Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Day 33: London Calling

I've been in Saint Albans/London for three days now and I'm pretty much in love with it here. Saint Albans is an absolutely picturesque little British town. I've really been enjoying relaxing, and I'm so grateful to my wonderful relatives for having me.

Saturday when I arrived we went to Jamie's-- a new restaurant in town by Jamie Oliver. It was really cool, and situated in a busy part of Saint Albans. I got to see some of downtown, and was really happy to be settling down after a long morning of travel. That evening, we had pizza. Real pizza. Now, when I use the term real, I do not mean authentic like it was in Italy. I mean real, cheesy, gooey, greasy, pepperoni pizza. It was perfect.

Sunday I slept wayyyy in, finally getting to catch up on some of the hours I've been missing. That afternoon we had a typical English pub lunch, at which I ate a delightful beef, mushroom and ale pie, and sampled an English ale. It was a pretty afternoon, so we then took Max (the dog) to a local park. It was so pretty.  We walked around for a while, then I got to see Saint Albans Cathedral. Apparently Saint Alban is the first Christian saint. Who knew.

Monday I ventured in to London for the first time. Lloyd was gracious enough to show me how to take the train and get around. I spent the afternoon at the National Gallery. There was so much art spanning a number of periods. I rented an audio guide per usual (what can I say, I love a good audio guide), and soaked up the masterpieces. The National Gallery is home to a number of famous works-- Van Gogh's Sunflowers, a few of Monet's classic studies, Leonardo's Virgin of the Rocks, and (perhaps my favorite of the well known pieces) The Arnolfini Marriage by Jan van Eyck.

My favorite pieces that I saw, however, were one by Stubbs and a group of four paintings by Joachim Beuckelaer.

First, the Stubbs piece, "Whistlejacket." This photo from the internet does not do it justice. It is literally a huge painting. Stubbs studied the anatomy of horses through dissection just to get the musculature correct. I greatly admired this piece before I learned anything about it, but today in the British Museum I had the distinct pleasure of viewing a first edition of Stubb's book, "The Anatomy of the Horse."

The second group that I absolutely loved occupied a room by itself. The room was octagonal. Four doors, and four walls with a painting each representing the four elements. The paintings are not particularly noteworthy because of historic value or significance, rather they are captivating with detail, movement and color. The representation of the elements in market scenes was very clever. It is both at once discernible and intriguing. The painter has told you the answer, but then invites you to explore the question. My favorite of the group was the earth painting, just because of the cherries. I don't know what captivated me so about a basket of fruit, but it just made me think about the amount of time spent by the artist on each detail.

After I finished at the gallery I walked around Westminster. I saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace. It was fantastic.

Today I slept in a bit, then headed in to town on my own. I've gotten very good at riding trains it seems. After a lovely lunch sitting on the lawn of Russell Square park, I spent the afternoon at the British Museum. You could easily spend a few days there. I did three audio guide tours-- One of the Library and gallery dedicated to the Enlightenment; one of the Ancient Egypt exhibit featuring the Rosetta Stone (AMAZING), mummies, and the body of a man who lived at least 5000 years ago who was buried in the sand, as well as the statue that probably inspired Shelley to write "Ozymandias" (for a Romantics nerd like me that is HUGE); and a tour of the Parthenon gallery, featuring the sculptures and friezes of the pediments and temple, and fragments that probably inspired Keat's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (I literally almost died I was so happy). I also briefly walked through a gallery sponsored by the Queen for her diamond jubilee that was all about horses, from Arabia to the Royal Ascot. 

After my afternoon I walked a bit around Regents/Oxford Streets, the huge shopping district downtown. I had already done a bit of window shopping the day before and continued to do so today. I've already spotted the retail locations of my two fave London-based brands: Molton Brown and Ted Baker. 

I've had the kind of days here recently that just make me smile. I'm doing the things that I want to do and loving every minute of it. 

