Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Paris, Amsterdam, and the final days of Florence!

The last few days here in Italy are flying by and I’ve been taking in as much of the city as I can before heading back home. Today, for the first time, I went to the Academia and saw the original David. I had seen the replica in Piazza della Signoria, but seeing the original in person was even more impressive and I’m so glad I got to before leaving. Finals are almost over and visiting the Christmas fair in Piazza Santa Croce was the perfect break from studying this afternoon. It’s gotten cold out recently, so I made a few stops to get some hot mulled wine and a delicious wurstel with craut while walking through the different international tents. It was bustling with tourists and locals eating, enjoying the beautiful Christmas decorations, and checking out the tents selling ornaments, food, winter gear, and music. Florence’s chilly weather has been nothing compared to the temperatures earlier this week during my trip to Paris and Amsterdam. Originally our flight was canceled because of all the snow they were getting, so we just hopped on an overnight train and woke up the next morning surrounded by a snow covered Paris. It was absolutely beautiful and we spent all of our time walking around and seeing the sights. Our first day there we walked from L’Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, stopping along the way for delicious fresh crepes with sugar. Incredible! We spent hours wandering around the halls of the Louvre looking at the art and exploring Napoleon’s apartments which were ridiculously extravagant. It was awesome getting to see the Mona Lisa, beautiful statues like ‘Cupid and Psyche’ and the ‘Winged Victory’, and of course the huge glass pyramids above and below ground. That night we made our own Christmas feast back at the apartment before walking to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night.

On the second day of our trip we took a trip up to Holland to visit Amsterdam and it was so much fun. I didn’t realize there were so many canals throughout the city, and the Christmas lights, bridges, water, and architecture made it a really nice place to explore. Once we had our bearings we headed over to the Anne Frank house and it was an unforgettable experience being in the house, seeing the original wallpaper decorated with pictures Margot Frank had glued up, and walking through the rooms they hid in. Afterwards we went across town to de some exploring and see what the Red Light district was all about—quite an experience! Unfortunately our stay in Amsterdam went by way too quickly, but we still had one last day in Paris before flying back to our finals.

We started out our last day in Paris with a workout, and climbed to the top of the hill to see Sacre Coeur, a beautiful church with an amazing view of the city. Then I was off to see Notre-Dame! It’s interesting how different the architecture was in Paris compared to that of Florence, and I loved getting to see Notre-Dame up close and discover the huge stained glass windows inside. Before it got dark, Christina and I went back to the Eiffel Tower and began the climb—it kicked my butt but the views were definitely worth it. Once we got to the second floor (about 600 steps and 1 waffle with sugar later) we got to take a nice elevator ride up to the top, and just as we stepped outside the entire tower started sparkling, which it does for the first 5 minutes of every hour. The view from that high up of Paris at night was absolutely incredible, and the city was lit up beautifully. We stayed on top of the Eiffel Tower for a while and by the time we got back to the apartment it was dinnertime! For our last dinner there we all went to the Latin Quarter to a little restaurant with excellent food. I got escargot, which I love, and delicious duck fillet with potatoes—so good! Tonight after filling up on great Italian pizza—I really am trying to eat as much as possible before leaving Florence—I started the daunting task of packing. Much progress has been made, but without a doubt my bags are overweight and bursting at the seams. I seem to be a modern day Santa Clause, flying home for Christmas with my huge red suitcase full of presents for everyone. Some advice for anyone planning on studying abroad: pack light because you’ll certainly have accumulated a lot by the time you leave. Now that there are only 3 days left here in Florence this whole experience seems to have gone by so fast. I’m definitely looking forward to being back with family, but I know I’ll be missing Florence and its people, culture, and food in no time. Studying abroad is absolutely the best thing I could have done and I’m so lucky to have made such amazing friends throughout this semester!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Marrakech, Morocco!

To take a break from the cold these past few days, Christina, Andrea and I took a trip to the city of Marrakech in Morocco, Africa. Everything seemed so different, colorful, and at times very overwhelming, but always exciting. It took a while but as soon as we got our bearings we jumped right in and began exploring. Three full days was definitely not long enough but we packed in as much as we could, first hitting the main square, the market, and then getting out of town to go hiking.

The main square in Marrakech is absolutely chaotic. Hundreds of stores with beautiful colors hanging around their entrances circle the center square which is full of carts selling freshly squeezed orange juice and nuts, fruit, women doing henna, monkeys, snakes, donkeys, scooters, bikes, and thousands of locals and tourists. First things first: we stopped for lunch. There were so many places to choose from, we ended up eating at this amazing restaurant right on the edge of the square. We sat in the sun up on the terrace that overlooked everything below and had a great view of the mosque. We ordered vegetarian couscous, roasted chicken with olives, and tajine lamb with apples all for less than 200 dirhams (~ 20 euro) and it was incredible. After lunch we journeyed into the square to get henna tattoos and that was quite an experience. As soon as you look interested in something you’re attacked from all directions with offers and prices and in this case they had their henna pens out and were drawing designs on our arms before we realized what was even happening. Negotiating a price afterwards was another experience altogether, everything is marked up about 90% and you have to do some serious bargaining.

