RSS

Category Archives: Food

Day 104 L’ultima mattina e mi manca gia Italia

Saturday, 5:57 AM

And just like that…

Still haven’t even begun to wrap my head around it, but I’m leaving for the airport in one hour, and will be out of the country and heading home in less than four.

Had my last dinner — spaghetti al pomodoro, pollo, finocchi, biscotti.  Had my last celebratory glass of Vin Santo (which, out of all the alcohol I’ve had here, probably comes closest to being my favorite when it’s done right).  Finally learned the Italian word for ‘to return something.’

Took my last pictures with my host mom.  Finished packing.  Spent a few hours out on the street and on buses soaking in the last Italian I’ll hear for…I don’t want to think about how long.

This is not quite the last blog post here, as there are still at least a couple things I want to cover, but this is the last time I’ll be writing from Florence.  And all I find myself able to say is that this has been undoubtedly one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I already miss it like I can’t even believe.

BUT, flip side is that I’ve been away from home from far too long, and if I’m going to miss this city when I leave then at least I’ll get to stop missing everything (everyone) else.  And honestly, it’s hard to really let the melancholy sink in when I’m also feeling so ridiculously euphoric.  Home! Favorite people! Christmas!

 

So, Dear Everyone:

I’ll see you in 16 hours : D

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 10, 2011 in Family, Food, Language, Persons & Peoples

 

(Day 88) Buon Ringraziamento

Thursday, 9:00 pm

Happy Thanksgiving, American people : D

Finally made it back in, and what I would like to do now is provide some variation from the bullet-lists and make up for the posting delay with a giant picspam.

However, what my internet and available time will *allow* me to do is post a couple photos (with more to come as soon as the month rolls over on my internet key) and do a quick bullet list.  So.

  • ROME, from last Thursday to Sunday night.  Second wind, feels-like-vacation time.  A *LOT* of walking, and on very terrible cobble streets.  A *LOT* of museums, which were much more enjoyable.  An exclusive trip up to the very top level of the Coliseum, normally closed to the public.  A likewise exclusive trip to the Necropolis, the preserved ‘city of the dead’ under the Vatican.  An amazing, once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the Sistine Chapel almost emptied of people but all lit up — because we happened to be there around closing time when a famous soccer coach was getting a private tour.  (This also meant we could sneak photos, as the coach’s group was doing it and the guards were all lining up for photos with him anyway.)  Possibly the best gelato I have ever had (white chocolate and dark chocolate from a place called Giolitti’s) paid for by our professors after a walking tour.  And on Sunday, the Galleria Borghese found to be a new contender for favorite art museum: (A) I knew I had a good feeling about this place, and (B) Bernini’s sculptures are in actual fact better in person and I could not. stop. staring.  Oh, plus Raphael ❤

  

    Wait for it…

BAM. 

  • Got back into Florence late Sunday evening, and found that we now have a new house-mate.  The Brazilian girl who lived down the hall had departed Saturday (which we knew about), and in her place there is now a middle-aged Japanese woman who will be here for two weeks studying at Linguaviva.  She (Toshiko) already has a little Italian, but astonishingly mine is actually much better, so I’ve been helping her out at Gabriella’s request.  I like her, she’s friendly and enthusiastic and she gave me a Japanese keychain : )
  • Also, found out when we went into the city center Monday morning that Florence has officially switched over to Christmas.  Don’t know what the trigger was, but the grocery store is all decked out and so are most of the other retailers — and I know it’s all commercial, but Christmas lights!
  • Monday, Tuesday,  Wednesday — homework.  Now that we’re done with Italian class, all attention is turned to the paper I have to write for the Medici art history class (Raphael’s work as a reflection of Pope Leo X’s court), the final exam I have to take for the same class, the final project for Weaving the Tale (the creation of a visual narrative and a 2-page statement about it), and more sketches for the Studio class.  Two weeks, readysetgo.
  • Today, though, a little break in the form of a field trip.  It was still technically a class day, in that we visited a Medici villa (Poggio a Caiano) and talked about its signficance, but after that we got a tour of a little place that manufactures both wine and olive oil, and were then treated to a magnificent oil-based meal.  (And seriously, after all my time here I can say that Capazzano has hands-down the best olive oil I’ve ever tasted.)  It was a traditional harvest meal, and we were to think of it as our Italian Thanksgiving — there was wine, more wine, bread with spinach and beans, penne, slices of ham and mashed potatoes, and we ended on an apple tort (by special request of Jodie as a pseudo apple pie).*  Weather-wise it was a perfect day, and I think we all walked away pretty happy…and, in some cases, rather tipsy.  Made the bus ride interesting : )
  • Got back to Florence, did homework for a while, and geared up for dinner.  And I’m very glad I went a little light on lunch, because Gabriella had prepared bread, slices of turkey, peas, corn (which she is unfamiliar with, and apologized for making “with love but no experience”), and ultimately a very impressive apple crisp.  Yay non-English-speaking double Thanksgiving \o/
  • Tomorrow, of course, have to start walking off all the food, and then it’s back to work.  If there are any interesting developments I shall pass them along, and otherwise I’ll probably be back in Wednesday night or Thursday after we have gone to ~the opera~.
  • Buonanotte : )

*The names of all these foods sound so much better in Italian: crostini con cavolo nero e fagioli, penne ai tre cavoli, arista all’olio nuovo con puree di patate, torta di melee.  Italian changes the off-putting ‘eggplant’ into my favorite ‘melanzana’ (which I can and will keep talking about), turns the baffling ‘pineapple’ into the ever-fun ‘ananas,’ makes plain broth into ‘minestrina’, and even ‘broccoli’ can be softened into ‘broccolini’ (which, incidentally, is delicious and is weirdly *the* thing on which I am most likely to overeat).  It is the world’s unparalleled language at dinnertime.

