Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Day 7: Developments

Wow! I can't believe I've already completed three days of classes! It feels like it's been a whirlwind adventure.

I'm taking two courses here at LdM, Introduction to Italian Philosophy, and Renaissance Civilization and Culture. I'm especially enjoying my class on Italian Philosophy. I've never taken a philosophy class before, and just barely touched on philosophical theorems and works in my history classes. Right now we're studying the roots of Italian philosophy in Greek and Roman antiquity. My reading for tonight was on the work of Aristotle. In the past two days we've covered Plato and Socrates (and by covered I mean had a broad overview). I really enjoy reading the logical arguments that are set out by the philosophers, and like the ideals put forth by Plato and Aristotle for the most part. I really like the Idea that man is not enlightened unless he asks questions. I like that it's not about the answers.

My Ren. history class is interesting too, but the professor just kind of reads from the textbook and makes comments. Today I took most of my notes in Italian to practice the distant past tense and to try to stimulate my brain enough to stay awake. We do get to go on field trips in that class though— we did a walking tour of the Florence of Dante yesterday, and that was really neat. We also read some Petrarca today, and I realized that I need to read the Cazoniere. As well as Dante's Commedia, Plato's Republic and Boccaccio's Decameron.  You know, just some light reading.

Yesterday I went shopping in Florence for the first time and bought a pair of mid calf boots. They're white and I'm obsessed. They're like "slouchy western" style I'd say, which is pretty much all the rage here. It's like that and biker. I also bought two adorable tops. I almost bought another pair of stivali (boots) today at this ginormous sale, but I didn't want to blow money at the beginning of the trip.

The sale was ridiculous though. It was at this super famous Italian shoe store, Romana Firenze. Everything was 20, 30, 40 or 50 Euro. For shoes that range from retail 145 to 199 Euro. HUGE sale. I really liked the boots; they were made in Italy out of leather and snake skin. Grey, a mix between motorcycle and western styles. With an original price tag of 195 Euro, 50 Euro was a steal. But it was just too much for me at this time. I'd rather have too much money to spend at the end of the trip than run out in the middle.

Today I got my first glimpse at the inside of the Uffizi. It's huge. I definitely am glad that I purchased the museum pass. There's just so much to do in Florence! I'm looking forward to doing some exploring this weekend.

I also made the decision to cut down my weekend travel while abroad. I'm only here for four weeks, and not only is it expensive to leave the country, I'm afraid that if I go I won't be able to enjoy my time here as much. I would like to visit Edinburgh while I'm in the UK, and I still plan on trips to Rome, Perugia and Pisa, and maybe Cinque Terre and Venice.

But back to the Uffizi. The gallery of the Uffizi is the home to an incredible amount of art from the middle ages up to the nineteenth century. It was truly remarkable. We didn't have much time before the museum closed today, so we didn't really linger anywhere. We kind of made a beeline to the rooms of Botticelli and Leonardo Da Vinci (here they just call him Leonardo, because Da Vinci means "of Vinci," it's not really a surname).

Today I had the honor of viewing "The Birth of Venus" and "La Primavera." Oh. My. God. When I say that my knees went weak at the sight of such masterpieces, I am not exaggerating. What magnificence. The paintings filled me with amazement and wonder . I truly was awestruck.

I also got to view two pieces by Leonardo, as well as more Botticelli and a few pieces by Ghirlandaio that I had studied in AP Euro in high school. Talk about an incredible experience. I would really like to go back the Uffizi and spend more time with the works. I know that sounds pretentious, but I'm the kind of person that could stay in art museums for hours— especially museums that feature work of this time period. I'm planning to go back sometime this weekend, as well as to the Palazzo dei Medici Riccardi (a Medici palace). I'm doing a project for my Ren. history class on the Palazzo, and I'm really excited to get started.

This blog does nothing but make me sound like a huge nerd.

