Monday, September 24, 2012

homesickness

I'm really not the type to get homesick. I've been traveling alone since I was 13, I went to high school and college relatively far from home, I'm not very attached to my childhood house, and I honestly prefer going to the mall and shopping alone. the point here is that I'm fairly independent and not the type to go immediately running to mommy and daddy when $#!T hits the fan.

but when I got sick while abroad, I felt so lonely and so helpless to help myself that I got really, really homesick. being sick away from home really blows. there's nobody around to ask you how you're doing, no way to get fresh food and water without walking for 20 minutes (not possible when you can't get up without vomiting), and nobody wants to get sick themselves so they do themselves a favor and stay as far away as possible. if you've ever felt alone in a new place, just wait until you get sick.

my sick face. somebody care about me!!!!

so how have I been coping with feeling homesick and lonely? I'm finding that writing helps. I love to write, but I've never been much of a journaler. I'm trying to change that. this blog has also been surprisingly fun to write, I thought it'd be more of a chore but I actually find myself anticipating activities and adventures just because I'll get to write about them later. activities like reading a familiar book, emotional eating, and forcing friends/family to talk to me are also very helpful. things like being glued to Facebook exacerbate homesickness and I recommend NOT doing that. 

in case I bummed you out with this post. sorry, here's a cute picture to make up for it.


this little post is a PSA for everybody who has a dear friend, family member, or SO studying abroad in some far off corner of the world. don't wait for your super busy, globe-trotting friend/family/SO to "find the time" to contact you, reach out first and tell them how much you miss them!

PS. benvenuti to everybody who is reaching my blog by Google searching for plaster casts of dead bodies in Pompeii! 

Cinque Terre

this weekend, the girls and I packed all our things up and headed out to Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage site about three hours north from Rome. Cinque Terre is famous for it's dry white wine (called 'Cinque Terre'), pesto, seafood, limoncino, and the scenic hiking trails that connect all five of the towns.
Riomaggiore, the first town

Cinque Terre is absolutely beautiful! the five towns are spread out over the coastline, and the best part of the whole trip was the scenery. I thought Capri couldn't be topped, but Cinque Terre comes very close.

I grew up by the ocean and still can't believe how endless it seems here!

the first day, we settled into our questionable hostel and explored the town. we found shops that sold jars of pesto and various seafood pastes (a LOT of anchovies in Cinque Terre) and lemon products, but our first priority was to get to the water! some of our group hopped right in, but just minutes after getting into the water a ferry docked right on the landing we were sunbathing on and forced us to scatter. the water is really gorgeous there, it's so clear that jumping in is scary because you can see the rocks that you might hit!

Pesto with potatoes (!!!)

I got the pesto pasta for dinner and just fell in love. I never ate that much pesto before this trip, but I am now a believer. especially with boiled buttery potatoes tossed in, SO good! after dinner we walked off our food babies and enjoyed the sunset off the docks. 

The Cinque Terre sunset

this seems like a good time to discuss hostels. my group and I got very lucky because we were a big enough group to rent out an entire room with six beds, so we didn't have to share with any strangers. we had a nice enough bathroom and kitchenette, which we didn't use. when we first entered, the room smelled really strongly of garlic, and we discovered upon opening the cabinets that somebody had indeed left several cloves of garlic inside for a later guest to find. thanks!! the beds in the hostel were kind of questionable, and I really hope the sheets were clean (they smelled okay, but apparently immediately after we left they rented them out to the next group without changing them...). the takeaway point here is: DO YOUR RESEARCH! if you pick the first hostel you see you will probably end up with bed bugs. I can still smell the garlic... anyway, we were pretty tired and I went to bed the earliest I have ever gone to bed this whole trip. we were woken at around 7 AM by very loud ringing bells, which at first I thought were ringing in the time until they went past 12... then 13... then over 24 gongs. then I started worrying that maybe it was an emergency evacuation call, that maybe the town had been overtaken by pirates, so I looked out the window but saw no fleeing villagers. at that point I gave up trying to understand the ways of Italians and went back to bed.

