Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Aftermath

So now it has been over a week since I have been home. I am still tired all the time, part of which I blame the weather for as it has been really cloudy and rainy lately. I've been going to the gym twice a day versus twice a week in Italy to work off that pasta weight. Today started my online class and tomorrow starts one of my many jobs of the summer. This summer is going to be full of work and working out, but I know it will make this fall's field hockey season that much easier and next spring and summer that much more fun. After a spring semester in California I want to be abroad again either teaching english abroad or interning abroad. Cross your fingers.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse culture shock is one of the craziest things I've ever experienced. So far, I've responded "grazie ciao" while leaving a store, stared at a stranger who asked, "is someone in the bathroom," and got confused when the bank teller handed me dollar bills. I've taken a few naps, something I never do and have woken up exhausted each day I've been here. I managed to miss the exit on Route 18 that I have always taken to get to my job. I almost ended up on the other side of the road, don't ask me how.

My biggest fear now is forgetting: forgetting the details, forgetting my friends from there. I'm not looking forward to the day that I see someone I know, and they don't ask, "how was your trip," because they either don't care or already heard it. I feel like my eyes are always glazed over, and I'm not really awake.

For me, that trip wasn't just a trip. I truly set up a life for myself there. I made a home complete with classes, friends, things to do. I was completely comfortable with the city for weeks before I left. That's a feeling I don't really have at home just yet. Maybe after I finish unpacking... Its like I have never lived here, but I somehow know where everything is.


More on reverse culture shock: Click Here

Sunday, May 15, 2011

L’Utimo Notte a Firenze (per questo viaggio non per sempre!)

After a final social media class, a delicious panino of prosciutto crudo, mozzerella and sundried tomato on schacchiata from the far winery, meeting up with two language exchanges, taking my Italian final, getting gelato and sitting on a bridge, signing check out paperwork, after all that, I changed dresses and went to a final dinner.

Pino is a man who works at Salamaria Verdi, which is essentially a sandwich shop. It is often confused with "Central Perk" of the television show Friends or "The Diner" of Saved by the Bell. This common watering hole is a place where I have gotten many panini here all of which are fresh and full of flavor. His pesto is to die for. I met up with a friend, Haley, a few of her friends, and my professor to have a nice meal. Its funny because this professor is my History professor of all subjects. She is a riot though. She’s “the pits,” as she says in her British accent. We talked about everything from Italian culture and living here rather than studying here to her travels to American celebrities to the shop itself. Pino even sat down with us and shared a glass of wine while our empty plates sat before us, once filled with sundried tomatoes, artichokes, olives, cheeses, salami, prosciutto crudo, then penne con truffles e poi rigatoni con ragu`. We spoke in Italian and English about short term things and long term things. She encourages me to teach English abroad (I am not sure if I had mentioned I want to do this next summer) in another country, other than Italy. Ho bisogno a tornero` ma, oops, I need to return to Italy, this place I found such happiness, but I think I spending time in a completely foreign country not knowing the language or much about the culture would be a great experience.

After feeling that homey feeling of chatting after a big long meal, my friend said she was going to Bible study. Bible study? I knew she went, and I knew that her father was a pastor, but I was not expecting to go to Bible study on the night before I go home. Her friend and her were going, and I know I could have gone out again, though I did every night last weekend and a bit during finals, I figure why not? What’s stopping by?

I ended up meeting some pretty amazing people there. Some were studying abroad students, one who I am pretty good friends with whom I did not expect to see there and other Florentines, some of whom did not grow up in Florence, or even Italy for that matter. (As a sidenote, this post is taking me forever to write. First, this is because my sunburn from Viareggio stopped hurting but started that itchy phase. When I took off my dress before, a sheet of skin came with it. Gross. Second because I want to make sure I remember this night right. One of my biggest fears about coming here was forgetting things and not documenting things well. Finally, when I am finished with this, I am going to sleep at it is 4:30 in the morning and when I wake up, I only have 12 hours left in this beautiful city, for the time being of course. My travel writing teacher says I need to stay focused when I write, but with blogging, I do more stream of consciousness stuff as you can see, or read. Anyway…) These people were very open and the kind of people I would love to surround myself with. They were not overly religious and did not push ideas on you, but just enjoyed sharing what they thought. One guy quoted from the Bible about how if we are not the ones who share the word, who will? This reminded me of a time when I was in a mixed up high schooler and someone asked, “have you tried praying?” I thought of how things have come full circle and how what someone said to me 4 or 5 years ago is ringing in my head now. I would have never thought I would be repeating what he said in my head while I was in Florence.

We broke out into conversation once it was over and ended up at two of the girls’ apartment. We drank coffee, hot chocolate, and tea, sat on the roof, talked, and looked out onto the Florentine nightscape. There was a moment I will never forget. “This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime things,” a Florentine friend said. I was thinking, for me, that’s quite possible, and with this group of people definitely, but you live here. You can come back tomorrow…

Once we got some solid ground beneath our feet instead of those orange tiles, we talked about the cultural differences between our countries of Finland, America, Brazil, and either Kenya or Tanzania I don’t remember. We talked about how Italians fight using words and objects, their lifestyle, their dialects. These were all topics I have covered living here for almost four months, though each time I talk about these things with different people, I get another perspective and a more true sense of the culture here.

I told them that of all the places I could have ended up tonight, I was happy I was there. I love meeting new people, even if its on my last night in Florence. Every interaction with another person teaches us something about them and something about ourselves. Maybe not always something new, but it can be reinforcing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I have changed over this trip, aside from losing my New Jersey accent and gaining a bit on the hips. I have always heard from my friends who have also studied abroad that when you go home, you will really realize how you are different, just as the friends from home will notice how long my hair got though I do not see it because I saw it a bit different each day. Also, I realized that leaving here is just another step closer to the person I hope to become. Every change is an opportunity to maybe not start completely over again, but to start new. Instead of being upset about leaving, I know I can just realize that I have no regrets, I am so blessed to have so many friends here and around America to miss, and that I exploited my opportunities, one of which was being open to change and be free to truly be myself. I know that when I go home, I will not have any apprehensions about completely being myself, even if the people I am around think differently. This is because I will always know that there are people out there who think like I do and have similar outlooks.

My biggest fears about going home are one, having my memories fade away, two, something awful happening and having memory loss, three, missing the diversity of my friends here, and four, losing my luggage.

Some people I have talked to said that living here scratched the itch of traveling. For a few others and me I know this just made me want to travel more. This winter, I hope to get my certification to teach English as a foreign language then after the spring semester in California, I hope to land a job in Poland for the summer, then of course visit Italy on the way back. This has been such an amazing journey, but saying goodbye to this one just opens the doors to something new and now, I’m even stronger. Building a life for myself, with the help of my program, is very confidence boosting. If I can do that at 19 years old, I wonder how the rest of my life will pan out.

It’s still sad to say goodbye to something that made me so happy. I’ve come to think of it this way: I will miss so many friends, but that means that I was loved here. I will miss the pace of life, but that I can try to take with me home. I will miss the food, but I can cook it. I will miss this gorgeous city and that will be under my skin for the rest of my life.

Florence this isn't goodbye, I’m just moving on for now, a dopo.

This will not be my final blog post. I will be writing through reverse culture shock, because I think it will be an important part of this experience.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Good Guys

I have realized on this trip how nice guys can really be. I guess from growing up in New Jersey, I would tolerate a lot from guys. No more! I cannot say that every guy I have met here is nice, and of course there are those infamous Italian catcalls, but even the friendships I have made with American guys here taught me something. Some of them reinforced what I already knew , but some of them definitely proved that there are genuinely good guys in the world, guys who are funny and also kind, considerate, respectful, happy people. They bring out the best in you and always make you smile. Do not get me wrong, I know there are guys like this at home, but I feel like I find that so much more here, though the group is a mix of people from all over the country. Being around people like this, male and female, makes me want to surround myself with people like that forever. Live is too short not to. Plus, I hope this trait rubbed off on me, and now I can be one of those people.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Finals and Ending

Its so hard to stay focused on school work while saying goodbye to a beautiful city. Good thing I packed and took pictures of the everyday city I see early in the week. I need a few pictures with some shop owners, and I'm finished. So sad.

Today, I climbed to the top of the Duomo. Yes, it took me over three months, but I finally did it. I thought it would be a good way to say goodbye, and it was. I met a lot of people, then when it emptied out a bit, a few tears did roll down my cheeks. Its hard leaving a place I was so genuinely happy in. If I can build myself a life here though, I know I will be able to do it again in another town.

One great reminder when leaving a wonderful place behind: when you leave, you are not leaving empty handed. Your leaving with memories, mementos, and friendships. Leaving this place also means entering a new one. The new locale is open to exploration, even if thats rediscovering a place you've already been. And if your unhappy with this place, you have the confidence that you can build a new and happy life for yourself as you did in that place you're leaving. If you could do that once, you can do that again.