During my Enlightenment audio tour, I learned a bit more about the phrase I've been throwing around when describing this trip. I've been jokingly calling it my "Grand Tour," because I knew that people used to do this in the 18th century around my age. Turns out that name hits the nail dead on the head. The "Grand Tour" was a tradition for young men to learn about art and culture by visiting other countries (mainly continental Europe) with a heavy focus on Italy. Huh. 

Looks like I've been touring pretty grandly.


My Last Day in Florence

Wow. It's been such an incredible journey in Florence, and I'm incredibly sad to see it draw to a close. Tomorrow I'll be on a plane, London bound.

I haven't posted in a while because I've just been so darn busy. Last week, my mom and Jay came for a visit and seeing them was wonderful. It was so nice to get to spend time with them, and we had a lot of fun going around the city.

While they were here we did a lot of the touristy stuff that I'd been dying to do. We did walking tours with a guide-- one up to Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato al Monte, and the other to the Accademia. We also got to see the Pitti Palace and I took my third (yes, third) trip to the Boboli Gardens. It was just such a good week filled with laughter and fun. Except for when we miscommunicated about where we were going to meet and then my mom got panicky because she thought I was dead but I was really just sitting outside of the hotel room. There wasn't a lot of laughing then.

My palate also got to benefit from their visit. The food that we ate was absolutely phenomenal. I haven't been doing a lot of eating out since I've been here, as my house mom cooks dinner every weeknight, including Fridays.

Well they left Saturday morning, and so I had the day to myself. I had a ticket to go see the Calcio Storico (historic soccer) game. It's an annual event in which each of the four quarters of Florence has a team compete for the title. The four quarters each have a team color to identify them, and I was cheering for Santo Spirito, or i Bianchi (The White).

Calcio Storico is absolutely nothing like soccer as we know it today. It was more like a cross between MMA fighting and rugby. The ball is tossed around, and to earn a point or a "calcio" you have to toss it over a low wall at the opposite end of the field. If you hit the fence behind the wall though, the other team gets half a point.

So while some people are working on scoring, other people are just beating the crap out of each other and pinning each other to the ground. There's some strategy in this, I'm sure, but I really couldn't figure it out. Both teams lose players so it seemed kind of strange.

Anyway, i Bianchi won the game 9.5 to 2, and they'll play again this weekend against Santa Croce's team, gli Azzuri. Oh yeah, the whole thing is played in a sandpit in front of Santa Croce church. It's wild.

Maria Palombo came to visit me on Sunday. Again, it was great to see someone that I love so much! We did touristy things (I got to see the Palazzo Vecchio and the tombs of Lorenzo il Magnifico and Giuliano de Medici!) but were both pretty tired by the end of the day so we just wound up sitting for about 2 hours eating and drinking wine. If you told us 10 years ago that someday we'd be sitting in an Italian cafe, sipping Chianti and Vernaccia, I'm not sure we would have believed you. It was almost too good to be true.

This week absolutely flew by. I had a lot of homework which was a little frustrating, because I had a laundry list of things I wanted to do and places I wanted to go. I began crossing things off on Monday, taking a tour of the Duomo Museum that houses the works that have been in and out of the cathedral since it was consecrated. The museum stands were the workshop for art for the cathedral was housed. It was here that the David was carved, and it was difficult not to get chills just thinking about that. 

The real Gates of Paradise were not on display because they are being restored. I was really disappointed that I didn't get to see them, but I guess it just means that I'll have to come back. On the upside I did see Donatello's Maddalena, and the unfinished Pieta of Michelangelo.

On Tuesday, I had two class field trips. In my philosophy class we went to the Galileo Museum, and in Renaissance Civilization I took my fourth (yes, fourth) trip the the Boboli Gardens. 

Wednesday was all presentations-- I had presentations and papers due in both classes, so by the end of the day I was wiped. I felt kind of lame for not really doing anything touristy in between classes or after class, but I think it'll be okay.

