Leaving Home

I never knew when I titled this blog La Bella Vita, the beautiful life, before I even left home just how incredibly appropriate it would be for my time over here. It set in more and more as time passed how everything in Italy is focused on seeing the beauty in life and the way you live it. I noticed it in so many different ways: The mother who enjoys a lunch outside at a table in front of the Arno, stopping every few minutes to play with her baby and take photos of her. The old woman who stops me in passing to point out how beautiful the walk along the river is that afternoon. The men in their business suits enjoying their lunch break on a bench in the park. This all in just one of many memorable afternoons I had.

I’m thankful to say I was able to live by these values myself, and I’ve had so many amazing memories in the past few weeks of even the simplest things like watching the sun go down over the Arno with friends after a day of classes. A group of us spent a day in Cinque Terre last weekend complete with breathtaking views while hiking, trying the pesto and white wine the area is known for, and a late afternoon nap on the beach – basically perfection. I also finally got up to Boboli Gardens this week, the place of choice for CAPA kids to get our finals studying done at. I’m not sure how I’m going to get through school without views like this next year. Lately I’ve been realizing that you go somewhere in Italy and think its the most beautiful place you will ever see, and then the next day you find a new place that is just as surreally amazing. Even the simple afternoons in Florence in the springtime spent barefoot by the river, haggling at the leather market, or picnicking with Gusta Pizza or fresh food from the market will be some of my favorite moments. I even love all the lizards that are running around outside now that it got hot.

Cinque Terre!

Cinque Terre!

The final days of my time here snuck up on me, and now sitting here in our hotel in the small coastal town of Menaggio with Chandlar I’m just trying to process everything that I’ve experienced. The two of us made our way to Lake Como for a quiet weekend before heading back to Indiana. Our program in Florence definitely went out with a bang and an epic few last days together. Thursday I walked into CAPA for one last day of school… I took my oral Italian exam and walked out a Senior. We had a celebration dinner with all our teachers and faculty Thursday night, and some of them even came to hang out with us afterwards. We finally rode the carousel in Piazza della Repubblica (something we’d been joking about all semester), hung out one last time at the Duomo, and of course had to make one last trip to our favorite bar Salamanca. The next day was just as wonderful spending time with my roommates. I dropped my sunglasses in the Arno while sitting on a concrete triangle above the river with Sarah, so I like to think a little part of me is staying in the city. I’m going to miss these girls so much and am so thankful to have had them to help me navigate my way around this unknown world and accept me for exactly who I am. I think the four of us really had a huge impact on each other. We made one more dinner together as a little family, and of course our salad had ceci in it (a staple in our apartment that you all may know as garbanzo beans but I will now forever refer to by their Italian name). That night was surreal saying goodbye at 4:30 AM to my roommates heading to the airport and then leaving the apartment myself later that morning for the final time around 9:30. I can’t explain what I was feeling, but I can say I got just about zero sleep. It took a long time, but Florence really felt like home and leaving it has had me feeling practically every emotion possible. I can’t find the right words to say, but words can’t do the past 3 1/2 months justice anyway. All I know is that I’m already looking forward to returning to Florence someday – this city will always have a special place in my heart. I learned this week that I am horrible at goodbyes, so I refuse to say goodbye to Florence but instead I’ll leave it at ciao for now. I can’t wait to take back to America all the lessons I’ve learned, always remembering to enjoy each and every moment of this beautiful life. I’ll see you in about 48 hours Indiana!

This semester would not have been the same without these amazing people

This semester would not have been the same without these amazing people

 

Hanging out above the Arno

Hanging out above the Arno

The girls of Via di Mezzo aka the BEST apartment :)

The girls of Via di Mezzo aka the BEST apartment :)

 

Yep, I’m Under the Tuscan Sun

This weekend was simple, yet blissful. It began with a quick trip to Pisa on Thursday to visit the leaning tower and to see Chandlar off for her flight to London. Pisa itself is a pretty boring city and the tower was actually smaller than I expected, but it was still pretty cool to see it in person (and of course take the picture looking like you’re holding it up).

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Saturday was warm, sunny, and beautiful in Florence so I decided just to get outside and take it all in. I walked around the city for several hours venturing up to the Bardini and Boboli Gardens. I also made my way over to a path I recently found to be my favorite to run on, which turns out also has these huge benches that make a perfect spot to lay on, soak in the sun, and have a gorgeous view of the Arno. I read there for awhile and by the time I finally made it back to my apartment that evening I was in possibly the best mood ever.