As my mom says, "there is no place like home," which is true. What's also true is that "home" can be set up anywhere. It will be nice to see my family and friends from New Jersey, but I know a piece of me will always be here, in this home of Florence.

Tourists

One thing that I have been trying to do as much as possible is talk with tourists. I have been talking with locals and Americans so much, which I have loved and I made a ton of friends, but talking with tourists is so different. No one visits Freehold, New Jersey, so I never really get the chance to talk with people from all over the world: Sydney to London to Dallas. Plus, helping lost tourists always makes me feel better. Not only do I make someone smile, but I also get the satisfaction of giving someone directions through a "foreign" city, though its not so foreign to me anymore. Plus, I've met some really interesting people from the boys who were studying in Norway I think it was, I met them in Verona. Today, I met people from Texas, Australia, California, and Michigan. I love the diversity, and hope to experience that again.

Reverse Culture Shock

Many of my professors have been preparing us for this, reverse culture shock. They ask us questions about our trip and tell us to envision home. I remember thinking from the very beginning that the only thing I was nervous about coming here would be returning home. My things are packed. My bank account depleted. My planner full of memories instead of to do's. My hips grew. This was one amazing trip, and I realize that when I get home, no one will care. That is the first thing taught in my friend's "culture shock" class. This blog post sums it up: click here.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The End is Near

Everyone is getting nostalgic. The FUA Farewell party last night was greater than I anticipated. It was in a gorgeous estate with truly vintage pictures everywhere. Having a skit performed and band play outdoors was a great idea. It was nice to see all the people whom I have met the past few months all in one place. Everyone went out afterwards, which was hard after my all-nighter last night, though I did sleep on the Viareggio beaches during the day, getting half sunburned. I did accomplish something to cross of my list of things to do while I am here though.

So its my last Saturday in Florence (for a while), and I am about to figure out which of my clothes are worn down the least to wear. Tomorrow, I will be waking up early, going to the top of the Duomo, and walking the entire city taking pictures. I can't believe this wonderful experience is coming to a close. I really did have the time of my life. I just hope it's not all down hill from here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinco de Mayo

I just wanted to remember this right here, and unfortunately, my journal is far so I guess I'll stick to blogging. Tonight, I went out for frozen margaritas with a friend. We ended up at a couple bars then clubbing. I know its a cliche` to say that Italian men are persistent, but tonight was a prime example of it. You can say no, push away, hand gesture, it doesn't matter. Some of them were really cute, some acted nice, some were sleezeballs. That's life though right?

My friend and I got home pretty early in the morning and unfortunately, I can't sleep. I guess I'll be up until the 8am train to Viareggio, the closest beach to Florence. I know the end of this trip is near, but nights like this help me forget and really just enjoy the time I've got.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Free Hugs Florence

I just got back from the opera; Aida was amazing. It was such a good experience with my friends from my program. Anyway for my social media final project, my classmates and I made a video: Free Hugs Florence. Another Florence memory. (For those like my mother who don't know what to do, click the blue letters to watch the video)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Travel Writing Assignment - Poem

Two Towns

Walking through busy winding streets, a mix of veterans and tourists,
Driving through my small town, always finding familiar faces.

Looking up to homey balconies, skinny, tall buildings and deep green shudders,
Looking down tree lined streets filled with traditional two-story homes.

Sleeping to city sounds: music from the club across the street, ambulances blaring,
Sleeping to the soft quick bursts of air from my dog's nose as he sleeps aside my bed.

A two room studio apartment with one framed picture of a sailboat,
The room I grew up in, bright and beached out, my sanctuary.

Stepping outside to a friendly shopkeeper who is always stocked with wine,
Stepping outside to my best friend's house, home to childhood memories.

Living around the Duomo, Santa Croce, and il panino centrale,
Living around the mall, the movies, and familiar restaurants of food from around the world.

Fresh markets, gelato, and real wine from regional grapes,
The comfort of knowing the chef, homecooking.

Traveling the country with views of rolling green hills, discovering,
Driving the state with views of the parkway, visiting.

A fifteen minute stroll to the sparkling Ponte Vecchio,
A fifteen minute drive to crashing waves at Jersey's shores.

How lucky can I be for both of these are homes to me, memories.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easter Man Not So Jolly

I forgot to mention, while in the crowd waiting for the fireworks to start, I ended up next to an older Italian man. He was stocky and just by the expression on his face, I could tell he was stubborn.

As everyone got their standing room and the pushing and shoving for spots died down, I was looking around, feeling a bit stuck. I could imagine my parents being here: my Mom would be shorter than the crowd and not able to see anything. I could imagine my dad getting claustrophobic with all of the people. Also, Italians have no sense of personal space which doesn't help the situation.

A older couple came up from behind me with a piece of luggage each. Where do they think they are going? They started shoving their way through to the front of the crowd. As they pushed the man next to me, his face grew red. His big dark hand reached in front of him and grabbed the shoulder of the man who was trying to shove his way through. He started yelling in Italian and shaking and hitting the man.

The man trying to get through the crowd got away, only to realize he has nowhere to go. He ended up back tracking, passing by the angry man next to me who mumbled and threw out some hand gestures.

It wouldn't be a holiday without some commotion.

Pictures

I know I have not been embedding a lot of pictures lately. I will be making a photobucket album so that everyone can see my pictures. This will be linked to this blog at the end of the trip.

Buona Pasqua Firenze

I know I am a bit late on this post. I completely forgot to blog about Easter! For easter weekend, I wanted to stay in Florence and experience how the Florentines celebrate.

The Saturday before Easter, I was on my way home from Lucca and the flower show and saw a huge fire in front of the Duomo. Don't worry, this fire was on purpose. It was for the candle ceremony for Easter mass. I ended up taking some pictures like the rest of the crowd, then I grabbed a candle and went to the rest of mass. It was an incredible experience, listening to the Latin being sung, seeing the inside of the Duomo all lit up from everyone's candles, and the special lights they put up. This mass was long, ending around midnight, but I'm happy I went.

On Sunday, there were fireworks at the Duomo starting at 11am. I ended up rolling out of bed around 9:30 and thinking that the square is right around the corner, I took my time getting ready. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

I have never seen such a crowd of people before. I ended up getting pretty close to the men dressed in medieval costume who were throwing flags. They were surrounding a 10 foot decorated box, which I thought looked pretty strange. It had a japanese style to it which threw me off. All of a sudden, the box lit up with fireworks! White light showered from the top of the tower, some snapping fireworks shot from the bottom, some were thrown high into the sky. Then, red, purple, and white smoke came out, swirling and circling around the façade of the Duomo. Amazing.

After the show, I was walking around, and a man started motioning to clear a path as if he was Moses parting the sea of tourists. All of a sudden, a man walked a donkey through the crowd. Then another man walked two bulls who had flowers decorating their horns. It took the second set of bulls to walk by for it to hit me that the only thing between these bulls and me is a little old Italian man. Scary.

Finally, I followed the march of drummer boys and men to the commune di firenze. They ended up piling up the stairwell and yelling and pounding the glass. Then, the veteran at the foot of the steps grabbed one of the newbie drummer boys and shoved him up the stairs. Though it looked violent, and sounds violent, everyone seemed to be having a good time. The men in the stairwell would shout and hit the newbies, carrying them up the stairs. The Italians I talked to explained that this was an initiation tradition.

A lot of my friends traveled over easter, but I am really happy I stayed in Florence for the weekend. Some of my friends even said that they wished they had stayed also.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spread the Love

Let me start out by apologizing for the '70s flashback, for this post being very hippie, but I can't help it. Today, I noticed all of the happy people in Florence. I will note that Florence has the northern stereotype for being cold and snobbish as northerners do at home, but today, I realized how less angry people are here.

As I was running from class to class, I grabbed a cappuccino at the library. One man's cup ended up flying off his plate, I'm not sure how. He tried to catch it, but there was no hope. His espresso splattered everywhere including all over the couple next to me. The woman looked a little upset. As she cleaned herself up, the man repeated, "Mi dispiace, mi dispiace." The man she was with looked down to see a bit of sprayed espresso on his light-washed jeans. He shrugged and kept drinking his coffee. He mumbled something in Italian which I can imagine being, "there's nothing I can do about it now." Then, the barista came out with a mop. He asked the light-washed jean man to move a second, and the man joked, "you can mop between my legs." Overall, the situation was laughed off. If this happened in a Starbucks in New York or New Jersey, forget about it. I could imagine a lot of yelling, veins popping, and women and children staring.

After this incident, I went to meet up with my classmates to do a Free Hug Project for our social media class. We were to walk around with two signs, one in English and one in Italian, saying free hugs. We video taped it, then we need to publicize it, getting as many viewers as possible (get ready to watch!).

It was a little strange at first, and we did get some rejection, but it was really a great experience. We made so many people smile. Before we started, I was a bit stressed out, worrying about setting up the summer and fall for classes, and just dealing with things at home. I realized I completely forgot about it while I was participating and then afterward, I figured, "everything will work itself out." Smiling and especially making other people smile, is a great skill we all have and should practice everyday. It really does keep you positive.