…But then again, English does have snickerdoodles.  Tough call.

 

(Day 79) Grazie

Tuesday, 9:33 pm

Shouldn’t be here, because I’m in the middle of studying for my Italian final (which is already tomorrow, and could someone please explain what happened there), but real quick:

  • Early class this morning, just bitingly nastily cold, and we actually ended up spending a half hour standing *outside* Palazzo Vecchio to discuss Donatello’s statue of Judith and Holofernes.  Great location, great statue, and I love being out in the morning more than just about anybody on this trip, but the enthusiasm does start to waver when toes go numb.
  • However, we then headed over to the Uffizi, and our professor was amazing and treated all of us to something warm to drink — and thus we ended the morning with a round of cioccolata calda, sitting by the window in a rooftop cafe that is, by the way, not cheap.  It was perfectly magnificent of her and way more than generous, so thanks again!
  • Had our last actual Italian class, went to an exhibit in Palazzo Strozzi, finally got our midterms back (went well, in case you were curious : ), and then our Rome orientation meeting.  Busy afternoon, but entirely enjoyable start to finish.
  • And back at the apartment, spaghetti carbonara!  Followed by melanzana, also known as ‘my new addiction’ and ‘eggplant’!  I’m still of the opinion that we get a bit too much food pushed on us, but on days like this I can also easily admit that the burden is bearable ❤
  • And following the excellent dinner, Gabriella actually went through her cupboards to find me another bag for Rome, because she knew I was going to have a little trouble making it work with what I had.  This is indeed way more convenient and it was remarkably kind of her to do that for me.
–And that’s Tuesday.  Basically nothing going on, but people were being nice all over the place and I guess I felt it was worth mentioning : )
Also, since this is likely the last time I’ll be in until Monday, one last randomly-chosen pic:

Just a corner of the interior courtyard of Palazzo Vecchio, right as you walk in the tall front doors (I’m literally standing in the doorway).  The courtyard opens up to a way more spacious chamber beyond, and all of this is only a tiny fraction of the palace as a whole, but this right here is the first thing important visitors would have seen when walking into the grand state palace / civic heart of Florence…and I think I kinda like it.  Makes me want to scrawl all over a hallway a little bit, and even though I never eat them it somehow reminds me pleasantly of Twinkies.

…Anyway, I really should be studying, so I’ll see you after Rome.  Great weeks, everybody!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 15, 2011 in Art, Classes, Family, Food, Persons & Peoples

 

(Day 55) Lazy Days

Saturday, 2:34 pm

Break is winding down (noooooo), and I’m spending the last couple days going nowhere near homework and enjoying the hell out of free time.  Observe:

  • Yesterday, went to Palazzo Pitti (an enormous palace with about 6 mini-museums in it) and the adjoining Boboli Gardens.  This is one of the big historical sites that we haven’t been to yet for class, and as our museum passes get us in for free, figured there was no harm in checking it out.
  • Recommendation: CHECK IT OUT.  The building itself has a great back story,* the art in the Palatine Gallery constitutes (for me) a much better collection than found in the Uffizi, and it’s so weirdly large and twisty that it’s just a ball to wander around in there.

  (<– the back side of one wing : )

  • After a while in the house, out the back door to the Boboli Gardens.  The gardens are essentially a park filled with trees and hedge-lined walkways, and yes, it was very pretty — but far and away the best part of the gardens was just the chance to be way up on a secluded patch of hill at noon.  Florence has a lot of churches and a lot of bells, and getting out into the open where you can actually hear them all ringing together?  Awesome.

  

  • At this point I was done with Palazzo Pitti but still not ready to head back to the apartment, so walked back a ways along the river.  And this was very nice right up until I started realizing that the scarf wasn’t really cutting it anymore and the wind was kind of slapping me in the face repeatedly.

