Hello from California! — Update


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. 


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.

Interlaken is a Swiss town between two lakes, lake Brienz and and Lake Thun, with a population of about 5,500 people.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

The snow fell down the mountain a few times!


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.

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.

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.

Venice (the Sinking City) — Day Two

Welcome to Venice!
I learned how to identify gondolas (there are also black, banana shaped lagoon boats in Venice). As depicted in this little street sign, gondola’s have a metal piece in the front with six prongs. Each prong represents one of the 6 districts of Venice.
I’ll just being with the beginning of my Saturday. I got up early to take some pictures right out side the hotel, before returning to meet up with everyone at the breakfast.
There’s a water bus/vaporetto station right there; Accademia was our stop. We got 48 hour bus passes for this AIFS weekend trip, so I basically got unlimited access to using the water buses!
A vaporetto on the canal beneath the bridge right by my hotel. The deeper canals (such as this one, are only about 10 feet deep.
I’m just wandering around alone. The architecture here is so different than Florence. Imagine having your own bridge to get home.
Some random food place I passed. I personally didn’t find the food in Venice very good, but this is just based on the places I wandered into.
A store.
At this point I returned to the hotel where we began our three hour tour of Venice with our Venetian tour guide Rita.
We learned a great deal, like the fact that the city of Venice is indeed sinking. This is due to fact that the city was built on wooden pilings — the foundations of the city are long, wooden tree trunks driven into the marshy ground, which have since petrified due to lack of oxygen. These foundations are slowly sinking. In addition to this, the water levels in Venice are rising.
A super cute golden retriever! Apparently, Venetians love their dogs. Tourguide Rita told us she scolds any owners don’t pick up after the dogs.
In Venice the water ways look like little streets made of water! These small canals are only about 3 feet deep.
Some boats. The water really is this colour, too.
Venice floods often. On days that street cleaners anticipate heavy flooding, they abandon their usual posts of collecting garbage bags and begin setting up these cat walks. In this way, the Venetians can walk along the streets above the water. Rita told us that it is very difficult to move alone the cat walk with other people on it as well.
Another dog! You can see the fashionable dark-coat-with-white-scarf combination worn by many of the Italians.
Venice once collected all of its water from rainfall. Their street drains and roofs were designed to catch rain water. Water that seeped into the street drains fell into a large, ceramic holding container built directly beneath the well (seen here), which separated it from the surrounding salt water. The clean water was accessible to the civilians via wells like this one, which are spread around the city. Guards were once posted by these wells to prevent any water contamination. The water was filtered by a system of sand filtration. Today, fresh water is pumped in from the main land.
The water level has risen about 2 feet from when the city was built — gondoliers like this one need to compensate for the smaller passages.
Interestingly, gondolas are not mass produced. Each gondola’s length and width is customised to the gondoliers height and weight. It has to be specific so that the gondolier can handle manoeuvring the boat all on his own.
Side note: bicycle riding is tolerated only by children in Venice. Otherwise, it is forbidden.
The Piazza San Marco in Venice! The pool of water visible there is not rain water– it is actually salt water that has bubbled up through the storm drains. This happens frequently due to the sea level, which (as I already mentioned) is about 2 feet higher than it was when Venice was first built.
Salt water ruins leather, so don’t let any of this touch your boots!
This interesting clock depicts the zodiac. It was also made when it was believed that the Sun circled the Earth. You can see the Earth and moon in the centre of the clock.
The San Marco church does not allow backpacks inside. Luckily, I hadn’t brought my backpack. I’m not sure there was really a solution to this issue (no coat-check area) other than simply not bringing a backpack. Here the flooding (that reaches into the church) is visible. There is the cat walk in use.
First interior shot; the golden ceilings here are famous. Photography is not allowed within the church. Also, the flooding is visible here.
The Bridge of Sighs (the raised, enclosed passageway in the rear) is often perceived as romantic location and tourist destination. Couples take pictures kissing under it. It is the passageway that prisoners took before their imprisonment, and their last glimpse of the freedom they had lost. It is said that they breathed a sigh of loss at their last moment seeing the beauty of Venice; thus the bridge has been named “the Bridge of Sighs.”
A stand with some veggies.
More narrow canals. It is impossible to walk along the water line/along the main canals, as there simply is not sidewalk or long stretch of flat area. So our tour meandered through pieces of all the 6 districts of Florence via the back ways and little bridges.
We ended our 3 hour tour in the Jewish Ghetto. To Italians, the ghetto was the districts that the jewish banking families were allowed to rent apartments, as they were not permitted to buy/own Venetian land.The building on the right is a synagogue (the jews were supposed to be discrete with displaying their places of worship. There are actually 5 synagogues in this square, and a well is visible on the left. Synagogues are easily identified by the 5, round-arched windows which represent the 5 books of the Torah. Afterward, Elizabeth V. and I wandered off as everyone else dispersed to eat lunch.
Again, notice that there is no water front. There are occasional strips of side walk, but they do not run along all the canals.
The rising water level is slowly obscuring the many steps that now recede into the green depths of the canals.
View on the vaporetto 🙂
One of the vaporettos ahead of ours. I was surprised that the water buses meander from one side of the waterway to the next to load and unload passengers. I had assumed there was a system of keeping to one side of the canal, but this doesn’t seem to be so.
A lab waiting to board the vaporetto. Service dog laws aren’t as developed in Europe as a whole as they are in the U.S., but average pet dogs have more public access than U.S. pet dogs.
A view of a gondola and restaurant from the vaporetto.
The Rialto bridge. In Venice, whenever you cross a bridge (large like the Rialto or any smaller size) you have technically crossed onto another island. Elizabeth V. (my roommate) and I walked around for a bit after our tour.
Interestingly, there is no night life in Venice. For this reason many young Venetians move away; Venice is slowly losing its young people. This made me a bit sad. Venice was once the hollywood of Europe, and in comparison today’s Venice is in decline. It is now a quiet city that isn’t being funded for repairs — essentially, it is sinking and thus far nothing seems to be being done to prevent it vanishing into the green waters.
Venice also has a very low crime rate.
Honestly, my photography is not an accurate representation of Venice. I’m drawn to photograph what I find appealing, so my photos are of the prettiest corners of Venice that I saw. To me, however, these pockets of charm simply dotted unexpected stretches of quiet bleakness. I know that many of my classmates adored Venice; I suppose I simply expected Venice to be a bit “more.” Thus far, one of my favourite things was riding the vaporetto.
Tips for Venice:
  • Look up some places to eat beforehand. A lot of food here is yucky, other students had bad experiences with food.
  • Wear rain boots.
  • Don’t take a backpack on the walking tour.
  • For fun: ride the vaporetto/water bus around just for sights of the city! Venice is a lot smaller than it seems, and it is enjoyable to see the city from the water.
  • Go island hoping!! Visit the other little islands like Murano (famous for its glass) and Burano. They are apparently unique and adorable, and not visiting them is the greatest regret of my Venice trip.
  • I got lucky because it didn’t rain the entire weekend I was in Venice. However, bring waterproof things and a warm coat and gloves.
  • There is no night life in Venice, so don’t wait until late in the evening to go have fun.

