Posts from Italy
- Alpine Adventures on December 6th, 2012
5 December, 2012
Guten Tag Everyone!
This past weekend, I finally got back on the road for one of my last trips of the semester, and all I can say is that Switzerland was A-MA-ZING! Being able to spend the weekend amongst the Swiss Alps was one of those precious experiences that come around once in a lifetime, and I still cannot get over the fact that I was there.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I got to Interlaken – it has been advertised as the center for extreme sports in Switzerland, so I could not believe it when we arrived at an adorable traditional cottage-like hostel complete with old fashioned decorations everywhere and a red checkered bedspread. Friday morning, I didn’t have anything planned so I jumped on the opportunity to take a walk and explore the town around me. I found myself walking in complete silence through the winding streets of the small Swiss town, simply taking in the beautiful views that surrounded me. The town was closed in by tree-topped mountains, so it was nothing short of magical. It was so nice not to be in a city and have to spend the day running around trying to see everything there is to see in 3 days, just being able to take a stroll with no worries was such a liberating feeling! That night, we ventured up to what was supposed to be a woodland Christmas market on top of a mountain, but upon arrival, we found that it was nothing more than 5 stands accompanied by one small food cart – what a bust! It was all ok though, because the next day was the main event we were all looking forward to: skiing the Swiss Alps!
Saturday we woke up bright and early to catch the first train up to the mountain. Tired and lugging our skis the entire journey (which consisted of 3 transportation vehicles), we could not contain our excitement as we stared out the windows during the winding journey up the mountains. From snow capped mountains to a sea of snowy evergreens and abandoned wood cottages dotted throughout the mountain, we could not wait to see what awaited us at the top. As I stepped off the train and looked around, it hit me that I was there, standing on top of the Swiss Alps, and all I could think was “pinch me, this is not my life!” Eager to hit the slopes, we strapped our skis on and took off, and that’s where I learned that I was totally over confident in my abilities and I had actually forgotten how to ski. To make a long story short, I may have tumbled down the mountain more than I skied, but who’s counting really? After finally getting to the bottom covered with snow and wondering whether I had given myself a concussion, I hopped on the lift and planted my feet firmly at the top of the mountain when I got off.
Luckily, I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world, so walking around and exploring for the rest of the day was a day well spent to me. I stumbled upon a beautiful trail that seemed to lead straight to the foot of the next peak and followed it without hesitation. As I walked along the snow covered trail, I found myself in a complete and total state of relaxation, solitude, and self awareness with only the sound of the snow crunching under my feet and a complete panorama of snow capped mountains surrounding me. After living in a crowded, tourist-clad city for the past few months, this was pure bliss. I felt at peace, I finally had time to think and actually listen to my thoughts, and I was on top of the world. With nothing better to do, I decided to sit down in the snow and read a bit of the travel book I’ve been reading called The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux, a book completely compiled of quotes from world travellers, and I found one quote that seemed to fit a bit too perfectly into my experience here in Europe; it reads: “You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.” If this is true, and I firmly believe that it is, then one thing is for sure; I definitely left a piece of myself up on that mountain.
Saying goodbye to such a beautiful place, such a beautiful day, was not easy, but we boarded the train and headed back down to our little host town of Interlaken. I may or may not have stuck my head out of the train window like a dog and watched the mountains grow smaller behind me as I snapped another hundred photos. We finally got back to the hostel and took the night to relax, and I dreamt about how amazing paragliding would be the next day… that is until I woke up and there was a blizzard outside my window – so much for that! I decided to take the bus to one of the lakes nearby only to find that out of the 10 miles the lake stretched, I couldn’t see 20 feet out! Still, the fog over the lake in the dead of winter was pretty eerie, and it was a cool experience nonetheless. Now came the hardest part – actually having to leave this wondrous place, but our magnificent views were not over yet. By the time we left, the snow had stopped and the fog lifted, so when we drove almost full circle around Lake Thunersee’s sister lake, Lake Brienzersee, it was nothing short of breathtaking.
As we drove back to Florence, it all set in that I am now in the home stretch of my time studying abroad, and it absolutely terrified me. Where has all the time gone? There are still a million things that I haven’t done yet! But now it’s time to buckle down and hit the books for finals and even (yikes!) start packing. It’s hard to come to terms that this experience will come to an end, but I could not be more grateful for all of the wonderful times I have had during the last few months – but enough of this sappy stuff, there will be plenty of room for that next week when finals are over and the end is mere hours away. Until then, I’ll be spending my last days here taking everything in and, well, writing the 25 pages worth of papers that are due over the course of the next few days. Looks like I’m here for school after all!