the next day we got up bright and early and headed out to the first leg of the hike, the Via dell'Amore (Lover's Road). you can see why it's called the Lover's Road, because it's absolutely beautiful and I'm sure if you weren't already in love with whoever you were hiking with once you saw the sights and had your breath taken away you would probably start projecting those feelings onto your hiking friend and would inevitably decide you were in love right then. there are several couple-y things to do, like take a picture seated together on this love seat type thing, or place a lock on the trail together (I hear that happened on an episode of the Bachelor?), or commemorate your love for eternity by writing some tacky graffiti on the wall of a tunnel. I have never felt more aware of being single in my life! I wondered some things inside my head like, how many of these lovers symbolized by locks are now divorced? and, I wonder how many people wrote the names of their dogs or their favorite couch (Rosa?) instead of a true love on these walls? but I kept these thoughts to myself so I didn't kill the mood for everybody else enjoying the romance.

The locks of LUUUURVE. 

the next leg of our hike was less romantic. once we reached the second town, Manarola, we found that we couldn't go on because the blue trail (akin to a bunny slope) was closed due to rockslides. we had two options: skip Manarola - Corniglia and go to Corniglia by train, or go up through the mountainside to Corniglia. my group, being adventurous in spirit and blind in map reading, decided to hike through to Corniglia. we would take the red trail.

we walked up to the highest point of the town of Manarola and were already feeling the burn when we realized that that wasn't even part of the hiking trail. The first true part of the hiking trail was a series of 1,135 steps (holy guacamole) that were actually vertical. after about 50 of these steps my fat started crying, but then a really fast man sprinted past us up these steps so I forced myself to cut back on the complaining. Once at the top though, the view was spectacular.

The view from the top! we started at sea level.

we wound our way horizontally through the vineyards, then headed back down to the clifftop town of Corniglia. the way down was maybe even harder than the way up, because the path was very rocky and unstable and I was absorbing a lot of impact on my ankles and knees. all in all, the hardest hike I've ever done in my life. we found out later that it was the advanced hike and that particular stretch was the hardest hike in Cinque Terre. no kidding. 

after the grueling hike, we arrived in Corniglia... almost. turns out Corniglia is the only town on a cliff, but we didn't know that. expecting Corniglia to be on the shore like the other four towns, we descended down a set of spiraling brick stairs (400 steps) to the train station, which was when we looked up and saw the town high above us. not in any mood to go up the brick stairs again, we got on the train and hopped to the next town, Vernazza, for some food. We devoured our pasta dishes then got some giant scoops of gelato (fragola e limone, strawberry and lemon, is the absolute best) to wash them down. food babies in full gestation, we decided to let it all hang out and head to the beach where we swam and sunned and some of us got thrown against rocks in the pursuit of adventure.

we were going to keep going to the last town, Monterosso, so we could say we hit all five towns, but we were completely exhausted and also couldn't find the trail marker for the Blue Path. we took that as a sign that we should head back, so we did. after showers and power naps we got dressed and went in search of calamari. I watched my calamari get freshly fried and scooped into a cone, and it was really, really good!

really craving calamari right now...

after calamari we walked through the Via dell'Amore back to Manarola for dinner. I ordered trofie di scampi and it was INCREDIBLE. the best shrimp scampi ever. I tried to take a picture but I ate the entire thing before I got a chance... sorry. trofie is this type of pasta without egg that I am really liking, and the scampi sauce was so good and the shrimp was so good and ahhhhh. I will dream about the trofie di scampi for probably the rest of my life. we walked back through the Via dell'Amore full and happy and drunk and surrounded by the sounds of our laughter echoing through the love tunnels. awww

speaking of dreams, we all had very vivid dreams our two nights in Cinque Terre, which cements my belief that the Five Lands is a place of magic and wonder. definitely make Cinque Terre a priority to visit, it's perfect for a weekend away! 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

an italian job

I got a haircut today.

I have a hate-love-hate relationship with my hair. I hate when it decides that it is large and in charge, won't stay flat, kinks and curls funny, or sticks up in the back. I love when it holds its curl or a blowout and doesn't get greasy for three days. I hate that it takes Olympian strength to get my hair to curl or to blow it out.

every girl struggles to find the best cut for her hair type and face shape, and it's 10 times harder when you can't just air dry and go. I have a hard time explaining my hair needs to stylists back home; imagine my trepidation when, upon arriving in Italy, I realized my hair was about halfway down my back. I would have to somehow get a hair cut in a foreign country.