Wednesday night, Anastasia took us to an art opening near Santa Maria Novella. It was so incredibly weird. I love art. I love galleries. This was strange. It was a documentary photographer's 30 year commentary on materialism. But it mainly was just a lot of objects made to appear as if they were bleeding. Including, but not limited to, a banana and a bunch of different dolls. 

I had to leave the gallery early (thank god), because I had a ticket to see "La Traviata" at a local theater. I was alllll the way at the back of the house in the top mezzanine, but oh my god. This was probably my favorite thing I've done here.

As I took my seat, I began to tear up. Maybe it was the high altitude, but I'm pretty sure it was because I felt one of my dreams coming true. I've wanted to sit in an Italian opera house and take in a classic for many, many years now. And it happened.

I also cried a lot throughout the performance. It was gripping and moving, and the soprano who played Violetta was absolutely perfect. I am so grateful that I got to see such wonderful art.

Yesterday I began the grand tour of the museums left on my list. I went to the Bargello after my first final exam. The Bargello houses most of the works of Donatello, and was quite remarkable. My favorite piece in the museum, though, was the panel that won Ghiberti the Gates of Paradise commission. The museum has both the panel of Ghiberti and Brunelleschi, each depicting the moment that the angel stops Abraham from killing Isaac. Brunelleschi's is amazing-- but Ghiberti's is masterful. It's clear to see why the committee chose him.

The Bargello also has a large collection of Renaissance-era jewelry which was quite remarkable as well.

After the Bargello I went to Santa Croce. I saw the tombs of the famous people buried there, and went into both the Medici and Pazzi Chapels. The Pazzi Chapel was designed by Brunelleschi which I found interesting given his close ties to the Medici. The Pazzi family desperately wanted to overthrow the Medici, attempting a double assassination during mass in Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo). They managed to kill Giuliano, but Lorenzo escaped. There is a monument to the man who saved the life of Lorenzo in Santa Croce. Perhaps he is the man that is truly responsible for the success of the Florentine Renaissance.

Last night, Alanna and I went out to celebrate the end of classes. We met up with some friends at this huge block party/concert/dance party— I can't really explain it. Unfortunately I don't have pictures either because I didn't bring my camera. But it was so cool. Things like that just don't happen in Chapel Hill.

Today was absolutely wonderful as well. I started off the day right with a trip to Santa Maria del Carmine, where Massacio's famous fresco depicting the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of  Eden is painted in the Brancacci Chapel. That's a piece that I've studied quite a lot in history classes over the years, because it is incredibly significant in the development of Renaissance art. This piece illustrates the shift from idealism to humanism in art, and is just absolutely striking.

Stop #2 today was the Salvatore Ferragamo museum. You can guess why I went. I love shoes, and this was amazing. The main exhibit in the museum right now is all about Marilyn Monroe, who was a big client of Ferragamo's. The exhibit featured dresses and costumes from all her movies, as well as from her private wardrobe. The highlight of this experience was standing a foot away from the iconic pink gown that MM wore while singing "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend." The. Dress. No glass, just the dress.

After SV I was hungry, so I stopped at a caffeteria on my way to Stop #3, the Uffizi Gallery. As I was in line, I realized I had yet to eat a cannoli. Cannoli are my all time favorite dessert, hands down. And somehow I had forgotten to eat one IN ITALY. I picked one up for dessert though, don't worry. It was excellent. But not necessarily that different. Looks like at least one Italian food survived the trip across the Atlantic.

I finished my day out at the Uffizi Gallery. I rented an audioguide, and spent about two and a half hours winding through the rooms. It was a fantastic way to spend my final day in Florence, breathing in the art of the masters that I have spent so many years learning about and admiring.

My night began with a lovely final dinner at the house, and ended with a walk with Alanna to get gelato. It was reminiscent of our first night in Florence-- a warm, pleasant evening, streets alive and glowing. After picking up some gelato at our favorite place, we watched a street performer for a while. He was a Chaplin-esque clown, and I got pulled in to be part of one of his "numbers." I was the "sexy lady" for his risque bit, and in front of at least 100 people he did something ridiculous with the hem of my maxi dress. I'm not entirely sure what the joke was, because I wasn't allowed to look down, but people were dying with laughter. It was ridiculous, but a rather funny ending to my time in Florence.