- It’s the holiday season… on November 29th, 2012
Once again, time is absolutely flying! Less than 3 weeks till school is over… good thing I’m staying till January or I’d be starting to panic at this point!
So I missed my favorite holiday ever at home, Thanksgiving! Though the Italians don’t celebrate it, I definitely saw students flocking to the supermarket buying potatoes, bread, pie crust, and any type of poultry they could get their hands on. Though I wasn’t with family, we’ve made our own little family here in Florence. My friends and I planned a potluck dinner, which left us (well, them) eating leftover mashed potatoes for days. Chicken passed for the turkey and for the first time ever, my plate wasn’t covered in gravy, which almost gave me a heart attack since I consider gravy to be its own essential food group in my diet! Regardless, couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my Thanksgiving here in Florence.
Now that Thanksgiving was over, there was one looming question in my mind: where on earth was I going to spend Christmas?! The lights are going up over the twisting cobblestone streets and I have no plans! I had made plans to spend some time with my family who live in Puglia in the south of Italy, but had not heard mention of it since. The pressure was on and I finally mustered up the courage to call my grandfather and ask for their phone number. As I dialed the number, my heart raced and all I could think was that I had forgotten every word of Italian I had ever learned. The second I heard the cheerful voice of my second cousin on the other end, however, all of my worries went away. We had a great conversation and it wasn’t until about halfway through that she realized I was still learning Italian (number one goal of tricking an Italian into thinking that I can speak fluently: CHECK! I guess I’m on my way!) Needless to say, I will be arriving there a few days before Christmas and I could not be more excited to spend this holiday season getting to know my family here in Italy.
Well, that’s all for now – I’m leaving for Switzerland in an hour! I’ll be spending my weekend skiing the Swiss Alps, paragliding over the Thun and Breinz lakes, and taking in the amazing views around me! Sorry for the lack of pictures, I promise I’ll edit them in soon, but until then, Ciao!
- All the Little Things on November 21st, 2012
Ciao again everyone!
It’s been a while since I actually looked at the date and I just have to say… WHAT?! I can’t believe that in 3 short weeks, my time here in Florence will be over. I say it every time, but time really is flying. I’ve been taking it pretty easy since fall break – no big trips or grand adventures, but I have done a lot of little things (and had a lazy day… ok week)!
First (I think? Time is really warping in my mind), I finally got to pay a visit to the renowned Boboli Gardens here in Florence. I’ve been hearing about this place since before I even left home, so it was definitely on my list of things to do! Upon arriving, we were faced with a beautiful landscape of greenery, statues, and a massive fountain right in the center. We quickly learned that there was no set way to tour the gardens, so every time we were faced with new trails, we simply picked one and carried on. Though it might not have been your traditional garden with flowers and produce, the walk through the ever continuing green walkway was absolutely stunning, and the entire rolling landscape was spotted with statues from artists old and new. It was a day I could truly call relaxing and serene.
Next, we had the long anticipated Stony Brook FUA conference where professors and academics from both the US and Italy attended and lectured on the theme of exploration and cultural exchange, both asking and answering the question of what has been brought from the US to Italy throughout the years. I can tell you one thing – the crazy weather back home definitely carried its effects here, delaying several flights! Nevertheless, the conference went on and I was finally able to meet the men behind it all and the reason I am able to bring this blog post to you today – Dr. Ahrens, the Dean of International Academic Affairs and Dr. Mignone, the Director of the Center for Italian Studies and the reason for the scholarship I was able to come here with! After speaking with them, I realized just what a privilege it was to be able to attend such a conference, and how little undergrads have this opportunity. Aside from attending the conference, I had the opportunity to be in the Stony Brook student panel and present to the attendees on the cultural aspects that students and tourists bring to Florence. After much nerves and two days of hard work, the conference was finally over, but being able to meet and speak with so many academic figures was an opportunity that I am very glad I was able to have.
