Friday, May 21, 2010

Ciao Italia, Ti amo

I've got about 20 min before I need to head home to pick up my suitcase and then head to the train station where I pick up my bus to Pisa.  I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M LEAVING.  Really, truly, seriously, it hasn't completely hit me yet.  One of my friends from back home recently told me that he didn't believe it until he'd been home for  a couple of weeks.  I have had a wonderful last two days in Italy. 

I finished my last final around 11 am.  I grabbed some lunch and a bottle of wine to celebrate.  I went wandering around the city with a couple of friends.  They hadn't eaten lunch yet so we stopped, had some more wine (hey, it's my last week as a legal drinker for the next three months!), and I had some chocolate mousse.  It was a day to indulge, what can I say?  After getting entirely fully, a rather tipsy, we wandered around for some gelatto.  I had strawberry and lemon.  I adore Lemon, it might be one of my favorite flavors.  We sat in the sunshine and soaked up the Florentine rays.  I came back to the Linguaviva where full celebration mode was in swing.  It was our last time all together.  Bittersweet. 

I had my last dinner at home and said goodbye to my host mom.  Eryn and I had stopped by a flower shop on the way home to pick up some flowers.  The shop was about to close so they had already closed down the credit card machine.  We only had card but the manager said, "Take the flowers and come back and pay me tomorrow." I love Italy.  This would NEVER happen in the USA. 

Today I got up and finished packing.  I did a happy dance that my next shower would be at home with warm water and a faucet I don't have to hold over my head.  Then I made my way to school, met up with some friends, and went in search of my last Italian pizza.  We sat in front of the Santa Maria Novella and chitchatted and reminisced about the incredible four months that have gone by.  I did some final souvenier shopping and bought myself a scarf cuz I just couldn't resist.   I just finished my last gelatto which was utterly delicious. 

It's been a great 2 days.  It's been a great 4 months.  I've never used the words: beautiful, lovely, stunning, amazing so much in my life.  I needed this trip.  I was exhausted, stifled, and bored when I left.  I have grown so much in the past four months.  I've learned to trust myself and my instincts.  I've learned to love getting lost.  I've met interesting people and seen the world in a whole new.  I can't wait to come back to Europe.  I can't wait to travel elsewhere.  Ideas are already brewing for my next trip. 

I am so beyond excited to be reunited with my family and friends.  But no matter what, endings are always so difficult.  I absolutely hate endings.  Yes, I know that endings always lead to beginnings, but as they say, parting is always such sweet sorrow. 

I'll probably have one more nostalgic blog once I reach American soil.  But in case I don't get around to it, thanks for reading.  I've found blogging to be very relaxing and a good way of helping to remember it all.  It's been a whirlwind. It's been a laugh.  It's been one of the best experiences of my life. 

Love to you all.

One last time from Italy,

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

2 days left...

Yesterday, in a storm of procrastination I decided to pack.  That shows you just how much I did not want to do my art history essay.  Packing offered the necessary distraction.  And I did pretty well. I'm just about all packed up.  I think my bag will make the weight limit so that's a relief.  When my roommate came home and saw what I had done, she rushed over, gave a hug, and proclaimed "I don't want to leave!!"  And then proceeded to procrastinate by packing as well.  When my host mom came home and saw that we were collectively almost completely packed, she rushed over, gave us both big hugs, and looked highly distressed.  Man, I'm going to miss her.

I was soo productive last night.  I completely packed and then wrote a six page paper.  I felt very accomplished.  Tonight I have an essay to prepare for an in-class final tomorrow.  I'm feeling much much less motivated.  But one last push and I'll be free I suppose.  It is currently pouring rain again.  Really Florence?  Is it too much to ask for a little sunshine right before I leave? Florence has been much much rainier than London ever was.  Who would have thought?