I did a little research and was choosing between Aveda (familiar to anybody who has ever been to a shopping mall in the US) and Elleffe (pronounced ell-effeh), a hair salon in Trastevere. although the idea of a familiar salon was comforting, it was a bit too far away to walk and I felt like enjoying the nice weather, so I decided to go with Elleffe.

I had the address written down, but I got to the street and realized none of the storefronts had names. spotting a salon chair and a window decal of hair styling tools, I crossed my fingers and walked in. I managed to get out a "ciao" before the receptionist realized I spoke zero Italian and came to my rescue. while I described in English what I wanted, the receptionist translated to the stylist. the bigger problem came when the receptionist walked back to her seat at the desk and I was left alone with the very chatty stylist who had a lot of questions about my hair, but I gestured a lot with my hands and it somehow all made sense to Maria Teresa, who was a saint.

I thought stylists in the US were talkative, but it's nothing compared to Italian stylists! not only did she want to know about my hair, Maria Teresa wanted to know about school, places I've visited, family, everything. to my surprise, I walked out of the salon an hour later to find that we'd actually had a conversation! I learned a lot about her too. maybe Italian 101 is working?

in any case, an hour later I had a fantastic haircut and a promise to keep to Maria Teresa, who insisted I come back for my next cut. Elleffe is a little on the pricey side, I paid 56 Euro (about $70) for a shampoo and cut,  but they took a lot of care with my hair and spoke English!! it's nice to tip anywhere from 1E to 5E depending on how much you loved the cut and the niceness of the salon, but in Italy nobody is offended if you don't tip at all.

so I highly recommend Elleffe! I hear they do a reasonably priced mani and pedi, too. maybe I'll go back sooner than I thought, my feet ARE looking a little jank...

if you're curious, here's my new hair.

that's like three inches off!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pompeii, Capri, Naples

WHEW. this weekend was the one of the busiest, most adventure-packed weekends of my life. and it was by far the best weekend I've ever had (and I think I've had some good ones!). I'll just start at the beginning.

POMPEII
On Friday morning, very early, everybody on our program loaded up onto a bus and headed out of Rome to the ancient site of Pompeii. sadly, not 10 minutes out of our driveway did our bus driver hit a Smart Car... he then proceeded to get out of the bus and yell at the driver. only in Rome. but moving on. about halfway to Pompeii, we got out at a truckstop to stretch and get coffee. I've done a fair amount of road tripping in my life, and was prepared for any level of disgusting truckstop bathrooms/convenience stores, but instead was blown away by the drugstore/cafe/grocery store/bookstore situation that we arrived at. I enjoyed a lovely cup of cappuccino and fell in love with a large blue and white striped stuffed snake that I was forced to put down. Mackenzie and I briefly debated opening a chain of our own luxury truckstops, which we would obviously call M&M Truckstops, but upon realizing that would get sued (big time) by Mars Inc and M&M candies we decided to shelf the idea for a later day. but onward to the real attraction, Pompeii.

the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii

Pompeii (and neighboring town Herculaneum) was buried under a TON of ash when Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. the cloud spewed out by the volcano reached over 20 miles in height, and the amount of thermal energy (zzz...) produced by the explosion was over 100,000 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. wow. fun fact for you, the volcano is still active, though not in any danger of blowing up. anyway, we arrived in Pompeii to... rain. several of us stepped in not-so-ancient puddles, and I almost ate it trying to jump over a flooded walkway. about 2/3rds of the city is excavated, and it was amazing to me that I was walking over the original stone pathways that the Pompeiians would have walked on too. we saw a villa which was so perfectly preserved that you could still see the frescoes on the walls. of course, exposure to the elements and tacky tourists carving their names into walls is quickly ruining the ruins (ha, ha). I would hate to see the day the town is closed to tourism, so if any of you tacky tourists are out there reading my blog: STOP IT!!! you're tacky and we hate you!!

plaster cast of a long-gone Pompeiian

as you can see from the photo above, we have modern representations of the dead of Pompeii. that figure you see isn't the actual dead body. most of the bodies decayed or were instantly turned to ash from the extreme heat. the plaster casts were made by looking at the negative space that was left behind by the bodies! this particular person is covering his mouth and nose. creepy.