After the craziness of the conference, I definitely needed a big rest, hence my lack of things to write about, but after fighting off a lovely cold and ear infection, I was up and ready to go for what would become my favorite day here in Florence to date. When my friend suggested a day trip to go horseback riding through the vineyards of Chianti, an area famous for its wine right outside of Florence, I didn’t have to think twice before saying yes. Next thing I knew, I was being strapped into a helmet and swinging me leg over a horse as tall as I am named Bangi! Never having ridden a horse, the first few minutes, though beautiful, were filled with apprehension that at some point in the day, I would be on the ground with a broken arm. To my relief, me nerves calmed as I took in the breathtaking views of the Tuscan landscape with its changing leaves and vineyards as far as the eye can see. As we walked through the rolling hills of the vineyard, followed by 3 adorable little barn puppies, I felt all of my worries fade away; in those few hours, I was here, enjoying Italy in a way that I never could have done locked inside the walls of the historic city center. Getting off of my horse at the end of our ride was slightly sad, but the memories I created that day will last me for as long as I live. For the second part of our trip, we were driven up to a small castle where we had a traditional Italian lunch accompanied with a delicious wine tasting. I could not have asked for a better experience in the Tuscan countryside – the day was beautiful, the leaves were changing, and it was the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and school troubles.
Now back in Florence, all of us students are gearing up for an American tradition that we are sorely missing – Thanksgiving! Though the Florentines seem to be skipping straight ahead to Christmas, this is one American tradition that we can’t let go of! Though I can say my cooking skills have improved immensely, I can’t speak for the rest of my classmates – let’s see how this goes! To everyone back home, have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, and eat some turkey for me!
- Fall Break: London, Prague, and Amsterdam! on November 8th, 2012
Well where do I even begin? I guess I should start with an apology for the delay in posting, fall break was no joke! But after much needed recuperation and reflection, I’m back and ready to write – grab a snack I’ve got lots to tell!
My story begins on Thursday, when we boarded a plane for London. Though we arrived late at night, our excitement took over as we disembarked into the rainy night, got some pounds from the ATM (I was so excited!), and headed to our hostel in the town of Shoreditch. We started our adventures around the city bright and early, visiting the Tate Modern Museum, Millenium Bridge, London Bridge, the National Gallery, and even an old English style pub. Only after it started pouring did we head home (on the underground might I add!); London really is as rainy as they say! Of course for dinner we had to find some fish and chips, and we did in an adorable diner-style restaurant. Though we were soaked, we headed out for a night on the town in our area.
Day two we headed out with high hopes of seeing the famous changing of the guard ceremony, only to arrive at Buckingham Palace to find that we couldn’t see a thing through the 20 person deep crowd outside the gates. After a day of wandering around town, we stopped for some high tea and scones in a cute little teashop, a first for me since usually I hate the stuff! After finding a unique spicy tea that I liked and drinking a whole pot of it, we, being the Harry Potter nerds that we are headed back out towards King’s cross to visit Platform 9 ¾! It was a tad underwhelming and seemingly touristy, but we had fun pretending to run through a wall while taking awesome pictures regardless. Our last big stop in London was, of course, Big Ben. As luck would have it, it began to rain again and my pictures are terrible, but seeing the beautiful and historic Parliament building in the heart of London just seemed right in the rain. It was sad leaving the city center (which I completely fell in love with), but after all the rain and the sky high prices, we were ready to head to Prague in the morning.
Some note-worthy trip highlights: STARBUCKS, British accents, Cadbury chocolate, phone booths, the English language.
So off to Prague we were! After taking out 3,000 crowns from an ATM at the airport in Brno ( a few hours outside Prague) and feeling rich for a few minutes, we took a little while to explore the city of before boarding a train to Prague. Here, we got our first taste of Czech food, which I have to say is in serious competition with Italian as my favorite cuisine. The train ride to Prague was probably my favorite part of the entire trip, as we rode through the Czech countryside observing small town after small town, my mind filling with wonder about all the deep rooted culture we were speeding by. Seeing fall leaves over the beautiful landscape filled a void that I had been seriously feeling in Florence after realizing that I would be missing one of my favorite times of year at home.
After finally arriving in Prague, however, I was thrilled to see all of the beauty that the city held. We took it easy our first night, staying in our awesome hostel complete with full bar and restaurant upstairs. In the morning, we headed out on a guided tour seeing all that the city had to offer including the astronomical clock, Jewish quarter, Charles Bridge, and a bunch of other stuff that I don’t remember but was cool nonetheless. Our tour guide was wonderful and took us to one of her favorite restaurants for lunch after the tour where I had my first tasting of goulash; let’s just say that everyone’s plates were sparkling by the end. She gave us some advice on where to go next, which we graciously took, and next found ourselves walking through a park across the river with a beautiful panoramic view of the city at every turn. Eventually, we ended up face to face with the Prague Castle, an ancient gothic style cathedral which was simply breathtaking. As the sun set over the stunning landscape, we headed back to the hostel for some rest before going out to explore the city at night.