Random musings of the unfocused.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lost and Found

I’ve been slacking on the blogging, but I feel like absolutely nothing happens and then everything happens all at once, so yeah. Here goes. I’ve got 4 days left in Italy, a country that I have absolutely, 100% fallen in love with. It wasn’t love at first sight, but how anyone could not love Italy is beyond me. I don’t want to leave Italy. I don’t want to leave its stunning mountains and rolling hills with tiny colorful houses at the top. I don’t want to leave gelato and fresh vegetables that are miraculously cooked in a way that makes them taste so delicious. I don’t want to leave my Italian mother and her incredibly generous and adorable self. I don’t want to leave a place where good wine can be bought for 3 euro. I don’t want to leave a place where art and history are around every corner. I miss my family and friends like you wouldn’t believe. But I have a simple request. Can’t you all just move to Italy instead? Why not? It’s a pretty sweet place to be. Life is good here. I spent all day staring out at the Grand Canal in Venice reading a book in the sunshine on the steps of a beautiful church. The fact that this has become a relatively commonplace activity in my world is rather ridiculous when I step back and look at it. Oh, yeah, I WENT TO VENICE this weekend! And it was incredible! And sooo cool!

But more on that in a minute. I should back track a bit about my last week of classes in Firenze. Last week was a bit odd on the home front. My Italian mama’s mom (aka nona) had some sort of heart problem (either a heart attack or stroke, we couldn’t discern the Italian completely) and was in the hospital. My host mom immediately took off for Padua and spent a couple of nights there. When she came back she was completely exhausted. She told us that she just wanted to watch some tv and go to bed. She then proceeded to tell us what she was going to watch on tv. She said something akin to “lo e odr.” Eryn and I thought she was speaking in Italian because it sounded like gibberish and therefore had no idea what she was talking about. Finally we got that she was telling us that she was going to watch “Law and Order.” Haha. It was of the moments that made me think critically about the English language. I feel like it’s pretty harsh sounding and awkward by comparison to the fluid Italian language. Anywho, my host mom left the next night to go back to Padua. She’s supposed to be back on Tuesday. Fingers crossed that everything has gone well and that her mom is recovering. Her mom has dementia so the whole thing is additionally traumatic. Prayers for a speedy recovery.

Meanwhile, I had some long days of classes and pretty standard fare academics-wise. We did go to the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens on Thursday which was pretty sweet. The Pitti Palace is this HUGE palace that different wealthy families have lived in since like the 1400s. The Medici moved in at one point and increased its size to absolutely insane proportions. And while the palace was amazing itself, nothing compares to the ridiculously beautiful Boboli Gardens out back. It’s just this massive, well groomed garden filled with flowers and fountains and greenery. So pretty. Last week was week 2 of complete rain so that put a damper on things. I wrote a paper for class and did a lot of procrastinating of paper writing, so it was a pretty average week.

But this weekend was anything but average. On Saturday, my whole ACM program met at the train station at 9:30 for a two hour ride to Venice. It was POURING both in Venice and in Firenze. It made for a soggy introduction to the city. Umbrellas are extremely difficult to navigate with on tiny cramped streets. But from the minute you step out of the train station, Venice is a sight to behold. It is unlike anything I have ever seen before. No cars, all boats, gondolas everything, houses that look like they’re floating (and for all intensive purposes they are in fact floating). We took a waterbus to our hotel. The tide was extremely high due to the rain. We dropped our stuff off and had class in San Marco. It’s this giant church and equally giant piazza. The piazza was so flooded, however, that the entrance to the church was completely surrounded by two feet of water. People were taking off their shoes and wading in the water. The water comes up through the ground here and that’s part of the reason that they think one day Venice will sink completely. Craziness. Eventually we did get in the church a few hours later when the tide had gone down a bit. There were insanely awesome mosaics plastered over every inch of the place. I can’t even imagine the kind of artistic skill and time something like that would take. So that was sweet. We had some free time to walk about and I did some window shopping. They sell Murano glass everywhereee and masks aplenty. I wanted to buy EVERYTHING. I restrained myself for the moment however. We had dinner at the hotel which was decent. The group wanted to go out that night and we went in search of a bar. Venice is sooo dead at night. There is practically zero nightlife, so it was basically our group in a bar. Some good conversation and we called it a relatively early night.

