Monday, May 3, 2010


I know… I did it again… for almost 2 months I have posted nothing! But I think to make this easier I will catch you up a little at a time this time. J But a lot has happened in the last sixty-plus days, so here are some of the highlights…

A few days after my last post was Carnilvale! Italy’s biggest Carnivale celebration is in Venice, but Amanda, Christina, and I decided to visit Viareggio, which is less than 2 hours away by train.

Viareggio is on the coast of Tuscany, so we were excited to check out the beach and the celebrations.

On Saturday, we had a late start leaving Florence, so we did not arrive in Viareggio until early afternoon. When we finally go there, we were so excited! The sun was shining and the town was so cute. As we walked from the train station towards the beach, we could not believe how empty the streets were! We came across a very cool outdoor market and when we finally reached the coast, there were kids in costumes, candy stands, performances, and a lot of expensive shops. Also- there was confetti everywhere from people playfully throwing it on each other! First we got coffee and pizza, then we checked out the beach and walked down the main road along the coast. We were very entertained by the people in costumes and all the Puffy Jackets! (Everyone in Europe has a puffy bubble jacket! J )

When it was time to head back to the train station we were tired and chilly and ready for home. We hopped on our train and relaxed… an hour or so later, the ticket checker came by for our tickets, and he told us we were on the wrong train. In broken English he explained that we had been riding a northbound train. Florence is EAST of Viareggio…. So we hopped off the train at the next stop. This apparently was a very bad idea. It was dark and freezing outside and the train station was small and seemingly abandoned.

After freaking out a little because there were no more trains to Florence, we found a new route, and waited for another train… we ended up back in Viareggio before we could catch a train to Florence, and by the time we were home it was nearly midnight! Such a crazy day… but this one was my second and last bad train experience (knock on wood!), so I hope I have learned all my lessons about train travel in Italy!

The following day was Valentine’s Day. It was a slow day for us, and for dinner- we made a lovely feast. Christina is a pro at cooking comfort food, so she took the main course. I took care of salad and bread, and Amanda (who is less fond of cooking J) provided wine and a frozen dessert! It was a beautiful dinner! It was delicious, and full of Love! J

That week was also my first time climbing up to San Miniato in Florence. I went with my Art History class, and it was a terribly rainy day. Despite the poor weather- the view was magnificent! Not only is San Miniato my favorite view of Florence, but it is also a beautiful church, and the oldest in Florence- as in, it was constructed in the 11th century!

The next weekend- my 3 roommates and I headed to Rome with two other friends- Corey and Sam. Corey also goes to Clemson, and Sam is his roommate abroad. Our trip started with a €16 train ride to Rome for about 4 hours- not a bad deal. When we arrived, the temperature was significantly warmer than Florence, so we were all so excited to be in Rome! Before we even reached the city center we were taking pictures of EVERYTHING! I’m sure we looked like the ultimate tourists with our backpacks and cameras trekking around the city. Before finding our hostel we managed to see the Trevi Fountain (and toss a few coins in), eat pizza, and have gelato.

Our hostel was across the city from the station, so it was a long walk, but we eventually threw our stuff in our (sketchy) room and headed for Piazza del Popolo. Then we caught the sunset with some wine on the Spanish Steps. We later hit the grocery store and returned to the Trevi Fountain- a wonderful place to sit and watch…

Saturday morning, after surviving our first night at a hostel, all 6 of us went to the Vatican Museum to see the Sistine Chapel. That was all we knew to expect, but it was really so much more than that! The museum is filled with priceless art, and with our audio tour- we were totally wrapped up in the history. My favorite works were the Frescos in the Rafael rooms. This is where the famous School of Athens is, and I loved the other walls and ceiling as well!

After the museum- the sun was out! FINALLY! J It was wonderful, so Christina, Amanda, and I sat in St. Peter’s Square for almost an hour before deciding to cross the city again to find the Roman Forum!

Also- quick side note- there is a picture of me filling up a water bottle in St. Peter's Square. This was very exciting for me because, tragically, one cannot drink free water anywhere in Italy except from these public fountains. Because I am not accustomed to paying to drink water at restaurants, I am ALWAYS looking for these fountains! J This one was especially good because it was Vatican Water!