The next day (and the next one after that), we spent our time exploring. First, we visited the Lennon wall, an ever-changing wall of graffiti which was started as a protest to the communist regime, and has since been a wall covered with every Beatles quote and quote pertaining to peace that you could possible imagine – It was so cool I visited twice! We also paid a visit to the Salvator Dalí Exhibit before we left, where we got to see an abundance of prints of his works!
Other than that, we spent most of our time trying as much traditional Czech food as possible from the markets, trying everything from cheese to pastry to meat, it was fantastic! That about concludes our adventures in Prague, but first, trip highlights – charming architecture, their money system is way cooler than ours, beer is literally cheaper than water, and CZECH FOOD (including but not limited to: goulash, fried smoked cheese, rye bread, staročeské trdlo, GARLIC SOUP). Oh and a side note, I want to learn Czech, it is beautiful!
Way too soon, we found ourselves on the last leg of our trip, Amsterdam! After an overnight train ride, we arrived at our destination, and stepped out of the train station and into a city that instantly reminded me of home – it was like I was looking at NYC brownstones everywhere! We spent the day exploring and learned that the city was filled with canals and beautiful parks – a perfect city for taking it easy after a week of traveling. We unexpectedly stumbled upon a park that contained the Auschwitz memorial, where thousands of holocaust victims’ ashes were buried – it was a beautiful tribute, a floor made of broken mirrors so that the sky, though beautiful and serene, would never be whole again in honor of those who suffered. Being thoroughly interested in the holocaust, I was very happy that we stumbled upon the memorial.
Most of our time in Amsterdam was spent like this – wandering around and stumbling on interesting bits that we may have missed out on otherwise (it was generally very expensive to do anything touristy, unfortunately). Our first night out, we were so curious that we couldn’t wait – we decided to venture into the famous Red Light District… I’ll just say that it was a crazy sight to see! In our last two days of the trip, we spend most of our time exploring the various markets in Amsterdam trying to find food as good as we did in Prague. Unfortunately, we learned that Amsterdam’s food culture wasn’t nearly as good (aside from STROOPWAFELS!), so our culinary adventures were limited. We did, however find an abundance of foreign restaurants, which gave us an excellent excuse to pig out on Chinese food, and I even tried some Indonesian food at the demand of my roommate who’s been to Bali! On our last day of the trip, we decided to pay a visit to the Heineken Brewery, a pretty cool experience! Though our trip was coming to an end, I can honestly say I was ready to go home. But before heading home, trip highlights included: fries everywhere (did I mention the Europeans convinced me to like mayonnaise on my fries now?), STROOPWAFELS, waffles in general.
So that concludes my awesome fall break adventures. Looking back, I still can’t believe that I have had the opportunity to visit all of these amazing places. It’s funny to think that at home during spring break, I spend an entire week sleeping and messing around on the computer or whatever I do. It really gives you a new perspective on life! As tiring as it was, I would do the whole trip again in a heartbeat; in fact, I really want to take a backpacking trip after I graduate now! Traveling is such an amazing experience, and I intend to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way to continue to travel.
Since getting back to Florence, I have taken some serious down time to get my life back to normal – nothing much worth writing about. This weekend is the annual Stony Brook conference here in Florence, which I am actually really looking forward to. We have professors coming in from all over and I am excited to meet them and hear what they have to say about the topic of cultural exchange! I promise next week I’ll be back on my normal writing schedule, so until then!
- Foodie Weekend in Florence! on October 17th, 2012
Ciao once again!
Time is really flying by here – I CANNOT believe that the semester is almost halfway over! Though I have settled into my routine and really feel like Florence is my home, it still feels like I stepped off the plane only a few weeks ago.
This past week has been super busy for me, but I have done so much since my last post. First off, Thursday night I attended a pasta workshop hosted by the FUA’s cooking school, Apicius, where we made gnocchi and pasta from scratch! Never having done either of these, I was super excited to learn a new skill to take home. It turned out to be much easier than I thought, and I’m definitely considering investing in a pasta maker when I get back home now Our final outcome was delicious – gnocchi with traditional tomato sauce and cheese and lasagna layered with basil pesto and white béchamel sauce – can you say YUM?!
