Hello from California! — Update

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 ❤ ).

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).

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. 

photo

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.
photo

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

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.
photo

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.
photo

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.
photo

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.
photo

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.
photo

photo

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.
photo

The snow fell down the mountain a few times!
photo

photo

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.
photo

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.
photo

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: Vatican City and Being Lost

On this Saturday, I went to visit the Vatican City with my group.

photo

The flag of the Vatican City.

The Vatican City is a land-locked, sovereign country; it is the smallest country in the world, spanning a mere 0.2 square miles.

(Unfortunately, I forgot to slot my memory card back into my camera this morning, so I couldn’t take any pictures. Honestly, it was a bit of relief to take a step out from behind the lens. I think photographers need to be wary of living life documenting events and instances in time — there are moments you can’t capture with a camera.)

The Sistine Chapel (Not my photo — photographs aren’t allowed inside).

I got to see the Sistine Chapel, which was cool — it’s just difficult to comprehend the fact that the frescos were painted by Michelangelo. Michelangelo was known for his bad temper, and in fact his nose was broken at least once due to all the fist-fights he got himself into. He was nicknamed “la Terribilità,” or “The Terrible One.”

That back wall depicts The Last Judgement, painted by Michelangelo (between 1536-1541).  All of the figures in The Last Judgement were originally painted nude. Biagio da Cesena, the Pope’s master of ceremonies (basically his right-hand man) was quite opposed to all of the nudity and insisted on the figures being clothed (loincloths were painted on years later after Michelangelo’s death).

photo

Michelangelo didn’t appreciate being hounded and told what to do, so in response Michelangelo painted his depiction of Minos, the mythological king of Hell, in the likeness of Biagio da Cesena. Minos has large donkey ears and is wrapped in snakes, one of which is biting him in a sensitive place, if you see what I mean.

To put it in colloquial terms, Biagio da Cesena freaks out, and goes directly to the Pope asking for the portrait to be altered at once.

The Pope (who is very fond of Michelangelo) humorously states that he holds no power over the realms of Hell, and so the portrait remained.

After the Vatican City visit, I walked to the Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and Spanish Steps (more on all of these in my next post) along with some staff members from my program. Anyway, I ended up on the metro and stumbled home with a pounding headache that I started developing early in the morning. I slept for a few hours, waking at 9 pm / 21:00.

photo

I decided to take a stroll to the Trevi Fountain a few blocks from my house at 10 pm/22:00.

It was lovely and warm-ish out.
photo

Little snack vendor.

photo

I decided to walk to the Spanish Steps (the beginning of my bad ideas this evening), since they’re pretty close by to the Trevi Fountain. This is some weird display case — that baby-suit doesn’t have arm holes!

As I walk along, I suddenly find myself at the Pantheon (basically I ended up West of the Trevi Fountain, instead of North where I was trying to go). I think to myself “that this is fine, I know where I am. I’ll go head to the Spanish Steps now.” (At this point I’m still confident I know where I’m going).

Walking along, like I said: I think I know where I’m going.

A cute garbage truck. It started raining, but I had my water proof though, so I was fine.
At this point I have no idea where I am, but I’m not worried. Somehow, I don’t get worried about that kind of thing.
photo

I never consider myself lost, even if I don’t know where I am.

Somehow I end up by the river. Luckily the closes bridge was labeled, and I did have a map with me (the small streets I was on weren’t labeled on my map though).

I suddenly found myself by this huge, castle-looking thing. It turns out this is the Castel Sant’Angelo (also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian). It was first the Roman Emporer Hadrian’s mausoleum, then a castle used by the popes, and is now a museum. It’s 1.5 miles/almost 3 kilometers from my hotel.

Anyway, I walked along until I found the Piazza Navona, and managed to find my way home from there.

I finally spotted the National Monument to Vittorio Emmanuel II, which is around the corner from my hotel! I was so relieved, I wanted to yell!
I made it home just after midnight.
I ended up being swept up by a classmate and ended up dancing at an Irish pub with my classmates until 2-3am, and I had a great time.
Impressions of Rome thus far:
Rome seems like a very large city; everything has been built over the large-scale Roman foundations. The streets are wide and large (and traffic is intimidating!). It was definitely interesting to see. I didn’t really interact with anyone there, so I have no particular impression of the locals. I love Florence. I am utterly biased in this opinion, but that I think it would be more fun to study abroad in Florence than Rome. If you have any thoughts on this, please comment below!
Tips for the Vatican City, Photographers and Getting Lost:
  • Photographers, don’t forget to step out from behind the lens and live in the moment. Step into the action and don’t be afraid of the moments slipping by you. Living life means stepping through time with joy in your heart and
  • Vatican City security: you need to go through security and check in any umbrellas that don’t fold up, so don’t bring your large umbrella if you can help it.
  • It’s easiest to get into the Vatican City with a tour group — the lines are often a few hours to get in.
  • Mail a postcard from the Vatican City! They have their own postal service 🙂
  • Take a map with you everywhere.
  • Travel around with a buddy if you can help it.