Then, I was walking home, with a smile on my face, and I ran into one of my friends. This is the second time I had bumped into her today. The first time, she invited me to lunch with her friend. "Hey, I'm just about to meet up with people for dinner, want to come?" she asked. "I love how every time I've been hungry today, I bump into you restaurant queen," I saw as I had lunch with her at a famous sandwich shop in Florence that I still had never been to (Pino's). We ended up meeting up with some friends and had a delicious meal (I had fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with tomato and cheese over arugula, YUM).

On my way home, happy with the day and the meal I had just had, I saw a family asking for directions. The person they were talking to was Italian and only spoke Italian. "Ti parli inglese?" I ask, thinking I could have just asked that in English. "Yes," what looks like the mother of the family responses. "Where are you looking to go?" "Piazza Repubblica." "I'll take you there," I say as I wave them on. I really was just going to the library and PIazza Repubblica was a bit farther than I needed to go, but I could use the walk after the meal. After talking and finding out that she was the mother, and her family of 5 was here for a week just landing from Mexico, she asked me question after question. Once we got around the Duomo, she said, "We know our way from here, thank you." "Non c'e` problema, buona serrata," I say and turn to go back to the library. "Oh, you weren't even going this way," she says with a smile. "It's okay, I needed the walk, have a great trip," I said to the family.

Hopefully the hugs and polite gestures I witnessed and took part in today will inspire someone else to do some good.

There was a theory by a terminally ill little girl who said that if a person does a good deed, two people will see it, and they will do a good deed. Then this will multiply and multiply until the whole world is full of good. How sweet. If this hasn't convinced you to do a good deed, realize all good deeds are selfish (as Joey tells Phoebe in Friends) because they make you feel good. Plus, a little good karma never hurt anyone.

Strange Story

As I literally have five minutes before my Italian class in the other room begins, I wanted to remember this story that popped into my head as I was walking here, looking at the Duomo.

I had said before that sometimes saying the words and thinking through what you are actually saying are two different things. This applies to me coming to Florence. When I knew I had to decide between Rome and Florence, I thought back to my first trip during high school. Based on high school memories, I didn't like Rome too much, it was too big. All I remembered from Florence was that I was grumpy that day, but the Duomo was the biggest, most beautiful building I had ever been next to. I remember the night before my trip, lying in my bed thinking, I hope everything works out well.

Now, months later, as my weeks disappear, I realize it really did. I can't believe this trip is already almost over. I remember dreaming of what this trip would be like, and now I have memories instead of dreams. I definitely had the time of my life.

Missing

The other day was gloomy. I didn't have too much planned other than spending the day in Florence, working on a paper, and going to dinner with some friends, none of which happened.

Instead, I woke up late and decided in the middle of the day to go to Lucca. This was after my friend realized she couldn't make dinner, so I had nothing holding me back.

It was 3 in the afternoon, and all I could think of was 'get me outta here.'

I was sick of being in a city. I was sick of missing my friends and family, something I don't do often, but it seems like a tidal wave when it does.

I packed my stuff from the library, unpacked it in my apartment, and repacked a travel bag with only the necessities: a notebook and pen, a book for the train, an iPod, money, keys, phone.

I went to the train station and did something I've always dreamed of: going to a station with no destination in mind. I saw the next train to leave, Viareggio, a beach town. Going to a beach town on a gloomy day is depressing, especially by myself. I realized that this train stops in many places, one of which is Lucca.

Lucca is a small town full of tiny little Italian streets and wide open greenery. Perfect. Plus, I knew the streets, and though I wanted to escape, and I always look for places I have never been, I felt lost enough.

This one day ended up an accumulation of reminders of all the things I miss from home and all the things I will miss from Italy.

While I sat on the train, I looked out the window, spotting a cute guy. This guy ended up boarding the train, sitting across from me but a row back, so we could awkwardly look up at each other between lines of our books. I am going to miss having these good looking eyes to look out now and again.

Once I got to Lucca, I saw a bartender carrying over drinks from a bar to a clothing shop. I am going to miss the convenience of Italy, and the 'I don't care what anyone else thinks' attitude.

I saw a small family walking a Border Collie, who reminded me of my Jack.

In the flower shop, which I browsed listening to Italian swirl around the bright colors of beautifully smelling flowers, I found cacti, which reminded me of my southwestern-styled house.

While in Lucca, I was starving for pizza, so I had a couple different slices from a couple different places. I am going to miss all of the fresh ingredients and practicing my Italian to the friendly shop owners.

On the way back, I heard a train, but I did not see a train. This reminded me of my father, who would say "I hear a bus, but I don't see a bus," when he would wait at the bus stop with me before school.

On the train ride back, I made up different stories of what the German couple in front of me could be talking about. I'm going to miss being surrounded by all different languages and cultures.

All of this missing. I'm getting sick of it.

I've realized that I'm over missing, and I've accepted coming home in a few weeks, and I know that I will be missing this place once I go back. I'm not going to waste my last three weeks missing, but doing what I have done the entire trip, exploited every opportunity and embracing every moment.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Dinner

I don't end up cooking on an everyday basis, usually because I would rather be exploring than being in my apartment, but tonight, I cooked.

Don't get me wrong, I love cooking, and sometimes I wish I did it more often, but with so many Trattorias and Osterias (and a mini meal plan), you can eat well without breaking your bank, it is always delicious, and sometimes its just quicker.

But tonight, I got some clams from a fishery down the street, and cooked them with olive oil, wine, and parsley. Then I boiled some baby tomatoes then whipped them with oregano and basil for a sauce and put over whole-wheat spaghetti and sided with fresh whole-wheat scechatta bread (a typical bread that is oiled and salted that I probably spelled wrong).

Delicious.

I will definitely will be cooking more at home, now that I've learned a few things from chefs here and even just eating out. I'm sure my friends and family will like that.

Did I mention that little bakery across the street has pastries too? Yea, I just ran across the street with my change and got dessert.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Trying to Speak Sicilian

Everyday in Italy, I try to speak as much Italian as possible. Somedays are better than others, and the weekends are especially hard because of traveling. It's hard enough to speak Italian, but this weekend, I had to try Sicilian? Woah, Buddy. That's another language all together. I did manage to have a few conversations:

I'm not sure how I met the girls in the bar, but I ended up befriending two Sicilians.

"Da dovè?"
"Sono americana, ma sto studendo a Firenze. Siete Siciliane?"
"Si, si," one of them answers. Between the noise and the dialect, what she said next was German to me. We drank, danced, sang, and talked about the boys in the club, girl code at its finest. Then the girls wanted to recommend songs. They chose Tranne Te, while I asked for "Americano vecchio," which the DJ decided was Get Low. Hilarious.

The Fruit Stand Man

"Comè mangio questo?" I ask, holding up a coconut. The man rails off in Sicilian, way over my head. Thank goodness for the whole talking-with-their-hands thing. He took a mallet and started cracking open the coconut. My eyes and smile widened as I drank the coconut juice. He mirrored my smile as I thanked him and wished him a happy easter.

Police Man

In the train station, I realized I never really interviewed anyone, so I tried talking to a police man.
"Ciao, sono una studentessa di giornolismo e ho una domanda..."
He smiles, "no, no, no," he says. From what I got out of the rest of the conversation, he said, "I need to keep walking around, I am a police man, that is my job. Write that."

Train Workers

Again I explain myself to the Sicilian stranger. He asks, "Sono americana o italiano?" I explain myself. Boy, am I getting good at that line. What we talked about was pretty basic: His name is Angelo, and he likes working with trains and traveling, he has been working at that station for 32 years and has two kids. What was interesting is that he was more curious about me than I was of him. He asked me a lot of questions and was very friendly. Seems like the conversation broke up his day a bit, well at least I hope it did.

Ferry Friends

My final Sicilian conversation was with two men on the ferry. I told them how I ripped open my spring jacket from the railing as I was walking up the steps. Well, I didn't really tell them. I acted it out. My Italian isn't that good. They taught me the words "ago" and "filo" which mean "needle" and "thread." We talked about his work, which I didn't understand, but I was in Sicily, I wasn't about to ask too many questions. I told him about my traveling. He had a friend with him who only spoke in Sicilian dialect, so I would talk Italian to him, then he would translate it to Sicilian. We chatted for a while covering topics such as how beautiful Italy is, how Sicily compares to Florence (and how the food is better in the South). We talked about our parents and what they did for work, joked and laughed, and double cheek kissed goodbye.