The next morning I woke up at what felt like the crack of dawn to go sign myself up for the Vivicittá Firenze 10k, checking off another item on my abroad want-to-do list. Luckily, the race was just by Santa Croce cathedral and only about a five minute walk from my apartment. The run was through the streets of the city and even went off onto some parts I hadn’t explored yet, so that was an added bonus. The atmosphere was basically the same as races back home, but it was pretty fun to hear cheers in Italian from the onlookers and, although you may not think it’s possible for men’s running shorts to get any smaller, the European men definitely made it happen. I’m so glad I did the race and I’d say my only regret would be that I’m not in good enough shape to have done the half marathon distance instead. Oh yeah, and the best part about racing in Italy: ridiculously good blood oranges waiting for you at the finish line.

Later that afternoon I couldn’t resist going back to my bench for some more quality time with the Tuscan sun. It’s hard to be motivated to work on anything school related when I can literally hear my teachers and directors telling me “school can wait” and I “need to enjoy the city while I can.” Basically, Italians are just major procrastination enablers… and I’m going to embrace that part of the culture here while I can. Result? I’m happily sunburnt and am in 100% agreement with all those that say Florence is their favorite place in Italy. It has everything – the city feel, rich with art and culture, breathtaking views, beautiful gardens, the Arno river, parks for all ages, and the mountains so close by. However, I will not miss waking up in the morning to bug bites on my face. And so now… There are two giant mosquitos in my room I need to take care of. Buona notte!

Costiera Amalfitana

This past weekend I spent the Easter holiday at the Amalfi Coast, the most gorgeous place I’ve ever been. Chandlar and I chose to go with one of the travel agencies here to simplify the planning for at least one of our trips, but I would say we have done a much better job figuring things out on our own than relying on these unprofessional companies. BUT that’s all I will say about that because regardless of any mishaps or annoyances, this was a fantastic experience. Our first day we traveled to Naples (Napoli), and while waiting for the train I enjoyed watching the processions through the streets for Good Friday. The procession was a band dressed in black playing funeral-like music, and people would come outside of their apartments and onlook from their balconies. Once in Naples, we were able to see one of the restaurants Julia Roberts ate at in the movie Eat, Pray, Love. Unfortunately the line was way too long, so we got our pizza from somewhere else. After lunch we visited the market where I was completely impressed and entertained by the numerous fresh fish and seafood stands. The fish (and octopus) were literally still moving, and I still have the image in my head of a man walking up to grab one of the live fish and kissing it before tossing it back in. After the market our group hopped back on the train and headed towards Pompei only for us to find out on the way there that the ruins had already been closed for the day. With no plans and a whole evening ahead of us our group decided to go back to explore the city center of Sorrento where we were staying each night. I was able to watch the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea and have a delicious dinner of swordfish and pumpkin pasta.

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With promise of another great day, we were awake and ready by 7:30 the next morning to catch our ferry to the island of Capri. The big event for the day was a hike up to the very top of the island for a 360 degree view of the sea around the island (and a great workout of course). The hike was led by Bruno, the greatest old Italian man I’ve met yet who literally saved the trip for me (in lieu of horrible guides provided by our travel company). He was cracking me up all day using his American slang saying things like “my bad” and “packing heat.” My personal favorite was when he called me Rush Limbaugh for insisting I could call my country America when that’s technically the whole continent and not just one country. Anyways, the hike was gorgeous but probably a thousand times harder than I expected. Once we reached the top about an hour later, although we did get the great workout I expected the view was not the same story. It was such a rainy day that we literally hiked straight up into a rain cloud. All we could see was a foggy haze surrounding us – no sea – but I guess it’s pretty cool I can say I’ve been inside a cloud on Capri, right? Our hike back down ended up with us reaching the blue grotto (one of the 7 wonders of the world!) The water was particularly rough that day, so it was closed to the canoes that people usually can take inside of it. Lucky for us, that meant that we were allowed to swim inside of it for free. Unlucky for us, there were about a million jellyfish in the water, some of the first swimmers got stung pretty badly, and the rest of us chickened out. So our hike continued down the island and ended with our final descent on the 800 Phoenician stairs. To recap, our hike began around 10:30 and our exploration of the island and journey back to the bottom ended around 3:30 – needless to say my legs were tired and I was ready to get some fresh fruit from one of the stands (where they had lemons the size of your head!) and relax by the waterfront before catching the ferry back to Sorrento.