On Sunday we went to a palace for class. There were pretty incredible chandeliers all over. These things are HUGE. So cool and made entirely of glass. Then we had the whole rest of the day off to explore and do whatever we wanted. Awesome. I stopped at a glass store, found myself a ring and tried to pick up some souvenirs. Then I headed to the Guggenheim Museum. Peggy Guggenheim lived in a pretty, large house right on the Grand Canal and was a major patron of modern art. She is even rumored to have had an affair with Jackson Pollack. The deal for the weekend was that we (the ACM kids) were allowed to go to one museum of our choosing and get reimbursed for it later. I’m not really into modern art. I generally stare at it with a quizzical look and then realize that I just don’t get it. But I thought I’d give this museum a chance and it turned out pretty well. The house was beautiful and the pieces interesting. After the museum, I wandered off on my own for some shopping and exploring. I had lost my map and Venice is notorious for having really confusing streets. But I knew some major landmarks so I figured, why not go get lost for a bit? And that’s exactly what I did. I bought some more souvenirs, grabbed a late lunch, and just got myself totally lost in Venice. I loved it. I loved wandering around without direction, not a worry in the world, and no particular time I needed to be somewhere. It was liberating. The night was really chill and I was exhausted from the day. Oh, and the sun came out on Sunday. It was 75-degrees and gorgeous. Venice is much nicer in the sunshine.

Monday (aka today) I had class at another church and then got to see some Tintoretto paintings which were pretty cool. Then I had another 6 hours of free time to fill before meeting back up to take a train home at 4. I wandered some more, got lost some more, and managed to find my way back with ease. I’ve really learned to trust myself with directions and knowing that I’ll be able to figure out how to get home. It makes life a bit easier especially when going off on your own. Today I found this beautiful church with a view of the Grand Canal only about 5 min away from our hotel. I sat outside with a biography on George Eliot (which has me completely engrossed at the moment) and thoroughly enjoyed the view and the moment. The hours whiled away, I ran into some other ACMers, grabbed another late lunch, and had a genuinely lovely afternoon. I can’t remember the last time I had all afternoon to just lay outside and read in the USA. I am a very lucky girl.

I hope it’s coming across that I’m truly valuing and treasuring every moment I have in Europe. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to make this trip happen. With time running out, I simply can’t believe where the time went. I feel like I was just saying tearful goodbyes with mom at the airport and taking my first Tube ride. Tomorrow I need to write a take-home final for my art history class. Wednesday I have a class and Thursday I have my last final. I fly to London Friday night (volcano allowing) and I’ll be home by Saturday night. So crazy. I’m dreading figuring out how to pack everything. It’s going to be a challenge.

As much as I love Italy, I do look forward to going home. I can’t wait to be reunited with my family and friends. I can’t wait for unlimited texting. I can’t wait for Chipotle (hahaha). I can’t wait to drive my car. But if I’ve learned anything on this trip, it’s to live in the moment and treasure each breath I take. So that’s what I’m going to do this week.

Livin’ in the moment.

Monday, May 10, 2010

First Volcanoes, Now Rockslides

The world might be ending.  Who would have thought that both volcanoes and rockslides would have a pretty major impact on my traveling this semester?  The volcano in Iceland is stirring up again creating chaos in the air.  I'm watching a movie in class right now because my teacher is stuck in Munich until tomorrow.  What to do when watching a movie without a teacher present? Time to blog. 

On Thursday, I went to the Accademia to see Michelangelo's David, the original this time.  It was pretty epic.  We also saw The Rape of the Sabine which was really neat.  I'd already seen replicas of these statues but nothing beats an original.  Friday was a homework day so not much to report. 

Saturday I decided to see some of Tuscany.  I got up early and headed to the train station.  I wasn't sure exactly where to go so I just waited to see what train times were and picked a destination rather at random.  I decided on Arezzo, which is famous for being the hometown of Petrarch.  The movie "Life was Beautiful" also has scenes filmed there because it was the director's hometown.  It was about an hour train ride away.  I love taking the train in Italy.  You get to see the most beautiful landscape flashing by the window.  Anyway, I got to Arezzo and decided to wander.  Since the only thing I knew I wanted to see was Petrarch's casa, I just kind walked about until I ran into it.  I did some window shopping, got some gelatto, and took in the town.  Petrarch's house was at the top of this huge hill.  So I walked on up, took an obligatory photo, and nerded out a bit.  At the top of the hill I found this beautiful park.  It was lush and green and had a massive statue of Petrarch at the center.  The remains of a medieval wall also runs along the outside of the town.  It lined the park.  I sat on the wall and read a book in front an incredible landscape of the Tuscan countryside.  Awesome.  It's moments like those that I'm going to miss about Italy.  To me, Italy is all about its little towns.  These little towns like Arezzo, Lucca, or Siena is where I've fallen in love with Italy.  Florence is nice, but if I was ever to spend more significant time in Italy, I'd settle in a mountainside village somewhere. So Saturday was pretty wonderful.