Friday morning, I woke up bright and early to visit a small chocolate shop in Florence and learn about the Italian way to make chocolate! There, we were treated to a nice healthy breakfast of Italian hot chocolate and, you guessed it, a chocolate tasting! The hot chocolate was delicious – not that Swiss Miss powder you get at home, but a nice thick, warm dark chocolate, it’s like you’re drinking melted chocolate! After reaching my sugar quota for the day, I decided to take the rest of the day to wander through the market and explore a little bit on my own in Florence, and I may or may not have splurged and bought myself a late birthday present or two
Saturday, I had to get up bright and early (yeah, my alarm went off at 3:50!) for my long anticipated school trip to Parma and Modena! We arrived in Parma at around 8:30 so that we could take a tour of a cheese farm where they produce true Parmaggiano Reggiano cheese! We suited up like we were ready to perform surgery, and went inside to watch the process of the making of the cheese. Inside, we watched the workers mix special vats filled with 1000 liters of milk to produce the cheese, we saw the cheese wheels in their salt bath and learned about how to identify true Parmaggiano Reggiano, and took a peek into the room where the cheese is left to age. By the time we were done, the workers were just pulling the soon-to-be cheese wheel from the vats of milk, and learned that they only produce one cheese wheel from that entire 1000 liters! After a yummy tasting, we were off to our next stop: a prosciutto factory!
Now I never really thought of what a prosciutto factory would be like, which would explain my surprise and slight unease when we were suddenly faced with rows upon rows of prosciutto hung from floor to ceiling. After getting over the initial shock, I turned my attention toward the owner who explained the aging and curing process, and learned that Proscuitto di Parma cannot be imitated because the location of Parma provides just the right cross breeze to cure the prosciutto a certain way – who knew? After the lecture, we proceeded to have lunch at the factory, which consisted of lots of prosciutto (duh!) and a delicious local pasta dish.
Bellies now full, we headed to our last stop, a balsamic vinegar producer in Modena. There, we learned about the production and aging process and got to see the barrels of aging vinegar themselves. We learned that the barrels must never be washed, or else they loose their ‘seasoning’ of special bacteria, and that every year, 10% of the vinegar evaporates and it must be transferred into a smaller barrel. This process can go on for anywhere from 6-100 years! Later, we had a delicious tasting – they even let us taste the 25 and 50 year old balsamic! After a long day, it was time to return home and face reality: midterms week was finally upon us.
Though this week has been quite stressful compared to the nice and easygoing semester I’ve had so far, there is a light at the end of the tunnel; fall break is here! Tomorrow night, I will be leaving for London (AHHHHH!!), which will be followed by Prague and Amsterdam over the next 10 days. Let’s just say that I definitely won’t be short of anything to write about when I come back
- A birthday like no other! on October 10th, 2012
9 October 2012
Ciao a tutti!
Sorry about the long wait – I was feeling a bit under the weather last week and didn’t do anything too special! But other than that these past few weeks have been great; now that I’ve been here for over a month, I’m starting to feel much more comfortable with my surroundings and I feel like I’m really getting to know the city of Florence, It’s such a wonderful feeling!
So this past weekend was my birthday, and I am so happy that I was able to spend it abroad! Luckily enough, it just happened to land on the last weekend of Oktoberfest in Germany, so for me it was a no-brainer where I would go! My friends and I decided to take the leap and go camping at a popular campground for young people called Stoke Travel. The campground had such a laid back atmosphere and the Aussies that ran it were so friendly, and we met so many other students who were traveling from all over! It may have been cold up there, but the experience was totally worth it!
On Friday soon after we arrived in Germany, a few friends and I decided to take a bike tour of Munich before heading out to the festival, and what a crazy experience that was! Navigating the crowded streets while trying to remember how to ride a bike was certainly no easy task, but once we got the hang of it, it was such an adrenaline rush! Munich turned out to be quite different from my expectations – going into the tour I thought that we would be seeing lots of historic sites built centuries ago, but what I found was that about 80% of the city had been destroyed during the wars, and just about everything was modern! We did, however get to see Marien Square, The English Gardens, and the largest greenhouse in Germany – and not to mention we got to have lunch at the 2nd largest beer garden in the world!
After our bike tour, we decided to finally head over to the festival. It was like nothing I could have imagined – rides everywhere, tons of German food and of course, beer tents everywhere! After walking around in awe for a while, we decided to take a ride on the sky-high swings, which provided the most beautiful view of the entire city!
Saturday was our big day, and my birthday! We got up bright and early and headed to the festival in order to secure our spot in the famous beer tents, which, luckily, we did! Now you might be thinking that the sole purpose of going to Oktoberfest is to drink until you pass out, but for us, that wasn’t quite it. We had the times of our lives singing drinking songs, meeting people from all over the world, and simply taking in the experience of this age-old tradition! To our surprise, almost everybody was dressed up in traditional German dirndles and lederhosen; it was truly a sight to see! As a soon-to-be broke study abroad student, I didn’t quite have the funds to buy an outfit, but I did, however, buy this awesome hat!