aww.

another interesting feature of Pompeii is the dogs. there are dogs that wander the ruins, begging for food and attention. I wonder how many people have come by and given this dog a name. our name for it was... Trinity. they're very sweet and affectionate, but also very dirty, poor things. I counted at least four different dogs. we wanted to adopt them all, but obviously we couldn't. if our truckstop idea doesn't pan out, Mackenzie and I may start filming infomercials to raise money for these dogs. think Sarah McLachlan with Mackenzie's face, and you get the idea. 

when we tried to get out of the ruins, we found that because of the rain a lot of the pathways had been closed off without any notice. we were worried that we were trapped in the ruins, and felt a peculiar sense of irony. possibly part of the reason 16,000 people perished in the volcanic eruption was that maybe their city administrator blocked off exits arbitrarily, and this tradition has existed to this day. 

CAPRI
we finished up in Pompeii and got back on the bus to the port of Naples, where we got on a boat to Capri. the rain had gotten worse, and the blustering winds made our joke of a boat rock so badly that even a few minutes in we all felt horribly seasick. I'm an atheist and I was desperately crossing myself. I've never been that seasick in my life! 

welcome to Capri!!

not to be deterred by the weather (as college kids tend to be), we went to a club in Anacapri and danced the night away. it was so fun being with everybody in the program! there were also some locals/other tourists that came to the club, including a very large man with a ponytail who for some reason had a long straw that reached to the ceiling (seriously, at least 3 feet long) and two lesbians who I bumped into by accident. naturally they took this as an invitation to start rubbing the top of my head, which I did not take in stride like a cool, collected person might have.

the next day, Capri greeted us with beautiful weather. 

finally!

we stayed in the amazing Hotel San Michele in Anacapri, and because it is situated so high up on the island we had awesome views of the island and bay. our tour guide called the road leading up to the hotel the "Mamma mia road" because when you drive up it you are literally on the precipice of the cliff, and likely are thinking/yelling MAMMA MIA! I think I can say that Capri was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life, and probably ever will see. we started our day with a massive hike (not for the faint of heart or leg muscles, like myself) to the Villa Jovis, which is the villa that Emperor Tiberius lived in and ruled from. it is located on the second highest peak of the island, and even though it's one heck of a hike the view from the top is definitely worth it. supposedly the emperor used to throw kids off the island... nasty guy. 

after Villa Jovis, we went to see the famous Natural Arch of Capri, which was beautiful but also required another hike to get to. I am counting on these expeditions to even out my pasta habit. 

can you see how high up I took this picture from?

after these strenuous physical activities, this girl needed a lemon granita (granite limone) and a panino. the lemon granita was maybe the most delicious drink I've ever had. cold, sweet, icy, made with so much real lemon juice that my teeth hurt. Capri (and really the whole Amalfi coast) is known for lemons, and they put lemons in just about everything. which is great if you, like me, like lemons. I picked up some cute lemon-patterned souvenirs for my mom. hi mom! as we sat in the main square of downtown Capri (to clarify, the island is called Capri, the two main towns are Anacapri up high and Capri down low, and then there is even lower on the shore the port of Capri) a convertible drove through the crowd of people. there was a newly married couple in the car! as they drove through they waved and the crowd cheered and clapped and took lots of pictures. if I were to ever get married, it would sure be cool to do the thing in Capri. 

after lunch, we headed down to the port to see about getting a tour of the island by boat. some groups of students chartered a private boat for a few hours, others got on a bigger boat to get a guided tour, which is what we decided to do. and I think we made the right choice! although we didn't get out and swim in the waters, our tour guide was very knowledgeable and funny. I was also very impressed with our ship's captain, who navigated the large boat into really small grottoes so that we could get a better look. we saw (among other things) the white grotto, famous for its limestone formations and the coral that you can see when the tides recede; the green grotto, which is known for its brilliant green color and total translucency when the water is calm; the blue grotto, probably the most famous of the grottoes (but more on that later); the lighthouses; the villas; and of course, the Faraglioni, the rock structures that are on every postcard you can buy in Capri. the center rock formation, called the Mezza Faraglioni, is the one with the small archway that boats can pass through. if you say "ciao ciao ciao" as you pass under, you'll return to Capri (of course we yelled "ciao" a hundred times). and it's also known as the arco dell'amore, the love arch. you're supposed to kiss the one you love as you pass under it. our tour guide suggested that the singles kiss the captain and/or his first mate, and Mackenzie and I were going to take her up on the offer until we realized she was kidding. the tour is definitely the way to see the island. as I disembarked from the ship, the first mate said to me "ciao, bella, beautiful baby, Merry Christmas!" I commend him for his efforts at English and wished him a very merry Christmas in return. 

