Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mi Madre

Well, my host mom that is.  It's a Sunday night.  I'm currently "studying" for a midterm for my politics class in the morning. It's been a pretty chill weekend.  I spent Saturday exploring parts of Florence I had to get to.  Headphones on, book in purse, and I set out for the Palazzo Vecchio and Ponte Vecchio.  The Palazzo Vecchio has the replica statue of Michelangelo's David as well as a number of beautiful statues and a giant fountain.  I sat on a step and did some serious people watching.  The place was packed and it was fun to be a fly on the wall.  After spending some time watching tourists and Italians alike gawk at giant statues, I decided to walk along the Arno river which is lovely.  I crossed the river via the Ponte Vecchio.  It's one of the most famous sites in all of Florence.  It's this old bridge with stores along the side.  It was really cute.  There were tons of jewelry stores and I tried over and over again to rationalize spending one hundred Euro on a gold bracelet.  Yeah, hahaha that was a no go. After exploring the riverside for a while, I headed back to the center of the city.  A quick gelatto stop at Grom, a local favorite, and I went to hang out in front of Santa Maria Novella.  I just layed in the sun and read some Eliot.  It was a supremely peaceful day.  A day of solitude was so necessary.  Can I just say that it's hard to live with the same 22 people for 4.5 months?  It's been a big challenge and so quiet time was just nice.

This morning I went to Lucca with a couple of girls from my program.  It was absolutely gorgeous all day long, 75-80 degrees and sunny. We walked around town and laid in the sun.  It was a pretty lazy day but lazy in the Tuscan countryside, so that can't really be beat.  I can back and used some free internet at the Linguaviva, and had dinner.  We had cauliflower and roast beef and ricotta cheese.  SO GOOD. 

Now back to my title.  I love my host mom more and more each day.  She might just be one of the most adorable people that I know.  She dances about when we put on music to get ready to go out.  She almost always has a smile on her face.  She will spend 10 minutes searching through her Italian/English dictionary to tell us what we are eating is guinea hen, which she will pronounce without the "h" sound so we look at her even more confused than before.  She has wine at every meal (which not every host family does).  She lets us say that we are full.  She's a wonderful cook.  She is patient with us and our lack of Italian to no end.  She notices when I have a tan (like today) and randomly compliments what I'm wearing.  She is a news junkie and tries to relate the news to us each day.  There simply something peaceful about being in her presence that is much appreciated this far from home.  So, while the language barrier was a challenge in the beginning, I couldn't be happier with my host mom.  Each day brings something new.

And one last note, I have learned something important during my time in Italy.  I AM NOT SHORT! Well, at least not compared to the Italians.  Here, my 5'3'' frame makes me completely average.  Men here are pretty short and I've never seen such tiny people in my life.  I don't know where they put all the food that they eat.  Cuz trust me, it's not only tourists who scarf down the gelatto.

It was really nice walking around on Saturday because of how easily I blend in here.  I got asked for directions, no joke, four different times on Saturday.  Granted, I usually responded with an apologetic face and "no parla italiano," but still, it was nice to feel like I fit or blend. 

29 days left in Europe. 

Man, how the time goes...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Irony of Volcanoes

Okay, so the last half day in Rome turned out better than expected. We saw a couple of tiny churches and saw some beautiful views of Rome. Then it was off to the train station to catch our train to Naples. The train station was in utter chaos. As I’m sure you’ve all heard, there’s a volcano creating havoc for air travel in Europe. Given how many flights are down, people are turning to the trains. And all of the trains heading north from Rome were sold out until Friday! Totally crazy. Hopefully all of this ash business is over and done with by the time I fly home in a month or so. I have never heard so much about volcanoes as I have in the past 2 days! We boarded the train to Naples and from there took a tram to Pompeii. Our hotel was pretty nice. We had a fantastic view of the mountains (and Mount Vesuvius!) from our balcony. It was pretty late by the time we arrived so we decided to hit up Pompeii the next day. Instead, we took a tram to Sorrento, Italy. It’s this absolutely charming seaside town. So cute. We walked around, shopped, and had a wonderful dinner in town. It was really relaxing and the weather was beautiful.

Southern Italy is certainly different from Northern Italy. It’s a much poorer area and certain places that we passed on the train looked to be in sorry shape. But I swear the physical landscape makes up for it. Huge mountains and the Mediterranean Sea made for incredible views.

