The End is a New Beginning

Well, I am sitting in my hotel room while my mom sleeps in her bed. We spent the day traveling and in Venice, but let me rewind…

Our last group meal in Florence!

Our last group meal in Florence!

My semester abroad is officially over. I had the most amazing experience while living and studying and traveling for the past 3 months. I made so many new, meaningful friends who I plan on seeing as soon as I get back to good ole America. I learned a lot about myself, what I want, and I know I have changed-some small ways, other more significant differences, too. I am very sad that the program is over, could spend more time living in Florence and with the AIFS buddies!

 

Thursday of last week I went around to about 6 different churches with my mom, a teacher in the program, and Father Abel of Santo Spirito-whom she befriended on the trip. I finally was able to go inside of many of the churches I walk by and admire: Santa Croce, San Lorenzo, San Marco; and many smaller, hidden ones you don’t realize are churches!
Throughout last weekend I showed my mom around my beautiful, Italian hometown. We ate gelato and delicious Italian dishes until we could barely move. Walked for miles through the town. Spent time in Boboli Gardens, along the Arno, across the Ponte Vecchio multiple times, past Il Duomo regularly, up to San Miniato al Monte and Piazzale Michelangelo. I tried to give her a taste of what the city has given me over the past few months, and she loves Florence!

Flag throwers during the celebration of Easter!

On Sunday it was Easter and my 19th birthday! We saw some great celebrations: flag throwers, parade, the crazy event in Piazza del Duomo-it includes a fake bird and fireworks, some birthday celebration, and an Easter potluck picnic with some students by the Arno.

In FiesoleDuring the school week I finished up my homework and last few tests, the last day I had to go to class gave me a strange feeling, didn’t like the idea I wasn’t going back.

I went to the food fair in Piazza Santa Maria Novella a couple times and got very good dishes, including gyros and canoli. Took a trip up to Fiesole with some good friends. We admired the beautiful city and looked down to our lovely Florence home.

Wednesday night we had the final goodbye get together for the AIFS group at a bar in Piazza Signoria. It was great to have everybody all together again having fun and making memories singing, dancing and laughing.

Thursday I had to pack up my luggage; we ended up sending a suitcase filled with a bunch of stuff home to America so my mom and I can travel lighter while we explore more of Europe together (so glad we did!). It was hard to accept the fact that we were leaving, I didn’t want to go!

At the last sunset, love them!

Thursday evening the majority of the students walked up to Piazzale Michelangelo and watched the sunset one last time on Florence. We went out to eat at Osteria de Peccatori, got gelato and stayed up all night. We all tried to meet up and would run into each other as we walked through Florence. I said goodbyes to so many people. Got a kebap and secret bakery one last time before showering then walking back up to Michelangelo’s Piazza for the sunrise.

I walked by myself through the sleepy town. It was overcast and misty as I strolled through the streets I’ve grown to love and know so well. It was strangely foggy, but matched the somber feel of our departure. At the Piazza we had more one last goodbyes and hugs, while trying not to get too emotional. We’re going to have reunions and see each other again! Thankfully we all live relatively close by to each other in northern California.

I walked back to my apartment and said goodbye to my roommates. It’s strange not to have them around anymore after weeks of constant contact. I know I’ll miss living with them (maybe already do), we had a lot of fun together in the apartment, around Florence and on trips in Italy.

My mom and I caught a train to Venice and spent the rest of the day walking around there. We both love Venice and I’m so glad we got to together, the last time she was there was in the ’70s when she was backpacking though Europe.

The sun was shining, lots of tourists and interesting things were going on. And, of course, lots and lots of walking. I’m pretty worn out from the past few weeks, the emotional toll leaving Florence has taken, and today’s exploration of Venice.

The view of Florence and the surrounding countryside from Fiesole.

One of the saddest part of this program ending for me is that all 90-something of us won’t ever be together again, we had such an awesome mix of people, and I really enjoyed getting to know them.

Easter potlucl

Easter potluck

I know I’ll miss Florence the city so incredibly much. There are a million little and huge things that made it such a special place for me. The sounds of the city waking up in the morning, sticking my head out my window and watching the fruit market below my window get set-up, walking past so many artistic and historic artifacts, looking at objects hundreds and even thousands of years old, going to class and learning about important things I could walk to see instead of just in a textbook, connecting with other students, hanging out and exploring Florence with them, the bell towers ringing out regularly, and so much more.

