The inevitable stories of passport abuse


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Autumn in Florence

September 21st marks the official first day of autumn and I think Mother Nature must be really strict when it comes to Florence; barely three days later and fall has arrived.  It is not that the weather is much colder than it was three days ago, but I can just smell autumn in the breeze, hear it in the birds chirping see it in the leaves in our backyard. I LOVE autumn. Every single thing about it.  The rain, the smells, the clothes, but especially the food. Only 4 days until October and all I am thinking about is cinnamon, chili, and PUMPKINS.  Today I have had an overwhelming desire to bake; candy-corn cupcakes, Graham cracker s'more cookies, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, pumpkin chocolate chip bread...comfort foods.  Needless to say I am missing home a little bit, all the things that accompany the taste of cinnamon and the smell of fall.  I have been in Florence for a month and don't get me wrong, I love everything about this city.  But I miss the laughs of my family, I miss cooking with my mom, I miss my dog laying on my lap.  I never really considered that by being across the globe I would be missing my favorite season with my favorite people. I am trying to figure out how to embrace everything autumn has to offer in my new home and I am loving the process.  Yesterday I sat with the doors open to our backyard ( risking many bug bites), wrapped up in my sweats, just so I could smell autumn in the wind. Even across the world fall smells the same but I am however, missing baking with pumpkin.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Amalfi Coast

I am shamed to admit that I had honestly never heard about the Amalfi Coast of Italy before my roommate Kierra mentioned she was planning to go. I had heard of the Island of Capri only because a couple of my swimmer (Kara, Blake and Colin) wrote me a note asking if it was possible to "swim with seahorses off of Capri".  Colleen, Kierra, Elizabeth and I (along with about a million other USD people I don't know), took a weekend trip to the Amalfi Coast through a program called Florence for Fun.  FFF as it is affectionately known, is designed for American college students studying abroad, which means they provide transportation, accommodations, breakfast, dinners and other minor travel costs.  I booked this trip because all of my roommates had done so, but I was nervous.  I have found I like to travel in a different way than most of the people I am here with.  I am not looking to go to only the big name sites for cheesy tourist picture, I am not down to eat at the first restaurant we find. I actually enjoy getting lost in the streets of a new city, using my (very) limited Italian to ask locals where the best place in town to eat is, and I laugh  when a car drives by me on a rainy day and the typical movie scene moment of getting sprayed with dirty rain water (yes, actually happened and I loved every soggy moment of it).  But I was pleasantly surprised by our trip to the towns of Sorrento, Capri, Positano and Pompeii.

Our trip began at the train station in Florence, where 2 FFF buses were waiting for the one hundred students that invested their money in this trip. We began out 7+ hour bus ride to the beachside town of Sorrento at 7 o'clock at night, which meant we arrived at our 3-star hotel (aka a hostel) at 2:30 in the morning.  After a crappy gas station dinner of pasta with tomato sauce, and bus ride full of college students, I collapsed on the top bunk and fell straight asleep. Unfortunately our "good nights" rest that night barely counted as a nap, as we needed to be in the hotel lobby for breakfast at 7 am. Two rolls with jam later, I enjoyed a 30 minute walk down to the ferry port.  When I say I enjoyed, I mean that I and ONLY I enjoyed this walk.  Everyone was expecting a bus to drive us the 2 miles down the hill and bitched and moaned about it the entire walk, and the other two days of the trip.  However, we were walking along the edge of a cliff that looked over the town of Sorrento and the Mediterranean Sea and the view was breathtaking. (P.S. fun fact about this trip, I learned how flexible I really am/ how I enjoy being flexible.  I also learned that other people that I love to death are the complete opposite of flexible. I just hope it doesn't ruin their travel experiences in the future as it is inevitable that something will go wrong.)  We took a ferry to the Island of Capri, and then hopped straight on a smaller boat to give us a tour of the perimeter of the Island.  We saw several different grottos, including the blue grotto that I did pay the 11.50 to enter and I am so glad I did.  Venturing into the blue grotto is something that has been secretly on my bucket list since around 6th grade.  It is amazing how these men get the tiny boats through the even tinier entrance to the grotto without cracking their heads open.  Inside the blue grotto, you actually feel the blue light move through your whole body. The experience is something hard to describe, just an experience you need to feel for yourself. We also saw Sandra Bullock and Mussolini's houses on the tiny island.  Our FFF tour guides brought us up to the center of town and then walked us down a VERY steep path to a very secluded beach.  On the way we found a fabulous restaurant were we all got pizzas, and it was the best pizza I have had here in Italy.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it!  We laid on the rocky beach for about an hour before it was time to catch to ferry back to Sorrento.  Back in the hotel, since all 100 students were trying to shower before dinner the water literally didn't turn on, which made for more interesting moments of flexibility.  But we made it to dinner where were served by our rude waiters at the hotel, spaghetti and tomato sauce, salad and fruit. All of my roommates drank their boxed wine and went out to an English pub while I stayed in and started a new book (one for class that I ended up loving. If you haven't read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins, and are at all interested in the economic politics in America since WWII, read it!)