We headed back on the tram around 10 and took it easy for the night. We had the chance to sleep in a bit on Tuesday before heading the excavation site (literally a 3 min walk away from our hotel). We grabbed a bite for breakfast and headed in. First impressions: Pompeii is HUGE! I had no idea how massive it was. It turned into a very cool day of exploring the ruins. It’s incredible what has been preserved. We hung out in a former theater and took pictures in a huge amphitheater. I can’t even describe how neat is was to be surrounded by such history and to learn of the complete terror of the way the Pompeii people died. When Mount Vesuvius erupted way back in the day, it rained three meters of ash onto Pompeii. Roofs collapsed and people were crushed. But this was only the beginning. The next day, those who survived quickly suffocated on burning ash and gas that filled the air. There was no escaping it. Completely terrifying to think about. We saw a couple of calcified bodies. One was in a crouching position, the other laying to down with this hands over his head. So creepy.

The experience was totally unique and interesting. Once in a lifetime kind of thing. We boarded the train back to Florence and called it a night. My internet stopped working for some reason on Friday night. This is incredibly frustrating given how much I had to pay for it, but luckily I have the receipt and a teacher that speaks fluent Italian who is going to accompany me to the store that I bought. Hopefully I’ll have it all figured out soon.

I only have two days of school this week! Woot. We have a three day weekend coming up and I am planning to go the Cinqueterre and perhaps the Boboli Gardens in Florence. A book, sunshine, and some solitude sounds just like what the doctor ordered. From one good weekend to the next.
I could totally get used to this…

Sunday, April 18, 2010


So, given that I will have soo much to report from this weekend, I’m going to try to break it down day-by-day. But first, let me say, I’m in ROME! THIS IS INCREDIBLE! BEAUTIFUL! HUGE! OLD! EPIC! WOOT! Okay, now that’s out of my system (for now) and I can break it down for you.

DAY ONE: The day started early as I had to meet the rest of ACM gang at 8:20 in the train station. It’s about a 35 min walk from our house to the train station, a bit of a trek with luggage. We met up with the group (our teachers came with on the trip and have had pseudo classes at all of the different places that we’ve gone to). On the fast train it only takes about an hour and a half to reach Rome from Firenze (on the cheaper trains it can take up to 4 hours!). We got off the train and took a bus to our hotel. We quickly dumped our bags, grabbed some food, and headed to the Vatican. There was no line! Normally it takes about an hour or two before you can even get into the place. Luck was on our side. We broke into two groups, each following a different teacher. I totally got the fun teacher! She let us take pictures and talk while she gave us background and pointed out paintings. The Vatican Museum is giant and you could totally get lost in the place forever. It was pretty cool and there were some pretty epic statues (Epic is the word of the trip because, frankly, nothing else does it justice). After quite the trek through the museums we made it to the Sistine Chapel! It was very cool. You’re technically not supposed to take pictures inside, but I may or may not have taken some video on my Flip camera. Score. Said a quick prayer for G and P’s anniversary, and then our teachers let us free for the rest of the night. I stopped by the Vatican gift shop and headed to St. Peter’s to check it out.

St. Peter’s is AMAZING! MASSIVE! BEAUTIFUL! And for a girl raised Roman Catholic, it just meant that much more. I cannot get over the size of the place. I was with a friend of mine and we kept whispering to each other, “Can you believe it? We’re here, where so much history has taken place! Didn’t the Pope get tackled like right over there?” I went into the special prayer section of the church, said a few, and walked around a bit. I was having a pretty hard time yesterday with homesickness due to the pseudo family reunion that was taking place for G and P’s 60th Anniversary (How incredible is that by the way? I can’t even begin to fathom loving and living with someone for that long. It’s inspiring). But when I was in St. Peter’s I knew that if I couldn’t be with my family, this is one place on the planet that I wanted to be. Catholicism is extremely family-oriented for me and so I just felt so much more connected being in that church. It was pretty wonderful.

After St. Peter’s we headed back to the hotel and I went to dinner with a couple of girls. I had crepes filled ricotta and spinach with some red wine, which was totally fantastic. Food coma inducing. We went out for the night and it was pretty interesting. Some people had a rough night due to too much limoncello (which is gross btw, so tart!). We called it an early night. It was a pretty great first day in Roma.

DAY TWO: We had to be at breakfast at 7:45 this morning which was pretty brutal. On a positive note, I had the best shower I’ve had since arriving in Italy. It was so lovely to have a shower with a curtain and a nozzle that you don’t have to hold over your head. The water was hot and I’ve never been so grateful for a good shower. It’s the little things in life that can make all the difference. We grabbed some breakfast and headed out. We walked over to see the ruins of the Roman forum. It was sooo cool. They are just a sight to behold. So we spent a good chunk of the morning exploring the ruins. This is by far the “oldest” place that I’ve ever been. So neat to think about. There are “gladiators” walking all over the city. Normally they want money for pictures but they gave a friend of mine one for free because it is his birthday. How do you top your 21st in Rome? His other birthdays just won’t be able to compete.