I realized that every day I was here I discovered something new about this city. That's pretty cool. I'm not sure if that's something that's unique to Florence, or if I've just become more acutely aware of what's going on around me. I wrote in an earlier post that I've truly been living in the moment here, and that's still the case. I've never felt more lucky, blessed or happy.

I am thankful.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Day 21: Running Again (Finally)

Well kids, I finally got to go for a run in Florence.

My ankle is feeling great, but I ran in my brace just to be on the safe side. I also didn't push it— It's been a while since I've been out so I only went about 1.88 miles.

Today was pretty cool in general. We took a class field trip to San Gimigniano for a wine tasting at this vineyard that makes wine in the traditional Tuscan way. The process they use has been around since the 1100s which is pretty cool.

The Tuscan countryside is absolutely gorgeous. It's expansive and breathtaking. Something that is different here though is that there is very little untouched earth. Almost everywhere is cultivated or lived on, which is a big difference. In some places in the States I feel like you can drive forever and not see a single house.

Photos from the class field trip to the winery, San Donato, in San Gimigniano.

I feel like I keep using cliche, go-to words to describe my experiences here, but those are truly the words that fit. Amazing. Breathtaking. Gorgeous. If I could be more creative or invent new words to describe the sensation that you feel in your heart when you stand before the David, I would. If I could capture in a single phrase the visceral reaction you have looking out over vast stretches of vineyards and mountains, I would. If I could describe the awe that makes the back of your knees weak when you catch your first glimpse of the Duomo, I would. But because I can't create new words (if I did they'd sound like shlabapa or woooooziieeeeha and that just doesn't really work), I'll have to stick with the old standbys.

My mom and Jay flew in on Sunday, and we've had a blast! They're part of the reason that there hasn't been an update in a while. We've been very busy. I've been eating out more with the them. Since they've been here I've been constantly stuffed.

One night we went to this restaurant called Perseus, and tried the Bistecca alle Fiorentina. HOLY COW. It was the biggest steak I have seen in my life. It was literally about 2 inches thick. And it's served super rare (which I love). There were some places where it looked almost maroon-purple because it was practically raw. Delish.

The other place that we went that was awesome was this tiny restaurant called I Latini. At lunch, they don't give you a menu. They just bring you food. You start with bread, then 2 appetizers, move to salad, then two types of pasta, next your choice of meat with two sides, finishing with dessert. I've never been more full from a lunch in my life. They had house wine on the table, but they also serve you a glass of sweet wine with biscotti following dessert, and a glass of moscato to finish out the meal. What an experience.

It's been really nice to have my mom and Jay here. I've made a lot of friends, but it's nice to have people that I'm actually close to. SPEAKING OF WHICH, I'm planning to visit the lovely Maria Palombo in Arezzo this Sunday. Couldn't be more thrilled.

I've been reflecting about my experience here recently, mainly because I'm realizing that it's coming to a close soon. I only have 8 more days in this amazing city. I'm learning a lot about Italian culture, but I'm also learning a lot about myself. I feel like a lot of people do summer study abroad to rage all the time with their friends. And while I have had my fair share of nights out and evenings spent with the wonderful people I've met here, I think the greater takeaway for me will be the confidence and independence that I have gained. I trust myself more now than ever, and I know that personal growth has been because of the time I have spent doing the things I want to do here, even if it means going it alone. I'm good with me.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Day 13: Monasteries and More


I've been here for 13 days and boy has it been a whirlwind. I last left off with my wonderful Saturday in Firenze. On Sunday I went to the Medici Palace. The museum itself was a little bit underwhelming. It was one of those places that obviously lacked the funding for preservation that it deserved-- as in, it could have been really cool, but someone thought it would be better to turn it into a modern art museum.