The next day was a beach day in the seaside town of Positano.  Our bus traveled down a very curvy mountain road, and we traversed down about 2000 steps to get to the beach, but it was worth it.  Elizabeth and I laid on the beach all day, spent a couple of hours looking through the art galleries and clothing shops of the small city, and of course, eating gelato.  Positano was the perfect relaxing day needed to recover from all of our walking! Positano is beautiful and my words are not doing it justice.  Just imagine those pictures of the beachfront grecian towns, but with buildings that are slightly more faded but with much more greenery and you have Positano.  Dinner that night was a seafood dish, so naturally I didn't eat anything besides the caprese served with it.  The next day we were off the the ancient city of Pompeii, which I had also never heard about before.  Our tour guide showed us all of the ruins of the brothels and the bodies that were molded by the ash from the Volcano explosion, something I feel very blessed to have seen. The the roommates and I decided to hike up the side of an active volcano, the one that completely destroyed the town we just saw. The hike was tough, but it was worth it! I did expect to see more than a crater at the top but it didn't matter to me. 1. I can say I have hiked up an active volcano and 2.  I accomplished another thing on my bucket list- touching the clouds.  The clouds were literally hitting us in the face as we hiked, which made for streaming eyes and a cold nose.  But this has been something I thought up in 2nd grade for my bucket list, and didn't have the heart to take it off in order to preserve the naiveté of my childhood, and I am glad that I didn't.

After such a amazing weekend and so much walking, I couldn't wait for the 7 hour bus ride to be over.  I will be revisiting the Amalfi coast sometime in my life, the views were breathtaking and there is so much there to explore.  As for my reservations traveling with such a group as FFF, they exceeded my expectations with great tour guides, free limoncello tastings and much more. From what I am seeing of Italy so far, I may never want to leave.

Visiting Pisa and Lucca

I apologize for the delay in updating my blog.  It is hard to force myself to sit down and write about my adventures when I would much rather just continue to live them. But so many exciting things have happened in the past two weeks and as I am just sitting on the couch, breathing in the first smell of autumn in the air I will write about my trip to the Italian cities of Pisa and Lucca.

Two weekends ago, my roommates, Brock and I left on a Saturday morning to explore the two cities mentioned above.  After missing the train we originally planned to take, we found a quick snack and caught the next train... an hour later.  The train ride to Pisa is a little over an hour long and only costs 2 euro, a very good deal in my opinion.  I had heard from both my parents and other friends that Pisa is not impressive, the only thing to do in the famous city is the see the bell tower that some poor contractor built on sand and now leans away from the spectacular church it was built to accompany. Thank goodness I had such low expectations of Pisa; I was fortunate enough to not be disappointed by the fact that it took us over an hour to find a restaurant that was barley semi-decent or that there literally is nothing else in town beside the leaning tower.  After walking in almost a complete circle around the tower, we found our perfect picture spot and took the infamous pictures of each and everyone of us using our "muscles" to hold up the leaning tower of Pisa. We walked around the church and the baptistry, trekked back to the train station and caught the next train to Lucca.