incredible.


post-boat tour, we wandered in the port of Capri and bought souvenirs. then we got on the most crowded bus I have ever been on in my life and swerved our way up to Anacapri, where we got on the chairlift that goes to the highest peak of the island. I hyperventilated and panicked the entire way up the mountain and even had one woman (who was passing me coming down) attempt to reassure me when she saw me gasping for air. the view from the top was spectacular, so my friends and I had ourselves an unapologetic photoshoot. then we had ice cream and came back down the lift. I was much calmer on the way down, maybe because I could see my trajectory if I fell out or if the cord snapped. there's something about having the downhill on your back that is terrifying. 

yeah, the view's nice, but check out those cuties!

my view coming down

after the stress of being in a single-person lift chair for 13 harrowing minutes down the rocky mountainside, I needed to do some retail therapy. there is a place in Capri called L'Arte del Sandalo Caprese di Antonio Viva that has been handmaking sandals for over 50 years. I walked in and was immediately overwhelmed by the possibilities - so many different style straps! hundreds of colors in suede and leather, some with jewels and charms! heels! flat sandals! loafers! they're fairly priced and will discount you if you buy more than one pair. in the town of Anacapri there are also a lot of boutique clothing stores, souvenir shops, sandal stores, lemon and limoncello shops, and coral jewelry shops. is resortwear your favorite collection every year? you should probably live on Capri. 

a street in downtown Anacapri

while shopping, we ran into some boys who had just returned from swimming in the Blue Grotto. on our boat tour, you can usually stop and jump into a smaller boat that will take you right inside. that day, the tides were high and the waves were choppy and rough, and as we passed the entrance to the grotto the waves crashed against the top of the small entrance (made smaller by the high tide). the tour guide informed us that entrance to the grotto would not be possible that day, and that swimming in was illegal. I was so heartbroken! when I heard the boys had gone in anyways, I was determined to do it. I rounded up the people who were willing to go with me, and we made our way to the entrance. I stripped down and jumped in the water immediately. the water was not very cold, but fairly rocky. regardless, we treaded water and watched the cave entrance to see the timing of the waves. at one point we almost turned around, but how much of a big fat regret would it be if we got this close and didn't do it? when the moment was right, we swam in one by one. when it was my turn, I flailed my way in as fast as my body would let me and I made it safely into the cave. I had a moment of calm, then I looked down. floating in the Blue Grotto, the entire bottom of the grotto (which is deep!) was illuminated by a glowing, eerie light, which is the sun coming through holes in the bottom of the grotto. it was terrifying and I shrieked a little too much, and it was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. it's indescribably amazing, and when you're looking down at this glowing blue water it's like an out of body experience. I hope I never forget that shade of blue. inside the water was a little calmer, but I'm not a particularly strong swimmer and the waves were getting larger, which we could tell because the cave entrance would become completely submerged more and more frequently. I spent maybe five minutes inside the grotto (freaking out the whole time) before swimming out, making sure I got the timing right so I wouldn't smack my head on the top of the entrance. once I was out, I started shaking from the adrenaline; I'd never felt so alive before! I highly recommend doing something brave/stupid if you want to feel every single nerve in your body tingle, and I am determined to return to Capri to swim into the grotto again before I am too old to. what. a. rush. I woke up the next morning and my entire body hurt. my lower body from the hikes, my upper body from hanging on for dear life to a chain inside the grotto while being pushed around by waves. the sun went down just as our bus snaked its way back up to Anacapri. amazing. 

