My Mind on Returning Home in a Few Days

Hello! It’s definitely been a while since I’ve managed to scrape aside time from life here to blog — I’ve been using every spare moment to get extra sleep, and I’ve also been enjoying the company of the friends I’ve made here.

Piazza Signoria.

It feels like a lifetime ago that I lived in California, ignorant of the everyday bits of life that make Florence special. I love living in Florence. I love Italy. I’ve made friends and good acquaintances here, American and Italian.

I’ve been locked away indoors the past two weeks scrambling to work on final projects for all of my classes. I don’t think I’ll be able to see much of Florence these remaining few days; it’s the sacrifice I make to salvage my academics this semester — it’s been tough balancing this adventure with schoolwork when the outside world is fascinating.

I won’t make this blog post my final good bye to Italy.

I’ve just had so many thoughts go through my head these past many days. In some ways it’s a pity I’ll be leaving just as I feel I’ve gotten the hang of things here, but there are also things I’m excited for when I return home — seeing friends, my boyfriend, and dogs. Getting to mountain bike again, and take the liberty of sleeping in. I’m excited to have access to certain foods too, like good Mexican food and all the gluten-free things that await me at home.

However, I’m also aware of the things I’ll lose; I’ll lose the freedom of stepping out my front door and entering a city of adventure. I’ll miss being able to take a stroll around the city and stopping by my friends’ apartments to say hello or have some tea. I’ll miss seeing my Italian buddies around the city in restaurants and my neighborhood Tabacchi (a small store that sells stamps, loto tickets, cigarettes, candy, water and the like), from which I’d manically buy stamps and water bottles.

I drew on a postcard and gave it to the Via dei Macci Tabbachi store owners yesterday. Buona Pasqua = Happy Easter. I’ll be trying to draw little things for my Florentine buddies before I go.

I’ll miss laughing at the creeper Italian men with my friends, and maybe even the gypsies (only a little).

What I’m counting on is that I’ll take with me the things that matter. I’ll keep the moments, stories and the things I’ve seen.

View of the Arno out of the Vasari Corridor.
View out of the Vasari Corridor (the hallway that runs along the top of the Ponte Vecchio).

I’ll be seeing Leonard! He’s a service dog in training from Bergin University of Canine Studies that my mom and I have been raising. I’m excited to see (and hug) this boy when I get home! I’ve been skyping him :)
(Not my photo)
And finally, Ibarra will be coming to visit me. He is one of the other service dogs I’ve raised for a year. He’s currently in-training with an associate student at Bergin University of Canine Studies.
More posts to follow, as I fill this blog with all of my adventures  (and photos) :)

Italian Cooking Class 2 — With Dessert Salami

Hello!

I’ve been wildly busy; my days are filled with schoolwork, friends, food, some sleep, skyping my mom and boyfriend, photography and blogging, weekend trips, and Florence. I’ve finished blogging about Rome! I have Switzerland left, Vinci, Bologna and Prague, as well as the second soccer game, San Gimignano and Siena. I pour my heart and hours of time into my blog, which is why the posts are flowing  s l o w  and steady.

Anyway, today I had my second cooking class! So much fun!! Here’s the link to my first cooking class.

Ingredients! (Those are gluten-free cookies, an adjustment made just for me <3 ).

My classmates with one of the chefs (the guy on the very right).
My Nor-Cal people: (L-R) Katerina S., Elizabeth M., Kaitlin J., Cameron F., and that one chef-guy. On the left are some of the So-Cal girls also studying abroad with AIFS.
Preparing the eggplant Caprese salad ingredients.

Mixing the gluten-free gnocchi at my table.

Then rolling them out into strips and chopping them up into little pieces!
Fun fact: the gluten-free gnocchi won’t stick to each other like the regular pieces will.
Our instructor Francesco instructing.

The gluten-free gnocchi and eggplant Caprese at my table!!