When we finally reached the Coliseum, it was closed, so we couldn’t go inside, but it was lovely to look at. Once it was dark, we left the forum to wander and take in the city.

Sunday morning, we checked out of our hostel and headed straight for the Vatican. We not only wanted to see the Basilica, but we were on a mission. We wanted to go to mass and see the Pope.

We slipped into one of the many masses for the day, and it was the coolest mass I have ever been to. This was the first Sunday of Lent, and there were priests from all over the world involved. Different parts of the mass were said in different languages, and it was awesome.

After the mass, we literally ran out of the basilica and into the square. We were not going to miss the Pope’s blessing! J I tease Amanda that she knocked over a few nuns and plowed a tour group because she was so determined and thrilled to see the “PapĂ .” The blessing was also a very cool experience. The Pope spoke out his office window in 7 different languages to everyone there.

From the Vatican- we headed to the train station, making stops for more gelato and the Pantheon along the way. At the Pantheon (which is the world’s oldest in-tact structure- from 30 A.D.), Christina was determined to find Rafael’s tomb. She was hysterically searching for it because her high school art history teacher told her that is was under the oculus. J Well, it wasn’t under the oculus but we eventually found it along the wall in a rather obvious location!

Finally we headed back to Florence, home sweet home. Rome was such a great time, I loved it, but it is always nice to come back to charming Firenze!

Friday, February 12, 2010

First Weeks in Florence

So, I have a lot to get everyone caught up on... J

My train ride to Florence was great. I just relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful landscapes! Unfortunately though, when it was my time to get off the train, I did not get off the train…. The doors shut right in front of me when I was getting off in Florence! So I was stuck until Bologna! I was crushed, and I couldn’t believe I did something so ridiculous! Although, now, it is kind of funny except for the fact that I had to buy a new train ticket from Bologna to Florence.

When I did finally get to Florence, I checked in at the school, and went to my apartment. My roommates were already there, and ready to go out to find dinner! None of us had high expectations for our apartment, so we were all pleasantly surprised! We have a living room with a comfy couch, a TV with only Italian channels, a little dinner table, a good sized kitchen, a balcony complete with a clothes line, and comfortable beds!!! We love it!

It is funny how little things are different, and we have had to learn to adapt. For example- we have a gas stove that we have to actually light… I was really paranoid for the first couple days that we would accidentally blow ourselves up! Now that we have not caused any explosions, and I have cooked many delicious pasta meals, I have no problem with the gas stove! J

Also- the clothesline… It is funny because we have to get used to the idea of only doing laundry when the weather is nice, otherwise, we will never have dry clothes. It was really funny when Katie and I were cleaning our apartment one day… I wanted to wash all of our dishtowels, but we couldn’t figure out how to work our little washing machine at that point, so I hand washed all the towels and a tablecloth. Then I hung everything outside (hoping it would dry in the cloudy, cold weather). I forgot what century I was living in for a little while! J It is fun though.

I also love being able to cook with fresh food from Marcato Centrale. We love going to the Market in the mornings and buying delicious fruits and vegetables at a lower price, but we have little supermarkets, too. I am now a pro at pasta- I eat it every night! J

Oh- I forgot… A quick tidbit about my roommates! I am living with three other Clemson girls. Amanda I know from my Italian classes at Clemson. Christina I know from Statistics last semester, and I share a bedroom with her. And Katie I did not know before now, but she is a friend of Amanda’s because they are in the same sorority. We all have a great time together!

So the first night in Florence we found a Ristorante near the Duomo. It was the girls from my apartment and a few other girls from Clemson with their roommates. It was about 12 girls and other than us, the restaurant was empty. It was weird being in such a large group of loud girls who mostly speak no Italian. The waiter spoke great English, but I felt guilty that we were basically forcing him to speak English even though we were in Italy. I ordered a pizza, it was huge, “But thin!” as the waiter said. It was not the best pizza I have eaten here, but it was good and I gobbled it up! J

Thursday and Friday (January 28th and 29th), we had orientation and placement testing for Italian. It was a lot of information and meeting other students. I feel like almost everyone studying at Lorenzo de’ Medici is from the east coast. A lot of New Yorkers and people from New Jersey. I have also met a few people from Illinois.