There is no way for me to truly express what a life-changing, amazing experience studying abroad was. It’s so bittersweet that it has ended, I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to take part and sad and nostalgic now that it’s over. I know it has changed me and I hope others have the same chance to experience the wonders of studying abroad or traveling. I know I will never be satisfied and need to keep traveling forever. I am already planning multiple trips to different places. I love experiencing new cultures, having adventures and making friends with awesome people.

I am so thankful to the AIFS staff, teachers, students and everyone who made this trip possible, amazing and memorable!

In Venice today!

In Venice today!

Thankfully, the adventure does not end for me yet. My mom and I are going to have a blast traveling around together for the next 5 weeks. First stop is where I am now, Venice; next to Germany to visit my host family from high school (so excited to see them again after 2 years!); then using their house as our base of operation we’ll take day trips to Paris then Luxembourg and Trier and enjoy her home village; we’re off to Brussels, Belgium after that and taking the chunnel over to London and more exploration in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Okay, I’m tired and it’s late so I don’t think I’m going to proofread this last post… There’s so much more I could write, but this blog would never end. If anyone reading this has any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ll try to update this blog regularly as my mom and I travel, as well.

Arrivederci! Go have an adventure.

The sun setting on my time in Florence. For now.

The sun setting on my time in Florence.
For now.

 

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Last Few Days

Cinque Terre is an amazing area! When you think of the coast of Italy and stereotypical images of colorful houses stacked on cliffs by the sea- the picture in your head is most likely from Cinque Terre. The area is actually 5 different villages within a hike or train ride of each other. We explored a few of the towns, road the train and hiked.

In the first town, Riomaggiore, we bought coffee and looked out at the water. Then rode the train to Corniglia and walked through the cute city and took a beautiful hike through the hills and along the coast. The path had cobblestones and winded through trees. After the hike in Vernazza we ate the traditional dish- trophie, a chestnut flour pasta, with pesto. It was delicious, especially after the hike. We checked out the beach and climbed some rocks before taking the train to Monterosso where we met up with more AIFS students and swam in the sea and sat out on the beach. It was really fun to explore the towns and see the colorful buildings and beautiful scenery. In the evening I took the train home to Florence with a few other students.

The next day I spent hours at a cafe, called Mug, with free wifi doing homework.  The cafe is kind of hidden on a side street next to Santa Croce, our Italian language teacher took us there one day for class. There are so many hidden places in Florence that I’m just now seeing! I’ve gone there a couple times do sip my cappuccino, munch on a pastry and try to be productive. Mug has a lot of tables and comfortable chairs, but my favorite part is the skylight that lets in natural light.

On Sunday morning I met another student and we walked up to San Miniato al Monte to hear the Gregorian chants, but ended up staying in the main nave and attending mass for Palm Sunday. It’s a good walk uphill and has a great scenic view from the top. The inside of the church is beautiful, the floor is very interesting to look at and the ceiling has detailed designs. It’s one of my favorite churches I’ve visited. After church we bought pizza at Gusta Pizza and walked around the antique/flea market in Piazza Santo Spirito. There were some very interesting old items and handmade goods being sold. Later in the day we met again to go back to San Miniato al Monte to hear the Gregorian chants. We found the service in an area behind and below the main altar. The voices of the monks were beautiful, it was an awe-inspiring experience.

Before class on Wednesday two other students and I went to the Boboli Gardens. We sat on the grass and had a picnic with another scenic view of Florence. We talked about the trip and how it has changed us. The sun was out and it was a perfect time to get some fresh air.

My roommates and I had a special dinner out since the program is close to ending. All four of us went to a cute restaurant on the side of Il Duomo; they had delicious food. It was strange to think back to the very beginning of the program when we were just settling. We discussed the program ,and how it will and already has affected us. It made us a little sad to think how it’s coming to a close

My mom has arrived in Florence! I am planning on showing her around to the tourist sites and hidden gems of the city, in between class and homework. I’m glad she gets to experience the city that has been my home for the past 11 weeks. After the program is over we will travel and have more adventures together for another 4 weeks!

I’m sad to have this program end, I’ve had so much fun and learned a lot through it all; but I still have one more week to enjoy it!

Tourist Time

Cascine Park

Cascine Park

Well, the end of the semester is inching closer and closer… And I realize there are still a number of things I have to do here in Florence! Don’t get me wrong, I have seen and visited many places and learned a lot about my Italian hometown. But there are a few typical tourist actions I’d like to complete before leaving. This past week I had to the chance to check a few off!