On Sunday, a friend and I decided to go to the Cinque Terre.  It's a national park of five little towns on the coast of the Mediterranean.  And it just might be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We got up super early and caught a 7:45 train (barely catching it because my friend showed up about 30 sec before it left!) It's a 2.5 hour train ride La Spezia.  From La Spezia you can take a train to the various towns or you can hike.  We decided to hike from the first town to the second.  Both were unbelievably beautiful.  I'll post pictures to facebook soon. We spent some time in each and got a good feel for the towns.  We attempted to hike to the third town but alas we could not.  There had been a rockslide which had closed down the paths to the next three towns.  So we used the trains for the rest of the day. Each town was insanely wonderful.  The colors in the Cinque Terre is what stood out to me most.  The color of Mediteranean of was almost aquamarine.  The trees were so vividly green.  Roses grew everywhere.  Brilliant reds, yellows, purples, blues, and pinks.  If the natural landscape wasn't vivid enough, all of the houses are painted in bright colors.  Bright pinks, oranges, yellows, reds everywhere. And now, as a result, I really want a bright yellow house up on a hill somewhere.  There were vineyards and olive fields up and down the mountains. We moved town to town, doing a little shopping, taking it all in.  In the fifth town, Monterosso, we grabbed a late lunch and stared out at the sea.  I had 4 formaggi gnocchi which was delicious.  There was an older American couple at the next table over from us and we got to chatting.  We called it a day and headed back to La Spezia.  We had some train delays so it took nearly four hours to get home.  Totally worth it.  The Cinque Terre is definitely near the top of my list of my favorite places that I've had the opportunity to see on this trip.  I don't even know how to describe it.  It's one of those places you just need to see to believe. 

It was an absolutely exhausting weekend.  I came home and crashed.  But the places I got to see were wonderful.  I have one more weekend left in Italy and it'll be in Venice.  It's the final countdown for classes. I'll have a lot to take care of accademically and in preparing to leave.  Mixed emotions about the whole thing.  Here's to hoping the skies clear up enough by May 22nd when I fly home! Yikes.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Singing in the Rain

It's gloooomy in Firenze today.  It's been pouring since I woke up.  Only 18 days left in Italy. This weather is so not acceptable!  For a number of dull reasons, I moved my flight up to Saturday May 22nd.  I'll have about 36 hours of travel (I can't do math but that's my best guess taking into account time changes) to make it home and I'm going to start mentally preparing for it now.  (bus to Florence train station, hour long bus to Pisa, flight from Pisa to London Gatwick that arrives at 12:30 am, 1:50 am bus from Gatwick to Heathrow, chilling in the airport for about  9 hours, flight from Heathrow to Philadelphia at noon, two hour layover in PA, flight to Chicago arriving at approximately 7:22 pm).  Brutal, but as mom said, thank God I'm young and like to read.  

I have absolutely no idea where the time went this semester.  It flew.  Soon I will be home and then a week later back to Lake Forest to work for the summer.  I'm trying to take each of my remaining days here day by day and not worry about the diminishing time. 

I feel like life is going by soo fast these days.  I have one semester left of college! Eek! Many of my friends from the Forest are graduating this week and headed out into the real world.  Last year I was able to say, whew, glad I don't have to face that reality so soon.  This year, that doesn't really fly.  Congrats to my graduating seniors! The Forest just won't be the same. 

Oh and last night I went to see Iron Man 2.  There's a movie theater that shows films in english once a week.  It was pretty good, though not as good as the first one.  Continued love for Robert Downey Jr.  I have a long art history class this afternoon.  I'm not going to lie, about 30 min into an art history class my eyes start to glaze over and I turn to whatever day dream comes to mind.  But we were promised hot chocolate this afternoon so I'm hoping that'll be proper motivation to pay attention.  I'm taking all of my classes in Italy for CR, meaning I need a C or higher to pass.  And they don't count towards my GPA.  I've never been a less dedicated student in my life as a result.  Ha, but I'll be back to the grindstone soon enough.  