After a whole day of indulging in German culture, the sun went down and the lights went on. The whole festival lit up and it truly became a ‘Disney World for adults’. This called for a ride on the famed ferris wheel, which gave us the most amazing view of the entire festival from above!
With Sunday came lots of rain and a very humbling experience. We went to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp, which held up to 32,000 Nazi prisoners at one time, though it was only built for 6,000. As I walked around the grounds in the pouring rain cold, wet, and hungry, I couldn’t help but to think that in that moment, I had no right to feel the way I did, because the thousands of people who lived and died in that camp had it far, far worse than I did for that simple hour and a half of my life. It’s impossible to describe the overwhelming feeling that I experienced when I visited the camp, but I feel honored to have had the opportunity to see it.
After a long and eventful weekend, we were finally headed back to Florence, and though I had the most amazing birthday I could ever ask for, I am always excited to return to this amazing city that I am able to call my home. Now that midterms are coming up (WHAT?!) it’s time to hit the books, but not without some fun in between Up next week: pasta workshop, chocolate factory tour, and a day trip to Parma for balsamic, parmagiano, and prosciutto tastings!
Until next time!
- Stony Brook Goes to Sicily! on September 27th, 2012
27 September, 2012
Ciao a tutti!
So it took a bit of time to gather my thoughts after Sicily, but I have to say, it was quite the experience. It was so nice to finally be able to get to know everyone in my program and it was definitely a wonderful bonding experience for all!
Taking an overnight train was the first of our many new experiences this weekend, and while some were scared, I was so excited! I quickly claimed the top bunk which I haven’t had since I was a kid and took in my surroundings that would confine me for the next 12 hours! To be honest, I felt like Harry Potter on the Hogwarts Express (no complaints there!) After a night of good company and getting to know many of the girls in my program, I was ready to explore Sicily.
We spent our first afternoon in a town in the east of Sicily called Taormina, where we visited a beautiful garden with a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean coast. Pictures can describe the experience much better than words, so here you go!
Next up, my most anticipated activity… Cannoli tasting!!! I’ll never be able to do this justice, but here goes. We arrived at a small pastry shop in the village of Taormina, where we actually got to go downstairs to the production room (a cake decorator’s dream!) Waiting for us were two Sicilian bakers that barely spoke English, a pile fresh fried cannoli shells, and a bucket full of cannoli cream – it took some serious restraint not to stick my finger in and take a lick! As our leader explained the cannoli making process, we watched anxiously as the baker filled the shells and dished them out one by one. Though I was tempted, I waited until I was outside to properly document what I refer to as “my first bite of heaven.” I’ll just say this – nothing will EVER match that cannolo! (yes, cannolo is the singular form, weird!)
From there we boarded the bus for the three-hour ride to Palermo, and finally we had reached our destination. We had dinner at the hotel and headed up to the rooftop pool for some fun, which actually turned into an interesting mixture of college students, nuns, and Italians in business suits (oh my!)
Saturday we headed to a few beach towns called Chefalù and Mondello for some fun in the sun and shopping. Chefalù was especially beautiful with its old world charm and great beach, and not to mention, rice balls! After a relaxing day, we headed back to the hotel and got ready to go out into the city center of Palermo for a night on the town. Let’s just say we had lots of fun
For our last day in Sicily, we headed out bright and early for our official tour of the city… after finally getting used to being an honorary Florentine resident, being a tourist felt so odd! Though the sun was hot and there was lots of walking, it was great to be able to learn the history of some of Sicily’s greatest spots. I was truly in awe at how much Arabic and Byzantine culture was left behind after all these years when we think of Sicily in such a stereotypical Italian way.
Saying goodbye to Sicily was bittersweet, though most of the bitterness was due to the amount of homework I had left for the train ride home! It turned out to be a bonding experience like no other for everyone in our program, and I am so happy that Stony Brook and FUA provide us with the opportunity to get to know one another in such a fun way. Even being back for only a few days, I feel like I actually know everyone in the program, and they are no longer just names on a spreadsheet; it has really made me excited for the rest of the semester ahead of me.
Now I have a weekend all to myself, as my roommates are off traveling; and I’m really excited to get out and explore Firenze on my own time – let’s see how this goes!
Until next time
- Soccer and Swing on September 18th, 2012
17 September, 2012
So another awesome week has gone by in Florence… time is FLYING! Lots of exciting things this week, including finally visiting the Duomo, a dolce workshop, and taking the weekend to explore Florence!