I walked to the Flea Market in Cascine Park with a few other study abroad students. We found some great buys for cheap prices. We dug through mountains of miscellaneous clothing to discover hidden gems. My favorite booths were the ones with the tables piled with random articles of clothing all for 1 euro each.

I climbed the cupola of Il Duomo!

AIFS offered a ticket for only 5 euro that could be used to: climb the dome of Il Duomo, get into the excavations below the Cathedral, receive entrance into the Baptistery, climb the Campanile and entrance into the museum right behind Il Duomo- Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. It was a great deal! The morning I planned on utilizing the ticket I accidentally slept a little later than I meant to and had to wait in line for a couple hours… but the wait was completely worth it! Two other students and I climbed up the winding, stone staircase all the way to the top of Il Duomo. Man, what an amazing panoramic view of the city. I’m glad I climbed it towards the end of the program because I was able to recognize different buildings and connect memories from throughout my trip with them. It’s amazing how everything looks so much closer together from up there.

We also went into the Baptistery and gazed at the beautiful Byzantine style mosaics and marveled at the fact that the building is about 1,000 years old! It was on one of our slide quizzes for art history so it will be forever stuck in our brains. It was funny to memorize information about these buildings, sculptures and paintings because we pass by them often and can actually see them in person. I love having so much art within walking distance.

After the Baptistery we went into the Cathedral and below the floor into the excavations, Santa Reparata. We walked through ruins of the basilica that Il Duomo is built on top off. It’s an
interesting experience to see history on top off history. In America we’re used to one building being demolished to make room for another, but in Europe they just built on top of old buildings if they wanted to use the space.

And then, time for more stairs! We hiked up the steps of the
Campanile and got another awesome view of Florence and the Cathedral. We got a great leg work-out and beautiful outlook from a historical site!

Pieta by Michelangelo

Pieta
by Michelangelo

Afterwards I went into the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, the museum connected with Il Duomo. Unfortunately it’s undergoing construction so only a few things are on display currently. It was still a good visit because I got to see another Michelangelo sculpture- I have to see them while I can! And I finally saw  the magnificent Gates of Paradise. I learned about these in my high school art history class and again this semester- it’s so rewarding to be able to view the artwork you study. I feel so much more connected to the art history I have learned about.

I also did an optional extra walking tour of Florence focused around its “curiosities”. We learned about interesting legends, funny stories, ghosts and other Florentine information not as commonly known to tourists and students alike.

The Gates of Paradise!

The Gates of Paradise!

Speaking of tourists, it seems that the streets of Florence have grown busy overnight. The weather is getting warmer and visitors are arriving in the city from all over. It’s getting pretty busy here, a huge contrast from when we first arrived in January!

So I’ve got those experiences under my belt… But I still have to go into some more churches and museums before I leave. I could spend a year here and still not experience or see everything; I’m very glad for everything I have been able to do in and out of Florence so far though. I have grown so comfortable and fond of this city. Only two weeks left here!

View of Florence from the top of the Cathedral.

View of Florence from the top of the Cathedral.

Sorrento Weekend Trip

The AIFS trip to Sorrento this past weekend was awesome!

DSCF0912We traveled by train and bus to the city of Sorrento on the coast Thursday night. The hotel up on a hill we stayed in had a great view of the city, ocean and surrounding mountains.

The first day we took a ferry to Capri and had boat tour around the island. The tour showed us the most amazing blue water, set against tall, jagged cliffs. We saw millionaires’ homes, gorgeous scenery, and Roman ruins. Capri is a beautiful island with adorable houses set into the hills. We took an exciting chairlift up to the top of the island. There were great views of the surrounding area on the ride up and breathtaking ones at the highest point. We walked around the harbor area and bought souvenirs before returning to the mainland.

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The next day a group of us followed an AIFS organizerto Positano. We spent time a few hours on the beach soaking up the sun. I went swimming in the Tyrrhenian Sea, so refreshing!  A few of us took another bus to Amalfi; we saw a beautiful church and walked around the city and by the water before heading back to Sorrento.

 

On the last day we had a tour of Pompeii and climbed Mt. Vesuvius. I am so happy I finally got the opportunity to see Pompeii. I have learned about it for years and just like so many places I have been to through out the semester, always wanted to visit. It was strange to walk through the ancient city and think about how thousands of years ago people walked and lived in the same spot. I tried to imagine what it was like. Our tour guide was very funny and full of good information!