ANKLE UPDATE: I skyped my grandfather, an orthopedic surgeon, and it's definitely sprained. It's a nice purple/black color right now, and is still swollen. I've been elevating it like whoa and icing it, taking ibuprofen and wrapping it. They don't really have Ace bandages here though, so my mom decided to overnight an air cast (which my gradfather also recommended) and some wraps. I'm so mad that I can't run. Luckily I'm walking everywhere, so I still get some exercise.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Day 4: Adoption

So it seems that I've been pretty much adopted by a group of University of Hawaii kids. This is the group I've been hanging out with since I've been here, and we've become pretty good friends. Tonight I even got to have dinner with their resident adviser at her really cool apartment in the west part of the city. I've just been having a blast with this group of kids.

This afternoon we walked around the city for a bit. We were going to go to the Duomo but because half of our group was in shorts/bare shoulders, we didn't get to go in. Lesson learned. We did, however, run into the men that we met last night and exchanged awkward waves.

We then walked around the Uffizi area for a little bit, and watched this really amazing mime do a street show.

Sundays in Florence are a little bid weird— half of the touristy places are open, most of the touristy shops are open, and half of the restaurants are open. We would have gone to more museums today, but decided to do things that would be free until everyone in our group had purchased their museum card.

We wound up heading across the Arno to the Piazza Michelangelo. It's on top of a hill and has amazing views of Florence.

Amazing views!!!

Zoomed on the Duomo.
The cooler find though was the rose gardens beneath the Piazza. We walked around there for a solid half an hour and just appreciated the flowers and the sculptures by Jean-Michel Folon. It was great to just absorb the views, fragrance of the flowers and the amazing artwork.

Today was pretty cool. I feel like I'm writing that every day, but I'm really just having a blast here. It's been great to have friends to do things with.

Tomorrow we start classes. Fingers crossed that they aren't boring! I'm taking an introduction to Italian Philosophy class from 9-11:30 am, and a Renaissance Civilization and Culture class from 1:15-3:45.  2 1/2 hours is a lot to sit through, but we only have 16 class days total. I'm really hoping that we get to explore the city as part of the coursework.

Tomorrow I'll also need to plan out my schedule for the next four weeks! I have so many places I'd like to see and tourist spots to hit up. I'd really like to have some flexibility with time, but I do want to fit a lot in. I keep reminding myself, though, that I can always come visit Europe again. It's not going anywhere. Unless economic crises tear it apart.

I'm actually tired now, at 12:19 our time, so maybe I'm getting used to the schedule.

Night for now!


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Day 3: Oh what a night...

Today was incredible. I can't even begin to describe it, but I'm jet lagged still and not really tired so I'm going to try.

Alanna and I both slept til like 12 today. We stayed out pretty late last night with people from our program. We found a couple cool spots to hang out, but it seemed like a lot of places that would be like American-style bars closed early. We did find this one Irish pub with lots of American students though, and it was good to speak in English for a little bit.

After we finally woke up this afternoon, we wandered out to find this sandwich shop that Alanna's friend had told her about. We finally found it and the sandwiches (which were like $5) were awesome. Super fresh, made to order. I had foccace with prosciutto, mozzarella and tomatoes. I've noticed that everyone here pretty much eats prosciutto in some form with every meal.

We then decided to go to the Boboli Gardens, which are these huuuuuge gardens behind the Pitti Palace. We first had to get museum passes, and we got to the office where you buy them right at closing time (~3 pm). We sweet talked the lady and managed to get our student passes, otherwise we would have had to wait til Tuesday. The pass was 40 Euro but it lets you get "free" tickets to all of the famous museums. It's well worth the investment for a nerd like me.

Walking around the Boboli Gardens was incredible. It was nice to hang out in a green space for a while too— that's something that I'm missing about home. The city is awesome but there's not a ton of fresh air here. We all decided that we'll probably be studying there a lot.

We headed home to change/relax before dinner. We then met up to eat at this awesome little restaurant near the Medici Chapel. Our waiter was the coolest. He gave us all nicknames— one girl was The Boss, another was The Princess etc. My name was the First Minister.

I had this amazing baked lasagne. It was SO GOOD and an appropriate sized portion. That's something cool about the food here: it's the right size. Not too much, not too little.

Alanna, Patrick, Brian and me (which had kind of become our little crew) decided to try our luck with the Florentine nightlife again. We met up with two other girls that they knew, and then headed across the Arno (the river that runs through Florence). We found another Irish Pub, but this one had a lot of  Italians.