Sometimes its intimidating to speak with the locals, especially in another dialect, but its worth the risk to have a nice conversation.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sicily

First and Foremost: Food

First Real Cannoli
Fig Pastry
Pistachio Pastry
Free White Chocolate (because I'm a girl and I was speaking Italian)
Linguini con Frutta di Mare
Thin, Flat Pasta with mussels and pumpkin sauce topped with chopped nuts
Bigger and Better Cannoli
Pizza topped with proscutto crudo, olives, hard boiled egg, peas, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese
Stolen Fruit

Things I did:

Saw a train get pulled apart, put on a ferry, and put back together
Ripped my jacket on the stairs
Learned the Italian word for needle and thread from Sicilians
Swam in the Mediterranean and convinced a friend to do the same
Saw the major city Taormina, the architecture is incredible
Went to the bar and made Sicilian friends
Explored the town at night
Explored the archaeological site of Siracusa
Walked through the old town Ortigia
Went on a walk along the beach, singing
Killed time playing cards, watching movies, and chatting on the 13 hour train back

Going h... (I don't even want to say the h-word uhh) home.

People say that you change when you studying abroad. This is because your experience of places you’ve seen, people you’ve met, cultures you immersed yourself in, gave you something you didn’t have before. When you go back home, you see that something in yourself, and see the world you used to live in through different eyes.
Will you appreciate your house more now?
Will you appreciate that friend more now?
Will you give that guy a chance?
Will you delete some contacts from your phone?

Okay, that last one’s a little harsh, but you know what I mean. Studying abroad opens your mind. Some of us came abroad open-minded, but we will leave better still. We might have been open-minded to different people, but experiencing the differences of lifestyles is a whole different ball game. Talking to people from all different points of view, from all over the world, some from the city, some from the country, some from big families, some from no families, some single, some lying… different cultures, lifestyles, ideas, beliefs, morals…

I am definitely going to miss this diversity. The one positive thing about going home? Seeing my little world through these different eyes.

Expectations

Reading an itinerary and taking the trip are two very different things. Sometimes you build up the trip in your head, romanticizing. Sometimes your pleasantly surprised, and other times disappointed. The same thing goes for people. Sometimes you meet someone and expect the worse, then realize you’ve got a lot of similarities. Maybe the next time you meet someone, you’ll be a bit more optimistic and they’ll let you down.

We base a lot of how we react to different people and personalities on who we have met before or the experiences we have just had. I don’t think that’s a very good way to go about things.

I’ve learned to go into trips and get into friendships with people neutrally. If there are no expectations, and you make the best of your situation, you will always come out ahead because everyone teaches you something. We learn and grow ourselves through every interaction, interactions with people, with culture, with the world.

Wow, I know I’ve said it before, but that really sounds like another one of these stupid 20-year-old revelations that everyone already knows. Oops.

My First 13-hour Train Experience

“Hey wake up, I need to pee.”

The light reaches out and finds my face as I crunch up to unlock the door. I wonder how much longer until we reach the ferry to get to Sicily.

I see a shadow, and thinking it is my roommate returning from the bathroom, I slide the makeshift curtain that is my scarf away from the window to ensure it’s her. Instead of a thin, blond haired girl, I find a thickly build Italian man with well-baked skin, a blacked out outfit staring in. He raises is plump sausage fingers to wave at me. I snap my head away and continue waiting for my roommate.

“It’s pretty sketch out there. If you really need to go, just be careful,” she says when she returns. I look out into the hallway and see the man has passed and was making his way onto the next train car. I quickly move in the opposite direction and slip into the bathroom. I brace myself, getting ready for a stocky man to push me into the bathroom to hurt me. I think of all of those tips, I’ve learned over the years to defend myself. Luckily, I returned to my room with no problems that night.

Our door gets double locked, and I get reacquainted with my pillow and the three train seats that are flush together and open up into a “bed”.

Two songs into my iPod, the silence the outside world is listening to is disrupted by the shrillest of screams. At first, I think it’s just the girls who were drinking a couple rooms down. I wake up and realize it was them, but the scream had more reasoning than “she really hooked up with him”.

“MY BAG! IT WAS UNDER MY PILLOW! THE DOOR WAS LOCKED!”

Three bags from three different rooms were stolen. They ended up catching one of the guys who wore a neon orange sweater. Two very expensive cameras and one iPod are still missing. Another thing missing? An explanation of who that man I saw was and why he was at our door.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Helping Our Environment

What is it going to take for the human race to start living greener? Over the past year, we have seen environmental catastrophes from the BP Oil Spill to the Japan earthquake and power plant crisis. This is an issue effecting every living thing on this Earth, though we live our everyday lives without a care.

I have realized in my studying abroad that being green for Italians is not a choice, it is a necessity because of the expense of heat and electricity. If only this were true in America. So many think that living green will disrupt their daily lives, though it is a lot simpler than that: turning off a light when you leave the room, using a refillable water bottle instead of cases of water, taking shorter showers, washing clothes in cold water, etc. Doing all of these things not only decrease your carbon footprint, but they also fatten your wallet. Who doesn't need that?

Here are a couple of sites to check out.

Convenience and Introspection

Some students here say that they miss the convenience of home. If anything, I am going to miss how convenient life is here. I love the fact that I can walk over to my friend's apartment across the bridge and yell up to her window, asking if she wants to hang out. I am going to miss telling a friend to meet at the Duomo so we can walk to gelato. If I wanted to take a day trip, all I need to do is walk to the train station. Sure, we don't have microwaves, but who needs that? I got popcorn gelato last week. And okay, we don't have dryers, but the drying rack does just fine.

Another thing I didn't realize I'm going to miss so much is the friend's I have made here. I forget that they do not get to come home with me. They have taught me a lot. Its also very easy to be yourself when you are around people from all over the country/world. I think at home, sometimes we can get swayed by the majority, but if we all know we are different, coming from different places, backgrounds, families, I think that its easier to show your true colors to people (not that I am not myself at home, I hope you understand what I mean by that). I think when you are around people who think a certain way too much, anyone would get a little swayed. Surrounding yourself with a new mix of people is like hitting the refresh button.

When you study abroad, you realize not only what your like, seeing yourself in other people, but you also see what your not like. I think this is a very important step in the growing up process.

I'm really going to miss the diversity of personalities, lifestyles, ways of thinking. I like understanding new cultures, seeing how others live, and getting to know new people. This is why I wanted to book a semester in California in the Spring. I'm going to crave a similar experience as soon as I get home.

I also was reminded of what it truly means to be happy, the things that are important to me. So many people here say they miss a lot of things and can't wait to go back to them. Yes, I miss my firepit outside, real breakfasts, and the little things, but truly, all that I miss from home are my grandparents, my parents, my dog, and a handful of my friends. If I could take them all with me traveling, I don't think I would ever stand still.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Connections

Its funny to see pictures of little things around Florence that I took upon my first days being here. I found a picture of a tag (graffiti) of the batman symbol. I thought it was so cool. On my pretty regular walk from school to lunch, I realized that I had been walking by it multiple times a week. I had never noticed it since that one day of exploration.

Also, I was walking by a bar with a friend last night after dinner, and I realized that was the bar I went to with my roommates and some friends the first night we went out. I had actually been there once recently, but I never noticed. I actually verified the connection with the friend who responded, "you didn't know that?"

I think its funny how you can fall into a routine and not notice the little things after a while. This is why I always try to walk a different way to classes and not get into such a routine here. Exploring a bit everyday, or even noticing different details is so important to a longer trip like this.

My Postcard

I think I had mentioned that I was not writing throughout my last weekend trip. I keep remembering details that I do not want to lose forever in the sea of my brain.

After the guided tour of Pompei, I wandered some of the shops. I found a thimble that was cheaper than any other thimble I saw, and my grandma collects them. I talked to the vender, in Italian of course, telling him I want to buy it for her. His first questions were what is my name and do I have a boyfriend, typical. After he tried setting me up with his son who gave me elevator eyes, I told him about how I was just there to buy a present for my grandmother. The vender told his 25 year old, tall, dark, blue eyed son that I would be a perfect match because I seem family oriented. After some laughing, he gave me my thimble and then reached over to the postcard, "a gift," he said. I put it in the bag without thinking, then gave the vendor a "proper parting of ways" which is the double cheek kiss.

I later looked into the bag and saw that the postcard he gave me was of the pictures from the Brothel. My grandmother2s thimble is now tainted, and I am left with a suggestive postcard fit for no one.

Three Perspectives on Travel

The Pilot
“Psh, all clear,” my dad hears as the fun part of his job begins. With a long runway before him, he exhales with satisfaction similar to a newly licensed driver looking out onto an open road the first time.
Traveling is not just experiencing something new. Its time. Its work. Its money. Its life-or-death. Its technical. Its business. Its not just going out to discover. Its a delicious expensive meal balanced with the loneliness of a hotel room. Its being on call. Its packing and unpacking, packing and unpacking. Its like sprinting, working less days a year, but busting your butt when you do.
“I love being a pilot,” he's always said, though it seems to me like words sound great, but when I think of all it entails, the jetlag, the culture shock, the unsettling feeling, the outcast tourist feeling, it might not be all that glamorous. Is a pilots license in my future? Maybe not anymore.

