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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

 
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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!

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

 

(Day 77)

Sunday, 9:54 pm

Alright, we’re going to try this; I’m approaching the data limit on my internet key, but I feel like you guys deserve an update and some nice sunshine-filled pictures before we up and leave for most of a week.

Thursday, my art history/Medici class took us to Casa Buonarroti, the museum housing many of Michelangelo’s early works.  It became an automatic favorite because it’s just fun to look at; for one thing, it’s fascinating to get to see the drawings and sculpture studies that fed Michelangelo’s development, but quite independent of that is that it turns out that even Michelangelo’s quick-study early work is wonderful, all twisty torsos and floaty figures and everywhere that dynamic BAM quality that made him a legend.  Good stuff : )

Oh, also, they had another Renaissance architectural model!  *Obviously* you guys all remember those, because I mentioned them maybe once in an offhand footnote ages ago, but bottom line is that Michelangelo was once commissioned to design the facade of a church and he did and he built one of those models I love:

The rest of Thursday was just more school stuff, blah blah, and then this weekend was sunny and gorgeous and I got out of the apartment for a while:

 (Piazza Santa Croce)

 (Lower eastern side of the Duomo)

 (Lucky boar : )

 (Street artists working on a Raphael Madonna)

 (Random intersection)

(^ Piazzale Michelangelo, which I apparently really like.)

 

Traipsed around for a good long while doing errands, came back to a roommate-less room (reason being that she betook herself off to Amsterdam for the weekend, in case I haven’t mentioned), and have since experienced an utterly astonishing productivity streak; it’s been a little interrupted because of all the internet/list-making/stare-at-the-wall breaks, but I’ve had out-of-nowhere ideas for all my ongoing projects, roughed out outlines, done readings, made plans for personal work, and even got in some of those quick sketches we’re supposed to be doing.

 [~Per Esempio~ ]

Such a novelty to be actually on top of things : )

 

So, that was this weekend, and for this week we’re looking at a bunch of classes, work study, two on-site visits, an oral report, an orientation meeting, and our Italian final, all by Wednesday.  Thursday morning, off for Rome by 8:00 am.*

I may be back in prior to that, but if not, I’ll definitely be seeing you soon after.  In the meantime, happy rest-of-Sunday!

 

*Also, we got our itinerary for Rome, and YAY because we’re going to the Galleria Borghese *\o/*  …That is all  : )

 

(Day 73) Countdown-ing

Wednesday, 9:12 pm

Ciao again : )

It appears that we’ve just dropped another week, so we are now officially down to 30 days left in Florence.  And, because we only have four class days before Rome and will have only 19 total days after, this means that it is already time to start panicking about what is left on the Florence to-do list and deciding what places/things are worth a final re-visit.  It is inexpressibly weird to be thinking like this.

It has only just occurred to me, for example, that at some point in the near future I will not be walking past the comforting orange-and-white mass of the Duomo every day.  Guys, there will be a *last time* I see the Duomo.

I’m sure that by the end I’ll feel like I should emote a little about all this, but let’s skip it for now and give the brief update for this week.  Which is as follows:

  • Yesterday, went for the first time to Santa Maria Novella, that church right next to the station that I’ve seen almost every single day I’ve been here.  Got a story about how people managed to ‘lose’ hugely valuable artworks by forgetting how they’d rearranged the furniture.  Got another story about how they’d put on sacred plays for special feast days, and would hoist people up to the ceiling and then swing them down the aisle so they could have a ‘descending angel’.  Spent about 20% of the remaining class time wondering what it would be like to zipline in a basilica.
  • Then, today, another ‘first’ when my literature class took us inside Palazzo Vecchio.  This place is a massive, massive fortress/palace that has been the ‘town hall’ since the medieval period, and some crazy stuff (as in violent crazy stuff) went down here, but suffice to say that it is a huge and important building and I’d only ever seen it from the outside.