View from the top

View from the top

Area around the blue grotto

Area around the blue grotto

Buona Pasqua! The following morning was Easter Sunday, and a group of us woke up early enough to find a church close by to go to mass before heading out on the day’s planned excursions. The church was my favorite I’ve been to yet – small and less stiff than the others, including bulletins of the readings and repetitions. I loved that the priest actually used his hands to talk in his sermon and sounded conversational, unlike the traditional Catholic services I had gotten used to. There was also a nice man who sat beside me and helped me follow along with the service (which was all in Italian of course). Around 1 o’clock we caught the bus to Positano, and on the way there I noticed one particular mountain off in the distance I never want to forget. At the very top was a cross, which really made me think about how amazing and powerful our God is – he created that beautiful sea and grand mountain and has been with me this whole experience. I thought it was such an appropriate symbol to look upon on Easter. In Positano it was a little rainy and just cold enough for Chandlar and I to want to find somewhere inside to sit. We found a restaurant with huge open windows overlooking the beach where we enjoyed the some wine and people watching of the Italian families out for Easter lunch. Our waiter was so sweet, and after we had been sitting there for about an hour brought us a delightful lemon desert on the house (Awww). I think Chandlar and I both were missing our families, but realized we were pretty much each other’s family and were so glad to spend the day together in this gorgeous town.

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For our final day at the coast we headed to Pompei with Bruno since we missed out on Friday. He gave us a great tour of the ruins, complete with his own reenactment of how the people died from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius – hilarious! Just to mention, this man is also a priest and has his PhD in art. We saw the brothel that was a prominent part of the city, fresco paintings Bruno particularly loved in the villa, and Mt. Vesuvius smoking off in the distance. It was a wonderful day, but I was ready to head back home to Florence. We all forgot that the Monday after Easter is also a holiday, Pasquetta, and absolutely no stores were open to get food at once we were back in Sorrento to catch our bus. Luckily, our hotel had orange and lemon trees galore that we could pick from and eat – why can’t Indiana have fresh oranges growing for snacks between classes?! Oh well. The bus ride was long, traffic was jammed, but we finally made it back around 2:30 am to Florence. I really can’t believe I only have one more full week of classes now before finals and heading home! My friends and I are in crunch time to get all our schoolwork done and see everything we want to in Florence before we must leave. I guess time flies when you’re having fun…

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La Primavera

Spring has finally sprung in Italy, and this gorgeous place just got even more amazing with the birds chirping and the Tuscan sun shining. This week has been full of fun memories… where do I even begin?!

School included a guest appearance by my water color teacher’s husband, who is a self-taught artist who has been able to support himself as a professional his entire adult life. He came to our class, showed us some of his work (which was amazing, mostly natural scenes of Tuscany), and taught us how to paint the bridges of Florence using grids. In museology, to add to the long list of renowned museums I’ve visited in Florence we went to the Bargello and the Bardini. This was on the first official day of spring – la primavera – so it was completely fitting that we also went to the Bardini gardens to end the class! The beautiful weather continued through the week, so in Italian class on Thursday we convinced our teacher to let us spend the second half of the lesson outside. She walked around the city with us, teaching us the correct vocab for what all the types of shops were called (I’m not sure if she realizes that we’ve been here for 2 months and had to learn this ourselves a long time ago in order to survive), but it was amusing nonetheless. She never fails to make me laugh, like when she taught us how to play tic tac toe this week and made the game a part of the lesson on both Tuesday AND Wednesday.

Thursday after Italian class ended a group of us took a picnic lunch back up to the Bardini gardens, basked in the hot sun and sixty degree weather, and took in the amazing view of the entire city. We were able to spend a few hours up there before we all had to head our separate ways. Afternoons like that make it way too apparent to me how fast our time is going here and how much I will miss this place when we leave, but luckily we still have a whole month left and have plenty of time to make a lot more memories. I also realized how lucky I am to have made a great group of friends here to share all this with! Later that night we all headed to the Fiddler’s Elbow bar for an Irish dancing lesson led by our friend from school, Catie. She helped put on this event as part of an internship she is doing with The Florentine (a local news magazine). She has been dancing for years (has even been to Ireland for dancing events!) and was such a fun teacher. Afterwards, what seemed like our entire class went to our go-to hangout spot, Salamanca, and it was so cool to see how close we all have become and how much fun we all have together.