The Wife of the Pilot & The Local Servers
“Dad's stuck in Australia,” my mom sighs.
“How's that a complaint?”
“Having an empty house is nice for a day or two, but...” and she trails off.
“Oh Mom, I'll stay on a little longer.”
“I went to Belmar Bagels, and they said of course you could come back this summer.”
“Speaking of, you know what I've been thinking about? At my bagel shop, I can't stand the weekends because the entire tri-state area thinkings its cool to flood the beach. I wouldn't care, but their so rude and never tip. I make more money serving less locals during the week. I was sitting at a cafè yesterday, and I was relating to the barista frustrated with tourists but still trying to be friendly. I don't know how they do it. These tourists, and even locals sometimes, forget that there is a human being behind the counter, not just their food. Is it really asking to much to at least act pleasant? Plus, these workers have to deal with all the different languages. When people order in Spanish or Portugese to me at work every so often, I think Um, we're in America speak English. The baristas here deal with it all the time. They must hate the foreigners, especially because some don't even try Italian. So sad.”

An Elderly Local
“Look at all of these fresh faces and young bodies,” mio zio says as we walk through his hometown of Venice. “When I was their age, I was working for my family. I haven't been outta the country in 40 years. They are taking over and dilluting the culture. Everything's catered to them, burgers and fries, my country is disappearing.”

Monday, April 11, 2011

blue grotto

How did I almost forget about the Blue Grotto? That was the most amazing experience. On my high school trip, I saw the blue grotto in Capri, but I never went inside.

We are all on a boat tour of beautifully blue Capri, when we stop in this cove. I saw these little row boats manned by only the strongest tannest Italian men. My friends and I transfer from the bigger boat to the smaller boat with help from a sailer. We dodge a few other boats and end up in front of this little arch at the foot of the rock that has a chain hanging on top. Our rower says to duck as he pulls the chain and shoots us into the Blue Grotto. It was like finding a secret room in there. The only light to see is the sun's reflection on the pure white sand which illuminates the water. Breath taking. The men inside were singing stereotypically. I asked my rower in Italian if he likes to sing, and he said he did but he did not like his voice. I convinced him to belt out a few notes.

Unfortunately, my description of this experience is not as vividly written as the experience was, but I am off to Fiesole with a friend. I love how we all say, meet at the Duomo. Its hard to believe soon I'll be meeting at Dunkin Donuts instead.

Questo Weekend

This weekend, I went to Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, and Positano.

Pompeii Facts I've Learned
-Mt Vesuvius is the only active volcano on mainland Europe
-Abundency road is the main road full of shops and businesses
-Lupanare is a wolf call which is what Italians would do in the red light district.
-89 winebars, 39 bakeries, a few hundred people, Carpe Diem
-There's a Brothal with pictures, straw on the stone beds, moving on...
-A penis is a symbol of good luck and they are all throughout the city. Some are in stone carved into the ground which points in the direction of the Brothal
-Their community baths were like modern gyms
-They had white pieces of tile on the ground to reflect moonlight so they can see in the dark
-They had no street signs so "I'm left of the bull statue," or "I'm right at the foundtain," was how people got around
-There is a palace of justice at the end
-Lemoncello and fireworks typical of the neighboring town of Naples. Lemoncello is made from the peel of the lemon not the lemon itself and fireworks go off all summer, every birthday, all the time.

Relaxing Capri
I have been to Capri before so instead of going crazy trying to see everything possible, I relaxed. I've been to Anacapri before, so my friends and I had a lunch at the top of Capri next to a gorgeous view, did a little shopping, and laid out on the beach. Beautiful day.

Sorrento
When we came back to Sorrento, I walked the streets of Sorrento as my roommates went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. I found the same scarves that are sold in Florence for 2 euros instead of 5. I found some made in Italy things as well which I was really excited about.

Both of the dinners in Sorrento were really good. The first night we had a basic antipasto then three different pieces of pizza, a basic slice, a prosciutto and mushroom slice, and a spinach and sausage slice. Yum. For dessert we had cream puffs in a chocolate liquor sauce.

The second night, we had a plate of prosciutto to start and amazing bread (the farther south in Italy you go, the better the bread is) then spinach gnocchi with shrimp. Dessert was a lemon cake. Of course, a glass of wine accompanied each meal.

The last day we went to Positano. We hiked down 454 steps to walk the quant town, speak with locals, eat some baccala with a rice ball and these grilled vegetables wrapped in a pastry, wander, and explore.

Another successful weekend.

Bus Buddy

I went away for the weekend on a trip run by the school and met some awesome people. On the three hour bus ride home, I got to know the person sitting next to me. It was surprisingly refreshing. We talked about everything from culture shock and reverse culture shock to having a drive to get out there and make your dreams happen to American stereotypes to our childhoods.

Random, great, long conversations with people give me hope for the world.

another post about food

I know, I know, you must be thinking, "boy can this girl eat." To answer that, yes I can, but also, I don't know why but I have a real connection to my food. Its a big part of culture I think.

Now that that's out of the way, the funniest thing happened to me the other day. I saw something green in my fragola and cafe` gelato. It was mixed into the strawberry part. I was thinking, if this was America, I would be so grossed out, but since I am in Italy I ate it. I licked all of the gelato off the green part and plucked it from my tongue and realized it was a strawberry leaf. How funny that when you see green in icecream at home, you immediately think of mold, but in Italy, you have no such uncertainty.

Also on the topic of food, let me stress the importance of eating local food. When your in Bologna, get the tortolini. When in Modena, taste the vinegar. When in the Amalfi Coast, order fish. It boggles my mind that people don't do this. This is how you get a more authentic experience. Open your mind, and open your taste buds.

In Capri, after having the local lemon cookie, I tried popcorn gelato. POPCORN! It tasted like caramel with popcorn bites inside. I really wanted something fruity as it was a hot day, and we just spent hours at the beach, but you don't come across popcorn gelato too often in your life.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spring Fever

I would love to break this up into a bunch of different smaller posts, but it is 11:15pm, and I need to be up at 5:30am tomorrow, so here we go. I apologize in advance for the jumbled topics. I'll break them up somehow.

Thoughts from il Giardino di Boboli
Somedays, I wake up and it hits me all over again. I'm in Italy?! How long do I have left? How much money do have left? Is this really everything I have been hoping, waiting, saving, working for? Yes. It is. Its all that and more. I know I will have horrible culture shock when I get back because I can't even imagine the life I used to live. I drive a car? There's a beach close to my house? I have a dog?

I like this lifestyle I live. I like walking to lunch, a fresh lunch made from the freshest ingredients. I like walking to the food store at 7pm for ingredients to make dinner within the hour. I love speaking the beautiful Italian language to locals. I love browsing through vintage jewelry. I love laying in the Boboli Gardens, or in any park that is, to read and write and hang out with friends. I love walking to class and being distracted by cappuccinos and clothes. I love rewarding myself with a gelato after class. I love getting dressed everyday (they really get dressed dressed here, which I try to do a few times a week). I love my daily life. I love being here. When I... I don't even want to say the words... come home (I say cringing) I need to ensure that I take aspects from this daily lifestyle and incorporate it into my life at home.

Other thoughts from the Garden
I love how this is an option. Between classes, picking up a delicious chicken dish with sun-dried tomatoes and potatoes in a citrus sauce to sit up against a tree in a garden with Florence's skyline before me. To my left, there's Italian kids chilling. To my right, there is an old American couple kissing. What more can I ask for. Such a beautiful moment.

When I experience moments like this, in places I love, I wish that I could share this with people I love. I could picture my grandparents and I relaxing in this park. I could picture my friends hitting a field hockey ball around. I could picture my dog and I playing in the grass or playing catch...

Thoughts from the streets
Wow. Just bumped into someone who plays field hockey. I actually played against her friends last season. "Go Field Hockey"
Lesson reminded of? This world really is small. I also bumped into someone I went to middle school with in a bookstore here. She's also studying abroad. Small, Small world.

Thoughts after dinner
Always go out of your way to make someone else smile, even a stranger a day. I vowed to help a tourist with directions each day. Today that came easy, because someone came up and asked. I was thinking of just approaching lost tourists.

Anyway, I was on my way home from dinner and saw a few guys running. Two small keys jumped out of one of the guys pockets. I chased them down the street (they couldn't hear my 'Scusa' because of their iPods). I have never seen such a big smile when I handed him the keys. It made me smile. It was also a good way to work of the bread I had with my dinner.

Thoughts from Piazza Repubblica
I know this is typical 20 something year old female lingo, but right now, that's where I'm at, and I have to say, I'm love it.

vestiti - clothing

Okay, what are people doing? I woke up this morning and checked that today has a high of 80. I have a 9am class and realize its not going to be 80 when I walk out the door this morning, so I put on solid black not-too-short shorts, a white tank from express that has strings of black beads around the scoop neckline, a grey blazer and black flats. I wonder if I will be looked up and down by the Florence Fashion Divas, the group of girls who stand outside their school whom I need to walk through to get to mine.