Then we went to the Colosseum (however you spell that). The freakin’ Colosseum! So EPIC. It’s pretty huge and I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. We were released from our teachers for a couple of hours. After taking some pictures and marveling at the splendor, we started the trek back to the hotel. But we ran into a parade along the way. I forgot to mention that today is Rome’s birthday, it’s 2000-something. So they had this massive parade with all these people dressed up in ancient garb. So cool! Also, because it is culture week in Italy which means that a lot of the monuments and museums in all of Italy are free for a week. Perfect timing I’d say. After enjoying the parade we were all thoroughly exhausted. We walked a ton this morning and yesterday. So we grabbed some lunch and took few hours to rest our feet.

We met up with our teachers again at 3 pm. We got to see the Pantheon which was beautiful (and where Raphael is buried).  Then we went on a nearly two hour tour of churches.  I'm not going to lie, I'm so sick of churches.  They are all certainly beautiful, don't get me wrong, but my goodness spending 45 min staring at one altar piece gets old really fast.  After our long trek of churches, we were rewarded with what my professor referred to as "the best gelatto in all of Italy."  I'm no expert, but I would certainly agree.  I got raspberry, chocolate, and champagne gelatto.  That's right, champagne gelatto; it literally fizzed in your mouth.  So fantastic. We were all sooo exhausted by this point so we headed back to the hotel for a bit before grabbing dinner.  We decided to go back to the same restaurant as the night before.  I had potato gnocchi with mozzerella, another wonderful meal. 

I just got back from visiting the Trevi Fountain and sitting on the Spanish steps.  Both absolutely beautiful and must-see places in Rome.  There was a lot of activity on the streets of Rome for a Sunday night.  But we quickly figured out that it was because Rome won a major soccer game.  Cars were honking, people were shouting, and there was a major group of people partying in front of the main government building.  It was awesome and so much fun to witness. 

Not going to lie, not looking forward to tomorrow morning.  We are being dragged to another string of churches which is bad enough, but BONUS we have to bring all of our stuff with us which is going to be very heavy.  Not looking forward to it.  But we head to Pompeii around noon so it won't be so bad. 

What a crazy trip! I have loved Rome.  It's beautiful and the colors of the buildings are so warm and inviting.  The food has been fantastic and the sights breathtaking.  Rome, I'll be back. You can count on it.

Ciao Roma.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Please Don't Stop the Music...

So, it's been a rather average couple of days in Firenze.  Not much to report other than classes and homework.  I did book a flight to Spain today which was pretty exciting.  I'll be going to Seville to see some friends the second weekend in May.  I'm currently watching Legends of the Fall for the umpteenth time and NOT studying for my Italian quiz tomorrow. 

Some random musings about life:  While I've seen a lot on this trip, I have sooo much more to see of the world.  Next stop Africa?  I hope so.  I need to travel.  I feel it in my bones.  This trip has basically wet my appetite and I will figure out a way to do it.  Also, my ipod has been my constant friend on this trip.  I love the way music brings you back to a moment in time, whenever that is.  Country is my drug of choice these days.  It just promises summer and sunshine to me. 

G and P's 60th Anniversary this weekend and so the Finley clan will be invading Two Rivers.  And while I am so stoked to go to Rome, I'd really like to teleport back for part of the day.  I hope everyone has a wonderful time.  My love to G and P.  Miss you guys.

Back to Brad...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sun, Siena...Sigh...

It's another lazy Sunday.  Woke up around 11:30, streamed addictive crime shows onto my computer, watched the last half of 500 Days of Summer (Awww, so cute), and stacked up the homework that I have yet to do this afternoon (haven't touched the stack yet of course).  I have 48 days left in Europe which feels just about right to me, not too soon and not too long.  It's been a good couple of days in Tuscany.  On Friday, I went to Siena for the day with my class.  Siena is about an hour away from Florence via bus, so I settled in, headphones blasting country music, and stared out at the beautiful Tuscan scenery on the way.  Rolling hills with vineyards and olives...This is the Italy I pictured in my head.  Anyway, the day clearly started off well. 