All of the sudden, this group of young men at the bar break out into the Italian equivalent of Happy Birthday. Then one of them came to our table and asked Alanna to give the birthday guy a kiss for good luck. We laughed and she gave him a kiss on the cheek. Next thing we know, we're all hanging out. This group of guys turned out to be a traveling club soccer team from Milan. We had a picture taken with them, and they spoke super broken English. With my knowledge of Italian, and their attempts at English we managed some conversation.

There was a funny moment though when one guy, Andrea, was trying to convince us to come with them to the disco (dance club) nearby.

"We go to disco...then bedroom."

Alanna and I were a little taken aback and gave each other the hell no look. But then we realized what he meant. He repeated the sentence, but this time pretended to be asleep with the word "bedroom." He then said:

"I uh-sleep. Then am new person."

We gathered that he was saying that he was partying tonight and would sleep tomorrow. He and his friend Francesco mainly talked to us about Florence, and they seemed pretty nice. Since we had boys in our group and I had pepper spray in my bag, we decided to follow them to the disco.

We first went to a piazza full of Florentine locals. It was so cool to see real nightlife. Andrea introduced us to his father and a bunch of other older men. One asked if I was his girlfriend and told him I was pretty. He quickly explained that we had just met. I could understand most of what was being said around me, but I wasn't really able to participate in the conversation because of the incredibly fast pace at which everyone was talking. It was so cool though to be so immersed in the language and culture.

Ten minutes later, we started walking to the Disco. It was close to our house actually (back across to our side of the Arno). But by the time we got there, it wasn't worth it to go in. We have a 2:30ish curfew, and we would have only been able to go in for about 30 minutes. With a 10 Euro cover, it didn't make much sense.

After saying goodbye to the soccer team (with double cheek kisses from them all— it's customary to do that when you meet and say goodbye, no matter how long you've known the person), the four of us headed home.

We made one final stop at a central american bar (in the Italian sense of the word, with pastries and coffee and some alcohol). The other three tried a south american beer, but I just wanted a nutella crepe. I felt like my priorities were in order. It was delicious, but soooo sweet. I definitely could only eat one of them, but then again one crepe is huge.

Brian and Patrick walked us home. I was grateful that they hung out with us all night— it made me feel super safe. I don't think I would have gone with the soccer team if they hadn't been there, but this was honestly one of the coolest things I've done in a while, and I feel like I owe my safety/comfort to them.

I had a blast today and tonight. It was the kind of experience that I had so hoped to have before I came over here, but wasn't sure if it would happen. After writing this I'm kind of sleepy. Hopefully I can FINALLY go to bed.

Tomorrow I think we're climbing the Duomo. I'll have to remember to put my memory card back in my camera. That's why I don't have pictures today. Alanna took some at the Gardens, and a few at the Irish pub. The Italians took lots of pictures with us (American girls are kind of a novelty), but I'm not about to hand out my contact info to randos.

P.S. Last night I fell off of a curb and twisted my ankle really hard. It's legit swollen today, and I've been taking ibuprofen and elevating it. I can't really rest it though because we have to walk everywhere in the city. This will be fun.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Day 2: Napping

My "little" nap lasted 2 and a half run for me. Yayyyy jet lag.

Day 2: Beginnings

Last night after I posted, I wound up going out for Gelato with Roia and Alanna. Alanna is also attending LdM and will be my housemate for June. Roia is only here until tomorrow, but she's been in Florence for two weeks so she showed Alanna and me around.

Alanna and me with our gelato. I'm still running on 3 hours of sleep here.
Roia took us to this fabulous Gelateria— Venchi. It was amazing. I had strawberry (or "Fragola" in Italian) gelato and we walked along the Arno and Ponte Vecchio. It was amazing.

Today I had my orientation session for LdM. Talk about boring. I figured out where my classes are and how to get to them. I hung out mainly with these two guys (Brian and Patrick) that Alanna knows from school. She attends the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Before they left, her program had three pre-departure orientation sessions that were a couple hours each so they all kind of got to know each other (compared to our one and a half hour orientation during which I met no one).