  • Solution = bus hopping, one of my very favorite time-wasters.  Go to random bus stop, board bus, get a little tour through new parts of the city, hop off whenever, board new bus.  Repeat until sick of violent vehicular bouncing.
  • End of Friday was just a lot of reading + internet, and then we get to this morning, where I have to get myself out of the house again because Saturday is cleaning day.  Another windy walk down through the city center, and I end up in Piazza della Signoria, parking it in the open-air sculpture gallery and doing a quick doodle for the sketchbook we have to keep for the drawing class.  Hooray for scribbling in public!
  • When I’ve been sitting on cold stone long enough to make my legs numb, over to Rivoire.  Rivoire is a fancy cafe that looks out over the piazza, and it is rumored to have some of the best hot chocolate in Florence*** — which is great, because for the month and a half remaining to us I have made it my mission to find the best hot chocolate here.  Go in, order at the bar, receive cup and keep standing at the bar (this place in particular is notorious for outrageous price hikes if you sit down), and finally decide that this is probably what it tastes like to drink a molten candy bar.  Wow.
  • Back to the house, more internet.
Over to you guys : )
*You know the famous Medici family?  Well Cosimo de’ Medici (basically the founder of the family’s wealth and position) decided to build a grand new house, a palazzo, in the middle of town.  Brunelleschi, THE architect of the Renaissance and the mind behind the dome of the Cathedral, created a design.  But this design was, in fact, a little too grand for Cosimo; he rejected it, and Brunelleschi supposedly pitched a fit and smashed the model.**  But then the rejected design is picked up by another Florentine banker, Luca Pitti — and generations later, when the Medici have become actual nobility, they buy the place and double its size and fancify it like you wouldn’t believe, ultimately building a private elevated walkway (the Vasari Corridor) all the way from the palace to their offices (now the Uffizi Gallery) on the other side of the river.  Just…wikipedia.
**Architects at the time apparently depended more on models than plans; that is, they actually built little wood mock-ups of their buildings to show what the final project would look like, and this was what got presented to their patrons.  For some reason I find this really fantastic.  In fact, one of my favorite parts of the museums here (and especially the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo) is getting to look at these models…and if I ever get bored and need a new hobby, building replicas of these seems like it might be more fun than ships in a bottle.
***Hot chocolate in Italy is called cioccolata calda, and it is not *actually* hot chocolate in the way we think of it — that is, its richness goes way beyond the taste of a liquid with powder, and it’s so thick that it’s almost like drinking hot pudding.
…But that sounds gross, so just know that I mean it in a good way.
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 22, 2011 in Art, Classes, Food, History, The City

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

(Day 53) Pro-Procrastination

Thursday, 9:56 pm

It only took me most of my break, but I’m finally feeling good and productive; spent most of today tearing back and forth between readings for class and a couple sketches and lots and lots of notes about ideas for my senior art show, and while I have *finished* nothing, I have put an admirable amount of energy into getting things kinda-started.

So that’s good : )

But now, while I still have a bit more I’d like to get done tonight, I would really like to waste some time first.  So quick run-down of the last couple days:

  • Tuesday involved some readings and some skype time and an embarrassing number of naps.  But, woke up in the evening and was rewarded by a very nice dinner out with another student and his parents; Alex is one of the few ACM-ers staying in Florence over break, and he and his family were kind enough to have me join them.  All three incredibly nice people, and English speakers to boot hallelujah* — so once again a very big thank you : )
  • Speaking of that dinner, though, it did have its sinister side; this would be because we had wine and bread and ravioli and gnocchi and salad and legumes and steak and sweet potatoes and meatballs, and the next day I STILL WOKE UP HUNGRY.  Be warned, people, this program does seriously warped things to your stomach.
  • Wednesday morning I finally worked up the fit of energy needed to haul myself over to the Uffizi Gallery, so we can now cross that off the ‘to do’ list.  A wonderful museum and well worth the time (especially when you actually get to skip the wait time because you’ve got a free pass \o/), but the trouble is that so many of the really heartstopping works by Italy’s great artists wound up making their way into France’s Musee du Louvre that I feel spoiled by having seen that museum first.  …And this is probably blasphemy but I still prefer the Venetian Accademia.
  • Some random Italian man is right this minute singing out in the middle of the street.  One presumes drunkenly, but ?
  • Today, woke up to storms, which is always fantastic.  Kept my pedestrian self in out of the rain all day, plowed through a ridiculous amount of academic article material, took internet breaks as necessary,** found a totally demented faux-American-English song recorded by an Italian in 1973 (which, hip thrusts aside, gives a pretty nice idea of what this language sounds like to everyone else), and…well, here we are.
Back to work : )
———————————[For reasons unknown this thing is eating lines between paragraphs.  Sorry]——————-
*Still loving Italian, and I am dead set on getting the hang of it eventually, but by this time I can readily admit that having to attempt it every single day is a bit exhausting.  And frustrating, especially at dinner; between Nino, Gabriella and Alessandra, there’s pretty much always adult-level conversation going on (not to mention the times when Nino and Gabriella’s grown children are over), and I can’t really add to it without immediately dragging the whole exchange back down to grade school and feeling like an idiot.
———
The revelation of the moment being, I think, that I just miss talking.  After all, even as a typically non-talkative person one still gets attacks of loquacity, and I think that what I could really use at the moment is just the opportunity for a good old-fashioned rant delivered at high speed and drawing on a superfluously complicated vocabulary somewhere south of the vernacular.
———
Guess I’m just not a fan of baby steps.
————————————————————————————————————————————
**Not at all related to anything study abroad, but I really enjoyed this, and if it is not the nerdiest thing you have seen all day then I owe you an apology cookie:  The Dance Your PhD Competition
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 20, 2011 in Art, Family, Food, Language, Persons & Peoples, The City

 

Tags:

(Day 48) BREAK

Apologies due again, apparently, because it is very clearly Saturday and not Friday 😦

SO, crazy week — between all that end-of-class stuff going on, my epic two-weeks-and-counting cold got way worse, and I ended up having to go to the doctor and start the dreaded antibiotics.  But none of that matters now, because we’ve made it; I took my test, I went to the last on-site visit, I did the readings, I (cut it very close but I) finished my paper, and I’ve accidentally gone and gotten about 14 hours of sleep so we’re finally good to go.

Also have I mentioned that I am on ~*BREAK*~.