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The next morning we all got up early for a trip through our school to Siena and San Gimignano, two small Tuscan towns. At Siena, we were given a guided tour and learned so much interesting history of the city, which turns out has been Florence’s rival for centuries (and I am proud to say Florence usually beats out Siena in any form of competition they have). We saw the head and finger of St. Catherine (a huge claim to fame of Siena) and learned about the rivaling 17 neighborhoods and the horse race they compete in twice a year. We also went inside the Duomo, where we saw four statues done by a young new artist who was asked to fill in after the original artist died. The young artist was actually supposed to complete six statues, but left before he finished to go to Florence (because of course it’s the better city!) to work on a new piece. This young artist was Michelangelo and the new piece was the David – probably my favorite lesson of the day! For lunch we tried pici, which is a pasta dish that originated in Siena. It was delicious thick, hand-rolled spaghetti with a simple tomato sauce. Our next stop was San Gimignano, an even smaller city on top of a hill that is preserved in its medieval fashion. We only spent about two hours there… but they were two pretty great hours. We climbed to the top of one of the many towers of the city which overlooked the endless rolling his of Tuscany and wandered around the cute little shops. My favorite was an embroidery store where the lady working stitched all my friends’ names for us for free as a present – I swear people in Tuscany are so sweet! We also had to stop at the world-famous gelato shop, Gelateria di Piazza della Famiglia Dondoli, where I had what I am for certain is the best gelato I will ever eat (even if I have only had it two other times, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get much better than this!). My little cup of heaven included both almond and nutella flavors. The almond was my favorite and had little bits of nut throughout it, but the nutella was a close rival with vanilla gelato swirled with nutella and a few whole hazelnuts. YUM. After our treat we headed back towards Florence, blissfully happy but very tired. My roommates and I walked back from the bus station together and talked about how happy we were living with each other – I really did get lucky that these girls have helped make my time here so wonderful!

This morning we decided to continue on with the spring activities. A group of my best friends here and I hiked through Fiesole, taking pretty much the same route we did when we hiked there our very first weekend in Florence. It was so exciting to see it all again and reminisce about everything that has happened since the last time we were there.

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Another great thing going on right now of course is March Madness! I’m so happy that my new apartment has good enough internet to be able to watch all the games here, but I have to admit I find myself wishing I was in Bloomington with my IU friends watching them. I love it here (duh), but I am also learning how great of friends I have back at school and how much I cannot wait to see them again. So here’s my shout-out to Yogi for how awesome he played last night – Go Hoosiers!

When you stop and think about it…

Just a thought on my mind… This past week I went to the Uffizi Gallery (where I saw Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus among others) and the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. It is crazy to think about how casual these trips were – I had a short walk there and stopped in (for free) to briefly see these enormously famous works of art in museums that people come from all over the world to marvel at. No other time in my life will I be able to do anything like that. My life is crazy, in the most wonderful way.

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Eiffel in love with Paris… and Sevilla… and Barcelona