The train from Pisa to Lucca was less than a half hour, but by this point it was late in the afternoon and the roommates were less than enthusiastic about seeing a city we knew absolutely nothing about. I am so happy we were able to convince them to visit this mysterious city.  Getting off the train all I could see in front of me were the large wild grass lawns( dandelions and all) surrounding the ancient city wall of Lucca. Did you know that Lucca was the capital of Tuscany before Florence was, and said walls are the only remaining medieval walls fully intact in Italy? We spent the rest of our afternoon wandering around a city that has nothing spectacular to see, but gives you a feeling of being bear hugged. It as if the city uses its walls to envelope you and make you feel completely at home.  Lucca lacks the hustle of bustle of the big cities like Rome and even Florence.  It is the kind of place where neighbors smile and wave to each other and the local children run around amongst the trees laughing; and it is their laughter that guides you into a sense of belonging.  I honestly could live in this city, one that I know nothing about, just because of the feeling I got when I stood in the main square looking at the carousel hidden in the trees. We only spent a couple of hours in Lucca but we found an amazing street market selling everything from food to scarves to toy cars.  We witnessed an Italian wedding celebration in the local church and ate a Frate- a local pastry famous in Lucca (think a doughnut, with a hint of lemon, covered in sugar and nutella....HEAVEN!)

I am so glad I was able to mark 2 more destinations off of my list of places to see in Italy, and that I flew by the seat of my pants for what seems like the first time in a very long time.  Thank you Pisa for letting me touristy and thank you Lucca for showing me the lesser well known things Italy has to offer me these next 3 months.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Eating Gelato in the Rain

I am smiling from the inside out and I don't know why.  I am in love with Florence. I have officially been here for one week and it feels like I have lived here my whole life.  There is something so comforting about Firenze. like no matter where I go throughout the city, Firenze always has me tucked in it's warm embrace. I have no class on Thursdays, so today was my errand running today...and believe me I need a full day (or two) to run every errand.  I ventured out with my list this morning all alone.  It was while getting lost in the narrow streets that I realized I had been smiling from the moment I left our apartment this morning.  No wonder everyone was giving me strange looks!  Something about being here just makes me happy (like eating gelato in the streets during a downpour...without an umbrella).  But discovering the city all on my own brought everything into prospective for me. Let's just say I plan on traveling as much as I can on my own.

Enough rambling about nothing, I finished my first full school week (a whole 3 days long).  Classes yesterday weren't bad!  I had Symbols and Symbolism in Western Art with Elizabeth.  Our Professor kind of looks like Ms. Hooch from the Harry Potter movies (she teaches the first years how to fly a broom stick, in case you didn't know).  We spend half of class listening to lectures about how peacocks are early Christian symbols of Jesus's sacrifice, and then spend the other half of the class actually going to museums and finding said peacocks in Renaissance art.  I must say that art is much more interesting when you are looking at the little detailed things...and the putting those details into prospective while standing in front of a famous piece of artwork. After class, Elizabeth and I got a quick lunch before heading to our next class, the Ethics of Globalization (yay another poli sci class...not).  Our professor is strange, there isn't a better way to describe him.  He completely disregards the rules of the school, which I love ( no participation points; I am incapable of saying anything intelligent in a political science class so this works out great for me!). I think it will actually be an interesting class.  We spent a good half hour discussing if McDonalds was going to take over the world or not.  That class went by surprisingly quick!  Then off to Italian for the second time this week.  Our teacher is moving VERY slowly through the material. I am baffled by the people who still can't pronounce boun girno, even though we literally have spent 2 days on that single phrase.  I wish the class was a faster pace.  Have I mentioned that I REALLY would like to be fluent in Italian by the time I leave.  I plan on participating in a conversation exchange though, which will hopefully help.  And the school here offers this "adopt a family" type program as well.  I will be set up with a local Florentine family who I will be able to babysit for, cook with and just be with during my time here.  Fingers crossed I get a family that speaks no English ( like I said I am desperate to learn Italian).