NAPLES
the next day, we woke up and headed back to Naples. Naples is the third largest city in Italy (Milan is the second) and is also the home to pizza and the Camorra, the violent secret society and mafia organization. thinking it would be a real life episode of Gang Land, I was pretty amped and I wanted to see men in suits discussing matters of life and death on street corners (from the safety of my bus), but I saw nothing. you can breathe out now, Mom! we did, however, check out the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, and I had the best pizza of my life. 

so. good.

then we were back on the bus and headed back into Roma! I slept the entire way back on the bus. 

speaking of Roma, Mackenzie and I did some very Roma activities the day before we left on our trip. we visited the Trevi Fountain at night and tossed some coins in, one for love and a second for a return to Italy. I think at this point not returning to Italy is out of the question, because I am in love. 

unfortunately, the Trevi doesn't tell you when your true love is going to show up.

we also decided to check out Vogue's Fashion Night Out. VFNO happens in Los Angeles and New York every year, so I'd heard of it, but had never really gotten up the motivation to go. but since we were in the area and can always be convinced into shopping, we decided to see what was going on. In Rome, VFNO happens on different shopping streets, and we were on the Corso (the main street that goes from Piazza Venezia to the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain) where many stores are. so what is FNO? FNO is essentially a charity shopping event. certain stores stay open very late (some until midnight) and host shopping events, and a few give away goodie bags and sell special FNO items. proceeds from the items go to the Red Cross. in addition to in-store events, the streets are filled with carousing and weird stuff, like a lady we saw who was standing on stilts 10 feet up in the air wearing a dress that went down to the ground. very fun! 

that's all for this post. was it long enough?? I have more photos and stories from my second trip into Florence and some sights around Rome like the ancient Roman Forum, but they will have to wait for another day because I am so tired. peace, love, Capri.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

video blog?

video

hey blog readers! it's my first video blog!! I discuss my daily routine, what my walking tours entail, and not much else. I say "um" a lot. my new best friend makes a cameo.

I'm writing bi-monthly for Her Campus Occidental about my study abroad experiences as well, so if you just can't get enough of me be sure to head over there and read more! HC Oxy has some great non-study abroad related content too, essential reading for every Oxy collegiette.

and if you are REALLY dying to know more, I write occasionally for Oxy's Admissions Blog, which is required reading (obviously, since I write for it) for all prospective Oxy students (and non-prospective!).

Friday, September 7, 2012

friends, food, firenze (oh, and classes)

I have officially been here a week now! I feel like I've been here for so much longer though because my days have been very, very long. so what have I been up to?

classes began on monday. I am taking Introduction to the Art of Rome, Michelangelo, European Union, Drawing from Masterpieces, and Italian 101. all my classes are so good!! the professors are very knowledgeable about Rome and Italy, and I'm definitely going to learn a lot. art of rome is exactly what it sounds like. the class surveys the periods of art and architecture in the city from ancient/classic to baroque. Michelangelo is a course that looks at just the one artist, but of course his work is so varied and covers such a long span of history (and is so critical to understanding the High Renaissance and its development into Italian Mannerism and eventually Maniera) that I doubt I'll ever feel like I've had too much Michelangelo! this class also has field trips to Florence, which I will discuss in a bit. EU is a political science/history class all about the development and current role of the EU. it's definitely really far from my area of academic interest and I'm feeling a little insecure about how little I know, but I'm excited to learn a lot about European politics and history. drawing is going to be the best ever, I love drawing but have no talent or time for it so I'm really excited to have class time to hopefully improve and have a lot of fun. Italian 101 is of course very straightforward, but I'm learning quickly and my biggest problem is confusing it with Spanish and French. just wait, when I come home I plan to have the most authentic Italian accent.

aside from classes and sightseeing/travel, we've been going out on the town a lot. the nightlife scene is, like I said earlier, crazy. especially on random nights like tuesdays. thursdays are also poppin'. bars pop up along the Tiber river on weekends, and partying on the bank of the river is super fun, though it is terrifying to walk down the slippery steps. suffice to say I am keeping an active social life and not holing up in my room to watch Game of Thrones alone like the hermit I really am. speaking of friends, my dear friend of 15 years is in Italy this week and I got to eat lunch with her and her mom today. it was pretty hard to get my mind around the idea that we met on a tiny island in the middle of Lake Washington and 15 years later ended up in Rome at the same time. 