 

 

The climb up Mt. Vesuvius was great. I got to check another thing off of my bucket list- climbed a volcano! There was a panoramic view of the surrounding area, and of course an awesome sight of the crater. We even saw smoke or steam coming out of one area. I really enjoyed being close to so much history! It was surreal.

The weekend trip was full of so much excitement exploring Capri, hanging out and swimming in Positano, exploring Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius. There are all places I would suggest to visit!

 

 

4 Weeks Left!

It was a little difficult to get back into the swing of things after my trip to Croatia and Hungary. Last week I readjusted to school; even though I had only been gone for about 11 days it felt like much longer. This past weekend I went on the AIFS planned day trip to Siena and San Gimignano and hiking adventure in the Tuscan countryside.

Siena

In Siena we had a guided tour of the city; we viewed Siena’s Cathedral and learned about St. Catherine and Il Palio di Siena-its famous, dangerous horse race, to name a few things. It’s an interesting city, the buildings look like they are stacked on top of each other and the streets wind up and down hills. In San Gimignano we had championship-winning gelato and wandered through its Medieval streets; there were beautiful views of the surrounding area and historic architecture.

The hike was a welcomed break from the city. I really enjoyed getting some exercise and fresh air. It was a cloudy day and sprinkled lightly for about 1 minute during our lunch break, but all in all it was a great day hiking through beautiful forest. We saw different plants native to the area and historic sites along our scenic trek.

 

Last night I attended my 2nd Fiorentina match; and even though we lost to AC Milan, it was still a fun time. The fans were intense and the atmosphere exciting.

The day trips and football match were a lot fun, and now it’s strange to think I only have one month left in Florence! It has been an amazing time and I don’t want the experience to end. There are still so many places I want to visit and things to do here; but for the weekend I will be headed down to southern Italy with a bunch of other students for a trip to Sorrento. I am really excited to go to the island of Capri, tour Pompeii and hike Mt. Vesuvius!

Photo Challenge

Boboli Gardens

Here is a view of the Tuscan countryside from the back of the Boboli Gardens. I really enjoyed having a picnic and relaxing with a beautiful display of the surrounding area. The weather cooperated nicely and it was a perfect day to enjoy nature!

St. Mark Orsanmichele

I live about 30 seconds away from Orsanmichele, an old granary turned into a museum. On the outside there are niches that housed sculptures representing the different guilds of Florence; copies are currently outside and the real ones indoors. I love having history and art a few steps from my apartment and walking past it multiple times a day. Here I am jumping very excitedly by the St. Mark statue for the Linen guild.

Croatia and Hungary

I returned home to Florence this past Monday after an amazing spring break trip to Croatia and Hungary. I know I can’t express how awesome my experience was, but I’ll try! I traveled by bus on Friday, the 7th,  to Ancona, a city on the coast of Italy, to take an overnight ferry across the Adriatic sea to Split. While waiting at the ferry station I met another American who is currently backpacking through Europe. He was also going to Split and we both were staying at the same hostel so we traveled together. I had planned on going by myself but it was a really nice surprise to make a friend with the same travel plans so easily and quickly.

We arrived in Split early Saturday morning and found our hostel. The Tchaikovsky Hostel in Split has very comfortable rooms, spacious lockers, clean bathrooms, and a friendly, helpful owner. It’s in a great location; I walked down to the water in the morning and explored the city, main sites, and surrounding area easily. We made more friends with other hostel guests and enjoyed Split together. 

We wandered around the city, strolled through markets and explored Diocletian’s ancient Roman palace. I swam in the Adriatic Sea almost everyday I was there; the sun was shining and the water refreshing.

I decided to stay longer in Split and cut off time in Zagreb after talking to travelers who had been there and suggested less time spent in the capital. I really enjoyed the time relaxing and soaking up the sun in Split for about four days and it was a great experience to make new friends with fellow travelers.

DSCF0289After staying one night in Zagreb, my new friend and I traveled by train to Budapest. We met up with his buddy who he is backpacking with and we explored Budapest together. Everywhere you turn there are buildings rich in history and beautiful architecture. It gets redundant, but all of the places I have visited have picturesque art and architecture and interesting history. 