I loved Siena the minute we got off the bus.  It's cute and clean and bright.  First stop off the bus was at a coffee shop where we were treated to hot chocolate and a pastries.  The hot chocolate was literally melted chocolate.  So delicious, so rich, and decadent.  A decidely good start of the day.  The rest of the morning was spent talking about history and art in class.  We visited this mammoth chapel and learned about Siena's ongoing rivalry with Florence that prompted many of the lavish paintings and sculptures that decorate the church.  We then got a couple of hours to explore the city on our own.  It was an absolutely awesome day for weather, 75 degrees and sunny.  I went with a couple of friends to a pizza place for lunch and good conversation.  Then we topped it off with a gelatto break.  I think I had strawberry and chocolate.  We walked to this piazza and basically basked in the sun for an hour.  It was great people watching and an fast tan.  We met up with class again and headed into the former town hall.  We stared at giant frescoes for a bit and then we had another hour on our own before the bus ride home.  From the loggia of the town hall buiding you could look out over the rolling hills and valleys of the Siena countryside.  Beautiful.  Afterwards, I slowly made my way back to the bus where our teachers had a treat for us yet again.  Apparently there's a particular type of cookie that Siena is famous for and we each got one. Powdered sugar perfection.  I will also point out that I think everyone in Italy, including my own teachers, is determined to have us all gain 50 pounds before we go home.  So, I loved my time in Siena.  Loved seeing a bit of the country and had an all around great day.  When I got home my host mom decided to buy pizza for dinner.  It was a day of pizza! Not that I'm complaining.  But when Italians have pizza, it's not just a slice.  Each person gets like a 12" pie. Massive. 

My host mom had a friend over for dinner and so we got to see her speak in full-on Italian, not the slowed down version we are accustomed to.  Italians talk fast, really fast.  And the stereotype is true:  Italians use grand hand gestures all the time during conversation.  All the time.  My roommate and I basically had zero idea what was going on during dinner but it was pretty cool to watch.  I really didn't feel well Friday night so we called it an early night and crashed. 

On Saturday I got up and decided to stroll through the markets.  I need to do some shopping.  I really want a leather purse and maybe a leather jacket.  Plus, I've got souveniers to by for some folks back home.  I met up with a few friends for lunch and we sat in front of the Santa Maria Novella and enjoyed yet another beautiful day of weather.  Then my friend Emily and I headed out to do a "Palace Walk" for class.  Basically we walked to a bunch of old family palaces and took notes regarding the differences between them and the Medici palace.  Pretty interesting.  Last night we met up with a bunch of friends and went dancing which was a lot of fun. 

Homework day.  Much to do before Rome this weekend. 

Ciao bella.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


The most exciting thing that has happened to me since arriving in Italy happened today.  No, it's not a beautiful view, delicious food item, or art discovery.  I did in fact get to see the award-winning, one of the greatest, my old-man crush Robert Downey Jr today from about 3 feet away! Let me start from the beginning of my day...

It was just an average day in Firenze.  I had my class on Medici at San Lorenzo which is where major members of the Medici family are buried.  The Medici family basically ruled Florence for about 200 years, though unofficially, and had a major impact on the aesthetic of the town.  So it was getting to be a very long 2.5 hours of class.  I'd gone into full daydream mode.  Class finally ended and people headed out.  Then I notice a few classmates slowing down and forming a bit of a clump at the end of the walkway.  I headed over and recieved a "Look, it's Robert Downey Jr!!!" And it totally was! Sitting next to his son, wearing a purple hat and velvet pants, looking entirely inconspicuous.  Nobody else seemed to notice him except the increasingly large group of my classmates that blatantly stared.  He went to another part of the church and we lost him.  But there was only one way out and so we saw him again and rather creepily followed at a distance into a market.  Then we realized we were totally stalking him and quickly quit that.  BUT OH MY GOSH! IT WAS SO COOL!  What I couldn't get over was how we were the only ones to notice him! Maybe Italians aren't as big on him or perhaps, kinder to celebrities or something.  I don't know, but seeing him totally made my day, my week, etc.  I had a quiz in Italian this afternoon and am now using the free internet to take care of things for school and next semester.

The last couple of days have had ups and downs.  I have a head cold so life hasn't been that exciting outside of class.  But I'm feeling better and can't wait for the weekend.  Yesterday was definitely an up.  We went to San Miniato for class.  It's this beautiful church up on a hill with spectacular views of the mountains and Florence.  It was 75 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.  Pretty awesome.  After class we walked to a piazza, grabbed some gelatto, and baked in the warmth. 

Today I've been trying to figure out registering for classes next fall.  I only have one in-class class (in addition to a thesis and research project) and I can't figure out what to take given that I've fulfilled all of my major/minor requirements. An odd problem but proving to be a bit of a challenge.  I'll probably do some homework tonight and go to bed early.  I have a super early start tomorrow because we are going to Siena for the day! It should be fun.  I'm spending the weekend in Florence but then the weekend after is Rome! So excited.  I've promised mom to blog more. Apparently I've been slacking so I'll do my best. 