After returning to Florence from my quick trip back home, life got crazy. However, now that I’ve survived midterms, packed up the old apartment, went on spring break, and am settled in to my new apartment I finally have some time to relax (and update my blog!) Spring break felt more like a month than a week, and I learned that all that traveling can really wear a girl out. Chandlar and I had an amazing week visiting friends all over the place… first stop – Paris! It wasn’t quite the traditional spring break I’m used to, the weather was terribly cold and our hostel was not the type of beach resort I’m fond of. The best word I can think of for the atmosphere was “swanky,” we had to put our own sheets on our beds, and the showers (two of them shared between six floors of people) were literally so cold I got a brain freeze. However, there was unlimited and really good coffee in the morning at breakfast sooooo I was pretty pumped about that. This just motivated us to get out and see even more of the city for as much of our time as possible. We started our first day of with a visit from our friend Greg. We had an amazing afternoon with him visiting Sacre Coure, Moulin Rouge, and enjoying a delicious French lunch. Thank goodness Greg actually speaks French or I think our waitress would have thought we were pathetic, number one hilarious example being when Chandlar told her “bonjour” when trying to say thank you. Later that day Chandlar and I went to the Louvre museum, where we luckily planned our timing perfectly and were able to walk right up to the Mona Lisa when usually there is a crowd so large it is nearly impossible to get close. The rest of our trip included seeing all the great sights of Paris – Notre Dame, Arc di Triomph, walking down the Champ Élysées, and of course the Eiffel Tower (both by day and we went to the top at night). Two amazing foods I tried while in Paris were crepes (I had one topped with sugar and lemon) and macaroons (I tried raspberry and salted caramel from La Durée), all of which were to die for.  Our last day in Paris was spent withour friend  from Florence, Kelsey, and we travelled with her to see Versailles. The weather was the best we’d had in France, and we were able to enjoy a picnic lunch in the palace gardens and walk out to our favorite part of the trip – Marie Antoinette’s hamlet (which we like to refer to as her dairy farm, which actually looked like the shire from the Lord of the Rings and was AWESOME).

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The rest of the week was spent in Spain, first stop Sevilla! I immediately fell in love with the city, and didn’t even mind that it was raining because it was actually warm. Our first night we went to a fútbol game with our friend from home, Kristyn, where we were way too incredibly excited that we got free bufandas (scarves) with our tickets.  The next couple days, Chandlar and I decided to relax and let ourselves sleep in (in our comfortable hotel that had HOT showers). I was also way too excited about the fact that there were Dunkin Coffees (yes, not Dunkin Donuts) in Spain AND that it was warm enough to drink iced coffee! Our second day we met up with Greg again and Jake who is studying in Copenhagen. Our friend Katya showed us around the city, and we enjoyed a wonderful day of rowing through Plaza de España, seeing wild peacocks in the park, and catching up over tapas and tinto de verano (a Sevilla specialty and my new favorite drink). Our last day in Sevilla followed the same trend of relaxation: sleeping in, lunch of paella with Greg and Jake, letting ourselves get lost in the city, soaking up the sun, and dinner with Katya and yet another friend studying in Sevilla, Kristen. Not only was it so incredibly wonderful and amazing to spend time with good friends, but I left knowing that Sevilla is my favorite place I have visited. The people, culture, food, atmosphere, everything is amazing – and if Florence wasn’t also so wonderful, I may have just wished I’d studied there.

 

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734022_4459796690763_1545989324_nHowever, the week was not nearly over and definitely did not disappoint. Barcelona welcomed us with sunshine and beautiful beaches… and a completely by-chance run-in on the street within the first couple hours we were there with our friends who we went there to visit – Murphy and Marissa. They welcomed us to their city by taking us to the main market, La Boqueria, and treating us to fresh smoothies. I had a delicious coconut blackberry concoction, but all the fruit there was SO GOOD – especially the strawberries. Later that night at dinner, we sampled tapas and sangria together with a waterfront view. A cruise ship literally pulled in while we were sitting there! Our first night was spent in the most interesting place we’ve stayed yet, Fabrizzio’s Guesthouse. The people there were so nice and they had a stuffed alligator mascot – what’s not to love?!  However, we only spent one night there because the rest of the weekend we got an incredibly nice apartment (for an incredibly low price!) for the two of us, Sarah who came on her spring break from IU, and Megan and Holly who came from London. The seven of us IU girls had an incredible time together exploring the best of Barcelona, one of the coolest places being Park Güell, which showcased Gaudí’s mosaics. The clubs in Barca also lived up to their hype, nothing short of elaborate even including men on stilts. Many things surprised me on this trip, including that I saw two large protests in three days (which is totally normal there), running is very popular in Spain unlike Italy, people there talk with an accent that sounds like a horrible lisp, women will stick their hands in your purse and try to pick pocket you on the metro even though you assume it will never happen to you, and waiting in line for almost two hours for a sandwich from Bó de B’s is actually worth every minute.

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It was so hard to say goodbye to friends, but I was exhausted and thrilled to get back to Florence. Now that the semester is over halfway done (which by the way I CANNOT believe), I’m looking forward to doing as much as I possibly can in Italy and living up every moment I have left here.  Our new apartment is wonderful and big and warm and has working internet and I now have my own bedroom and bathroom! (can you tell I like it?) Also, the weather is starting to warm up here and we live very close to the Sant’Ambrogio market, so I am excited to start doing the bulk of my shopping at a real outdoor market like many Italians.  So much to love here, so little time left. Amo Firenze!