Elizabeth M. and Cameron F.’s hand trying to ruin her gnocchi-modelling.
Potato Gnocchi in Sugo al’Aglione (Tomato & Garlic Pasta Sauce).
Francesco demonstrating how to roll up the chocolatey dessert mix that is called “Sweet ‘Salami’.”
(It’s made of sugar, egg yolks, butter, bitter cocoa powder, sweet liquor, and crumbled cookies. They substituted the cookies for gluten-free ones!).
It’s wrapped up in foil, and its shape resembled a piece of salami. It is typically frozen for about 2 hours (but in the restaurant’s super-powerful freezer it only took 20 minutes).
My gluten-free “Sweet Salami” !!
It tasted really good! I had Elizabeth M. taste-test the difference between my gluten-free sweet salami and the regular one — mine tasted chocolatier and she liked it better.
The brave, gluten-free-Italian-cooking AIFS classmates at my table, including Katelyn C., Katie G., Carly B., Jackie P., and Ayla B.
Kaitlin J., Katerina S. and Elizabeth M., my dinner buddies!
I really like the AIFS cooking classes, and the efforts the restaurant (In Tavola) made to adjust to my food-needs was really awesome. I had a great, gluten-free vegetarian dinner with my AIFS people.
The restaurant did remarkably well tolerating me poking into every group to snap pictures and following Francesco about to listen to his instructions to other groups. We ate dinner below the restaurant like last time (see the previous Italian cooking class post here). We even all received little recipe menus afterward, just like last time :)
It’s a fun experience — I definitely recommend taking an Italian cooking class, especially through AIFS! Just let AIFS/your program know before-hand if you have any dietary-restrictions :)
Tips for Italian cooking classes:
  • Definitely take one!
  • Don’t wear black/clothes you’re worried about getting dirty. It’s unlikely, but it could happen.
  • Don’t walk home alone afterward if it ends late in the evening!!! Have someone walk you. I walked with some AIFS girls that live near my house this time.
  • Bring a jacket for when it gets cold on the way home.

AIFS Photo Challenge/Fiona’s Thoughts

AIFS (my study abroad program) organised a cool photo challenge for this week among all the student ambassadors/bloggers. This is my entry :)

Criteria:

1. One photo of yourself with something famous in Florence (taken by someone else or a self-portrait).

2. A landscape/background/building with personal significance.


2. “The call to adventure.”

One of the statues by Pio Fedi in the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza Signoria.

[Warning: A particularly long story follows. Feel free to skim. -Fiona]

     This statue is so emotionally gripping and drastic. The twisting figures and the image of a girl being grabbed and about to be taken away (even though in this case it’s not a positive departure; the piece is called The Rape of Polyxena ).

Putting aside the statues mythological content, I can interpret this statue as a call to adventure, which is the beckoning of an adventure to a “hero.”

Joseph Campbell writes:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man”

    I’m a 19-year-old student living away from home for the first time. I’ve ventured from my common day into what feels like a supernatural wonder. I feel like I’ve been stolen into an adventure, and can sometimes feel a secret burst of exhilaration that I’m living in Florence; I’m living an adventure.

But, once in a while, I feel a twinge of homesickness. A few months before I had any notion of studying abroad, I was curled up on the sofa in California watching a movie with my mom, as we often do. We were watching the 1985 version of A Room with a View, which is based on a novel by E.M. Forester (you can read the novel for free here, at Project Gutenberg).

A young English girl living during the Edwardian Era in England, Lucy Honeychurch, comes to visit Florence with an overbearing cousin/chaperone to experience foreign culture. It is, perhaps, an overly optimistic and romantic movie, and not something I’d typically take any interest in, but I like relaxing with a cup of tea and my mom. The old views of Italy seemed distant and exotic.

Lucy actually ends up walking about some of Florence’s streets, witnesses a murder (she faints) in the Piazza della Signoria (which is right by the Palazzo Vecchio and the statue pictured above),  and visits the Santa Croce church (which is only a few blocks from my apartment)!

To me, this movie is symbolic of the huge shift in my perspective since having lived here for 2 months. It’s hard to describe the feeling of re-watching snippets of this movie. The scenes that recently seemed foreign and exotic and now feel familiar and are easily identifiable, as I walked through them nearly daily. It’s a feeling of pride, like I’m on the in on a special secret. I can give directions to central piazzas, Churches, and can recommend gelaterias. I enter stores/restaurants and am greeted by name by the locals I’ve made friends with. I no longer feel lost and tiny in an intimidating city; Florence feels like a new home.

This also sparked some curiosity about how much living here has really changed me. I suppose I’ll have to wait for the culture shock of returning home,and feedback from my friends and family back home, to really grasp this. I think that living here has, of course, been an amazing travel experience. My perspective of the world has grown. I’m pretty young, and I know I’ve had something of a growing-up experience. I know that I will walk away from Italy — in one short month — a more worldly person that has been changed by what she’s seen.

This may sound cliché, but I can hope that I can return a more mature person, and a better sister, daughter and friend.

