213/florence-shooting-neo-nazi-murdered-african-street.htm

Photography Final

It’s coming up to the end of the semester, and that means final projects and exams. I’m not worried overmuch about exams. My classes are all fairly simple to study for. That is, I won’t really be studying. Material is easy, delivered in a concise manner, and if absolutely necessary, I can look over my notes. I’m actually excited about the photography project that’s coming up, though I’m having a bit of trouble putting together a concept for my final (not many guidelines, which I was pleased with in the beginning but now…). In celebration of the ending of the semester, I thought I’d share the photos that I like most thus far. Enjoy!

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My Café

I know I never finished up talking about my fall break, but honestly I can’t be bothered right this instant to get it all together again. I’d love to show you pictures but I recently cleaned out my harddrive (because it fills up ridiculously fast), and in the purging, I got rid of most of my photos. I saved them all onto an external so they aren’t lost forever, and they’re also on Facebook so I’m sure some of you have seen them already. In any case, I’ll try to get around to talking about the rest of my break but I thought I’d pick up on something a little more recent.

My café. Yeah, I’ve got one. The barrista knows my name and what I want, even has it waiting for me when I come ’round (hot chocolate with whipped cream and a sugar doughnut). It’s not an every day thing. My fellow Fresco students and I started going to the place around the corner from our studio on Mondays and Wednesdays at the beginning of the semester, and it’s pretty easy to remember four American girls that rarely deviate from their orders. We’re pretty predictable.

I’m hoping that next semester I’ll be able to go more often than just two days a week. We have the time in Fresco because we need to let the plaster dry, but I’m not sure if that’ll be the case during Drawing and Oil Painting class. I mean, it’s not like we have much to wait for, unless our model wants a cappuccino for some reason… We’ll see.

Fall Break: Vienna, Austria

This may take a while . . .

Okay, the long-awaited discourse on my fall break: The Best of the East. Daniel and I decided to take advantage of tour-company, Euroadventures, during our fall break to explore some countries neither of us had encountered before. The trip spanned Austria, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in only 10 days, so we were definitely in for some fast-paced travel. Packing for this was definitely an issue. For one, I’ve never really been in a “winter” country. You know, where it snows. It snows in Eastern Europe. Luckily not while I was there, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. My fingers would’ve fallen off. Anyway, while it never snowed, temperatures flirted with freezing, so thanks Mom for that down jacket. I used it every day.

Vienna, Austria was our first stop and it’s the one I remember least. I’d heard prior that it was a very beautiful city with plenty of culture and opera and ballet and beautiful museums. The people weren’t terribly friendly, though. Then again, we were 40+ screaming American college students. It’s hard to find anyone anywhere that would look at us with anything other than disdain. A wild pack of students on break is often akin to a manic tribe of monkeys, and students abroad are one hell of a monkey mania. Once we managed to break off of the group, though, we were able to m eet some pretty cool people, namely the “Clique.” We’ll get to that.

We were only there for a day and a night (we really hit the ground running for this trip), so we didn’t have much time to see anything outside of the walking tours we were provided. Daniel and I became friends with two girls from the group, Monica and Tara, both studying in Florence though not at Palazzo Ruccelai. Together we had lunch at a tiny hole-in-the-wall off the main strip near the cathedral and then hunted down the Belvedere Palace to see the art museum, mainly for the famous “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt. Unfortunately photos weren’t allowed and I hadn’t thought to be sneaky about getting one. Sorry guys. It was beautiful though, very sparkly.

What I remember best from Vienna is the food. You’ll find that’s a common theme for this trip. Food, food, food. I didn’t do much shopping, so photos really take up the majority of my memory cache. Vienna’s food was pretty familiar: bratwursts and potatoes and heavy gravies. Very homey food.

Next stop: Bratislava, Slovakia!

Updates Soon?

Um, I swear I can explain. Traveling takes up a lot of time, you know. I meant to get an update to you guys tonight but I got caught up reading “A Game of Thrones” by George R. R. Martin. Actually, I finished it and am currently getting started on the sequel, “A Clash of Kings.” Now who can pass up a title like that? I’ll talk to you soon. I’m sure you want to hear all about where I’ve been and see the pictures I’ve taken. Ciao!

Eurochocolate International Chocolate Festival

I’m pretty sure that I’ve never seen so much chocolate in one place in my entire life. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory come to life, I kid you not. There’s really no way to explain this sort of thing so I’m putting a montage of photos down at the bottom. The Chocofest (shorten that title up) is currently taking place in Perugia, the home of the Baci candy factory (though we didn’t visit), and two days ago about 28 of us students took a bus out there to eat ourselves sick. Mission successful. I never want to see another chocolate bar again.

Among the many chocolate stands and chocolate liquor samples and CHOCOLATE KEBABS, merchandise stands were thrown up as well, and I bought myself a chocolate-bar iPod, iPad, and MacBook Pro case, just because they looked awesome. No, they aren’t made of chocolate. They look like chocolate though and have iChoc written on them. So cool. I definitely had a great time, and if I didn’t have my papers to write, I’d probably be there again today. I know I said I never want to see another chocolate bar, but . . . please. It’s the Chocolate Festival.

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The Dad Weekend

I know this is late, but midterms are creeping up on us here at Palazzo Ruccelai and I actually have work to do! Shocking, isn’t it? I have two papers to write and five exams to take, though I’m not terribly concerned about any of it. Papers have always been easy to churn out and I pay attention in class well enough to know the material with little review. Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll get some studying in, but it’s hard to review for a practical fresco exam. No walls to slather in mortar here in my apartment.