With our freshly inked arms we headed into the market to do some shopping. Everywhere you look there is something new and interesting to see: beautiful scarves, daggers, colorful pillows and blankets, rugs, delicious smelling spices, and intricate metal and glass lamps. Once we had adjusted to the scenery and smells it was so much fun walking through and looking at everything, talking and bargaining with the locals. Luckily we’ve had some practice in the Mercato San Lorenzo in Florence, otherwise we would have been entirely overwhelmed. After the market we headed back into the square to get some fresh orange juice from the vendors. It was without a doubt the best orange juice I’ve ever had and we went back several times throughout our stay for more.

Our second day in Morocco was spent traveling to the valley town of Ourika (and stopping along the way to pet camels), where we hiked up the mountain to see a huge beautiful waterfall. In fact, it was more mountain climbing than hiking, and converse and jeans were not the most appropriate attire, but it was well worth it. All along the trail were clusters of small houses and shops selling handmade pottery and carved stones, and even restaurants set up right on the mountain. Considering the climb I have no idea how they were able to get everything that far up. Back in Ourika we ate lunch right on the river and then back to Marrakech for dinner in the square! It felt like we were nonstop eating delicious food, and that’s the best kind of trip. By the time we got back to Marrakech, the square had transformed from a huge open area to a maze of tents selling all sorts of foods: snails, soups, fish, tajine, couscous, and skewers of grilled meat were only some of the things we passed. Eventually we decided on fried fish and chips, and were given delicious bread and salsa at this one stand that everyone seemed to be enjoying. I can’t wait to get home and try to recreate all the dishes I’ve tasted while abroad! While walking around and taking pictures, we tried these amazing cookies being sold by little kids, and couldn’t help but go back for more before calling it a night.

On our last day in Marrakech we took a walk down the road to the huge mosque and spent some time walking around it and admiring the architecture. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed in, but the grounds and outside were beautiful and we hung out there for a while before going back for more Moroccan food and market shopping. Walking back to the hotel that night we learned about spices, herbs, and natural soaps, talked to some of the locals, and I now have a facebook friend in Morocco to keep in touch with! 6 a.m. and our taxi to the airport came way too quickly, and we were on our way back to Florence. Only 2 more days now and then… Paris! More posts and pictures soon!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving in Florence!

This past week my friends and I decided to celebrate thanksgiving here in Florence with a delicious home cooked feast! We all brought our food over to Abby, Marty, and Alyssa’s apartment and had a great time. My roommate and I were in charge of cheesy garlic mashed potatoes and apple crumble for dessert and they came out amazing; mom would have been proud. By the time we got there they had matzo ball soup, 3 roasted chickens, string beans, corn, stovetop stuffing, meatballs, and cheesecake with strawberries all set up and we dived right in. I love Thanksgiving. It was a little sad not getting to be with our families, but being surrounded by delicious food and close friends definitely made for a fun and filling night. Best part: Leftovers!

On Saturday I hopped on a train to Pistoia and got to walk around and do some exploring. After checking out a really nice museum and a bunch of churches for art, my friend Chris and I headed to the nearest trattoria for some incredible lasagna and gelato afterwards. By the time we got back to Florence it was dark out and all the streets had been lit up for Christmas.

There are beautiful lights strung across the roads, Christmas trees in the store windows, and one big Christmas tree is being set up right next to Il Duomo—can’t wait for it to light up! It’s definitely been getting a bit colder out these past few days here in Florence, but the city is more beautiful than ever and the streets are always crowded with families walking around in their winter gear. More motivation to go out and buy a jacket and some boots! Of course, now that our Italian class has ended we’ve all been grabbing quite a few extra hours of sleep in the mornings…

We’re really in the final stretch of our trip—not even 3 weeks left before we fly home! Luckily we’re taking advantage of the time we have left and are squeezing in some last minute travel plans. This upcoming week my friends Andrea and Christina and I are taking a 4 day trip to Morocco, Africa and I’m SO excited. Then almost as soon as we get back from that we’re getting right back on a plane to Paris and staying there for a while to explore and admire the city. With traveling, school finals, and running around Florence getting last minute Christmas shopping done it’ll be a busy last few days here!

Hope everyone had an awesome Thanksgiving and I can’t wait to see you all!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Back from Budapest!

Ciao a tutti! Getting to explore Budapest was absolutely worth the painful 13 hour bus rides there and back. I’ve come to realize that when in a new place, the best way to experience it is through food! And so upon arriving in Budapest my friends and I headed straight for the Central Market to chow down on some local cuisine.