I have had the itch to enter the Duomo since the second I arrived, but thus far, the moment hadn’t presented itself. Who would have known that a simple walk home from class would provoke my long awaited reentrance into one of the most breathtaking buildings in all of Italy? I’m usually not the biggest art appreciator, but I could not help but stare up in awe at the intricate masterpiece covering the famed dome.
Thursday night brought a ‘culinary treat’ from FUA’s culinary school, Apiscius – a Dolce Workshop! Being the cake fanatic that I am, this was a cannot-miss opportunity! It was wonderful to be able to learn the art of Italian baking from a true Italian chefs, but it was even better to learn just how simple that art is! After two hours and minimal fresh ingredients, we had trays upon trays of fresh almond biscotti and orange zest cakes! Did you know – biscotti were named so because they are baked twice?
Finally the weekend came and I decided to stay home to enjoy my temporary hometown and have some down time before the crazy weekend ahead (Sicily with everyone from the Stony Brook program!) Though traveling will definitely be fun, it was nice to kick back and take in that which I walk past every day in my rush to get to school and work. First stop – Mercato Centrale! Picture this, (and if you can’t, I’ve got you covered) hundreds of stands piled with fruit, cases packed with every type of Italian cheese out there, and not to mention the fresh prosciutto and salami hanging everywhere you look! Let’s just say we didn’t go hungry this weekend.
Saturday, we took the day to explore the city’s winding streets, which led us to the beautiful Piazza di Michelangelo on the other side of the Arno River. After a calf-killing hike up what seemed like thousands of stairs, we arrived at one of the city’s best spots where you can look down on the entire historical city center, an absolutely picturesque view and something that cannot be passed up during a visit to Florence!
A great day turned into the best night in Florence so far. We decided to hit the town in search of a good pub, and wound up at a small bar with some live music – a jazzy swing band called La Fascia del Cotone (who I highly recommend!) After several encores, the band packed up and everyone headed outside, where we met them as well as some fantastic Italians who were genuinely excited that a few Americans appreciated the Italian culture so much, as well as spoke Italian! I wound up gabbing in Italian all night with them and realized that my dreams of a real Italian experience abroad were actually becoming a reality. Let’s just say that we definitely found our ‘spot’ for the rest of the semester and learned one awesome lesson – cross the river, get out of the tourist-clad city center, and find some real Italian culture!
Sunday arrived with a great treat provided by FUA – a trip to the Fiorentina-Cantina Soccer game! Decked out in purple, we walked to the stadium about 20 minutes outside the city center, and situated ourselves in what seemed like doll-sized seats compared to the ones back home. I had heard so much about the Italians and their affinity for soccer that I could not wait to experience a real game with some crazy fans; but what I got was shocking – one of the quietest and most concentrated sporting events I have ever witnessed (until the first goal at least). In the end, it turned out that I am not as unlucky as I thought, and for the first time ever, the team I was routing for won – FORZA VIOLA!
So now it’s back to the school grind and assignments are starting to pile up! My brain is filling with everything Italian, and I am excited to see what the rest of the semester has in store for me! We leave for Sicily Thursday night which is sure to be a great bonding experience for everyone in the program, but all that’s on my mind is cannoli and rice balls!!
- Un bell’esperienza on September 12th, 2012
12 September, 2012
Ciao a tutti! As promised, I return to you with an amazing experience from Pisa and Cinque Terre! I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful the entire trip was, but I’ll do my best!
So I went with my two roommates and another guy we met who is in our program, and instead of booking with a group program, we decided to plan the trip for ourselves! Spoiler alert: we definitely saved ourselves some money! Our trip began with our first train ride in Europe, an awesome experience in itself! As we rode farther away from Florence, the countryside grew, and every turn revealed a new and breathtaking view! We arrived in Pisa on Friday afternoon, and made a beeline for the leaning tower. After catching our first glimpse of it, we were filled with a sense of pride and joy, that we had made it here on our own, and were finally getting to see the country. Even though I have been to Italy before, I have never seen the tower; land et me tell you, it is so much shorter than those pictures make it seem! Nevertheless, it was, of course, a breathtaking view. We had a lot of fun taking our leaning pictures, where I became fascinated with capturing pictures of people trying to get the perfect pictures of their friends… it was kind of hilarious! After all of that fun, we had some lunch and got back on the train, even more excited than before to arrive at our final destination!