One part of the house was very well taken care of, and had a good bit of the fixtures from the remodeling in the 18th century. Perhaps the best part was of course the part that I couldn't take photos of— the Chapel. This features one of the most famous frescoes in Italian Renaissance history. This is an image of it that I pulled from the web:

It was kind of ridiculously cool to see this work. It's been in multiple textbooks, classrooms and powerpoint presentations that have been part of my education. I'm doing a project on the palace, and plan to revisit it before I leave Florence. I would like to go back armed with a little bit more information about the history of the building. For example, I know that Lorenzo the Magnificent lived there, which in and of itself is pretty cool. Not going to lie, it was awesome to walk the halls once graced by Lorenzo, Michelangelo (who also lived at the palace during part of his youth), Boticelli (who was a painter-in-residence more or less for Lorenzo) and Leonardo (Da Vinci). 

After the palace I headed back up to the rose garden and finished rereading Ayn Rand's "Anthem." I really enjoyed it this time around. I originally read it when I was in middle school, and this time around, close to 10 years later, I got something completely different out of it. As a middle schooler I saw it more as a statement against unquestioned conformity. The takeaway for me then was "be true to yourself" and "trust your intellect." Part of that still holds for me today.

However, because of my Italian philosophy class, I'm now examining works in a different, or I guess really new, way. This time through, I saw it as in many ways a parallel allegory to Plato's story of The Cave. I saw that the message was deeper than "be your own person"— in many ways "Anthem" is purporting that the enlightened man is the man that asks questions (similar to Greek classical philosophy). The society of those who don't question is a society not of men but of puppets. It even seems to argo, much like Plato, that there is an innate desire to question and to learn, and that we as humans chose to seek answers or to simply accept what we are told. Those who do not question lead an unfulfilled life.

Not trying to wax philosophical here, but I just am really enjoying this class.

Monday was a day full of classes. I'm finding that in order to stay awake during my 9 AM class I have to drink cafe macchiato. The thing about a macchiato here is that it isn't like the sugary drink at home. It's literally an espresso shot with milk. For the first time in my life I'm drinking coffee (strong coffee at that) with no sugar. Sometimes I just drink espresso. Who am I.

Tuesday was much the same, except I went back to the Boboli gardens for the afternoon. I began reading Plato's "Republic" which I'm excited about, but the intro is stupidly dense (and not written by Plato). I also began to do work on my honors thesis.
My reading spot in the gardens. Florence is in the background.
Thesis work now is a bit of a challenge though because I don't have clear research questions yet. My topic idea is a comparative study of news coverage of the Amanda Knox trial in Italian and American news media. But it's not really narrow or tailored yet and I certainly don't have any research questions. My advisor suggested that while I'm here I focus on document collection, but almost all of that can actually be done in the States. 

I talked at length about this with my dad yesterday, and we thought that it might be best if I talk to experts and observe what is in the newstands here to determine what are the biggest outlets. I think this could be very good for my work. Tomorrow I have a meeting with my LdM advisor and I plan on asking for her advice. Someone in my class also has a friend that took a media course last semester at LdM, so she's going to give me her friend's email.

I feel a little bit like I'm drowning in this project but I keep reminding myself that I have a year to complete it. I guess I just feel like I should be doing actual research for it while I'm here, but ultimately I guess making contacts could be the best thing for my thesis in the long run.

HOKAY. Finally up to today.

Today I had my first class and macchiato per usual, but in my second class we took a field trip to a renaissance-aged monastery. Talk about incredible. We got to walk completely through it and learn about the culture in the cloisters. I really enjoyed seeing a part of Florence that I probably wouldn't have made it to otherwise— this place was about 15 minutes outside of the city by bus and I had no clue it was there. That's one of the really cool things about this experience though; I'm learning about the culture of the Italian Renaissance and at the same time I'm living in the middle of it. As a Renaissance nerd, I'm pretty much in heaven here.