Ponte Vecchio
In orientation, the adviser handed us a packet then proceeded to tell us that everything important was in it. She still went over all the details. I would have rather just used the time to read and then be done.

We went to lunch after the program ended around 1. We found pizza at a little cafe. It was really good-- I had basic margherita and something with prosciutto and basil. I couldn't finish it all. Diet Cokes over here are very pricey. Probably will try to find a cheaper lunch drink.

After lunch we walked around for a few hours and ran some errands. I got a notebook and pens for school— I realized last night that I didn't have anything to write with.

I'm looking into getting a museum pass— they're 40 Euro but you can get in anywhere with that card. With museum tickets around $10 a pop, I think it might be worth it.

I'm hoping to run this evening. Going to take a little nap/watch TV now, but I'd like to get a run in before dinner. After dinner I think Alanna and I are going to head out and see what the Florentine nightlife is like.

Today was fun, but I really am going to have to get used to the insane amount of walking here. There's a lot of walking in Chapel Hill, but this is even more of a walking city.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Day 1: Arrival

Once upon a time there was a young girl who desperately wanted to go to Italy. She became passionate about Renaissance Art in middle school, delved deeper into Italian pre- and post-unification in AP European History, and fell in love with the language at UNC.

Yep, that's me. For those of my friends who didn't know, and who haven't been checking my Facebook statuses (although it would be weird for you to be reading this if you didn't at least stay mildly attuned to my life via social media [not judging {just seems a little odd}]), I am an Italophile. I've known all my life that I would travel to Italy, and not just for a week or two, but stay.

So, to fulfill this lifelong desire to absorb everything Italian, I'm living for four weeks in Florence while I study at an American school, the Instituto Lorenzo de Medici. I'll be taking two classes, OH! and doing research for my super cool senior honors thesis, AND working on my law review article. The last part of that is just another tidbit of my summer. That has absolutely nothing to do with Italy. Just kind of nerded out there.

My thesis is focusing on the media presentation of the people/personalities/characters involved in the Amanda Knox trial— here it's the Meredith Kercher case—in the Italian media vs. the American media. Maybe even UK too— we'll have to see what kind of document collection I can get going.

Anyway, I've finally arrived in my beautiful homestay. I love my room. It doesn't match really at all-- the style is super modern, the furniture is mismatched, but I have my own bathroom, own door to the garden and there's a private kitchen for students and free WiFi. Like I said: perfect.

My room, bed and luggage thingy (headboard pillow moved to the side).
The owner of the house/flat is a 64-year-old Italian woman named Anastasia who barely speaks any English. She has one son who is an adult with two small children. I found out today he likes to run marathons. He's completed the NY marathon and is running one in Berlin this year. She suggested we run together. I tried to explain (extremely poorly) that I am was training to run a half-marathon. I didn't know the verb for "to train" though so it probably sounded something like "I ancdiasocnawle;nfakldsn half marathon."

I really am looking forward to living here though. It's totally central in Florence. I'm on a street that is relatively near the Arno and super near the Duomo and I couldn't be more thrilled. There's a little park just a block away that is very nice too— I expect to read there often.

Favorite piece of furniture in the room.

I had a few goals for today, shopping wise. I wanted to buy two notebooks— one to keep a personal journal and the other a small little book for words/phrases/thoughts in Italian. I got a matching pair of sketchbooks so that I could also doodle/sketch/paste in things that I found interesting. I think I'll poetically title them Italia and Italiano (obviously this is meant to be ironic, because neither of those titles are especially poetic). One for the country and one for the language. More on that in a bit.

I wanted to buy a Longchamp Le Pliage large tote with long handles in Munich (where my overseas flight landed). I had heard from Stephanie and from the internet when I googled it that Longchamp is very cheap in European airports compared to American prices. Totes right (pun— get it?). I paid about 40% less for a bag I've wanted for a long time. I got this hazel color— in a weird way it matches my eyes. I never thought I'd accessorize to that extreme. But y'all know me.