 

We walked along the the river, across the bridges, and past castles. We climbed to a good outlook over Budapest and wandered around on both sides of the Danube. We found St. Stephen’s basilica and walked through the inside gazing at the ornately decorated interior. There was so much detail, color and images to view; once again I recognized a lot in the art from my classes and could appreciate it more.

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We stopped at the Heroes’ Square; it was built in 1896 and commemorates the 1000th of the founding of arrival of the Magyar tribes in the Carpathian Basin, basically the founding of Hungary.

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The Szechenyi Baths were relaxing; we waded in a large outdoor pool, sweated in a sauna and tried out different indoor baths.

It was easy to befriend more people at the hostel and interesting to hear everyone’s stories. I really enjoy just exploring the city and experiencing the culture; I definitely could have spent more than three nights in Budapest. 

Travelling home took a little while and presented a few challenges, but I made it! I left Budapest at 6 AM Sunday morning, took a train, then a bus, then a ferry, then two more buses before reaching my destination. When I finally got home to Florence it was a relief to be in a familiar, comfortable place; but I had an amazing time traveling so it was bittersweet. Both Croatia and Hungary are pretty inexpensive places and definitely worth the trip. I had so many great experiences and learned about other cultures and myself. Just writing about it right now makes me miss the beautiful coast of Split and exciting city of Budapest. I’m not doing my trip justice by this blog, but it’ll have to do. If you ever get the chance, go to Croatia, swim in the Adriatic Sea and explore Budapest!

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Roma, Roma, Roma

I have been to the Eternal City; Rome was overwhelming and awesome. I saw more monuments and ruins than I have ever seen before.

When we first arrived in Rome, before our group tour, a few of us explored the area around our hotel before our group tour. The Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, ancient Roman ruins, and Trajan’s Column were all within a few minutes of our hotel.

We had a tour of the Colosseum; even though it was pouring rain while we waited outside, it was still a great experience. Our tour guide told us a lot of information about the Flavian Amphitheatre, gladiators, and the structure’s uses and abandonment over the years. We walked through the Colosseum, trying to imagine what it looked and felt like in its heyday. It is huge! Definitely a must-see place. Walked past the Arch of Constantine (with scaffolding) and Roman ruins everywhere.

In the evening I walked to the Isola Tiberina, a small, cute island in the river, with another girl from the program. It was a little difficult to find at first, but we understood the misleading map eventually. It was nice to see different parts of Rome as we looked for the island. A group of us ate at a restaurant with friendly staff, inexpensive prices, and TVs that played old 1980’s American music videos. That night we visited the Trevi Fountain beautifully light up. There were a lot of people circled around it throwing coins, making wishes and posing for pictures.

On Saturday we had a guided tour of the Vatican City, so technically I visited another country! My DSCF1259
absolute favorite part of the tour was standing with my neck bent and face tilted upwards staring at the Sistine Ceiling. I spent so long gazing at all of the frescoes, trying to soak them all up. A few of us spent so long in the Sistine Chapel we actually got left behind and had to join another AIFS tour group (but we found our group quickly). I had very few words after experiencing Michelangelo’s work. The tour ended and we were let loose to explore on our own. St. Peter’s was amazing; it has so much detail to look at. The Pieta is one of my favorite sculptures and I finally saw it in person; sadly it has to be kept behind a protective barrier so I didn’t get to look at it closely.

I mailed two postcards to my mom from the Vatican City and then a group of us left on an optional walking tour. We meandered through Rome; ended up at the Pantheon. The Pantheon is such an interesting building! It’s thousands of years old and a tribute to Roman engineering, plus it just looks awesome. We walked to the Trevi Fountain and I made a wish!

After a short stop at the hotel a few of us headed out to stick our hands in The Mouth of Truth. We stopped for pizza before strolling down to the Spanish Steps and climbing to the top. It was a great nighttime view of Rome.

The next morning we packed up our luggage and left for the catacombs; but we didn’t want to miss the Pope’s weekly address so we changed course and made our way to the Vatican City. Even though I understood virtually none of it, I’m so glad I got to experience the Pope’s speech. The crowd was full of people from all over so excited to see him, many had posters and screamed. After his address, we left for The Catacombs of St. Callixtus. We walked down steep steps and through dark, cold, winding passageways that used to be filled with dead bodies. The catacombs were fun and creepy to walk through and the surrounding countryside so green and lush. Our tour started later than we anticipated so we were a little rushed after the conclusion of the tour. However, every taxi we tried calling said it could not send any to us. We waited at a bus stop but no bus came; so as taxis drove by we hailed them down and bit by bit our group made it back to our hotel. We grabbed our backpacks and ran down the hill to meet the AIFS group at the bus stop. A parade had just started and the buses were full… but we all made it to the train station on time! 