Friday, after our placement test, we had our first experience at the Central Market! It was a lot of fun! And the Central Market is surrounded by another street market that sells clothes, accessories, and other random little things. There is also a lot of leather being sold here because they produce a lot of it in this region! So, if anyone is in the market for some Italian leather- just let me know! J Here are a couple pictures of my roommates at the market- Katie is the first one with the lighter blonde hair and Amanda is next with a little darker hair.

Friday night we tried going as a big group to a student night at a club/discoteca, but Amanda, Christina, and I left early and went to a quieter pub instead. At least- it was quiet until we got there! J We made fast friends with some Russian/Latvian backpackers who were at a booth drinking Vodka shots (true Russians! J) as well as the Italian bar owner and a couple older Italian men at the bar. It was a funny night of practicing my Italian with crazy drunk people who spoke no English and trying to do a traditional Latvian dance with a Latvian! We were at the Dublin Pub until well after closing time because the bartender/owner was having just as much fun as the rest of us!

The next Saturday we slept in and then bummed around…. In the afternoon, we caught a free shuttle from the train station to IKEA, and the night was pretty slow, too. I always have fun hanging out in our apartment though! We have a pretty great roommate situation in my opinion! My roommates crack me up, and I think we have a really good time together!

Sunday was awesome! We went to the Duomo for Italian mass at noon. We didn’t have any plans for after, so we ended up climbing to the top of the bell tower! J It costs about €6, but it was well worth the amazing view of Florence from the top! It was a lovely day, too- freezing and windy, but finally sunny!

It was gorgeous! Florence is in a valley, but because we are always in the city center, it is hard to see the mountains around us. And it was so cool to see the Duomo and all our favorite places from above. I have 2 pictures here of Piazza Republica, our favorite Piazza! The first is from above, and the second is of Katie, Amanda, and Christina in the Piazza the same afternoon.

After the climb, we were on a roll seeing the city, so we decided to walk over to Ponte Vecchio. Ponte Vecchio may not sound familiar to you- but I guarantee that you have seen it before in a picture or something! It is basically just a bridge, but only to walk on, and it is lined with shops. Almost all the shops are for jewelry, and it must be one of the most romantic places, because everyone you pass is holding hands with someone! J Actually, all of Florence is like that- I have never seen people making out in public so frequently! I guess the Italians like to show affection, and they don’t mind doing it in public! Also, there area few popular places in Italy, such as a gate on Ponte Vecchio, where a couple will leave a lock that usually has their initials on it or something. It is like a strange form of graffiti, but I think that people don't mind it so much because when you see all the locks, it makes you think of people in love. There is a famous bridge (that I learned about in my Italian class last semester) that is covered these locks.

After all the walking, we were pretty exhausted, so we headed back to the apartment, made dinner, and relaxed…

Monday was the first day of classes, and my classes are all great! I am taking International Marketing, Art History, Drawing, and Italian. Each of my classes is once a week for 2 hours and 30 minutes, except for Italian. I go to Italian class 4 days a week for 1 hour and 15min each day. I only have classes Monday-Thursday, which is really nice.

One might think that classes in a study abroad program would be easy, but such is not the case, my friend! My Italian class is definitely a challenge, as the teacher speaks NO ENGLISH in class. All my classes will require me to study, read a lot, or do homework assignments, but I am excited! They are all interesting classes. I definitely want to learn as much as I can while I am here because the classes are so different than classes I would be taking at Clemson, and they all have a lot to offer.

Because we don’t have classes on Friday, we went out Thursday and Friday night. Going out has been fun here because there is a lot of dancing, and we always seem to meet interesting people from Italy, America, Australia, or other European countries.

Saturday was another FREEZING cold day, but I decided to go for a run around 1, and I was not looking forward to going outside, but I loved running through the city. It was so much different than running in a neighborhood or around campus. Plus it was sooo good to exercise. We walk miles a day living here, but it felts good to run. I ran to places I hadn't seen yet and outside of the hotel where my parents will stay when they visit! I was curious and wanted to make sure it looks good and that it is a nice location for them! It is. J

Sunday- the sun finally showed itself! Actually, the sky was perfectly clear. These 2 pictures are in the Piazza that is a block away from our apartment!