And I can only wish (and plot) my return to Florence, whenever that may be. I know that this won’t be my last visit. I suppose this one of those moments where I have to tell you to take any opportunity to travel you can get. The point of travel is that you cannot anticipate what you will experience and (more importantly) how you will change. You can leave a place, that place will never truly leave you.

No matter your age or economic status, there is always some way to travel. “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” When pondering the difficulties of life, I often think to myself “is there really no way I could accomplish this? I have the rest of my life to figure it out.” Somehow feeling the abundance of life still left to me inspires me to do my best.

Thank you for reading/skimming,

-Fiona :)

[I will later link the blog posts of my fellow AIFS student bloggers so that you can take a look and decide on who you think won the photo challenge!]

Trattoria la Casalinga — Restaurant Review

I went to have lunch alone at Trattoria La Casalinga, an AIFS meal voucher place on the left bank of the river. I went out of curiosity, as this particular place is often packed with locals.

I decided to wander off and have lunch on my own, and went to Trattoria La Casalinga. They’re actually quite familiar with gluten-free things, and have some nice options.

They serve pretty large portions (I could barely finish my first course of gluten-free tomato spaghetti), although I prefer the taste of Golden View’s food (that’s my favourite place to go, partly because I’m fond of the staff there).

Update: I Love Spring Break

Hi everyone! I’m enjoying Spring break at the moment!Today I visited Vinci, a small town in the Italian countryside between Pisa and Florence, and the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci (da Vinci means “of Vinci”). I walked a lot and got pretty tired!

I’ve been wildly busy and have been doing my best to catch up on all my blog posts!

Check out my four Venice posts:

1. Venice (the City Built on Water): First Night

2. Venice (the Sinking City): Day Two

3. Venice (the City of Zombies): Day Two Evening

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4. Venice (the City of Masks): The Last Morning

Check out my post about the Italian cooking class I took! I learned how to make ravioli and panna cotta in my Italian Cooking Class.
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And I also went to Viareggio’s carnevale!! I have pictures of the huge parade floats in my post Carnevale di Viareggio.
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I found an organic health food store!!! Sugar Blues is across the river from where I live (near Santo Spirito) —  they sell gluten free and organic food. Here’s my post: Organic Grocery Store: Sugar Blues.
What’s up and what I still need to blog about:
  • Rome– I went to Rome for a weekend with my AIFS program! (posts are still in the works for Rome!).
  • Interlaken, Switzerland — I spend this last weekend (my first few days of Spring break!) in Interlaken, Switzerland, which was gorgeous! I saw the snowy mountains, lakes and the city of Bern.
  • Bologna — just visited yesterday.
  • Empoli and Vinci — today!!!

Posts of all of these will appear, I set the date as the day I actually went, so it may be easiest to ‘follow’ my blog and receive email updates when I post all of these things.

This coming weekend: in less than 24 hours I will be on the bus to visit Prague in the Czech Republic.

Stay well and keep up with my posts!

-Fiona

Grindelwald, Switzerland (The Mountains).

Spring break, finally! For my first weekend on spring break I left for Interlaken, Switzerland through the Florence for Fun travel group. This post is about a village I visited called Grindelwald.

I departed on Thursday evening by bus. It was a 5 hour ride through the night.

photoSouth-eastern view of the mountains– I stayed up from 4:30 am when we arrived, and watched the sun rise. I ran out for a walk immediately and walked through some rural area, and saw the sun peaking over the snowy mountains. It was beautiful. 

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I just walked along these houses.  I’m realising, as time goes on during this trip, that I like having time to myself; it’s not unusual at this point for me to spend hours exploring on my own. I enjoyed the sunshine and crisp air.
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Interlaken is a Swiss town between two lakes, lake Brienz and and Lake Thun, with a population of about 5,500 people.
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Spotted some horses. It smelled nice, like farms.

Casual farm houses with these astonishingly beautiful mountains poking up behind them.
Schule = school in German.

I found the old schule house haha.
Walking back to my hostel, which was actually pretty nice inside. The hallways/interior remind me of old-styled buildings in Poland. It was called “Funny-Farm Hostel.”
After I return at about 9am, I was feeling pretty tired so I took a nap. After that, I asked the front desk for information on how to reach Grindelwald, a villiage 3,392 ft above sea level in the Bernese Alps.
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I caught the bus to Wilderswil (about 10 minutes away) and hopped on the train. The views were beautiful.

Shots out the window.

The train ride was so enjoyable, I really liked the ride up the Alps.
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Reached Grindelwald in about 25 minutes on the train.

The train! So cute!