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5 feet 18 inches

Whew. This past week has been a whirlwind to say the least. I was able to spend an amazing weekend in Rome with Chandlar and her mom who came to visit us, and I’m going to let Chan have a guest post for this one and put a link in here to her blog for the exciting details of our Roman getaway. This is What Dreams Are Made Of.

On Saturday evening after an amazing day in Vatican City, I heard the news that my Papaw had passed away. I was shocked and heartbroken,  and I am eternally grateful for Chandlar and her mom, Julie, for being my rock while I could not be with my family for the next few days. However, on Tuesday morning I was able to fly back home for the funeral and some family time. To my surprise I was actually a little anxious about returning to the states, and it took me a few completely English conversations in Switzerland before I stopped automatically trying to respond to people in Italian. On my way home from the airport, my IU boys were able to beat Michigan State and break their 17-game losing streak at the Breslin Center – I know my Papaw would have been so happy, the biggest Hoosier fan of all. This weekend has been exhausting, to say the least, and has been a struggle to keep up with my real-life responsibilities. I wish I had more time to spend with my Mamaw and my Grandma & Grandpa Gotshall, but I’m thankful I got to see them at least for a bit.

I’m expecting this next week to continue with this whirlwind effect, as I fly back tomorrow afternoon and have three days to fit in all my midterm exams and papers before I leave for my spring break. Thursday I will leave for a week full of fun and friends, visiting Paris, Seville, and Barcelona!

I will always remember my Papaw for being one of my biggest fans and best Christian examples in my life. Even though I miss him so much and family gatherings will not be the same without him, I feel a peace because I am certain he’s exactly where he wants to be – with Jesus… all 5 feet 18 inches of him (as he liked to put it). And as I could tell from the enormous amount of people who came to share their love for him this weekend, his passion for Jesus, family, and basketball will never be forgotten.

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My Favorite Teacher, Sara

This week there have been some especially interesting happenings in Italian class. Some of these are the kind of stories that you just have to be there for to realize how funny they actually are, but still worth mentioning at least for my own memories later on. Let me start off by saying that my Italian teacher, Sara, is the absolute most adorable lady I have ever met and she keeps me very entertained with her funny quirks. I don’t think I will ever be able to hear “allora” or “va bene” (two extremely common phrases you’ll hear multiple times in any Italian conversation) without saying it in my head in her high pitch voice that she drags out a little. So on Tuesday, class was as usual except when Sara got so excited right before the break and told us that we were going to get to hear a very important Italian song when we resumed. It was a sweet love song, but nothing really special until she told us the reason she thought it was so important. She said that it was a very popular song back when her parents were dating and that it was “their song.” Everyone in the class couldn’t help but just laugh as her face lit up as she played it for us, and then played it a second time with just as much enthusiasm.

Wednesday started off differently than usual because Sara told us to get into groups to play a game. It was funny because after we all kind of divided ourselves up, she made us move around again so she could pick who was on each team. With any other teacher this would have been annoying, but with her it was just hilarious. She then wanted us to pick Italian team names – so our class, with our tremendous vocabularies, began the game with a battle of team dog, wine, parrot, and ice cream. Sara was more than satisfied with our choices, but once again we all just laughed at what we were able to come up with. She tried to explain the game, but we soon realized there were pretty much no rules and it was complete chaos. This kind of summed up how I’ve observed Italian organization skills are – very much lacking or nonexistent compared to what I’ve come to expect from the United States. However, my team (team vino) took the victory… and got no prize.