Think I’ll just go ahead and do a brief run-down of pretty much everything that’s been up lately, but first I’d just like to say that I realize that I have answered basically no emails since around Tuesday or Wednesday.  That would be on account of me running back and forth between homework and passed-out-sleeping, so please know that I was not ignoring you and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

  •  Last Friday: This would be the first real fall day we had, and a day full of drizzles to boot.  Went in to work on the library for a bit, got a haircut (negotiated all in Italian, btw — and everything went just fine, but I am *so* glad it was just hair and not dental work or something), went to the ATM, and walked over to the nearby San Lorenzo market.  This would be the outdoor street market famous for its leather stalls (which are set up in front of actual leather stores), but you can also find notebooks, scarves, random touristy souvenir stuff, etc.  Started to downpour while I was there, and it was pretty fun to watch — shoppers scatter to the sides, stall cover extensions are pulled out and up, shoppers sidle back out, business resumes as usual with a lot more bobbing umbrellas.
  • Also Friday, another bus strike.  Italian unions, I have found, like strikes very much but don’t really seem to get how they work.  For example, they announce in advance that they’re going to have one, but they also announce when the strike (the ‘sciopero’) is going to end and at what points during the strike they will not actually be striking.  It is not terribly efficient, but at least I got to take the bus both ways.

  • Saturday: The trip to Lucca with Alex, Kari, Katie and Willi.  We went to just have a nice relaxing time in a quiet country town, and that’s exactly what we did — on what turned out to be just a really perfect fall day, cool and crisp and colorful.  Mainly we just walked around and looked at churches, because we are creatures of art historical habit and we couldn’t help ourselves.  Saw another saint’s corpse, and the churches themselves were beautiful, but there were two highlights of our visit and they had nothing to do with that: 1) The Caffe Di Simo, a beautiful old-fashioned cafe that was once frequented by the composer Puccini and which we were drawn to on account of its jaw-dropping pastry display, plus  2) The medieval city walls.  The nice thing about these is that they encircle the whole city and have had wide tree-lined paths put in, so you can actually walk up there with the city on one side and fields and mountains on the other.  Bellissima ^_^

  

  • Monday: Italian class and figure drawing.  The very first week of the drawing class, half of us did a drawing from a live (and nude — that seems to surprise some people) model, and then we switched with the other half and went downstairs to work on cast drawings in charcoal, and this last week we were back to figure drawing.  And no pictures to show you yet, but I think I may be improving a bit : )
  • Tuesday: Italian class, a literary discussion in the Weaving the Tale class, and then straight over to an on-site visit to the San Marco religious complex.  Fascinating place — but you will be spared the earful because I am tired.  (However, we *are* going back in a couple weeks to talk about the crazy-intense preacher who was arrested there, so maybe later?)
  • Wednesday: A lot of work on my paper for the Medici class, Italian in the afternoon, figure drawing in the evening.  And this would be the night that got my host mom really concerned, because the mutant cold was Very Not Good at this point.  Early bed times all around!
  • Thursday:  Had to be at the Bargello (a sculpture gallery with a pretty twisted history) by 9:00 am, and almost had a heart attack because my bus stop was ‘temporarily abolished.’  But that turned out to be alright, so just spent an hour and a half walking around the Bargello discussing Donatello, then a walk back to the school for another hour of class, a quick lunch, and our Italian class + quiz at  1:00.  Booked it over to the doctor to get there before the clinic closed, over to the pharmacy, over to the other side of the river for the final drawing class, dinner, and then a very sincere attempt to get my Medici paper done — which failed, because I fell asleep.
  • Friday: Up early in the morning to *finally* finish that paper, caught a bus downtown to turn it in, shared a great deal of confusion with other students over where to turn it in, figured something out, went over to the grocery store for lunch, ate lunch, back to the apartment…and at this point we get the 14-hour nap interrupted only by dinner.  And it was amazing you guys ❤
  • Today, Saturday, is the day Gabriella’s cleaning-assistant-man comes in, so I had to actually get up and shower in order to be able to vacate the house for a couple hours.  And finding a way to waste the time turned out to not be a problem, because a snafu with the buses turned what was supposed to be a quick trip to the store and ATM into a 3-hour sit-and-wait nightmare of hanging around various bus stops cursing #12 and making like a turtle to try to block the extremely bitter wind we had today.*

And I had other stuff I was hoping to say, which I will hopefully still remember tomorrow, but I have just this second gone exhausted again and I think we’re going to have to call it a night.  But I can promise that, for the next week, I’ll be able to get something on the blog each and every day, so hold on to your hats because here comes postage.

Round of emails tomorrow to everyone who’s sent me one lately, and ttys anyway to everyone else : )

 

*Because Florence is in a valley, wind is pretty rare here, because it takes more than a light breeze to make it past the hills and down into the city.  But this apparently means that the winds that *do* make it down are real thugs, so that’s fun.
 

Tags: , , ,

(Day 40 Again) That Bike Trip

Hello again 🙂

Alright, so trip to Venice is behind us, the Monday immediately following started up our first blown-out crazy-busy week of classes, Wednesday night we had the concert, and now we’ve hit the weekend and the first day of October.

Which is glorious.

By this point I’ve had standing reservations for a week to meet up with Katie, Leah, Kari and Willi to go on a 13-mile bike tour through Chianti, so it’s out the door fairly early on this Saturday morning and a nice leisurely walk down to the office of Tuscany Bike Tours.  Ours is one of several groups that are going, so we’re all separated into 3 clusters for the vans and off we go.