Coming from Italy’s almost vegetarian diet, it was nice to be back in a country that really appreciates its meat dishes. As our tour guide said, “In Budapest we eat meat with meat!” and they do indeed. For breakfast we were served hot dogs and bologna with toast, for lunch we dined on delicious beef goulash, and for dinner there was stuffed cabbage and garlic soup with chicken paprika. Of course we couldn’t miss out on the langos—a disc of fried dough covered in sour cream and shredded cheese. Nice and healthy, right? So delicious. And then there was the strudel. Apple strudels, cherry strudel, poppy seed strudel, sweet cottage cheese strudel with powdered sugar, even cabbage strudel—all were delicious and you really couldn’t buy one without going back for another.

During the few hours between meals we were out exploring both sides of the city. From Heroes Square to the Royal Palace and everywhere in between, the city sites were incredible. The architecture of Parliament and St. Steven’s Basilica was beautiful and at night the view of the Fisherman’s Bastion all lit up across the Danube River lent an almost fairytale-like sense to the whole city. While strolling through the Royal Palace we even got to try our hand at archery, something I’ve always wanted to do.

Unfortunately I’m not the natural I had hoped I would be, but it was extremely fun anyway. We also got the chance to try out one of Budapest’s oldest pastimes: going for a swim in one of the city’s thermal baths. We chose the Szechenyi bathhouse, the largest and most authentic in Budapest, and it was quite an experience. There were 3 huge outdoor pools, 12 thermal indoor baths and several hot saunas; we made sure to try out as many as we could.

On our last night in the city we went to this amazing bar called Szimpla in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest. It was unlike anywhere I had ever been or seen and I loved it! While there we couldn’t pass up the chance to try Palinka, a traditional Hungarian brandy made from fruit. Unfortunately it came time for our 13 hour bus ride home much sooner than we wanted and we had to leave the flavor fest behind us, but we were able to grab some pastries for the trip before we left. All in all an awesome weekend, hope you enjoy the pictures!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Multi Musei!

Ciao! My family came to visit this past week and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to not only show them all the things I love about Firenze, but also to discover new places with them. One day we went to Venice and I cannot begin to describe how different it is than Firenze. My favorite part of Venice was the roadways (or maybe I should say waterways). There are no cars in Venice, only water taxis and boats. All other roads are small alleyways just big enough for people to get through. It had a much different feel than any other place I have ever been. Even though it was amazing there I think a day trip was enough for me, there isn't as much to do there as in good old Firenze.
The next day the rain subsided just in time for me to take my family up to Piazzale Michelangelo. There we saw the most amazing view of the city, something that I desperately wanted to share with them. The climb was rough, but worth it. Well, at least we thought it was a rough climb until we decided to go to the top of the Duomo. My brother and I started to climb the stairs to the top and thought it wouldn't be too bad. Halfway up you walk around inside of the main dome and are right next to the beautiful artwork at the top (my brother even touched it!). The next section of stairs was a killer. The stairs became more narrow and winding. If you are afraid of heights or small spaced do not attempt this! The very last section was extremely steep and I thought I was going to fall backwards. The view when you are standing on top of cupola outside is absolutely breathtaking. I was able to spot my apartment from up there! The anxiety from the stairs had full dissipated from the beauty that I was seeing. The climb down was a hundred times easier than the climb up.
Next on our agenda was a trip to Chianti. There we tasted the best food and wine the world has to offer. Not only did we indulge in those tasty treats, we went to the medieval town of San Gimignano. This is called the medieval Manhattan. There we saw the original twin towers, of which came the idea for the World Trade Center. Dinner that night was good but tasted like nothing in comparison to the food we had in Chianti.
The following day we went to the Galileo museum. Being a science major, this was the number one museum I wanted to go to. It was really interesting seeing old microscopes and some of Galileos first telescopes! My favorite part had to be the display of Galileos fingers and tooth though! How often do you get to see something like that???
The last museum we all went to was the Accademia. Almost everyday I walk past the replica of Michelangelo's David next to Palazzo Vecchio. I never imagined that seeing the real one would be so awe-inspiring. My jaw literally dropped. It is hard to explain the beauty of something like that without being able to show it someone. If you ever go to one museum in the whole world in your entire life, this should be it.
Being able to show my family around was one of my favorite things I have had the opportunity to do while here. Not only because they made sure I ate well everyday. I'm so happy they were able to see what an amazing trip this is first hand, and not just from pictures and stories. I can't wait to continue exploring this city and bring home more stories for them to hear.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Back in Firenze after Fall Break!