Today may have been the most interesting of all. Sara had been telling us for the past week how we were going to get to visit the bar (which is just what Italians call a café) to practice ordering and to get to taste typical breakfast food. We were all so confused, however, because she kept telling us we would be allowed to order an espresso and pasta. Finally, someone spoke up and said that he didn’t really want spaghetti for breakfast – or with coffee for that matter – and made her realize she had not mentioned yet that pasta is the word Italians also use for pastries. I think it’s interesting how Italians only eat certain foods at certain times of the day. For example, when Sara was teaching us all the specific options we could choose to order, there were only certain drinks we could have for breakfast. She told us that if we ordered tea we had to emphasize HOT tea because cold tea would not be good for breakfast. Also, we could get a cappuccino now, but not to drink them in the afternoon or evening because milk is bad for digestion. I also thought it was funny that she told us Italian children typically have a “snack” around 4 pm of a sandwich, but breakfast (a meal) is only ever a pastry, like a croissant or a piece of toast. While we were eating our breakfast, the table of girls I was sitting with decided to ask Sara if she had any plans for Valentine’s Day tonight. She was very excited to share about her new boyfriend. I feel like I have gotten to know Sara very well this week because I also interviewed her the day before for my psychology midterm paper about Italian parenting styles. She is so sweet and took extra time to help me with the interview and she also took the extra step of bringing me some books to class today that she thought would be helpful resources for me to use – how sweet! After finishing our breakfast, class continued by Sara taking us out into the middle of the street and having us ask random people walking by to stop and answer questions for us. She had us ask for directions (to places we already knew how to get to) in order to begin to understand how to pick up just a few words of everything they say to us in order to be able to comprehend the general idea. She also wanted us to get used to hearing the different dialects. This was an interesting idea, but it honestly just felt awkward – and once again we all couldn’t help but just laugh at the situation. We were a huge group standing in the middle of the square asking the same questions over and over again, and people were definitely starting to stare. However, Sara being the adorable person she is got so excited whenever any Italian took the time to have a full conversation with us. Personally, I think the most important thing she taught us today was how to say “just looking” when you’re in a store and how to ask if you could pet someone’s dog.

To throw in another topic, yesterday I went to Ash Wednesday mass with Chandlar and our friend Kelsey. A few observations from the service: it would have been a lot more meaningful if I knew what the typical Catholic service was like (because Chandlar pretty much knew what was going on at all times) or if I understood what everyone was saying (like Kelsey did because even though she’s Lutheran and wasn’t familiar with the service, she speaks Italian pretty well), everyone was dressed much more casual than I expected in jeans and street clothes, the ashes are not put in the shape of a cross on your head but rather just sprinkled on like fairy dust so that you can’t even see you received them, and it is completely normal to bring your dog into church. I have officially decided that there is not a single place that it is not acceptable to bring your dog into – I need to get Lucy over here ASAP.

Lastly, Chandlar’s mom flew in today and I am so excited to meet up with the two of them tomorrow to travel to Rome for the next three days. I’m very curious to see if there will be any chaos due to the recent happenings with the pope resigning and I can’t wait to finally explore Italy’s capital city!

Chianti

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Late yesterday afternoon Chandlar and I randomly decided to join another group of girls who had a trip planned to hike in Chianti.  This sporadic choice, along with many others made today, added up to one of the most memorable days possible. About halfway through the afternoon, we realized the best adventures can’t be planned and just happen.  I swear I am not making up this story, but during the entire day (and looking back at it now) it felt like I was in a movie (for both the crazy plot and the insanely beautiful scenery).

Our plan was just to take the bus to Chianti, and by the direction of one of the employees at our school to find a tourism office when we got there to tell us where to hike. This plan quickly fell apart when there was no tourism office in sight. After searching for what felt like forever, though, we finally found one. The man working barely spoke English, and when we finally got our point across that we wanted to hike his immediate response was “not possible.” It turns out that we were there in the completely wrong season and all the good hikes take place during summer (I would love to go back then!), but he did give us the name of one small town that would be a good place to trek up to and explore. He kindly sent us on our way, not knowing we still had no clue what to do or where to go. We just wandered back to the bus stop to look at the big map and hope we could figure out a plan… this is where it all starts to get interesting.