It’s a 40-minute drive out of the city to the start point of the tour, and we are reminded along the way that the Chianti area is…hilly.  Very seriously swoopy, swervy, up-down etc.

(Just so you know, that’s a drop-off past those bushes.  In Chianti, everything is a drop-off past the bushes.)

So, driving out, first thought is that the hills make for ridiculously stunning scenery.  Second thought is that I really hope I’m not in over my head here; I’ve been on a bike, yes, and I love bike riding, but I live in Iowa.  The roads are, by and large, flatter than a crushed crepe, I have never really had to bother with gears at all, and I probably don’t have the right muscles in place for this.

…Oh well, excited anyway : )

After a while our attention is directed to a castle on top of a hill.  This hill, and that castle:

This would be the starting point.

It’s a 12th century castle (the Castello di Poppiano), and it’s been in the count’s family for generations. Because yes, apparently a count and countess still live there.

…Life must be magnificent for some people.

Anyway, the castle is now home to the estate’s wine and olive oil business, and we got a tour of this before heading out on the bikes.  (And btw, there are several bike tour organizations that go through Chianti and include wine tastings, but this is the only one that does theirs in a castle.  Just saying.)

   

Further by the way, that guy in the right-hand pic would be Andy, one of the two people (the other being Keith) who run Tuscany Bike Tours.  Andy is Scottish, Keith is Irish, both are very nice, very funny and all-around excellent tour guides that now receive the official Thumbs-Up Seal of Approval : )

Up to the top of the castle for a look at that-there view —

  

— and back down to the courtyard for a tasting of one of the Chianti wines and a sampling of olive oil on bread.  The olive oil is the best I’ve tasted, and everybody praised the Chianti, but all the latter did for me was give me more confirmation that I just don’t care for wine myself.  *sigh,* guess I will have to become some other type of alcoholic.

Those who wanted to buy souvenirs were taken through the shop, and then we all met at the back door of the castle (man, the things this trip makes me say), where we were introduced to our bikes.

The bikes were labeled.  I got Batman.*

A quick run-down of safety stuff, they explain gears to a simpleton in a sentence and a half, we are given helmets and water bottles, and they show us the bag/baskets on the back of the bikes.  And we’re off!  With a little moment of dread as we huff and puff our way up the driveway!

–But it’s all good!  The first 40 minutes or so are pretty much all down-hill, flying through little towns and around bends and OMG IT’S AWESOME.

And just like that, first x-number of miles is over and it’s lunchtime.

Over the 10 years they’ve been doing this, Keith and Andy have built up a relationship with the family who runs the restaurant they take us to, just as they’ve built up a relationship with the count’s family.  It’s a restaurant well out in the country,  the atmosphere is very comfortable, we get lots of options for food, and everything is, as per usual, delicious.

  

On we go again, now influenced by both the wine from earlier (of which some had more than others) and very full stomachs.  Which are actually not a problem — another group of American girls on this bike ride was just picking at their food, worrying aloud about the calories, but our group just got down to business, put it all away like nothing, and walked out good to go.  As somebody said, we’ll need to enter some eating contests after this.**

And now we’re up against the scary uphill part — which is not bad at all.  We are led around the bottom of the hill, up a gentle incline that we’ve got a half hour to do, and then there’s one very steep section of road that is, as it turns out, optional.  Anyone who doesn’t want to to do it can take the van up, and we absolutely went with ‘smart’ instead of ‘brave.’  (All of us, that is, except Katie, but she’s just a badass and doesn’t count ; )

We ride for another half hour or so, and then it’s over — one of the very best days I’ve had here.  The ride felt great, the weather was perfect (and seriously, if you end up in a position to do something like this, do not go while it is still hot), and we give our profuse thanks to Keith as he drops us back off in Florence.

Just a note, though: if you come here and do end up able and willing to do this (and you should absolutely do this if you can budget it in), I’d suggest you go with Tuscany Bike Tours and NOT with I Bike Italy.  They are not the same, no matter how much I.B.I. wants to make it seem otherwise.

And again, that’s Tuscany Bike Tours.

 

So!  There’s last Saturday, and I still want to throw out a little about this past week, so we’ll see if I can get that in tonight or tomorrow.  But dinner and emails first, so in case I don’t get the chance to say it later, have a good Friday : D

 

*Other bike names included Marilyn Monroe, Tarzan, and Yo Mama.  Yes, the jokes were made.

**Btw, as far as the food, just thought I’d mention that across the ACM group as a whole, any weight gain has been completely negligible.  If you doubt this, please go back through these posts and add up all the times I say we’re walking.  And then add in all those times I don’t bother to mention it because it’s just a fact of life.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 7, 2011 in Food, Persons & Peoples, Travel and Touristing

 

(Day 40) Wrap on Venice

In the midst of a rather lovely day, and I want to talk about that, so here’s the quick version of the rest of Venice:

We’re now up to day 2, Saturday morning, and after walking around a little in the cool of the morning, it’s back to the hotel for breakfast and then on to a 9:15 walking tour.  The tour’s an optional thing, so only 7 (and ultimately 6) students actually go, but it’s led by Professor Mariotti — who, like all of our professors, knows a simply staggering amount about everything.  Seriously, I think we’ve started asking questions about random doorknobs and chimney pieces just to test the limits of her stored trivia, and after a month and a half I think we’ve only stumped her twice O.O

 

So yes, out we go for about 2 hours, first to San Zaccaria for a stroll through the church (but also taking a special look at the S. Zaccaria nunnery, which was apparently packed with nuns who didn’t want to be nuns and who filled up the nearby orphanage to prove it), and then on to a little building some 15 minutes away for a series of really great narrative paintings by Carpaccio — and may I just say that I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite that combination of sweetness and horrible gore.