I step outside and see... Jackets? Trench coats? Scarves? Sweaters? I do not understand. Did they not read the weather this morning? On my walk to school, I spot a few other younger people who have tee shirts, some have skirts, but other than this the only other group of people I see dressing true to the weather is tourists. I am not sure about here, but at home, the first day it is 80 degrees is cause for celebration. Bears come out of their holes, lemonade is poured, and women shave their legs.

Lesson learned: people dress seasonally. Instead of checking the weather, they check the date. Apparently April 7 is not means to break out the shorts.

(And if you are wondering the Florence Fashion Divas did do to body scan, I just held my head up and kept walking.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

mini mini details

I hope I don't forget the little things. I know I have said this before, but now I'm talking about the really little things. How I read through Sarah Ben-somethings mail when I look through the ABC mailbox hoping there is something for me. The names of the streets I've grown to love. All of those different kinds of cookies I get at Forno. The last weekend and week I am here, I plan to go around with my camera and take hundreds of pictures of my everyday life. I am anticipating it, though I dread that day too.

Craving Green

Maybe a flower pot on a ledge,
Maybe some leaves on a tree,
These are the only greens I see.

Maybe chopped in a salad,
Maybe pesto on spaghetti,
These are the only greens I see.

Maybe a man's spring jacket,
Maybe a woman's fitted tee,
These are the only greens I see.

Here I am
Writing against a tree
Stereotypically.
People sitting all around me
In the park, to just be.

In the hands of a man,
Flowers are cut so perfectly,
These are the only greens I see.

Flowers in shops,
A few tree tops,
Florence doesn't hold much greenery.

a spontaneous "lets get out of the classroom and write"

Being a planner is thrown out the window. The title I used to hold, completely dissolved. I have always had a plan, but would roll with the punches. A "flexible easygoing planner" is how I would describe myself. The "flexible easygoing" part is now stressed as I will press my lips before planner comes out of my mouth.

Here I am, my professor has dragged me to another church.

I would never really say that. Look at this.

Standing on a piece of shaky cobblestone outside the church, as my professor tried giving us a history and the Charlie Brown teacher voice rang in my head, I wondered how much this piece of the street must have endured to get this way. I wonder who the people are or were who traveled across it.

Donatello stands strong on the church. I think of how much he endured to get carved into marble and placed into the façade.

In sports, I think of recent March Madness events but also my personal experience in sports in track and field hockey, we measure success in points scored, personal bests, championship titles. The final result of a game or a score is all we focus on. We do not see or experience all that it took to get to that point.

I wonder what was endured to make another church, this church. All of the mosaic, the painting, the brick laying.

Forget Rome, forget Florence, forget this church even, this floor was not built in a day.

I wonder what the people were like, the ones who built this. I wonder what their personalities were. They all have one thing in common, endurance, even if they stopped every twenty minutes for un cappuccino or una bottiglia di vino. I mean these carvings are amazing, lacelike drapped but elegant like a spider web.

All of the people who sat in this spot.
All of the eyes who have looked at these things.
What are their stories?
Where are they from?
What did it take for them to get here?
Do they appreciate this?
Do they have a belly full of espresso, cornetto, or even spaghetti al pesto?
Are they bored?
What are they thinking?
I wonder if they are thinking about the same things I am.

Monday, April 4, 2011

people

Has anyone else noticed? Everyone looks the same. I have taken so many double takes on this trip. A few times a week, I will run into someone or see someone in a crowd who looks like someone I know.

This might just be choice theory or reality theory of me thinking of home, but I promise it to be true. So strange.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cinqueterre

This blog is not only for my friends and family (and class), but its also a memory holder for me. I could tell you how amazing Cinqueterre is with the skinny, tall bright houses, the rocky, pebbley beaches, and the pesto and seafood everywhere. Instead here are some of my memories:

-going on trains without getting tickets
-trespassing to steal a lemon which was peeled and eating it whole
stealing aloe vera from residences
-trying to hitchhike
-running to the train
-jumping off the train when we realized its the wrong one
-zucca di frutta for free
-"what do I have to do to get a piece of birthday cake"
-free cookies
-the ferry taking a detour to see dolphins
-my camera dying and realizing that the seeing the rest of Porto Venere without a lens was pretty sweet


What I Remember Eating (aside from the stolen lemon)

Lasagna al pesto
Swordfish al limone
Dolci vino da Cinqueterre
Fried baccala
Fried whitefish
Faccachia
Faccachia with tomato and pesto
Pizza with pesto
Bread with nutella
Crepe with nutella
Blood Orange Juice
Raspberry and Hazelnut Gelato
Cumquat

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hello, my name is Kelly, and I want to travel for the rest of my life.

I know it sounds clichè. I know I am probably falling into the typical twenty-something "travelbugged" American character, but its true. I have it. The difference between me and those people are that I have the drive to make it happen. I have grown up with the idea that if you want something, all you need is drive, endurance, and persistence to get it. I've got the trio.

I just got out of my travel writing class, a two plus hour lesson of reading, writing, and sharing experiences abroad. Though I was a bit envious of my classmates' destinations, I do not regret staying in Italy in the least. I think if anything, I would have regretted a three country ten day trip, because its like eating one potato chip from a huge bag. Instead of tasting all different potato chips, I like to finish one bag, then move onto the next one.

Once I leave Italy, I know the fact that I may never be back again is easier to swallow. My list of places I have been on the side of this blog will only grow and grow throughout April and May, so that once I'm back at home, there will not be a stone left unturned in Italy.

After this trip I want to see Amsterdam, I want to see Prague. I want to see Dublin and Berlin and Budapest. I want to explore the Canary Islands and Thailand and Croatia. I want to see China and Australia and New Zealand. I also want to travel around America. I'm going to California for next spring semester. I want to see Alaska and Hawaii at some point.

I hope my parents end up reading this at some point because I should probably let them know that I do have a plan in mind. They might not approve at first, but I'm legal now. Also, they felt the same way and said the same thing when I said I wanted to study abroad and I'm here, soooo

I will be graduating a semester early from college. I will finish my degree December 2012 leaving the spring of 2013 open. I know my job hunting will start early, as I looked for internships when I was only a freshman in college.

I want to either au pair or internship abroad in the spring. Fact is, travel writing is not all that it is cracked up to be. It a hard life to live as Tim Leffel explains (http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/travel/travel_writing/seven_myths_of_being_a_travel_writer.shtml)

Being an Au Pair or interning abroad, I can be safe, travel, write, and job hunt all at the same time. I know I sound like I'm living in a dream world, and I admit that I am. The thing is, when I'm in America, traveling seems like it is put on such a high pedestal. It is so Romanticized. The fact is, my American dream is traveling.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

family name

My friend from Bologna's mother also retold me the story of the last name "Esposito." Her version was a lot more clear than what my grandpa told me.

She said that in Naples, orphaned child or child born out of wedlock would end up at a particular convent. The nuns would take them in and raise them. These nuns gave every child the last name "Esposito," which means to bring to the light, or exposure. It comes from the Latin word "expositus" meaning to place outside.

un fine settimana pazzo

One Crazy Weekend (Sorry, this post will be long)

I have been looking forward to this weekend my entire trip, the weekend I would go and meet up with my friend from Bologna then meet family members for the first time. What an experience. I learned so much.

Food.

Of course I'm going to talk about the food. I might as well do it now and get it over with.

I learned so much about food while I was gone: how to make ragu`, a traditional Bolognese sauce, with carrots, celery, and onions diced real small with tomato sauce, pork and beef. I learned that anytime someone says cupcake here, they really mean a more corn starchy muffin. I learned that even the thin bread sticks and salami that are put out to munch on are made fresh. There is a difference between tortolini and tortoloni, tortolini being smaller with meat inside and tortoloni being bigger and stuffed with cheese. I learned about their favorite restaurant which serves these fried bread squares that have air pockets that you break open and fill with gorgonzola and prosciutto and other meats. Also there are thin bread rounds that and opened and filled with the fat from a cow and parmegiano reggiano. The ravioli and gnocchi were freshly made. I can't describe the meal as anything but impeccable. I honestly do not remember what the dessert was called (that might have been because of the wine), but it was a hazelnut creamy, pudding-like texture. Amazing.

My friend that I was visiting lived in New Jersey for a year, which is how I met here. She said that she missed Italian food when she was in America. Its funny because you would think that there is Italian food everywhere, but Italian food and Italian American food are two very different things. The food here is all fresh, not Shoprite fresh but driving through the vineyards to get to the restaurant fresh. She said she missed pink lemonade, pop tarts and some other snacks though. We're planning on sending each other care packages from our hometowns.

I could go on about the food, but I think thats enough of that.

Childhood.

One thing I've realized about being here is how different people's childhoods are. I mean I always knew we grew up different, but studying abroad throws that lesson in your face over and over again. "You will meet a lot of different people in your life," as my mom said.

I have a friend from Alaska who grew up running through his neighbor's tall grass fields to get to his friend's house. To ease the disruption, he offered homemade cookies. I have another friend who lived in a house of siblings way out of town. They found some fun ways to stay entertained. My friend from Italy told me about her childhood, living on the outskirts of a city, getting the best of both worlds. I thought about my hometown and how I had the luxury of having a best friend who I could reach by running barefoot across the street. Also, there was a beach about 10 minutes away.

