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).

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! ❤

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

Rome (the Wedding Cake and the Colosseum) — Arrival

I went through my study abroad program, AIFS, over the first weekend of March. The weather was rainy and sunny, which is my favourite kind of weather to explore and photograph in.

Rome is only about 3 hors away  (by train) from Florence, and the first thing I ran out to see when we arrived to our hotel was the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II.

It’s pretty cool, but interestingly the locals aren’t too fond of it. It’s considered to large and grandiose to match Rome’s other buildings, and is visible from almost every part of the city. It’s thought to be too boxy, and (in addition to lacking a tower or dome) it is glaringly white, standing out conspicuously among the surrounding brownish buildings.

As a result, it has a variety of nicknames including “the typewriter,” “the wedding cake,” and “the zuppa inglese” (an Italian sponge cake similar to tiramisu. It’s name is Italian for “English soup”)

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The building to the left of “the wedding cake.”

The weather was so pretty! It had just rained, so the steps up were shiny and the sky was gorgeous. 

Detail shot of one of the rooftop pieces on the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II (who was the first king to rule a united Italy). The goddess of Victory is depicted here.

View down after clambering partly up the monument. I love the reflections on the wet stone and the sky! It made me feel so happy.

I think the inside is some sort of military museum now.

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Another interior shot. Saint Barbara is the patron saint of military engineers, among other things, so I guess it makes sense that she was depicted inside the military museum/exhibit/collection-thing.

View off of the Capitoline hill (on which the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II/the “wedding cake”) is built. It was amazing.

The clouds looked so wild and interesting that day too! I loved photographing them — I’m slowly learning more about my camera as I click along. Currently I’ve been enjoying manipulating shutter speeds and ISO.

Same vantage point, just looking down to my left into the Piazza del Campidoglio, which is on top of the Capitoline hill.
There’s also a church right next to where I stood to take this picture, and it is absolutely gorgeous — it was one of my favourite churches as far as it’s beautiful architecture and design.

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One our way to the Colosseum with our tour guides! There are ruins visible over that railing there.
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This is the Colosseum. It is ringed with 80 entrances (basically every arch visible on the bottom floor), each of which is numbered.
Important political figures during Roman times often funded the entertainment to win public favour. Gladiator fights and many “sea battles” were depicted here — in fact, the entire floor of the Colosseum was flooded for the opening performance which featured some sort of sea battle. The Colosseum was actually built over what was once King Nero’s artificial lake on his personal property, which was filled with pavilions and gardens.
King Nero had built a large landscaped villa in the heart of Rome on the Palantine hill after a fire in 64 A.D. burned down the aristocratic houses that previously occupied that space. King Nero was basically hated, so when he died Emperor Vespasian wisely converted the area into public land that was essentially dedicated to pleasing the Roman populace.

In the old entrances of the Colosseum.
Note: there is only ONE Colosseum, and it is in Rome. The other structures people tend to call “colosseums” are actually Roman amphitheaters.
Here you can see all the odd holes in the columns/pillars. When they were built, metal rods were used to help align the stone. Later on this metal was reused and removed from these pillars, leaving them with a pockmarked appearance.

In the Colosseum! Those top levels have suffered a great deal, but those top seats are originally where the Romans permitted the women to observe from.

Men and their mistresses could sit close to the arena (the wives sat in the top seats). Those white stones on the right are meant to be a recreation of how the steps would once have looked.

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The Colosseum was a lot cooler than I anticipated! It’s not a disappointing, gross old ruin, but quite interesting to walk around.
The exposed area was originally hidden — that part wasn’t mean to be seen, and it’s between 2-3 stories below that tan flooring. You can basically consider the lower are as a sort of “back stage” where things were managed, and the old pipes of Nero’s artificial lake were sometimes utilised for performances. The tan part is a reconstruction of the level on which the original gladiators would have stood.
The gladiators were basically the celebrities of their time, and were the key components of the entertainment system of Rome. A typical career lasted around 20 years, if you managed to live that long. Also, not all gladiator fights ended with the death of one competitor — good gladiators were a valuable financial investment by their sponsors, and fights were sometimes rigged due to the heavy betting centred around the fights.

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I can’t remember what this is, but it’s right by the Colosseum.
It was pouring rain during most of our tour, and because the Forum was flooded we didn’t get to go see that unfortunately.

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I can’t quite remember what this was either! It may have been the entrance arch to Nero’s gardens and house. It’s right next to the Colosseum.

The view of one side of the Capitoline hill on our return from the Colosseum.
First impressions of Rome: it’s definitely built on a large scale — they have wide streets and many lanes with pretty intense traffic that I found intimidating even with over a month of practice dealing with Italian traffic in Florence. The building styles are very different, and there are a lot of preserved ruins smattered around the city. Like I just mentioned though, the first thing that struck me was how large all the structures and roads were.
Tips for Rome:
  • This is a general travel trip, but use your free time wisely. Sometimes it’s worth it to skip a meal and use free time to go explore.
  • Check the weather — it was pouring rain at certain points, but my trusty water proof jackets, umbrella and rain boots kept me happy.
  • Climb up the monument to Victor Emmanuel II until you end up outside and can’t find any more stairs to climb. Find that church I mentioned — it’s really, really pretty, and I’ve basically been poking my head into every single church I come by in Italy.