We just happened to turn around and ask a woman for directions hoping she would speak English. I can’t believe how lucky we were, and we could NOT have picked a better random passerby. Monica, a German lady who moved to Florence about thirty years ago but fell in love with Chianti when she wanted to get away from the city, now gives tours of the region (not to mention spoke perfect English). She gave us great directions up to Montefioralle, the town that the tourism office had also told us to go to, and gave us a suggestion of a good butcher shop to visit that would give us samples if we mentioned her name. Reassured this day would be great and now happy as clams, we started the walk up the beautiful vineyard-filled hills. If I haven’t mentioned it already, it was beautiful, and such a friendly area – people were just sitting out on their porches and greeting us as we walked by. We were perfectly satisfied with our expedition, but then unexpectedly Monica pulled up behind us in her car and said she had called her friend who owns a vineyard. She mentioned him earlier to us, but said that we would have had to book a tour in advance so today would not be a good day for a wine tasting. HOWEVER, he happened to be home and said we were welcome to stop by. Needless to say, excited is nowhere near strong enough a word to describe how we were feeling. We made plans to continue exploring the town for a couple more hours on our own, and then we would meet her at the second stop light (yes, one of two stoplights in the entire town) at around 2 o’clock. The next couple hours consisted of wandering through vineyards, tree climbing, and even finding a playground to play on. As we were making our way back to the stoplight to meet Monica, we saw an adorable old man at the end of the road waiting for us.

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Fernando, a retired engineer, inherited the vineyard from his father who bought it from the church long ago. It is very much still a family business, with his kids helping with different aspects of both the wine making process and the marketing/bookkeeping. Fernando prepared a wine tasting for us, complete with bruschetta, of 4 different Chianti Classico wines. This was such a cool tasting because they were all the same wine, just from different year, so we were able to taste how the aging process changes the flavor over time. The wines were from 2010, 2009, 2008, and one was the special reserve blend from 2009. Spoiler Alert: I bought a bottle from 2007 (which Monica assured me was the best year for it) that I cannot wait to bring home to my parents and share with them – get excited you two! We finished the tasting with the sweet Il Santo wine made from raisins, which he served to us with goat cheese topped with honey. He was very excited to get to know us, and we spent the afternoon exchanging stories and pictures.  After the tasting, Monica and Fernando led us to the wine cellar where the wine is actually made and stored – so very cool to get to see.

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On our way back down from the town and back to the bus stop, Monica showed us the butcher shop she had mentioned earlier. There was meat hanging everywhere, and she made sure to point out the regional specialty that still had its hooves connected. Some of the hanging legs even had fur on them still. This place was very cool, but I was probably not the best person to appreciate the experience. It actually grossed me out a little, but nonetheless I feel very blessed to get to see such a unique shop of the meats that Italy prides so much.

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With a quick stop for espresso at the place Monica told us had the best coffee in town, we were off to wait for our bus back to Florence.  After waiting in the freezing cold for half an hour the bus finally came – the warm, heated, comfortable, wonderful bus. We were all worn out, but just took some time to comprehend the once-in-a-lifetime experience we just had that was better than anything we could have planned.

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Art Update

For anyone who’s been curious how my water color class is going – here’s an update for you. I still dread going every week, but I always seem to find it therapeutic once we really start working on a project. I actually manage to lose myself in whatever I’m doing and time flies by. This all is not to say I’m getting great at it, but at least I’m not hating every second of it.

Today we took a field trip to the Bargello museum to practice sketching, focusing on shading lights and darks. I think this place must be a common area for local artists (or aspiring artists) because there were chairs set out, and a lot of other people from outside of our class were already there sketching away in the main area and on the outside stairs. Even though it was early in the morning and I was not in the mood to fake artistic abilities (and all I could think about was how I wanted a cup of coffee), I kept reminding myself that this was an insane opportunity to go and sketch sculptures of the famous Renaissance artists in the actual birthplace of the Renaissance. I was doing alright and was at ease until some girl who was visiting the museum stopped right behind me. I could literally see her looking back and forth from my drawing to the sculpture I was looking at, comparing the two. At first I just felt self conscious, but then it made me laugh because she probably thought I was in art school or something and had actual credibility. I’ve been getting that a lot lately – people thinking I belong where I don’t. I think I’ve been mistaken for a local at least three times in the past week. Instead of just automatically speaking to me in English, people have come up and started rambling in Italian.  Last weekend two foreigners even came up to me on the street and asked for directions. I’m so excited that I’m finally starting to blend in here.

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So back to the art – after sketching for about an hour at the museum we went back to the art school to work on painting. We got out the paintings we did last class… and my teacher actually publicly said aloud that mine was the best (WHAT?!). That confidence booster was enough to get me through the next project of painting leaves. She told us to basically just play around with color and have fun, and have fun I did. Maybe art isn’t the horrible thing I make it out to be in my mind…

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