I talked with my friend from Bologna about some of the differences we had growing up. Both of us have experienced both places, but she was in Freehold for a year, while I was only visiting Bologna. She said that it seems like Freehold is fun, but Bologna there is more to do. Clubs are open until 6am, which is usually the time kids come home after being out. When we went to a dinner with her friends, we came back at 2am, another regularity.

Its funny because kids can drink at 14 here. They can get a tattoo at 16. They get their license at 18. In America, we can drive, carry firearms and fight for our country, but never have a legal glass of wine.

Also, we talked about maturity. Kids here seem a lot more mature. I think this is because families are more close-knit, and the values are enforced. She said that the money aspect is different though. In Italy, kids do not have part time jobs. They get, essentially, an allowance from their parents. Kids here though always clean, cook, and do their laundry. Its just a very different world over here. I like this aspect a lot (and the food of course). If you could take Italian culture, architecture, and food and ship it to America, the world would be a happier place.

We also talked about Europeans in general and how more of them travel than Americans. A lot more students study abroad from country to country than Americans. I think this also leads to more open minded people. (Plus, in Europe entirely different cultures are so close. European countries are a lot closer together. In America, we are a melting pot, but when you simmer a bunch of vegetables, they all blend together and a bit of the original flavor of that carrot or whatever is lost. We all hold our nationalities close and are proud, but unless first generation, it is hard to ever really understand, unless you visit the places your ancestors come from.) If you live in one place and never experience another, or at least people who travel or read about traveling, there is no way to open your eyes to their ways of life. Things can be done so differently. It is one thing to hear about it, but its another to experience it and really immerse yourself in another culture. Any one who is lucky enough, or works hard enough, for such an opportunity, should do it. I couldn't imagine not having this experience.

Homes.

This weekend, I got to see a house in Bologna, an apartment in Bologna, and an apartment in Venice. My friend said that houses are not typical of Italians. If a family has a house, their whole family lives there, that being grandparents etc. Her house was beautiful. There staircases are closed and rooms are set up as if in an apartment building, which is different than American homes. It was very well decorated. They also had a huge porch and terrace which seemed like such a chill spot to relax, looking out onto the trees and mountains.

I also got to see an apartment in Bologna. It was all one floor, but very big and spacious. It was very well decorated, modern with some traditional Italian touches. For instance, the kitchen had low grey countertops, white everywhere, stainless steel everything, and an old Italian set of doors to open into the pantry. It was so cute.

The third home I saw was my mom's aunt and uncle's. They had a three room plus bathroom apartment, decorated old school Italian with frescos and chandeliers and Italian mementos. Again, gorgeous.

Music.

Italians my age listen to American rap and hip-hop mostly, at least the ones that I met did. My friend who was in America for a year also listened to other American music, but she said she did before the trip.

Its funny because at one point, I was listening to Empire State of Mind which is about New York City, a place that half of the people in the car have never been, but everyone seemed to relate to it. All of our music, I listened to from their point of view. It blew my mind.

I was also introduced to some Italian rap. I now have a new obsession with Fabri Fibra.

Timetable of the weekend.

Friday, I trained to Bologna and after exploring a bit, I met up with my friend. We went to her house, and she showed me around. After settling in, we went to her friends' apartment for a dinner with some of her friends from high school. It was an amazing experience being able to drink, eat, and talk to Italians my age. Their English was probably better than my Italian, but it did not come out too often, but I could understand a lot of their Italian. Them making fun of their english professor was hilarious: "paper or plastic," "did you justify yourself?" "I am getting a bit hostile..."

Saturday, my friend and I trained to Venice where I met my mother's uncle whom I have never met. He asked, "wana go for a walk?" (His english was very good). My friend and I expected a short passagiata, but he walked all over Venice with us, showing us his hometown. He and my aunt have lived in Rome, Naples, Salerno, Long Island, and New Jersey, so they speak both English and Italian. After the tour, he brought us to his apartment, where I met my aunt (the blood relative). She was so funny, "I have always gotten along with the younger generations. I get you guys, he doesn't..." pointing at her old-fashioned husband. She invited me to sleep over one weekend before I leave which I think I will take her up on. When else will I be able to visit this family? Plus, being at their apartment reminded me of sleeping over my grandparents' house in New Jersey, which I do every so often to get away from my hometown and my school. It is very relaxing and always nice to be around family.

That night, my friend and I met up with some of her friends and went to a big dinner. The restaurant was about 45 minutes away, so I really experienced how Italians drive. It is crazy. On the way home my friend from Bologna let her friend drive home. He hit 145 kph at least on a winding road (thats 90mph). Crazy.

The guys were so funny, running through typical topics. We talked about Jersey Shore and other American trash television, food, and partying mostly. They were really funny and flirty, just as expected.

Sunday, my friend and I woke up late which felt nice. We had a big lunch with her mom and cousin of flat spaghetti (I forget the name) and her mother's ragu` which was amazing. We had zuppa inglese for dessert which is very similar to our ice box cake. After, we talked for quite a while about the different between America and Italy. I showed my friend and her cousin some of my pictures from my trip.

We realized we never toured Bologna, but I knew that just talking with them, I learned more and had a more valuable experience than looking at churches and museums all day. The Bolognese Italian is a bit different, which was nice to listen to. Before going to the train station, my friend did take me around a bit, showing me the city center, a church that is really seven churches in one, her old high school, and the one of the best gelato places in Bologna. The gelato was delicious, and the guy that was working the shop...

I remember being in Bologna thinking:

I wish I could spend a week here.
I wish I could spend a month here.
I wish I could spend my life here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

vvvvrrrrroom

Thursday was Vespa day. We met Niccolo` and were off. He drove us up to the farm where we met a couple from Ohio also doing the vespa tour. I put a grey helmet on my head and sat on my first ever vespa. I've driven quads and waverunners before, so I didn't expect this to be too difficult. As Niccolo says, "If you could ride a bike, well, this is easier because you don't have to 'huh-huh-huh."

After a few laps around the dirt path, we made our way onto the street and through the rolling Chianti hills. It was amazing. I've seen this view before, on the horse, but today was a completely different experience.

We went to another little town, Castellina in Chianti, to check out the underground tunnels and to make wishes on the rocks. You are supposed to go to the fountain, drink the water, then kiss your hand and touch the rock. There are two fountains plus a statue which represents the feud between Siena and Florence. We made the same wish at both fountains, a tradition.

After a nice cappuccino, we were off again, zipping through the winding roads. Returning to the farm a few hours later, we got back in the van and headed up to the restaurant for a nice meal of bruschetta, prosciutto and cheese, sausage risotto, and gnocchi with ragu`, and of course lots of white wine, olive oil, and vinegar.

We tried different wines than I had on Tuesday and met the owner of the shop who let us try different wines. Oh and the grappa. Do you know how they make grappa? It is amazing. Grappa is essentially the alcohol that is in wine. Wow is that strong.

We couldn't have asked for a bluer sky, nicer weather, a better tour guide...

I never think that tomorrow can be a better day than today, then I'm proven wrong. Each day really is a new experience.

(Wow, I sound like such a naive and corny 20 year old, but at this point in my life, that is what I see.)

People and Culture

Half way through spring break, sad I know, I figured I would need a relaxing day in Florence. I definitely did. Today was about the people.

First, I ran into the British brother and sister I had met the day before at horseback riding. Of course this had to happen, right after I thought about how from the outside, I look like I am wearing the same thing: spring jacket, leggings, boots, scarf.

After a quick chat, I was off to meet a friend for a cocktail. We talked and talked to the bartenders as my friend was a local in this place.

Later in the day, I had my language exchange. I talk to a local Italian for an hour or so a week. I teach him English, and he teaches me Italian.

Today, we talked about how Florence is losing its culture. Because the economy is bad, Florence relies more and more on tourist money. Instead of realizing that most of us come here to experience their culture, they try to cater to us. They advertise in English. They build more Americanized menus. Their culture is slowly fading.

It is funny because being here four years ago, I can see the difference. All of the locals I have talked to would agree.

You always want what you can't have. Americans romanticize the European lifestyle and the Europeans are trying to become more and more Westernized. We always think the grass is greener. I think we need to stop and check out the brown spots.

Il Giorno di Sole

I woke up today in a whole new city. No, I'm not talking about how my friend and I missed our stop and ended up in the middle of nowhere and the conductors had to steam up the whole train just for us (yes, that happened). What I mean though is that the sun is shining, the air is warm, and the people are out. It is as if you bought a flower and gave it sunlight and water and waited and waited. Well, today is the day it bloomed.

Living in the city, or village as they call is, is different from when this happens at home. At home, you look out the window and see how bright the sun is. In my apartment, the buildings across the street are very close. Because of the shadows, I am unsure if it is cloudy or if I am just in a shadow. We only get an hour or so of bright sunshine until the shadows come. We'll have to get our Vitamin D by actually going outside.