Walking tour takes us back to the hotel, and we now switch out Professor Mariotti for Professor Solberg and keep right on walking.  This time, we (i.e. Professor Solberg’s “Decorative Complexes” class plus any interested tag-alongs like myself) are headed all the way across Venice to the train station up in the northwest part of the city, and from there it’s a hop onto a train and then off to Padua.

 

If you’ve heard of Padua, it’s probably because Shakespeare uses it as the setting for “The Taming of the Shrew.”  But what we were there for was the Arena Chapel, this fantastic little box of a chapel which has an interior completely covered in paintings by Giotto.  And the really great thing about this was that I’d actually learned about the Arena (aka Scrovegni) Chapel in my very first class in college, but had forgotten what it was called — so as our professor is explaining to us what we’re about to see, it starts coming back to me and then I can just get excited all at once instead of having to deal with some sort of tamped-down, drawn-out anticipation.  Ignoring the horrendous hassle of actually getting in there, that chapel is incredible : D

Back on a train to return to Venice, and we’ve got about 3 hours free until dinner.  Kari and I set off to go souvenir shopping, and basically it’s just a very nice and restful time spent wandering around and poking through shops and wending our way through tangles of small streets and side alleys.

And by the way, this is as good a place as any to mention that Venice, since we were only there for 3 days, really did feel like vacation in a way that being in Florence never does anymore.  Florence is, in a certain sense, home and school and the daily grind, but Venice…Venice is pretty much hands down the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen.

But actually, more on that in a minute.

So after souvenir shopping, it’s back to the hotel for an 8:00 dinner which starts out with — wait for it — pasto al pesto, which is *the* favorite dish of many many people at this point and is indeed amazing.  And in any case, dinner this time around comes with the company of Kari, Katie, and Alex, all of whom are just incredibly nice/funny/wonderful people.  (And, if plans hold, I get to go to Lucca with all of them + Willi tomorrow, so \o/)

After dinner, back out with Kari for another walk to get a sense of the city at night.

And the city at night is, shockingly, incredibly quiet; Venice goes to bed very early in the evening, and there’s a very strong small-town feel to the dark and the stillness of all those teeny-tiny alleys and little piazzas.  Except, of course, that it’s never fully dark and never quite still; lamps up, down and overhead keep everything from water to windowsill flowers gently illuminated, you’re always within earshot of the lapping of the water, and the water + the closeness of the buildings sends the sounds of families at dinner faintly echoing everywhere.

The word I’m looking for is probably ‘pleasant.’

But never too much of a good thing, so ultimately we wandered out of the closed-for-the-day residential areas and back to the ever-busy main piazza of San Marco, where we headed over to the water’s edge and just sat for awhile.

And, as luck would have it, turns out we showed up at just the right time and sat down in exactly the right place to catch a fireworks display right across the canal.  Did not see that coming at all, but it made my night : D

Back to the hotel, and up early again the next morning because I’ve decided that I love sunrise here.  And this time, Kari accompanies, because of the seven people who said they wanted to go she was the one and only who actually managed to roll out of bed at 6:00 on a Sunday morning.

And again, gorgeous:

   

The presence of a professional photographer confirms that we’ve got the right idea —

and then we just get to sit on the edge of the canal like so and watch the magic:

   

    

So worth it ^^

Allora, back, breakfast, and then another optional tour led by Professor Mariotti, this time through the Galleria dell’Accademia (aka another fancy art museum).  I cannot adequately express how much I loved this place, but I LOVED it.  ❤

 

And after that…free for four hours.  And it’s a beautiful day, and try as I might I’ve still got zero interest in going to see the contemporary art exhibits that most students are headed out to, so I decide to just seize my Sunday and take one last super-long stroll through Venice. 

  More impossible homes…

  …impossibly small alleys…

       …and abrupt dead ends where you can just sit and watch the tide come in.

So ultimate verdict on Venice: again, undoubtedly beautiful, totally charming, occasionally magical, absolutely in agreement with everything that I have ever heard said about it.  But, on the other hand, it is definitely not a place that I could stay for any considerable amount of time.  The tourists (and the PIGEONS) are one thing, but to be always penned in like that?  Give it two weeks and living in the maze would get exhausting, and there’d be nothing but the same small patches of ground over and over again and not a single open field anywhere.  Not a chance.

It would appear then, that in accordance with the fine and long-standing tradition of Italian partisanship, I’ve chosen sides.  I still prefer Florence ; )

And there we go!  Venice is done, and another week’s worth of blogging activity is getting pounded out on this keyboard before dinner so help me God, so stick around and I’ll have that for you in just a (very metaphorical) sec.

 
 

(Day 23) And now a Tuesday

Milestone moment, people: this was the first day that I’ve been able to believe that it will eventually get cold here.