  • As we’ve discussed multiple times in class, the outside is not exactly pretty, because it was really only there to be sternly intimidating in the face of invaders/angry mobs.  The inside, though, is all about diplomacy, which means that it’s still trying to intimidate but is now just trying overwhelm with opulence: i.e., there are paintings in there that may literally have more square footage than my house.  But of course I can’t show you that, because Florentine museum attendants insist that all the cool places are camera-shy.  *Sigh,* no foto.
  • Tomorrow, just have to give an oral presentation at Casa Buonarroti (the Michelangelo museum), take an Italian quiz in the afternoon, and go to drawing.  Work in the library Friday, meet up with a couple friends sometime over the weekend, prepare for the Italian final, start fourth-to-last week.
Here we go : )
(P.S. — Just to clear up any confusion, yes, I will be sad to leave Florence.  But yes, I am also beyond-words excited to get home again, and will be fully ready to get on that plane and come back and start making everybody cookies.  So pick out your favorite kind, and just know for dead certain that I *am* capable of having more than one emotion at a time and thus am still thinking about you and miss you guys and already can’t wait to see you again <3)
 
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Posted by on November 9, 2011 in Classes, Family, History, Persons & Peoples, The City

 

(Day 67) Another Thursday

9:22 pm

Been getting caught up in the sudden appearance of more homework than I thought I had, so sorry for the continued absenteeism — and thank you for your continuing patience to those who have sent me emails, I will have replied to all of you by tomorrow.

Still actually have stuff I have to do tonight, so this will be kind of brief, but I had a good day today and happy moods are worth sharing.  So:

  • This morning, everyone had to meet at Linguaviva at 8:00 so that we could all go down to the police station / immigration center and deal with the ongoing visa checks.  This necessitated getting up at an ungodly hour to catch a bus downtown, but it also meant that I got to wander around for a couple of minutes when the sun had just risen and the streets were still more-or-less empty.  The only people around were some nuns, and some vendors in a state of pre-pushiness as they set up their stalls for the day.

 

  • It is also important to note that the street in ^that picture^, with the stalls, smelled like apple fritters.  They have no such things here, so I know I must have been hallucinating, but it was nice.
  • The police station stuff was no big deal (although they got all our fingerprints, so I am now in the system D:), and after that we were all told to go to a cafe near the station, where our professor bought us each a drink and a pastry.  Day instantly better, and also meant I scored a free lunch ; )
  • Came up with an idea for my final paper in the Medici class, got books, getting started.
  • Had another successful exchange with a random Italian, and a fairly long one at that.  A woman came up to me at the bus stop to ask a question (I get this at least once a day, apparently me surrounded by other people at a bus stop = glowing symbol of trustworthiness), and I gave her a one-word answer and then apologized for not speaking Italian.*  She made my day by replying that she thought I spoke very well, with a ‘buon accento,’ and proceeded to pursue conversation for the entire 20 minute ride back to the station — and by God, ~I got it.~  Even though she spoke very quietly, and even though she ultimately insisted on using English so she could practice, talking with locals has been achieved \o/
  • In the evening, went to drawing class, and actually came up with a finished project that I don’t hate (or at least not yet).  Plus, we get to spend the entire time before Rome continuing to work on figures rather than casts, and this makes me one happy camper.
  • Learned over dinner that “mm” may translate into Italian, but “mmhmm” may not.  Requires further investigation, but made for a good talk.
  • I go in tomorrow morning to keep working on the library’s catalog process, and can already officially say that we’re almost done.  Or rather, that we’re ALMOST DONE! 😀
Have to do a project/paper and preparation for an oral report this weekend, but shouldn’t be bad.  Then it’s a week and a half until Rome, three weeks until Thanksgiving, five weeks til home.  Woah.
*Funnily enough, all of my truly successful conversations have started with me explaining that I don’t speak Italian.  God bless low expectations?
 
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Posted by on November 3, 2011 in Classes, Language, Persons & Peoples, The City

 

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

 

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(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.
 

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(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.

 
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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.