So Longchamp check, notebooks check (but to be explained), I also needed to get body wash, a power converter and a hair dryer. Three things that I had forgotten to get at the airport(s) because I was am exhausted and I had a bit of a mix up with my first flight which sent me into a little bit of a tizzy.

I dilligently packed my suitcases the day before my trip. I had planned to pack earlier and in fact had begun to pack much earlier, but I was growing anxious about the trip, so instead of easing my anxiety by preparing, I avoided the task entirely. I wound up tremendously overpacking. Overpacking to the point where even though I took a lot of things out of my suitcase, I still have enough to clothe all 60 of the girls attending LdM from UNC. My checked bag weighs about 50 pounds with room to spare (no weight to spare though) and my two checked bags are fairly full. I'm hoping to use up some of the toiletries I brought here.

Anyway, on my express flight to Philadelphia this morning they made me check my carry on bag that had allllll my back up clothing/jewelry/make up in it in the event that my large bag got lost. Let me say that the checking of this bag had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the fact that there was not enough room in the overhead bins, which, once I boarded, realized was a lie. I saw places I could have stored my things. But it was too late.

My boarding passes were also in the newly checked bag. Luckily, my passport etc. was in my backpack with me, but this meant getting tickets reissued in Philly, and by the time I got to Munich my head was spinning and I was exhausted.

I took a breakneck taxi ride to the house and settled in to my room. Which is perfect; did I mention that? Then realized that my computer was about to die because I had failed to purchase the power converter. I also realized that I had absolutely nothing to wash my body with and didn't want to take half of a shower. So I ditched the high heeled boots I flew in, pulled on my sandals, packed up the new Longchamp and hit the streets of Florence.

Now something that you all should know if you ever decided to travel to Italy (which you should—I've only been here six hours and I'm pretty much in love) is that all the stores in the city center are specialty shops. There aren't really any supermarkets in the way that Americans think of them. There's the pharmacy which sells exclusively pills/make up etc., there's the pastry/gelato shops, the coffee bars and the cafes. I bought my two little notebooks at a store that sells exclusively sketchbooks and sketching materials.

There are shops called "supermercati" which are miniature versions of what we might think of a grocery store, but the main attraction here is prepackaged foods. People generally don't buy things that need to be fresh (produce, meat etc.) from these stores. However, after asking at a pharmacy in my broken Italian, I figured out that this is where I was supposed to go. Now because not many Americans/foreign visitors are looking to buy prepackaged Italian food for their hotel rooms, I found that the supermercati clerks do not really speak English. So I was thrown right into the language on day one. I guess that's what I wanted— full immersion. But with my jet lagged, fried brain I struggled to come up with a descriptor for "power converter." Sitting here now I definitely could, but that's because I used my secret weapon.

I had packed in my bag my "pocket" Oxford Italian dictionary. There is absolutely nothing pocket-sized about it, unless you were 12 feet tall and sized proportionally. I looked up the word for "plug"— which is "spina" by the way if you ever need it in Italy— and attempted to ask for help at 2 supermercati to no avail. They understood me, which was a small victory, but they didn't have American converters. Luckily at the first two they spoke Englitalian to the point where we could figure it out.

At the third store, I was on my own. The cashier didn't speak a word of English. But I successfully asked for what I needed, and was helped and bought my plug. I've done well for today.

During my adventure to find the items I needed— oh, I also got the body wash but didn't pick up a hair dryer. Bleh.— I wandered into the Piazza del Duomo. I got to see the Duomo up close. It is monstrous. I couldn't believe how big it is. And the Ghiberti doors. I have loved learning about the work of Lorenzo Ghiberti and the casting of the gilded Doors to Paradise that grace the baptistery of the Duomo. I seriously could not believe that on my first day in Florence I crossed something off of my bucket list of famous art works. Holy cow.

I'm exhausted now, but I just had an AMAZING dinner. AND my house mother is doing the dishes— she wouldn't let us help. Is this heaven?

We had meatballs, and risotto with zucchini, garlic and olive oil. Fresh salad and bread as well. I think I'm reallllly going to like it here.

The Italian words I learned today:

Spina — Plug
Universale — Universal (cognate, but it still counts)
Train — Allenare