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Category Archives: Travel and Touristing

(Almost) Day One

I have now had my first full day in Florence.  Managed to find my way around,* buy food, exercise my smattering of the Italian (“where’s the park,” ‘cuz I’m a badass and that’s the sort of question I ask), and I even avoided setting my laptop on fire,** so overall I’d say it was a pretty big success.  Got to walk all over the place, found the aforementioned park right next to a whopping huge medieval fortress (which is Not Open to the public, the guard was most emphatic about that), and basically just spent all day walking around and window shopping and meeting other ACM students.  In the evening all 30-ish students congregated and met the professors, and we were then taken out for dinner at a wonderful restaurant followed by gelato at an equally wonderful gelateria.  The food was great, the people were (are) great, the nighttime walk through the city was great, and everything so far has just been fantastic.

At this point, it still feels like being on vacation.  Which is fine, but also kind of annoying, because the fun of a semester-long stay is supposedly that you get to stop experiencing the fringes of a culture and get to wade in a little deeper, pushing past the tourist experience and becoming more like a resident.  I know it’s going to take time (and maybe the real irritation is just having to live out of a suitcase), but bottom line is that I can’t wait to get classes going and to meet my roommate and my host family and start doing this up proper.

In the meantime, just going to sit back and appreciate that Florence still feels like such a natural fit.  I was here for one day two years ago and developed an instant crush, so I already knew that I *liked* the place, but there’s a very big difference between passing through a town (“good heavens this is pretty”) and actually setting up to live there for a while (“god almighty why does everything suck”), so I was a little skeptical that the feeling could actually last.  For the moment, though, most delighted to be able to say that this place still feels very much like a second home (maybe a third if we’re counting college), and that I’m pretty much all set to spend the first couple weeks walking around and grinning like an idiot at everything.  So at the very least it is now a two-day fluke.

I feel like I haven’t really said any of the important things yet, but it’s getting late and we have to get up to start our Italian language course in the morning (\o/), so I guess we’ll call it a night there.  Oh, but because there were actually a ton of people asking about comparisons between restaurants before I left, here’s what an Italian McDonald’s looks like:

    

First off, shut up, we went there because we were starving and it was really close and really cheap.  Second, it was so fancy!  You can’t see the lovely little lounge areas (innocent Italians eating deserve better than me and my camera), but that’s the inside of the McCafe in the second picture, and that low display window to the right is full of really excellent-looking pastries; Jessica and I both ended up ordering a plain water (acqua naturale and not acqua fizzante, the distinction is dangerous) and cream-filled croissants, and homg horror but I actually found a McDonald’s product delicious.  Ah well : )

We start establishing schedules this week, so I’ll know pretty soon whether blogging close to every night is going to be an actually practicable thing.  In the meantime, a big “love you” to all the people I wish were here with me, and be back when I can.  Buonanotte ❤

 

* Knopf Map Guide, tell your friends.

**The whole voltage conversion thing between the U.S. and Europe is something I didn’t want to have to deal with, so I just ended up bringing my laptop (which swore itself to be dual voltage) and a cheap little outlet  converter to make it fit the Italian three-prong plug-in.  During the planning stages, this seemed like a solid set-up; iPod and camera should run through my laptop, travel alarm clock runs on batteries, I’ll buy a travel hair dryer if I feel like it, and nothing else needs power at all.  BUT, since it does make me incredibly dependent on my laptop not dying (not that I wouldn’t have been anyway), I got a little twitchy over the idea that I might get everything hooked up only to have that crucial computer explode in my face and fall into agonized death throes; this did not happen, and all stress is now gone from my life.

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In Transit

Short version: We made it and everything’s going as swimmingly as can be expected.

Long version (which is long):

Had a series of misadventures, boring as imaginably possible.

Set out yesterday (Friday) morning at 6:45 AM to pick up Tyler from his apartment, an hour and a half away.  Drove the hour and a half back.  Switched over to my aunt and uncle’s vehicle and drove the 3 hours to Chicago. Entered O’Hare Terminal 5 for international departures* — two hours too early, because apparently Swiss Air won’t process anyone before 4:00.  The four of us adjourned to the food court, and I found a banana nut muffin and swooned over it with loving attention.  And then we sat there for two hours.

Sensing the theme yet?

Quarter to four, we finally get going.  Met up with Jessica in the line for web check-ins (super convenient to do web check-in the night before, so you’ve got your seat picked and your boarding pass printed), and got processed in for a flight direct to Florence with a layover in Zurich.  Two spiffy new boarding passes printed, and
my single checked bag under the weight limit, hallelujah.

Btw, if at all possible, make yourself stick to the lone 50-lb piece of checked luggage, the one carry-on, and the lightly-packed purse.  Once you’ve brought your luggage over (and keep in mind that you do have to pay for any second checked piece), you’re the one who has to cart it around, and I ended up being grateful again and again that I’d gone with the cheaper option that allowed consideration of my weak little arms.  Plus, I honestly don’t need that much, and I figure it’s a healthy thing to pare your life back down to essentials every once in a while.

Check in leads to the security line, blah blah no big deal.  Then back to the waiting game in the Swiss gate, where I got in one last round of text message conversations on my now-worthless U.S. phone and managed not to cry at all (even though, mid everyone-being-so-nice, it came close at one point).  Met another very nice student who would be travelling with us to Zurich and then heading north to Berlin while we went south to Firenze — happy trails, Amanda : )

*sigh,* board plane. Sit on plane. Sit on plane for an hour.  Sit on plane for another 7 hours.  Get no sleep because of cramped upright position and slight motion sickness and squalling babies.  Meet back up with Jessica and Tyler, who slept just fine on the seats in front of me.  *sleepy facepalm*

Navigate new terminal where everything is in German and finally figure out that one must travel straight to the transfer zone via shuttle-thing.  Another round of security.  More waiting around.  Get on bus.  Get off bus and board plane. Start getting wildly sick.  Become relieved that the plane is about to land in Florence, only to hear that it is now “impossible” to land there because of severely high winds.  Get rerouted to Bologna.  Collect baggage and sit around for an hour in Bologna airport waiting for the airline-arranged bus to show up.  Board bus, still not entirely ‘with it’ on account of motion sickness + sleep deprivation. Find it still impossible to sleep on the hour and a half drive back to Florence.  Finally make it back without throwing up only to still have to face a taxi ride.

Stagger out of last moving vehicle and into rather dark and rickety hotel, where Jessica has reserved us a room.  Get up to room (it has a balcony!**) only to discover that the air conditioning barely works.  But oh well.
It provides a shower and a toilet and an internet connection (down on the second floor only, but still), and at this point that’s enough to make me giddily affectionate.  So I am.

Out to dinner at an Italian pizza place.  Collapse back in room.  Experiment with fine motor control while semi-conscious and slipping.

How’d I do?

 

*Maynard Drive, turn left at Zemcke, turn left again at Bessie Coleman and then follow it back to Terminal 5.  We had tried to find it before, and the automated navigation got us as far as “the airport” before calling it good
and abandoning us.  I now present these directions to you in the name of solidarity against the machine.

**No grand sweeping Florentine vistas yet, but this is the view out our side balcony, just as the sun was coming up this morning (which would have been about midnight central time).  Had a bell tonging off in the distance, doves nearby, a light breeze, and warm sunlight — all in all, not a half-bad way to start the day : )

**