It’s been about a week since my dad was here, and I’m glad to hear from home that he had a good time while here in Florence. Having gone to France to see my grandparents, aunt, and little cousin, the jump to Italy wasn’t far and obviously seemed convenient. We’re not far from each other. Wednesday evening I picked Dad up at the airport, seeing as his lack of directional sense would probably have gotten him lost IN the terminal and we both set off to Poggio Imperiale, where he’d be staying for the five nights he was here. We ate dinner at this little hole-in-the-wall down the street, indulging in the first pizza and seafood of the short trip. I crashed at his apartment, seeing as he was the same distance from Palazzo Ruccelai as my apartment is, and I wanted to show him around the campus anyway.

Introducing Dad to various professors on Thursday was an interesting experience. Some were more responsive than others, my Italian prof for one seeming a little more standoffish than he is in class and my Photo prof jabbering away in Spanish about Alicante and San Juan just as naturally as she would with any Spanish person. I’m not entirely sure what Dad did while I was in class, though I do know he managed to find his way to and from my school twice without getting lost *insert applause here* but he’s always been good with visual association rather than verbal directions. I am, too. Seeing something and remembering it in relation to location has always been easier for me. ONce I got through with classes at 3, Dad and I joined a tour party given by my student coordinator, Alessia, of the Altrarno, or “across the river.” Altrarno is rarely frequented by American students, probably because it’s too damn far of a walk, but there’s a wealth of cafes, restaurants, and clubs out there with a grittier Italian feeling than the center of town. I haven’t been out there as much since last weekend (because it’s a damn far walk) but hopefully I’ll spend some more time out there this week. There’s a cool cafe just over the bridge from my school where I can spend some time “studying.”

No, really. I need to write my papers.

Friday was spent apart, seeing as I had my History/Culture of Food field trip. I had asked the professor prior to Dad’s arrival if bringing him along would be alright, but unfortunately Prof. Fischer said no. Understandable, seeing as if he allowed one non-student along, he’d have to open the door to anyone else who wanted to go, that and our group was already a large one. While I spent time at an organic farm and the headquarters of the Slow Food Movement, tasting local wine and (slowly) eating locally produced food, Dad started on his mission as given from Mom: complete the list. I want to know if this is a common thing, or just a Mom thing. Who else gets lists when going to a foreign country? Dad picked up a vespa skirt, which is basically a flap that attaches to the front of the scooter and protects the lower body from the elements, ie rain, but was kind enough to wait for me to do the bulk of the shopping over the weekend.

That night, Dad, Daniel (who we picked up along the way) went to dinner at another hole-in-the-wall called Giglio Rosso, down near the train station. We indulged in a bottle of lambrusco and some delicious pastas and seafood (for the boys), and Dad tackled Daniel’s familial and academic history with usual nosy vigor that he subjects everyone to at some point in their lives. Don’t worry Mom. Very good behavior from the Daddy. Daniel took it with great aplomb, however. Even seemed to enjoy it at times.

We spent Saturday in San Lorenzo Market, hunting down pasta, aprons, flags, and masks in between munching at the Central Marketplace and sipping the first hot chocolate of the season. The marketplaces have to be my favorite parts of the city. The atmosphere rarely changes but it never ceases to amaze me that outside of the city central filled with tourists standing around and gawking at the buildings there’s a bunch of people going about their lives as their ancestors have for centuries. I’m sure the guy who sells his leather jackets at the corner stall sounds just like his predecessor from Roman times when trying to convince that poor foreigner that it’s just “250 but for you sir, special price, 220, special price.” I imagine the prices were a little different back then, though.

Finally Sunday came around and Dad and I took one last leap at a much wanted tour that we’ve been eyeing for the past few years: segways. I’m sure you saw the videos. The pricing was good for two hours, with a student discount, and we spent the afternoon zipping around the city on two wheels each, carefully avoiding people and not-so-carefully avoiding street curbs and obstructing bicycles. I’m not going to lie and say we were pros. Definitely nearly ran into a police car once or twice. It also brought up some questions: can you get ticketed for driving segways recklessly? What about segwaying-under-the-influence? Do SUIs exist? Something to find out, I’m sure.

I escorted Dad back to the airport on Monday afternoon. No tearful goodbye or anything but I was sad to see him go. I mean, it’s not like family’s going to be coming out to see me anytime soon. Mind, my cousin Danielle teaching in Spain doesn’t count. She’s already here. Christmas without the extended family will be an interesting experience this year between just Danielle and I. No black-bean soup. I don’t know if Mom’s doing paella again this year, but I’ll say no paella anyway since I certainly can’t make it. No teasing Ian or having breakfast at Mrs. P’s before heading to Tita Betty’s . . . no presents . . .

Of course, I’ll be glad to accept any and all money you’re interested in putting towards Nikki’s Study Abroad Fund! :D

Some Favorite Photos (thus far)

As you know, I’m currently enrolled in an introductory photography course, partly to learn how to use this ridiculously multi-faceted camera of mine and partly to just enjoy myself. Now that it’s been almost a month here in Florence, I thought it’d be nice to show you a few of my favorite photos that I’ve taken since being here, though I’ll include a few from when my parents were with me, too. Can never have too many photos!

San Lorenzo Market Stand: Venetian Masks

Papparadelle with Wild Boar at ZaZa's

Pepperonicini

Bellini, Beinget, aperitifs

Duomo at night

Roasted Nuts at the Rificolona Festival

Grapes on the vine

Vineyard

Milan and I

Brave Pigeons in Milan

Cathedral of Milan Center

Offering Candles with oil painting of Madonna and Child