As far as traveling goes, I don't particularly want to do a lot of it.  Most of the places my roommates want to go I have been to already.  And as I have been to most of the famous major cities, I want to go to the less popular places like Croatia and Prague.  If anything goes my way, I will be traveling to Ireland, Prague, Croatia, Greece, London and Interlocken.  ( I have already been to London but I desperately want to go to the premiere of Harry Potter :] )  We are also going to the Amalfi Coast next weekend through a local travel program.  Now that I type it out, that looks like an awful lot of traveling, but compared to the rest of people here who will be traveling every weekend, my schedule in mellow!

Instead of planning out my travels I should be trying to read my 40 pages of International Terrorism reading...boring!  But there are so many exciting things to see in the World that I cannot hold still! Until manana....

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

You mean I actually came here to study?

I can't believe just two days ago I THOUGHT I was bored.  When I say bored, I don't mean like please God give me something today, but more like I was missing having work or homework or something to occupy my time. Can I go back to that please?  Classes started yesterday.  All of the classes offered at FUA are two and a half hours long but only once a week, except for Italian.  Italian is an hour and a half, twice a week.  Yesterday I had my History of Christianity class at 3 o'clock. The British nun who teaches the class is super cute and sweet, and yet I was ready to fall asleep by 4:30. I cannot focus in a class for two and a half hours! It is a very long time to listen to a soft voice with a British accent.  After making it through my Christianity class, I moved onto my very first Italian class.  My professor seems great and I hope she is up for the challenge of teaching me the entire Italian language in three and a half months.  After a semi-full day of class, I was exhausted and went to bed early, I am such a party animal I know. I expected today to be a nice relaxing day...only one class, didn't have to show up at school until 3 and two and  a half hours later I would be free.  I even found peanut butter gelato (it was amazing to say the least) before class, leading me to walk very confidently into my International Terrorism class. My confidence was quickly shot down.  Before class even started, I turned to Elizabeth and told her that our Professor was going to be tough.  Just the way she walked across the room and the way she held her shoulders was intimidating.  Needless to say, I took over 8 pages of notes today.  The information was interesting, but as I have never been great at any political science I have ever taken (bad choice for a major then, I know) I know I am screwed. I came into this program thinking that all the classes here would be an easy A. Boy was I wrong.  Thank you all USD students who said that the classes abroad are beyond easy. I am just praying that my Ethics of Globalization class tomorrow will be less work than Terrorism.  Even though the classes are tough so far, I love it here.  I love cooking pasta (real handmade pasta) in our little Italian kitchen.  I love getting gelato between classes. Until tomorrow...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Moldy Washing Machines, Gas Stoves and Mosquito Bites

Italy is different, there is no other way to say it.  Everything is closed on Sunday, church bells ring all the time, the gelato is amazing and the men are creeps.  With that said we have had some issues in our apartment.  Our place is great, big rooms, couches, a fresco on the ceiling. However, I am having a hard time adjusting to life without the creature comforts from home. I did a load of laundry today...or I tried.  There are no dryers here, which is not so adjustment I had anticipated.  I was the lucky person who needed to do laundry first, so I tried out our washer.  Things seemed fine; I followed all of the directions, 65 minutes came and went with no problems.  But when I went to hang up my wash outside, I realized it was covered in mold from the washing machine.  I should have known to do an empty load just to test it out.  It was my own fault.  But now all of my clothes smell worse than they did before washing, and have greenish-brown flecks all over them. Looks like I will be finding/ befriending the nearest Laundromat. As for the other appliances here, like I said, everything is different.  I am looking at it as a new adventure! The one and only thing I do not like about the beautiful city of Florence are the bugs. I literally have 10 mosquito bites...and the pharmacies are not open on the weekend, which means they will itch until Monday morning. I am glad I get to experience and immerse myself in a culture I really was not expecting.  Apart from the small frustrations of living in a new country, I could not be happier in Florence. I am glad I have the opportunity to live here for 4 whole months. I am hoping that this semester will be enough time to learn everything I need to know about the Italian culture and *fingers crossed* their beautiful language. Ciao!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Adventures in Europe with Mi Madre