Suddenly, as we were anxiously looking out the window, our view was filled with the bright blue Mediterranean, and literally, the whole train gasped; it was that breathtaking! We anxiously disembarked from the train and could not stop staring up as we walked through the quaint winding street of the small village of Riomaggiore… everything was so colorful and simply Mediterranean! We checked into our hostel, another experience new to us all, and met our roommates; two Australian girls, an English couple, and a Croatian couple who lived in a small apartment adjoined to the room. After some small talk, we threw on our bathing suits and headed straight to the “beach,” which was actually boulders piled up on the coast; something I had only ever seen in pictures. We spent the entire afternoon swimming in the beautiful water, and I even jumped off a small cliff (hey, 10 feet is a cliff, right?)
On day two of our journey, we became real adventurers and took the two hour hike from Vernazza to Monterosso… the most difficult of them all! After climbing what seemed like endless stairs (mind, these were definitely not the nice paved steps you might be used to), we were walking along the edge of a mountain on the coast of Cinque Terre! Every step we took was a thrill, as there were generally no rails, and the trail narrowed down to less than two feet at times. The funny part about it though, is that I was never scared; I was too busy taking in all of the beautiful scenery surrounding me. My favorite part of the hike came as a little surprise when we came across a cat who lived in the mountains, and was provided with food and shelter by the city… it was the friendliest cat I have ever seen and I just wanted to carry it home with me (I know you’re laughing, mom)! When we came to the end of the trail, I was almost disappointed that I had to come back to reality, but jumping straight into the sea after that long hike in the sun was the perfect reward.
Exhausted and amazed, we took the local train back to our town, where we spent the night in our hostel talking with all of our roommates and comparing cultures which was quite fascinating, along with the added perk that, as a linguist, I got to listen to some native accents that I have been learning about since last year! We decided to start off our last day taking the small 20-minute walk along the Via Dell’Amore (Love Walk) to the next town of Manarola, where we met our Croatian roommate on the way! It turns out that he goes out every day and sells his artwork to tourists! We bought some paintings as souvenirs, excited that we had something to bring back that had a story to it. After exploring Manarola, we decided to spend our last day at the sea in Riomaggiore, soaking in the breathtaking views that we may never get to see again. It was a bit sad boarding the train, but absolutely exhausted, we were ready to head back to our cozy apartment in Florence.
Now, three days after our return, I still cannot believe how beautiful our experience was. I feel so lucky that I have the opportunity to see places like Pisa and Cinque Terre in this beautiful country and can’t wait until our next excursion to Sicily in a week and a half! I hope that I was able to convey to you even a fraction of the emotion I felt this weekend, because it was simply a once in a lifetime experience, and words cannot do it justice.
Until next time,
- My first week in Florence on September 6th, 2012
6 September, 2012
Well hello there! My name is Michelle and I will be blogging to you from Florence, Italy for the duration of the Fall 2012 semester! I am currently a junior from Stony Brook University majoring in Linguistics and minoring in Italian and Spanish. I’ve always wanted to study abroad, and now that I’m finally here, I could not be more excited.
So I have officially been living in Florence for a week, and I have to say, it is an indescribable experience and I’m still trying to take it all in and figure it all out. From learning how to live on my own in an apartment with roommates to processing the fact that I’m living in a historical city center, there’s so much to take in.
I’ll start off with my departure from New York. Being a commuter, I’ve never really lived away from home, so leaving my family who I am so close to was not the easiest thing. However, I quickly got over that when I boarded the plane and realized that I would be independent for the next four months of my life. My advice to anyone in my position – TAKE THE LEAP! Thankfully, my experience got off to a good start after no delays, a lucky empty seat next to me, a neighbor I could actually talk to for the whole flight, and best of all, none of my luggage was lost! Upon arriving at my beautiful apartment in Florence, it really hit me that this was it, I was here in Italy! I was the first one there, which was pretty nice because I felt like I got a chance to bond with my apartment (if that makes any sense to you) but I really do love it! After my roommates arrived, we went out for pizza, which I was dying for… so satisfying! Everything was going perfectly.
After we completed orientation over the next few days, we were free for the weekend, which we spent ‘getting lost’ or exploring the city, meeting new people, and of course, eating!
Classes are great so far; I’m taking Conversational Italian, The Italian-American Experience, Contemporary Italian Cinema, and Food, Culture and Society in Italy, along with my internship here at the Student Life and Development office of FUA. It’s definitely going to be a busy semester (what else is new?) but I can’t wait to get the ball rolling.
This weekend, my roommates and I planned a trip to Cinque Terre, a small cluster of towns about two hours from here, so you will definitely be hearing about that, but for now, this is where I will leave off!
Don’t forget to check out some of my pictures from my first week here in Florence! If you have any questions about studying abroad, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ciao!