Here's what's left:  Three more classes through Thursday.  Three day weekend that will include a trip to the Cinque Terre and a celebration of Notte Blu. (Details to come on what exactly I'm talking about.)  One last full week of classes and paper writing.  Weekend trip to Venice.  Finals. Packing. Flight to London. Flight to Philadelphia. Home.

Deep Breaths.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Little Things

Wow it’s been a week since my last post. A lot of little things have happened in the past week to make it one of my favorite weeks in Italy. I’m going to try to remember them all. Let’s see, the highlights…hmmm…

On Monday after class, I went out with some friends and spent the afternoon in the sunshine. We ate gelato and talked about traveling and just life in general. A particularly lovely afternoon.

On Tuesday, the French girl/woman (twenty-something person) that lives with us made dinner. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned Charlotte before. She’s a Ph.D. student who speaks Italian, French, and English. She’s incredibly sweet and works as a good intermediary when there is something important that Eryn and I need to convey to our host mom. Charlotte made a French quiche with onions, feta, and ham. So delicious. The culmination of culture was really funny that night. We, Americans, are living in Florence eating an authentic French meal.

Wednesday wasn’t all that special. Long day of class. But we did see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. It was beautiful. We’ve seen so much authentic classic art on this trip that I sometimes take it for granted. So I suppose Wednesday was pretty special after all. It’s not every day in the USA that you get to see famous works of art.

Thursday night I met up with some friends after dinner. We ended up in an Irish pub for a few drinks and lo and behold the White Sox game was on. My White Sox! And we were winning (which, from what I hear is rare these days)! After the game ended we went to meet up with another girl from Lake Forest who is studying in Florence for the semester in a different program. Two of my very good friends from school who are currently studying in Spain came to visit for the weekend! They stayed with Sarah, the other girl studying in Florence, because she lives in an apartment. It was so awesome to see them. We met up at a bar later on Thursday evening and had a fantastic time. Seeing people from LFC is always fun when you study abroad and it’s a bonus when they happen to be good friends. We shared stories all night and made plans to meet up the next day.

Friday morning I met up with Sarah, Maris, and Hannah at the Duomo. John, another LFC kid from my program, came along. It was a mini LFC reunion. Sarah knew of a really good bakery across the river and it totally delivered. They had cupcakes which was a big deal because Italians don’t really do cupcakes. They’re not as big into baked goods, preferring gelato or cannollis. After breakfast we just explored the city and hung out in beautiful palazzos. We broke off around 4 and met up again before dinner. My host mom invited Hannah and Maris over for dinner. Dinner turned out to be a lot of fun. Hannah and Maris speak Spanish very well; Maris is almost fluent. Italian and Spanish are very similar so it was easy to communicate. The whole thing was neat because I got to share part of my experience with people from home. They got to see what I how I live every day.

Last night was a major celebration called Notte Bianca (white night) in Florence. All over the city there were music performances, juggling acts, fire throwers, modern art dancers until nearly 6 am. It was absolute madness! There were sooo many people out. I saw a vegetable orchestra. Yeah, that’s right, people were making music by blowing on cucumbers, pounding on pumpkins, and whistling through gourds. It was awesome. The city was so alive and vibrant. Ultimate celebration mode.

Today Maris and Hannah left for Venice. Super sad to see them leave but I know they’ll have an awesome time in Venice. I can’t wait to go myself in a few weeks. After I said farewell, I went to this park by my house and read a book all afternoon. It’s the little pleasures in life. Tomorrow I’ll hang out some more and do some homework, hopefully book my flight back to London so that I can fly home.

My Italian is coming along I think. It’s amazing how much more I understand than when I first arrived. I think it will be a pretty easy week of classes which will be nice. I think it’s supposed to rain but oh well. It’s another four-day week of classes. I don’t know what exactly I’ll do next weekend, explore Tuscany some more I suppose. I have definitely fallen in love with Italy.

I’m coming home tan. I’m determined.