For weeks we’ve been asking around and trying to figure out what a Florentine winter is like, and I think the information we’ve received can be boiled down to this: in autumn (now), the mornings and evenings will get cool but any direct sun will set you straight back to August (i.e., shade = pleasant but sun = blistering heat).  Hot days will keep being a fact of life until one day everything decides to go frigid for kicks and giggles, and there will be lots of rain and bitter wind and that’s winter.

Bit bipolar.

But, like I said, it’s been hot for so long that I was seriously doubting whether ‘winter’ in Italy could be that big a deal.*  So you can imagine my surprise (and also delight, and I sincerely mean that) when I head out to wait at the bus stop this morning and it suddenly feels like mid-October.  Overcast, all the light dim and shifting, with a pretty hefty wind whipping everyone’s hair around — and a jacket very very much a necessity.  It was back into the 80’s by 10:00 AM, of course, but it was quite a nice shock to the system while it lasted.

 

…Only slightly related, but I’ve been daydreaming about Christmas for the last two weeks.  I already miss baking and I’m pre-missing snow (which Tuscany sees about as often as Texas), but the nice thing is that we will get to see the start of Florence’s Christmas preparations.  And, since Italy is dripping with Catholics and Christmas is, as I am told, a day of some importance to the Church, we’ve been promised we’ll get something of a spectacle.  Along with a whole slew of new seasonal foodstuffs, and you can perhaps imagine how I feel about that.**

So yes, very much looking forward to the Christmas season, but we’ll get there when we get there and I’m certainly still set to enjoy myself in the meantime.  Got some tentative October plans in the works with a few other students (which I will tell you about only if and when they become solid), and we’re now just three days out from Venice.  Speaking of which, orientation for that is tomorrow afternoon — so I’ll see you then, when I’ve got some actual new stuff going on?

A domani : )

(Oh, but a quick P.S. — We all took a quiz this morning, and afterwards the other two classes watched movies while our class played charades.  It was a fast-moving game, right up until Umberto tried to get everyone to guess “Paranormal Activity”; watching someone trying to act out ‘normal’ is one of the funniest things I have ever seen [especially since he just kept repeating a bunch of gestures that we weren’t making sense of], and while we did eventually guess the title, amen to the student who said “I don’t understand what just happened.”)

 

 

*Just because I find it funny: we once asked about the most extreme low temperature we could expect here, and they said ‘0.’  Not so bad, we thought — but they meant Celsius.  So there may have been some amused Midwest snorting.

**Just to say it explicitly, a large part of what makes Italian cooking so tremendously good is that they tend to use fresh ingredients and only in season.  We are just now, for example, ending the season for grapes; so, a couple nights ago, Gabriella brought out to the table a dessert called “schiacciata con l’uva”  (a sort of crisp pie/cake with grapes all over it and through it), and told us that this was the last time we’d be seeing it pretty much anywhere in town because everyone’s switching over to fall/winter produce.  Again, the only-in-season mentality makes anything you eat here amazing, but it’s also completely tragic in that it makes most of their dishes impossible to recreate at home.  Even were I armed with recipes (which I currently am not, as Gabriella is resistant to the idea of guests helping in the kitchen), we just don’t have access to the same fresh, flavorful, and very definitely non-GMO ingredients that the Italian style of cooking is meant to accentuate.

But oh well.  We still beat them at breakfast foods ; )

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 20, 2011 in Classes, Culture, Food, The City

 

(Day 21) Done dawdling!

Sunday, 10:35 pm

Going to write a bit about the homestay, because I kept saying I was going to do it and I either need to do it or stop promising.

I live with an elderly couple named Gabriella and Nino, who have three grown children (two daughters, one son) and one granddaughter (the adorable and almost-two Beatrice*).  They live in a large first-floor apartment on the northeastern fringe of the city, out in the thick of a residential area that only sees English speakers when they’re students like myself, and they are collectively some of the nicest people I have ever met.

Also living here are another ACM student (my roommate) and a student from an upper level in the Linguaviva language school, a Brazilian girl named Alessandra who has a single room down the hall.  Also, while Gabriella and Nino technically live alone, all three kids have been regular visitors both during the day and at dinners, so it often feels (comfortably) like a pretty full house.

When we were first informed about the homestays, we were told that it was common in Italy to give a gift when one visited — and, since we were not so much ‘visiting’ as ‘moving in’, it would be a nice gesture to get our host parents something.  My initial roommate, Anica, brought some Taiwanese tea, and I ended up just popping into a store in the neighborhood and picking up a bouquet of flowers.  (By the way, I say ‘a store in the neighborhood,’ but there is really only the one store here, waaay at the other end of the road.  This one, the big white building that says ‘supermarket’:

Like I said, it’s a residential area, and one that has pretty much decided to not be anything else : )

The first one we met was Gabriella, who thankfully speaks English (and French, though that doesn’t help me) fairly well.  Right off the bat, it was a relationship full of politeness and courtesy; I wouldn’t go so far as ‘formal,’ but even now there are still a lot of little formalities that get observed over the course of the day.  We are basically just to be to meals on time, to keep our bathroom neat, to not stray into the family’s own rooms, to say goodbye when we leave and hello when we come back, basic stuff; Gabriella herself, though, still seems to think it discourteous to enter our room unless we open the door for her ourselves, and at dinner especially she insists on maintaining the guest/hostess status quo.  It’s a somewhat strange mix of family-casual and houseguest civility that, after three weeks, maintains its strangeness because of the frequent little missteps we’re still making in communication; that is, we’ve made ourselves mostly at home here, but it’s still sometimes hard to tell whether someone is telling you to loosen up or (nicely) to straighten up, so it does keep you on your toes a bit.