And who could resist on such a gorgeous day? As I walked, the people broke out of their shells, thawing their icy moods, melting away their stress, baking their skin in the sun.

I love days like today.

Monday, March 21, 2011

proud to be american

My tour guide for the horseback riding tour said that his mother was half American. I had a strange moment, thinking about how I never hear Americans say that they are Americans. I always only hear us talk about our nationalities or where we are from but never, "I am American." Strange concept.

my butt hurts.

Horseback riding day today. I'm exhausted so I'll keep this short.

I met a lot of people again today, some my age studying abroad, some families. They were from all over, Australia, Paris, Midwest of the States.

Horseback riding through the hills of Tuscany really is exactly how you picture it: hills, vineyards, sun, breeze... My horse, Sami, was a former race horse (they knew I had riding experience). After the trail, which got muddy and a little scary when my horse got spooked by a car, I got to do what I always wanted. Me, a horse, a ring, and the beautiful scenery. I took an easier horse out, Emily. She was so smooth.

A glass of red wine, or two, or three later (kidding, just one), we went to Montereggione, a castle medieval town for a lunch of bruschetta, prosciutto, cheese, peppery four cheese gnocchi, spaghetti and spinach and cheese, more wine, and bread, all of which olive oil was drizzled on. This was followed by a wine and honey tasting. You can't scream yum any louder.

Smelling like a horse, I relaxed after the long day in yoga class. Seriously, walking around Florence like that, with my eye pink from the dust of the farm in my contact, with my old leggings ripped from riding, my hair a mess, I thought about what I would think if I saw me on a street. Wow.

A hot meal and a shower later, all I want is to sleep. Good night world.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

viareggio.

Time seems to be disappearing. How is it passed midnight? How is it March 21st?

Anyway today I saw dancing jelly fish, wackadoos in costumes, and the beach. I danced, I sang, I ate, I relaxed, I smoked (just a tiny cigar, its a culture experience).

Each day is an adventure.

I need to remember to live the rest of my life how I do now. When I'm thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years old, I will think back to my nineteen- wow I'm still a teenager year-old self and remember how I lived for four months. When I walk in the streets here, I realize that I am passing all of the Italians and think to myself, why am I in a rush? I make plans here, but also roll with the punches. I feel like yes man, never saying no to explore different places with my friends. I eat guilt-free. I work out because I enjoy it, plus its a great way to explore. I talk to everyone, like my dad does, and meet all sorts of people. I learn about them, their lifestyles, their culture, which is all really interesting to me. I can't wait for my interviewing class for journalism. Anyway, I ensure that I smile genuinely everyday. Thats not such a hard task being in Italy.

One of my friends asked the other day, "You really make sure each day is an adventure don't you?" Honestly, I couldn't imagine any other way.





video

Heaven is here, Where Juliet lives

I know when I come back home, I'll be hit with the question "Kelly, How was your trip?" How am I supposed to answer that? When overwhelmed with information like that, you have to answer a question with a question: Do you want the real answer, or should I just tell you it was amazing?

I was hit with this concept today. I had such a great day and came home to video chat with my mom, and I froze. I didn't know how to begin. I'll try to describe my day yesterday. Chances are, this will be a long post, and I will be telling a story then interrupt myself with an earlier detail I forgot. I'm okay with that if you are.

When I was waiting for my train from Bologna back to Florence, I had paper and a pen, so I started making a list of events for the day. Between that and the pictures, I hope I can remember it all:

One of my friends and I decided to go to Verona. Verona is a place I have been before and is probably number one on my list of places to be in Italy. After landing in Italy four years ago, this was the first place we had to really explore so when I think of my first real trip to Italy, Verona's arena is the first image that comes to mind.

Unfortunately, my friend, like the rest of her suite, got sick with the flu. It was 6:30, and I couldn't get in touch with her. I didn't think twice about not going, being that it is my favorite place I had ever been. My train was set to leave at 7am, so I had just enough time to run home and grab my book for the train, and I was off.

Most people would think, how sad, she went herself, but honestly, yesterday I realized that traveling alone (during the day of course, safely) is an amazing way to travel. You get to see what you want, without running it past if thats what someone else wants to do. You can go at your pace, how ever fast or slow that is. You eat when your hungry. I mean don't get me wrong, I love traveling with my friends, but yesterday was my first time traveling like that alone. I loved it.

To get to Verona from Florence, you have to first go to Bologna. I knew I had 20 minutes in between, so I went to the bar for un café. To be on the safe side, I just waited by the platform after that, platform 3. I was waiting and waiting. I realized it was getting late, and the train was no where to be found. Suddenly, the flashing dot says that the train is boarding. Where do I go?! I realized I was at platform 3 at the piazzale not the centrale platform 3! I run across the train station in my flats, scarf dancing behind me. Its gone. I missed it.

Whatever, this is why I wanted to go early (that and because it was 15 euros cheaper) I thought to myself. I go to customer services and ask when the next train to Verona leaves, wondering if I could still use my ticket. Because Bologna to Verona is a regional train, I could, but the next train leaves in... two hours? Well, I guess I better go explore Bologna.

And thats what I did. I knew that I would be coming back on Friday, to visit my Italian friend who will show me around, so there was no pressure to hit anything major. (This is the point where it is nice to be traveling alone. Most people, I could picture my father, getting agitated and upset that the train was missed. I figure, me getting upset about it isn't going to change the fact that I am in Bologna instead of Verona for a couple hours. Might as well make the best of it.) I browsed an outdoor book market and found a perfect gift for a friend. I went into a local crowded bakery and got two pizzettes. Yum. I visited a church and then off I was to Verona.

I was reading on the train when someone sat next to me. After some time had passed he asks, are you from New York, as he sees I am reading in English and the title of the section is Seven Seconds in the Bronx.

We get to talking. He is a 36 year old man from Naples. It was funny because when I gave him the last name Esposito, he called me family. We talked about Italy and America, and their differences as he has a friend in New Jersey who he has visited a few times. He, Gennaro, talked about how bad Italy is, saying that everything south of Rome is like Baghdad. He said that Italy will soon be Africa, politically. Gennaro talked about how he loved USA and if it weren't so hard to get a green card, he would move. His mother lives in Naples still, but he lives in Modena because thats where he found a good job. I am an immigrant here, because Italians can tell I am from Naples. What is the difference if I am an immigrant here or in America? He said. I told him that that's what I like about America, you can walk down the street and people don't know if you are a resident or a traveller, unless your rocking the fanny pack.

Once we got off the train and said our goodbyes, I went to a little stand and got a map and a bus ticket to the center of town. It was only a 10 or 15 minute bus ride, and I figured I would start there and work my way back to the station. My first stop was of course, Casa di Guilietta. I met an Irish couple who were willing to take my picture. It was amazing, being back to where I fell in love with Italy. I took the classic picture of me with the statue, which brings good luck to every person who holds her breast (its true).

I walked around the museum with a British couple who were in Italy for the first time.

My next stop was the tower. I always go to the highest point of the town that I am visiting so I can make sure that I see it all. Plus, I'm a sucker for a nice view. At the top of the tower, I had another British couple take my picture. The bell rang, and it scared me and the woman so badly.

Walking around the outdoor market, I got a big cup of all different fruits. Yum. Right around there is one of my favorite fountains, then I explored and found the arena.

The arena, like I said, was my first Italian memory, aside from the time I was in France with my family, and we stopped into a small Italian town. There was a woman sitting down with her newborn wrapped around her. Her mother was taking her picture. They asked me if I could take a picture of them, all three generations. They were American, from Connecticut.

I took pictures all around the Arena and listened to the two young boys speaking Dutch, what a strange language. Then met a group of guys. There were six of them: two from Florida, two from Finland, and two from Indiana. They were all studying abroad in Austria and were visiting Verona for the day. They were so cool. I took a picture of them all, with all six cameras, and they took one for me. We actually had a lot in common, it was funny. I gave them some advice about the rest of their stay in Verona, and again I was on my way.

I went to Urban Café and got served my cappuccino by the hottest Italian I have seen in Italy, hands down. It was funny because he was wearing a shirt that said Sunset Blvd.

After flirting with him, I looped around back to the city center, and there was a parade forming. There were tons of people holding flags and getting sweatshirts, and I just had to be one of them. I convinced a man I was Italian, and succeeded in my free goodies. I made some friends, nervous about my Italian being believable and walked (with the second cutest guy I befriended that day). There was chanting and singing and music and, hopping? It was fun.

I knew I couldn't spend forever here, and I had one last stop to make before heading back. I wanted to see Juliet's tomb, which was included in the price of the Casa di Guilietta museum pass. I loved it. The gardens, the history, the art, it was all amazing.

Finally, I was on my way back. I grabbed a panino con pollo e un bomboloni con nutella.

My train rides back were a lot less dramatic, and I was finally back home. Going back to my favorite Italian town, meeting so many people I had things in common with, and getting some free gifts. What a perfect day.

video