Views of the monastery, and a picture of the bracelet I bought there. Clockwise around starting with top left: View from the walk up to the monastery; the main chapel with frescoes covering the walls and ceiling; the entrance to the main chapel; the bracelet.


I do occasionally miss things from N.C., like pimento cheese, Eastern barbecue, cole slaw and sweet tea. What can I say, I'm southern. But I do really love living here. I've got a little family in my homestay and I like coming together for dinner every night with them. It gives me a chance to relax, practice my Italian and enjoy a home cooked meal.

Tomorrow I have my Renaissance Civilization and Culture midterm so I should probably go write my essay outline for that. But I just wanted to update all of y'all and continue to share my journey. 

I promised a post about style and fashion, but I think I'm going to wait on that for a bit. My definition of style is still changing. As a sneak preview though, my dad said something that I find especially poignant about "style"...

"Style is a reflection of the way we see ourselves on any given day."

I like that. I hadn't thought of it in that way. But, I'll give you my full thoughts lata. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Day 9: A Day for Pears

Wow! What a day. Let me first start off with a little context. Alanna and my other friends from UH went to Rome this weekend on a trip through the school. Since I didn't know anyone still around Florence, I decided to adventure by myself.

Today was really great because I felt so independent. A lot of my wanting to take this trip this summer was so that I could continue to grow into being my own person. This past year has taught me to take care of myself, and this trip to Italy has been an extension of those lessons. I really am grateful for this remarkable opportunity for self-exploration and adventure.

This morning I slept in for a bit. I probably could have slept until the late afternoon, but I wanted to go to the Accademia today so I forced myself out of bed at 11:30. I was exhausted from yesterday.

Yesterday we visited Cinque Terre. The views were breathtaking, and it was nice to get out of the city and get some fresh air. It was my first experience really riding a train, and I enjoyed the Tuscan landscapes that rolled by my window.

For those of you who don't know, CT is a national park about 2 hours away from Florence. It means "Five Earths," and the name represents the five small towns that make up the park. There's a lot of hiking, beautiful vistas and a few beaches. As well as a few small marinas.

We got there around 10:30, and hiked from the first city to the second on a coastal path called "Lover's Lane." The walls down the side of the path were covered in graffiti dedicated to the lovers of those who adorned it. We ate in the second town at a small trattoria, and I had this wonderful pesto ravioli with gorgonzola cream sauce. It was soooo good.

From the second city, we took a train to the fifth. There we hung out on the beach and took some pictures. After a few hours, we caught a train back to the fourth. This place was by far my favorite of the four we visited. It was gorgeous. However, in Oct. 2011, the small town was devastated by a flood. There was a lot of construction, but you could really see the heart of the city shining through.

 So after this day trip, I was pretty tired. I had to get up though to accomplish what I wanted, and to sort things out with my mom about a package she sent with supplies for my ankle that has been difficult to receive. It's kind of weird to get packages here, so hopefully everything will work out.

I got dressed and headed to my favorite sandwich place where I had the most fabulous panino. I had ham, brie and pears, and I was absolutely in heaven. I ate it on my way to stand in the world's longest line at the Accademia. But what lay inside was well worth the wait.

I was first struck by how small the Accademia is inside. I went through all of the exhibits in under two hours. I would like to go back to do the audio tour (I couldn't find the stand today), but I did spend a good amount of time in each of the small galleries. The current exhibition in the Accademia is a small display of modern art called "Arte Torna Arte." It focuses on 20th century artists that have done works that comment on previous works of art or how the human brain perceives art. It was a great show, and I particularly enjoyed seeing Andy Warhol's hot pink rendition of Da Vinci's last supper.

I also enjoyed a wing of the gallery dedicated to the Medici collection of instruments. The collection contains two pieces of the Medici Quintet circa. 1600. There were a number of instruments from around that era, and I was consistently amazed by the quality which they were in, especially those that had not been restored.