Ciao from a very weird but good day in Italia.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Buona Pasqua!

Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter from Firenze! What a crazy couple of days it has been in Florence. My first weekend in Florence just so happens to be Easter weekend, so I have had quite an introduction to the city. Easter is a BIG deal in Florence and, I’d assume, all of super Roman Catholic Italy. To begin, I must gush a bit about how much I am starting to love my host mom, in spite of the language barrier. She is so chill and when Eryn and I went out on Friday night, all she said was “Give me your cell phone numbers. I promise not to call but just in case of emergency…” Ha, so cute. Speaking of Friday, let’s see...

Well I had two classes, my politics and Italian classes. So far I really like my politics class. There’s a lot of work. There’s generally a lot more work and a lot more class here in Italy than in London. The professor is adorable and a total sweetheart. My Italian class is going pretty well. It’s a bit a of a struggle just because there is so much information being thrown at us at once. I really need to study more outside of class, but am so not motivated because of how much effort I put into understanding simply the people around me. Every meal is an Italian lesson! It's all a bit exhausting.  After class, my roommate and I decided to walk around for a bit in the sunshine. It was pretty beautiful out. Then we headed home for dinner. I love meals here. The food is always ridiculously fresh and I’ve never eaten more vegetables in my life. But they’re so delicious! Steamed spinach is a new favorite. After dinner, we headed out to meet up with friends and headed to a club called Twice. It was a great venue and we had a really good time. Dealing with Italian men has certainly been a trip. They are as aggressive and forward as their reputation claims. But I’m generally with guys from my program and have learned it is best to just ignore. Plus, looking Italian has proved to be very helpful. People address me first in Italian instead of English which I always find funny. Anywho, Friday was very fun and a good introduction to nightlife in Florence.

Saturday we decided to explore the city a bit. We walked around and I perused an Italian bookstore. I love a good bookstore no matter what language the books are in. After a full day of exploring we went home and chilled for a bit. We had dinner with Anna, the host mom and got dressed to go to church. We decided to go to Easter vigil at the SS Annunziata. It was pretty cool. 6 ACM kids joined us and it was a neat experience to share. It was nearly a 3 hour service! All in Italian! But I totally loved the experience. We started in the courtyard where they had a big bonfire. They said some prayers and handed out candles. Then in front of the doors to the church they slowly lit everyone’s candles. The light spread and it was pretty beautiful. The church slowly lit up. The service was SUPER long and very different from back home, but I won’t forget last night for a long time. This insanely old building full of history at midnight before one of the most holy days of the year. Awesome.

Today we got up early and met up with some friends to go to the Duomo, this massive cathedral in the heart of town. Thousands of people crowded around a huge cart. An electronic dove hit the cart and there was a ten minute fireworks displace. There was purple and red smoke. Simply a wonderful display and I’ve certainly never done anything like that on Easter. Next, we headed over to our professors house for Easter brunch. We had lasagna, bread, salad, veggies, chocolate, wine, champagne, and dove cake. Dove cake is this white cake with limoncello in the inside shaped like a dove. It’s a traditional desert for Easter in Florence. By this point we were all soooo full. Eryn and I came back and literally passed out for 3 hours. Talked to mom on skype and then it was time for MORE FOOD. I thought I was going to be sick at this point. But thankfully dinner was mainly veggies and a light meal. We had steamed spinach and the best cauliflower I’ve ever had. She also made a spinach omelette. I don’t know how but I managed to find room for it. I just finished some homework and am watching The Blind Side on my itunes. Love this movie.

So it was a crazy, unique, and fun first weekend in Firenze. I’m starting to feel at home here and that’s so nice. I hope everyone had a lovely Easter filled with family and laughter.

Easter happiness to you all.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


So things are definitely looking up at the homestead.  Last night we had dinner and managed to have a conversation about Madonna.  Apparently she is a topic of conversation no matter what country you are in!  We learned the dog's name (Teo) and that it is a boy.  We had a dinner of rice and steamed spinach and salmon. I'm not a salmon fan and Eryn detestes steamed spinach but we both ate with a smile, and hey, at least I don't have to cook. This morning at breakfast our host mom, Anna, tried to read us the news from the newspaper.  We only caught about 1/10th of what she was saying but it was really cute nonetheless.  She is sooo patient with us and it is sooo appreciated.  I'm about to go buy some internet and head to the grocery store to pick up some food for lunches.