And now, to condense a lot of information into those bullet lists I love, here’s a daily routine:

  • Wake up at six to take a shower.  The bathroom (which is more or less directly across from our room) is strictly for the three students, and has a button-flush toilet, a large basin sink, a shower stall with a drain you have to be really careful not to back up, and a window looking out onto Gabriella’s enclosed flower garden (small but very well maintained).  I’m the only one who showers in the morning, so it’s a nice slow start to the day with most of the house still asleep.
  • The bathroom is right next to the kitchen, and at 6:30 Gabriella comes out to start making coffee.  I mention it only because the aroma is fantastic.
  • Breakfast at 7:30.  Italians don’t really *do* breakfast, so Gabriella just spreads out some foods for us to pick from (fruit, yogurt, granola, biscuit/cookie things, less fun storebought pastry things) and brings her coffee to the table to keep us company while we eat.  Nino goes to work at about this time, so we really only seem him long enough to say bye.  Breakfast looks like this:

Aww, so nice : )

  • 8:00, head to the bus stop.  Enjoy the cool mornings and the warm light and the faraway sight of the hills, and also the more prosaic spectacle of Via Masaccio clogging with cars for morning rush hour.

But not in this pic.  This is just a zoomed-in shot of normal.

  • And at the other end of our street (the end we’re actually much closer to), a church.  Not one of the historically-significant old churches, but a recklessly contemporary new one, just in case you’d forgotten that most of this country is still Catholic.

  • So, go to classes and whatever else you’ve got going on, then come back to the house.  And just as an aside, it takes you four keys to get you all the way through the gate and into the building and then into the actual apartment.  Using them involves a lot of pulling and twisting and pushing at the right time (and also remembering to use the right key), and since the instructions were initially delivered in a heavy Italian accent I couldn’t understand yet, it took me at least four days to really figure it out.  Have I mentioned that I’m halfway through a college degree?
  • Dinner at 8:00, although you can usually smell it coming by 6:30.  We meet at the dining table (places are set with nice glasses and several pairs of silverware for everyone), and so begins the hour-long process of the evening meal.  As per a typical Italian meal, there are several courses:
  1. Pasta.  As with everything on the table, usually homemade with fresh ingredients bought within the week (or day) at one of the large Florentine markets.  As far as I’m aware, it’s been a new type of pasta dish every single night since we got here.
  2. Meat and vegetables.  Again, homemade/fresh and seemingly never repeated.  And while one or the other sometimes tastes a little ‘off’ when sampled alone (the meat a little too dry, the vegetables a little too mushy, etc.), any problems go away if you eat them as they’re meant to be eaten, together.  This course also comes with dry bread, good for sopping up the juices.
  3. Dessert.  Sometimes just sugared fruit (which I’ll admit is my favorite), but we’ve also had tarts and storebought cakes and little ice cream sandwiches.
  4. Drinks.  Not a course, but just thought I’d mention that Italians don’t really do tap water either (although it’s perfectly safe), and they think drinking milk is weird.  (We asked about drinking milk just out of curiosity, and everyone seemed really confused.  “In coffee?”  “No, just milk.”  “Well some people like a lot of milk in their coffee.”)  Wine and beer are both fairly typical dinner drinks, as are these huge bottled waters that everyone passes around (see breakfast pic).  Nino can’t drink wine anymore because of a health problem, so we stick to water, and there are usually two ‘normal’ bottles and one fizzy one.  We go through at least one full bottle a night, and they just keeping buying brand new huge bottles every day like this is a perfectly reasonable thing to be doing.

Dinner wraps up around 9:00, and then we say goodnight and go to bed and begin it all over again.

 

And almost done here, but I should mention the roommate thing quick:

As I said, my initial roommate was Anica, a Taiwanese girl from South Africa who was going to college in Illinois.  Yup.  And I didn’t know her at all when we moved in, but it turned out to be a pretty good fit.

About a week in, we each get contacted by the program director; another pair of roommates has been having difficulties, and would we be willing to switch?  So…to make a very long story short, new roommate is Ellie.

 

Want to go get in some grammar review before I go to bed — and also it’s kind of sounding like we’ve got the makings of our very first real thunderstorm outside, homg so excited 😀 — so have a good afternoon/evening and I’ll hopefully be back in tomorrow.  (I know I skipped an atypical number of days recently, but this weekend was a special case of do-nothing.)

Class tomorrow, and then we’re on the countdown for four days left of intensive Italian.  Partay : )

 

 

*Having Beatrice over to visit is, to be honest, a pretty big ego boost.  Gabriella and Nino both slow down their speech to talk to her, so we understand more of what they say, and while we actually haven’t picked up all the vocab Beatrice has, Bea also keeps her phrases nice and simple (often just falling back to the Italian equivalent of “Again! Again! *happy gurgle-laugh*).  Probably I shouldn’t be celebrating the fact that I am slightly better at Italian than an infant, but I’m going to anyway.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 18, 2011 in Culture, Family, Food, Persons & Peoples