 Throughout my academic career I have often learned and relearned the importance of the statue of David to the Renaissance and to the career of Michelangelo. I had often read that it is huge and incredibly human. Those two facts didn't really hit me until I saw him in person. The statue was absolutely incredible, and again I was overwhelmed by the art.

I also had the pleasure of viewing Michelangelo's "Prisoner pieces." It was a bit eerie to see the shapes of humans trying to pull themselves free from the marble entrapping them. One can really get a sense of how the marble breathes, and how Michelangelo could find the form within the piece of stone.

After the Accademia, I got a tiny serving of Nutella gelato and went shopping for a bit. I've discovered this store that I am obsessed with called Brandy Melville. It's an Italian brand and there are only 3 stores in the U.S. (one is in New York, but that's the closest it gets). Anyway, all the clothes are super soft and like boho-rocker which is kind of how I might consider summing up my day-to-day style. Although that's something I've been evaluating here.

I bought 2 bandeaus to replace the ones I have that are falling apart, and a super soft burgundy tank top. I fell in love with a 30 Euro dress too, but I can't tell if it's too short. My mom is coming in at the end of next week so I'll have to get her opinion then.

After shopping, I returned home to get my journal and kindle to take with me to dinner.  I decided that I wanted to treat myself to a fancy dinner to celebrate my independence. I went into this nice restaurant and asked for a table for one. The owner was at the front by the hostess stand and he chuckled as he directed a waiter to seat me. I guess he thought it odd that someone would want to eat a nice dinner by themselves. Especially someone so young.

Anyway, he wound up waiting on me. Now when I entered the restaurant, I knew that it was nice; however, I didn't realize that it was as nice as it was. I took one look at the prices and was blown away. Luckily most of their pastas were within my budget.

The minute I was seated, a backwait poured me a glass of prosecco. Instead of bread, they brought out a plate of bruschette, picked root vegetables, pate and mushrooms (it was amazing). The thing about Italian restaurants is that instead of leaving a tip, most often they just charge you a "cover." Both the wine and the appetizer were part of that.

The owner took my order, asking if I needed help with the menu. I told him I had know clue what to get, and he made a recommendation which I gladly took. It was pear and pecorino ravioli in a cream sauce. Oh. My. God. It was so delicious I didn't want it to stop. But it was the perfect size portion for what I wanted.

I started to get nervous when the check came, because I wasn't entirely sure how high the cover would be. I anxiously awaited the check and tried to doodle.

At last it came, and a waiter asked me if I was sure I didn't want anything else. He even offered me free limoncello, but I was ready to go. I'm pretty sure everyone in the restaurant felt bad for me or thought that I didn't have friends or something. They were being overly nice.

I pulled the bill out of the little basket that it came in. It was less than I anticipated. Still about 5 Euro more than I had hoped to pay for my "nice" dinner, but it was well worth it, and significantly cheaper than what it would have been in the states.

After leaving the restaurant, I headed across the Arno to my favorite Gelateria. YES OKAY I HAD TWO CONES OF GELATO TODAY WHATEVER THEY WERE BOTH SMALL AND I WALKED A LOT. This time I got banana (those of you who know me well know that I can't turn down a good banana dessert and that my favorite Ben and Jerry's is Chunky Monkey), and I walked back across the Pontevecchio as the sun was setting. It was a glorious evening.

I paused on the bridge to listen to an acoustic guitar duo. The music was remarkable, and I loved the singer's voice. The pair flipped between rock and finger roll guitar styles, and had a diverse repertoire. I sat there listening to them until I had finished my gelato. In that moment I felt so lucky and happy to be alive.

The sun began to set quickly, and not wanting to be out alone I began to venture home. Today was what I want this trip to be about. It was a day about spending time with myself. I really enjoyed it. For the first time since I've been here, I really felt able to live in the moment. Don't get me wrong— I've had great experiences prior to this one, but I hit my stride today.

I'm learning a lot here.