It was a beautiful train ride home and nice to relax after a packed weekend. I have to go back to Rome, it is a really exciting city full of many things to do and see. Once again so many monuments and pieces of art I studied and longed to see, and now I have!

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After an awesome weekend in Rome this week of school was very stressful. We all had to take tests and quizzes, turn in papers, and make sure spring break plans were set. Now it’s officially vacation and I can exhale! I leave for Croatia tomorrow; I’ll stay in Split and Zagreb then Budapest. I’m really excited because I know this is going to be a great adventure! I’ll return on Monday in time to crash and sleep for hours, then jump back into classes.

Arrivederci!

One Month!

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This past Sunday marked exactly 4 weeks I have been living in Florence. That means I have only 2 more months here- I don’t want to go back! Thankfully, after the program ends I will be traveling around with my mom in continental Europe, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. There’s so much to see and do here in Florence and in Europe, I know I’ll be coming back very soon, once I save up money again…

The other day I visited the Museo Nazionale del Bargello and wandered through it for a couple of hours. I really enjoyed the Bargello because it was much less crowded than the Uffizi and had different types of artwork, like carved ivory, musical instruments, etc. Last Thursday I attended a cooking class with other AIFS students. We made artichoke souffles, spinach and ricotta filled raviolis, fettuccine and panna cotta. Now I can say I know how to make homemade pasta! We mixed the dough, rolled it out and cranked it through the pasta machine. We folded and filled the raviolis and turned the extra dough into fettuccine. It was a lot of fun to have a vivacious Italian chef run us through the steps of the dishes and then enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Last Friday I explored Florence and walked through areas I had never seen before. It was peaceful and interesting to meander through the streets and shops.

On Saturday I met up with 3 other girls in the program and we visited the Boboli Gardens, had a nice picnic there and enjoyed the beautiful view of Tuscan countryside; afterwards we walked through the Pitti Palace and saw so many paintings, frescoes, sculptures, etc. The rooms are decorated so elegantly and everything has so much detail, the Medici had a pretty fancy home.

The Carnivale di Viareggio day trip was on Sunday, so I got the chance to wear my mask again! The sun came out and it was a perfect day to spend in Viareggio. The beach town was packed with people dressed up. I saw unicorns, princes & princesses, a trash bag couple, jesters, mermaids, and many more characters. The parade was awesome; huge paper mache floats rolled down the street for hours. Each one had its own theme, but all of them had political/social messages. We walked right up to and around the parade floats, I actually had to squat down once so I wouldn’t get knocked out by a passing one. It was a much different feel than the parades I’ve experienced in America where everything is roped off and you’re not allowed near the floats. They blasted music and hurled paper confetti everywhere (I’m still finding some in my shoes and purse). We ended the day with the sunset on the beach before taking the train back home to Florence.

Yesterday, for our Italian Life and Culture class, we had a tour of the Palazzo Vecchio. I walk past it every day on my way to school but hadn’t gone in yet. It is the town hall of Florence and used to house the Medici family. We learned about more Florentine history and saw more amazing artwork and architecture- everywhere you turn in Florence there’s art and architecture rich with history!

Right below our apartment, about 10 seconds away, is a pizza place (no surprise). The other night we didn’t have much food in our apartment so I went there and ordered a pizza to go. I had a nice conversation with the man (manager? owner?) at the counter. He asked where I was from and I told him California, in between San Francisco and Sacramento. It turns out his wife is from and he used to live in San Jose, which is where my mom grew up, and we both love Santa Cruz. He left California because he missed Italy, but he and his wife still visit it. We talked for a little while and it was great to relate with a local and see how connected everyone is.

This weekend I’ll be going to Rome on the AIFS planned weekend trip! Ah, so much to do!

Ciao

Venezia

Oh Venice, what an amazing city.
I got back home to Florence just a couple days ago Sunday evening after a wonderful day in Verona and weekend in Venice. I know I’ll cherish the memories I made there for the rest of my life, as cheesy as that sounds. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Venice, take it immediately.