all of the classes have class trips, some are weekend trips and others are day trips. for example, my EU class goes to Brussels with the Public Finance class for a weekend. my Michelangelo class goes to Florence three times for day trips, the first three Thursdays of the term. to get to Florence, we take an express train at 6:45ish in the morning and then get back around 3:30. totally exhausting and so worth it. yesterday was my first time in Florence, and I just fell in love with the city. it's smaller, more intimate, and more medieval than Rome. of course, it's also the site of some of my favorite art in the world. I wish I lived in Florence. Hey Mom, how would you feel about moving there?? if you go to Florence, go to Gilli Caffe for a coffee and pastry. I've heard less than stellar things about their restaurant service, but their pastries are to die for and while their beverage pricing is a bit high, they are delicious. stand up at the bar and eat breakfast Italian style!

this is the front window of the Gilli Caffe in Florence


here are some more photos of my trip. it's been easy to upload them to Facebook, so if we are real life friends you can creep my pics online. 

the Colosseum on a really rainy day

Florence at around 8 in the morning

the beautiful Duomo 

the Trevi fountain. must go back and toss a hundred coins in

the food here is the best. I'm a little afraid of coming back and being 50 pounds heavier, all thanks to Italians eating pasta every day for every meal, but according to one of my friends everyone will forgive me if I let myself go since this semester is the trip of a lifetime so I guess it's fine. we've been eating a lot of prosciutto, gelato, pasta, pizza, bruschetta, etc etc. I can already tell I am going to miss the food when I come home. even the average, nothing-special food to me is SO GOOD! how am I supposed to return to the Marketplace after this? the solution is obviously to marry an Italian chef and live here in Italy forever. 

I think that's all I have to say for now. I miss my friends and family a ton! please please send me Facebook messages and e-mails and tell me what's going on in your lives. I want to hear that stuff more than anything. I am really getting settled in here and know my way around my immediate area pretty well. 13 weeks to go!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

settling in

hi friends, family, Facebook stalkers, random Internet people! love you all. it scares me a little how many pageviews I have... call it terrifying flattery. 

as I write this, I am on day 3 of my Roman adventure. I've seen the beautiful Trevi fountain which is 10x more spectacular in person (even with scaffolding on the lefthand side... sigh), the Spanish steps, the "wedding cake" also known as Il Vittoriano, and loads of beautiful and less beautiful Italian men, who are all convinced that Mackenzie is a model. they have also called her "sex symbol" and "okay." I have unabashedly embraced tourist life and am snapping lots of pics, which I hopefully can upload soon.

I've adjusted fairly quickly to life here. accommodations are pretty comfortable and I haven't had any appliances blow up yet. the only thing that took getting used to is the walking! we walk everywhere and we walk so much that my poor feet are already looking pretty worse for the wear (and this is coming from an ex-rower and ex-waitress). also, the mosquitoes are ravenous, if not large and angry. we've been using hydrocortisone like lotion.

there are lots of cool people on my program! there really are students from all over the US and it's been so fun sharing and comparing experiences at our schools. for the most part, we've been warmly accepted by all the locals. every once in awhile somebody will walk past and mutter "Americanos..." and shake their heads, but I think that already happens in the US anyway. 

the nightlife here is unreal. bars and clubs are packed with Italians and foreigners alike, and places start filling up at 11:30-11:45. the first night we went out we went out at 10:30 and found ourselves the only people in the bar, which was great for getting the bartender's attention! we met a lot of exchange students from the US, some foreigners, and a lot of Italians. luckily dancing is pretty universal (so is the word for no). and it's not just bars where people hang out, groups will hang out in the squares in the middle of the city that blocks are arranged around which is so cool!! I like that a lot, wish we had it in the states. my closest equivalent I could think of is Pioneer Square in Seattle, but I guess that's only really a happening scene if you like pigeons and bums. 

it's quite humid here still, but all the people from the east coast are loving the weather. the west coasters, especially ones with hair like mine, are not loving the humidity. but it's bearable. the only downside is the flash-flood style rain that comes down super hard and then stops just as you've found your rain coat. 

this is the first time I've had 10 minutes to sit down and write! hopefully I'll have more time this week. classes start monday, I'm real excited about that! more later. leave a comment below and tell me what you want me to write about!