I was dressed in my cargo pants and sneakers, along with a thin water proof and backpack. I just picked a direction and started hiking upward.

It was pretty warm despite all the snow around, so I’m glad I didn’t bring any heavy coats, and I was grateful for my mom’s reminder to wear sunglasses — the glare of sunlight off of the snow was quite bright.
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A little doggy-bag disposal bin.

There was snow all over, but miraculously my sneakers didn’t soak through at all :)

This friendly cat let me pet it for a while.

I thought at first that all these little houses were designed to be rented to tourists, but I eventually realised these are regular houses. The houses all had wooden plaques with the family name carved into them.
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Grindelwald is called the “Glacier Villiage.”

My agenda is to keep smattering photos of the beautiful snow-capped mountains to fan the flames of your desire to travel.
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Came across some weird house filled with cows and their babies.

Kept on hiking along, this is probably about an hour and forty minutes away from the train station.

A crow flew over and stayed long enough for me to photograph it.

A trashcan!

A car and bus dodging each other on the road. I knocked some snow off these bushes for fun.
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The snow fell down the mountain a few times!
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I made a snowman! A man walked by as I was poking around the ground for pebbles likethe weirdo/desperate amateur-snowman-builder I was.
photoSome ski slopes were up in this direction. Near this point I decided to head back, when I suddenly spotted a bus stop with some weary skiers propped up around it. I ran over and (sure enough) a bus appeared, which actually drove to the train station. I bought a bus ticket and got a nice, twisty drive back.
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That dog was so cute! (Back at the train station).

I walked a bit and had a look around.

I bought and mailed a few postcards from Switzerland :)

While deciding on where to have dinner, this menu caught my eye….

I passed on the “kangaroo medallions,” (reminder: I’m vegetarian) and had some risotto.
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The little tray-table in the train was also a map of the mountain along with the rail way highlighted on it. Grindelwald is on the left. There’s another cool place I wish I had visited called Lauterbrunnen, which is in a valley full of waterfalls. At the top of the mountain is Jungfraujoch, where the Jungfraujoch railway (3,454 meters/11,332 ft above sea level) reaches. It is the highest railway station in Europe, and on a clear day you can look over into France and Germany.
Tips for Grindelwald/Switzerland:
  • Visit Grindelwald!
  • Bring sunglasses — the glare from the sunlight reflecting off of the snow is uncomfortable and bad for your eyes.
  • Pack light for hiking about.
  • Make a snowman.
  • Don’t eat any kangaroo.
  • Consider visiting Lauterbrunnen and Jungfraujoch (although Jungfraujoch train tickets are expensive).
  • Send some postcards from Switzerland
  • Buy a Swiss army knife.

Rome: The Villa Borghese Gallery and Last Few Hours

My last morning in Rome during my weekend visit there through AIFS (my study abroad program here).

I visited the Borghese Gallery with some buddies thanks to a recommendation from a teacher. It’s so beautiful and gorgeous, I absolutely loved it. There are only two floors of artwork, the painting gallery and the sculpture gallery. There’s also a 2 hour time limit, and tickets need to be booked ahead of time, here.

I’m an art kid, and I’ve spend many an hour in a gallery scribbling up a gallery review or sketching pieces. I honestly have to say that the Borghese is my favourite gallery of all time — the time limit seems counter intuitive, but it’s nice to not have to worry that you didn’t spend enough time there, and the size of the gallery is appropriate in terms of the time limit. It’s so pretty, and the actual pieces inside the gallery really appealed to me personally.

Go to see Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne. It’s an amazing sculpture carved out of ONE BLOCK of marble. That is so incomprehensible on its own. This piece depicts the nymph Daphne escaping the amorous advances of Apollo, who is being very insistent, to put it mildly. Daphne cries out to her river god father for help, and (as my teacher put it) “wildly overreacts” and transforms her into a tree.
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Bernini was an incredibly skilled artist. He even used the movement of the viewer to create motion in this piece. As you walk around the piece counter-clockwise, the nymph appears to change into a tree.

Bernini’s David (also an amazing sculpture!) is actually a self-portrait. The expression on the face is incredibly true to the emotion of concentration. I love this sculpture. My Italian Renaissance Teacher said “there are a million things in there, but that doensn’t matter because you only need to see two things.” Those are Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne and his David.
Jen H., Tyler A. and I took a quick stroll around the Villa Borghese Gardens.

Guards or Police on horseback! :)

Me and the map of the gardens, which looks like a heart! <3

Some portion of the city walls as we leave the gardens and walk back into the centre of the city.