I am the opposite of a blog person.  All of my roommates have been taking the time everyday to write down every detail of our lives and I just have no desire to do that.  However, I promised my Auntie Greta that I would write things down and I will keep that promise. So here I am, sitting on the couch in our mansion-like apartment about to write about every aspect of my trip thus far.  I apologize in advanced if I bore you with whatever I decide to write on here. Here we go:

Pre-departure was a bit stressful.  My mom and I did a great job at having all things packed and ready on time.  The only thing that wasn't ready was my Visa.  The Italian Consulate said when I had my appointment (in the beginning of August) that I would receive it in the mail between 10 and 14 days. 16 days later and 2 days before leaving I panicked. After calling the consulate and figuring out the mistake THEY made, they decided I could spend 4 hours the day of my departure to drive down the dreaded 405 to pick up my passport with Visa attached (Thank God). 

Anyways, my mom and I made it London after one leg in economy and the final leg in business class ( I have officially been spoiled and refuse to fly any other way...they gave me not one but TWO ice creams *with mini marshmallows*).  I will spare you all of the details of London, but we saw everything there was to see. We saw, shopped and conquered. The globe theater, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the London Eye, St. Paul's Cathedral, Portobello Markets, the Camden Markets, changing of the guard, Buckingham palace, lots of art, and most importantly; Platform 9 and 3/4 and the bridge used in the 6th Harry Potter movie.  There was so much more, I can't even remember.  What I do know is that London is my new favorite city. It is beautiful, the people are wonderful and I can wear rain boots 355 days of the year. 

We moved on to Rome, which was 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity which may have swayed my views of the eternal city.  Needless to say, I was not a fan. I loved the site seeing. It was amazing to see buildings built in the 1500s, and the ruins from times way before that.  Both my mom and I were "over" Rome in only two days.  But for the record we had a tour guide who literally took us to every tourist spot plus more in a day and a half.  I was disappointed by the food in Rome, I didn't have that amazing Italian meal I had heard so much about.  The gelato however....oh my goodness. Our tour guide Gloria took us to the most authentic/ "locals only" gelato place, and I still have yet to find gelato quite like it.  My mom and I went there at least three times. Overall, Rome came out ok in my book ( the amazing gelato bumped it up more than anyone will ever know).

Our next adventure was getting four 50 lb pieces of luggage onto the train to go from Rome to Florence.  We managed to get all four bags (plus backpacks and purses) on and off the train with only minor scrapes and bruises. I knew the second we got into the cab at the train station that Florence was a thousand times different than Rome, and I couldn't be happier with my choice in location for my study abroad experience.  The taxi driver was so nice and chatty...and drove the way I had been expecting Italians to drive.  He hit turns quick, hit bikers (almost) and hit curbs. Perfect.  Our hotel over looked the Arno river and was only one bridge from the Ponte Vecchio and one block away from my new school.  We once again, conquered the whole city of Florence in only a couple of days.  My favorite spot in the whole city is the Piazzale Michelangelo, which overlooks this beautiful place.  It is so neat to see the city decorated by the orange rooftops and green shutters, with all of the church steeples towering high above the rest of the city. 

Fortunately, we found our great Italian meal...and went back to the restaurant for the second night in a row. They served us ravioli stuffed with pear and covered with cheese sauce.  It was so amazing that we both ordered our own plates...ate the entire thing, and then ordered a third to split between the two of us.  It was amazing to say the least.  Anyone who is planning to visit Florence let me know and I will give you exact details on how to get there, what to order, and how to get from there to a great gelato shop!

I am so sad my mom had to leave me.  I couldn't have asked for a better trip or a better mother.  We had so much fun and saw more than most people could see in a month or two.  She is amazing and I miss her already.On a side note....
My mother had to drag me around all of these cities...I was the old lady of the trip complaining of my feet hurting and how hungry I was. She was kind enough to put up with it all.

Mom and Dad, if you ever see this, thank you for an amazing trip.  Dad thanks for allowing mom to come explore with me over here. I just wish you could have been here too.  Mom, thanks for being the best mom a girl could ask for.  And thanks for putting up with me.  I love you both!