Anyways, it was still freezing, but gorgeous, and it was also the last day of the Chocolate Festival in Florence! So, of coarse, Amanda, Christina, and I walked across the center of town to find chocolate paradise! It was so fun! We were overwhelmed with chocolates in every shape size color and flavor! Everything was pretty expensive, so I didn’t eat much, but what I did try was AMAZING! Amanda and I split a sacher torte, and I had a coffee truffle that was perfect!

After the festival, we wandered towards the lovely river and scoped out a few other things to do, but we decided to save them for another day, as it was getting darker and very cold at that point. But we did meet a German woman named Cornelia at the river who we talked to for a long time. She was probably in her 40s and she has lived in Florence for 9 years. She gave us all sorts of tips and places to visit- she was so nice!

Sunday, we also attempted to watch the Super Bowl, but it did not air here until 1 am…. Amanda, Christina, and I decided to go out to a pub around 9 to watch a soccer game- Florence vs. Rome instead. That was fun, but unfortunately, Florence lost to Rome. We didn’t realize, but the game was actually in Florence, so hopefully we can figure out how to get tickets before the next game because I hear they are cheap! J

Also- that reminds me… The next day, Monday, our school had club sign-ups. Each person could sign up for 1 club, and there were a limited number of spaces in each one. I thought about doing the yoga club, but I wanted to try something new- especially since I am in Italy. I joined the soccer club! And I can’t believe I did because I know NOTHING about soccer except that it looks hard and that my feet are not that coordinated! So- hopefully I will learn some soccer skills here in Italia! J

Also on Monday, my International Marketing class took a field trip to the factory of L’officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. It is a world famous pharmacy for soaps, perfumes, potpourri, liquor, candles, chocolate, and so much more! They have a broad range of products because it has been making these top quality products since Dominican monks founded the company in 1612. The highlight of the tour was getting to sample chocolates and even getting a taste of their chocolate liquor! We also visited their original building, which still serves as their main store and now a museum as well. The original building is gorgeous- it looks more like a palace and has beautiful gardens, a courtyard, and frescos! Also it is right in the middle of the city- only a couple blocks from the train station! It’s crazy how these gorgeous buildings are just wedged between other shops and restaurants in the city, and you would never guess they are there!

Tuesday, my Art History class took a trip to visit the Florence Baptistery after our lecture on the Romanesque period. The baptistery is just in front of the main Duomo, but it was there long before the Duomo. The coolest part about the Baptistery is that from its construction in the 12th century until some time in the last 100 or so years, everyone in Florence was baptized there! The ceiling also has a really cool mosaic that is beautiful!

Wednesday, my roommates and I went out with some friends from Clemson and also some kids they live with who are from a school in Buffalo. It was one girls’ birthday, so we went out for karaoke- and I always love karaoke! J I never did sing with the microphone, but I sang along with about every song. That may very well have contributed to the croaky voice I have had for the last few days!

Thursday, last night- my roommates and I all stayed in and skyped with friends and family. We also are trying to get organized with our travel plans. We need to start planning some weekends away before the time gets away from us! Also, we are working on planning our spring break! We are planning on doing little trips around Italy every other weekend or so. This Saturday, we will take a cheap train ride to Pisa, Lucca, or Via Reggio for a day trip. We are also planning a weekend in Brussels because we all have friends from Clemson who are studying there. As for spring break, we are considering a cheap Mediterranean cruise (we found one for $600 for 7 days- not bad!) or back packing to a few different cities. We are looking at both and pricing them out, but I think we are leaning towards backpacking in order to fully take advantage of the fact that we are in Europe. J We’ll see what happens, and I will keep you posted!

Now, I should probably go and do something exciting, so I can tell you about it later! J Plus, I need to go buy some vegetables and do some homework before we take a day trip tomorrow! But- I did just make a quick video for you guys to give a tour of my apartment, I am trying to upload it , but it being a little Temperamental ... I'll get it up as soon as our internet is being normal again!

I hope everyone is doing fabulously at home, at school, and abroad! Lots of love, and talk to you soon!