Forza Fiorentina! — The Soccer Game

Fiorentina is Florence’s soccer team. I went to the Fiorentina v. Atalanta soccer game with AIFS and my study abroad classmates.

Italy is a young country that is formed of separatists –It is a country united in its disunity. Soccer (or in Europe, “futbol”) is one of the only arenas in which people come together.

(Not my photograph)

Fiorentina v. Atalanta: I got very cold from sitting down in the cold stadium during the first half of the game, so after the intermission I ditched my seat and stood between some classmates and an enthusiastic group of Italians; the man next to me waved a huge flag (It was at least 6 feet across).

During the last minutes of the game the Italians and I were intent on the score.

(Not my photo) — Rossi channeling team spirit.

My eyes were glued to the ball– and I saw it slam into Atalanta’s goal — in the next instant my world exploded.

We’d won, 2–0

The Italian guy grabbed me and literally jumped up and down with me screaming with happiness. I yelled and waved my fist in the air. In the following moment, an extremely short Italian woman had grabbed me by the shoulder and leaped up and down while screaming with joy. It was a priceless experience.

I bought a jersey before the game like many of the other people in my group.

Rossi is Fiorentina’s American soccer player — he was born in the U.S. and lived there until he was 12 before moving to Italy. He was recently injured so he actually didn’t play at the game I went to.

The stadium: Jed (AIFS staff member) warned us that the stadium is more “basic” than us Americans are used to. I don’t attend sports games in the U.S., and I thought the stadium was adorable and cool. There are huge, clear panels that separate the home team from the visiting team to prevent violence or thrown objects from hitting fans. The stadium isn’t covered either.

If anything, I admire the straightforward approach to soccer. Fans go to watch in every sort of weather (it’s frowned-upon to leave early for any reason). I’m somewhat critical of the American attitude toward sports as it is. The energy of the Europeans’ love of soccer here is tangible and so real — it’s the one thing that can bridge Italy’s divisions. Their spirit (and skill) earned my respect.

Soccer is the world’s sport. America is unique in it’s lonely pursuit of baseball and American football. Soccer is played around the world by nearly every country  — it’s the international game.

(I don’t have any photos of the game because large, “professional-looking” cameras aren’t allowed (camera’s with a removable lens). The small-camera people beat me out on this one! Check out Elizabeth’s photos of the game though.)

Tips for attending a soccer game:

  • Wear the team colours! Don’t buy a jersey if it’s during one of the cold months. I’d buy a jacket (if you don’t mind buying something more expensive) or a scarf. It’s so cold that you’ll have to bundle up over your jersey.
  • Bring a waterproof in case, it has been known to rain.
  • Don’t bring your big camera — anything “professional looking” or that has a removable lens.
  • Bring a form of I.D. — Driver’s license or passport are great.
  • Dress warmly.
  • Don’t just watch the game– watch the crowd! Try to stand next to an Italian group. It’s fun to listen to them cussing out the other team.
  • Don’t bring any knives or lighters. Don’t bring anything that could be thrown at people.

Intro: Buongiorno!


I’m Fiona,

I am a sophomore in college from Sonoma County, California, and am currently an Art major.

On January 25th, 2014 I will depart the U.S. for Florence, Italy, where I will study abroad through the Northern California Study Abroad Consortium (NCSAC) program for 3 months.

This weekly blog will document my adventures and experiences of living and studying abroad in  Florence, Italy. I’ve never studied Italian, and I do not speak it at all (I have studied Spanish, French, and I’m almost fluent in Polish). In addition, I am vegetarian and gluten-free, so I will have to put some thought into making adjustments for my meals. I’d like to show that it’s possible to travel to a foreign country for an extended stay without knowing the language well and with dietary restrictions as long as you keep an open mind.

My goal is to help inspire future study abroad students by creating an interesting blog that documents an American college student’s life and immersion in Italian culture.

Hopefully reading about my experience of living in Italy will spark your interest in foreign cultures and travel!

I look forward to writing for you!

-Fiona O-Young

Me in Lucca, Italy, on a bicycle.