Early Friday morning I headed off to the train station, climbed on a bus and rode up to Verona. We had a tour of the Roman Amphitheater, and climbed all the way to the top-man, those stairs will tone your legs. After that, our tour guide took us around Verona and explained different parts of the city and its history. During free time I went to Casa di Giulietta with some other students. We had the chance to see Juliet’s famous balcony (which is really a 20th century addition), and receive good luck in love by touching the right breast of the statue of Juliet! We also found the “Verona in Love” festival and bought strawberries & chocolate with whipped cream and sampled the free chocolate and wine. The city was charming and I would suggest visiting it if you have the chance. Verona was the perfect place to spend Valentine’s Day!

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We settled into the hotel in Venice then began exploring. I learned very quickly that Venice is a confusing city with curving roads that sometimes lead to a dead end, water, or a completely different destination than expected. So we wandered the streets of Venice for a few hours, thankfully we found a restaurant to receive sustenance for more wandering later in the night. It was really interesting to explore the nearly empty streets and discover Venice by ourselves. The main streets had blue and white lights strung up and the Rialto Bridge was shining brightly. The glow from the stringed lights made the city even more enchanting. Along with lots of walking, we also took the water bus and were able to navigate it easily.

Saturday morning we had a three hour walking tour with a local Venetian. She took us around to the main monuments and areas of town and told us a little about the everyday life of Venice. For example, apparently Venetians argue often about their neighbors placing their garbage in front of the wrong house; and it’s quite common for them to peek out from behind their curtains and observe people going by. We walked to San Marco and toured the beautiful Byzantine style inside. Sadly the exterior of the basilica is covered up for cleaning/restoration. We strolled past the Bridge of Sighs and Doge Palace (another image on a flashcard from high school I had to memorize and daydreamed about visiting!) We ended the tour in the historic Jewish ghetto and learned about past and contemporary life; it’s important to see all aspects of a city, even if the past is painful, it’s how we learn not to make the same mistakes. Even though the tour was a bit long I enjoyed it; I really appreciate knowing the history of the cities I visit so I can understand, at least to a degree, what it is I’m looking at, walking through and living in. After the conclusion of the tour we explored more areas of the city, got the hang of the water buses (which make travel through Venice much faster and easier), and bought Carnival masks.

Most of the program participants gathered in San Marco square Saturday night to celebrate Carnival. (Carnival is supposed to start on the 22nd, but it’s been pushed earlier in the recent years to accommodate tourists.) We all had colorful, sparkly, scary, fun, and crazy mask on! There were other tourists and locals out, some dressed up in old-fashioned costumes with masks. As usual, we walked a lot, down side streets, through campos, over bridges and past rios-it’s a great way to see the city and experience the culture. Everyone’s mask seemed to match their respective personalities very well and it was interesting to see the many different styles and colors. Some were full-faced with holes only for eyes or sometimes mouths, others had huge feathers and lots of sparkles; all of them were unique.

By the time we got back to the hotel Saturday night, or actually early Sunday morning, my back ached and my feet were sore. Walking through Venice for hours had taken its toll, but it was completely worth it to explore Venice dressed up in a carnival mask with good friends!

In the morning a few of us headed off to attend mass at San Marco. What an amazing experience! I’m Christian not Catholic, but it is something I would recommend for everyone no matter their faith. The interior of San Marco is filled with Byzantine style mosaics with gold backgrounds and brightly colored figures. There are so many details and images all over the interior, I saw something new every time I looked up. The acoustics in the church are beautiful, every time the choir sang I heard their voices echo and bounce around the giant building. It was awesome to just sit and listen calmly to the singing without understanding any of the words. I shook hands and greeted my neighbors, gave an offering, took communion, and light a candle. It was truly a wonderful cultural and spiritual experience. After mass we wandered through Venice one more time and bought some last minute souvenirs, (I try to get a magnet from every place I go), before making our way to the train station and back down to Florence.

As I said in my last blog, Venice is a city I had always dreamed about visiting. When I was there I had to pause every so often and remind myself where exactly I was, it felt surreal. It was a blessing to be able to stay in such a beautiful and interesting city full of history and excitement. I had an incredibly fun weekend exploring Venice with friends and definitely plan on going back-still need to go on a gondola ride!

Now I’m home in Florence (it’s still strange to think Florence is my home!) and have to get back to school, but there are plenty of exciting events coming up to look forward to- this weekend Carnival in Viareggio!

Addio,

Brigitte