The past few weeks have been crazy! We had midterm week which was very stressful, but not as stressful as it is back in America. The classes here don't seem as hard to me, which may just be because it is not classes for my major, but midterm week was still very stressful to get through. It is different because all of your midterms are in the same week and for many classes this is the first grade you receive. Most of my classes are only graded based on midterm, final exam, final paper, and attendance so the midterms are very important. Regardless of the stress I got through it somehow (and am now anxiously awaiting my grades). Midterm week does have its plus side means that it is time for fall break! For fall break my roommates and I went to Dublin and then to Barcelona. I couldn't believe the beauty of those cities. It was truly and amazing experience. However, ten days away seemed to last forever and towards the end of the trip I could not wait to get home to Firenze. The walk back to my apartment from the train station was rewarding in itself, just because I was so happy to be home. Classes started again today and we met for the second time with Italian students we are doing a conversation exchange with. The exchange is great because it gives us an opportunity to use our Italian outside of a classroom setting, and also learn from Italian students who are out age. I really enjoy the exchange and have become friends with the student I was paired with. It is almost refreshing to be back in class again even though it means back to studying and homework. My family is coming to visit this weekend and they are staying for a week. I am so excited to show them around the city and all of the amazing museums, artwork, and architecture it has to offer.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

La Côte d'Azur

Bonjour!!! The other weekend I went to the French Riviera with a few of my friends. We went through a program called EuroAdventures, which I would highly recommend. They set up tours for the group, but you, by no means, have to go on them. We basically just used them for the transportation and the accommodations. We left Thursday night last week and came back Sunday night. My three friends and I ended up just spending a very relaxing weekend in Nice. The first day we were there, we took a short 15 minute train ride to Monte Carlo, Monaco, where we were able to see the Prince's palace, a Ferrari store, and the enormous casino! We also enjoyed a Monaco beverage at a cafe next to the station. We then met up with my friend's cousin in Nice and she took us around the city, bought us some chocolate, and then took us to her house to hang out with some of her friends.

The next day, we walked around Nice for most of the day, just enjoying the French culture and the beautiful city of Nice. Apparently Nice was first an ancient Greek city named Nike (meaning victory) for over a millennium. We were able to eat some absolutely delicious food that I think was the best food I've had in the last two months (sorry Italia). It was pretty sad when we had to leave the next day to go back to Firenze. Not one of us felt that the trip was nearly long enough, but we are already planning a trip to Paris in December, allowing us to once again immerse ourselves in the French culture!

It was probably one of the most fun weekends I've had yet in Europe and I'm so glad that I was able to practice my French and meet some really great people, while spending it with some really great people.

Now, as far as Firenze is concerned, I was able to spend a weekend here recently, which was extremely nice and relaxing considering I wasn't on a bus, train, plane, or boat travelling somewhere! I was able to go out to many of the local bars and of course practicing the Italian that I've been learning. Unfortunately, however, it is midterm week this week, which is stressing everyone out...quite a bit! Unlike "midterms" in the US, there is only ONE actual week of midterms and each class only has ONE midterm, which I am grateful for. Normally, I have a "midterm" almost every week starting from the third week of school up until the week before finals. On an extremely bright note, I will be leaving on a week long cruise to Croatia and Greece in approximately four days! I am going to be taking the train to Venice, where we leave, and our first stop is Split, Croatia. The next 6 days are spent "island hopping" every day on a different island in Greece and Crete. When I get back, I will then be taking a short three hour train to Interlaken, Switzerland, where I can, hopefully, enjoying some skiing and other activities as it is the adventure capital of Europe! I'm sure my next post will not be up until after I get back from Croatia/Greece/Crete/Switzerland, so until then! Ciao! 

P.S. I took a picture of this little boy playing in the rock fountain! He was so adorable!


Buongiorno! My weekend in Rome was incredible! We saw as much as we possibly could have and still needed more time to explore. What we did get to see was amazing though.
First we went to the Musei Vaticani and spent hours walking around taking it all in. I was SO excited when I walked into one room to see Raphael’s School of Athens right there on the wall, it was awesome. While there, we checked out the Sistine Chapel which was absolutely beautiful, and St. Peter’s Square and Basilica.
. Just walking around Rome was so much fun as well, the Trevi fountain was great to hang out around and getting to walk into the Pantheon was unreal. There are museums everywhere and luckily I was able to visit quite a few of them and learn a lot about the art and artists. One of my favorite places this trip was the Villa Borghese, a huge heart shaped park that I walked through on our way to some museums and the metro. It was the first time since I’ve been in Italy that I’ve been surrounded by trees and it was a perfect fall day, smelled incredible, and reminded me so much of home—I loved it! We couldn't miss out on visiting the Colosseum and Forum, so before we caught the train back to Florence we spent a few hours climbing up, down, and around the Colosseum which is absolutely enormous, and the Forum. Seeing those ruins in person was so amazing and I took so many pictures. Hope you enjoy them!

This week is midterms week at FUA, but once we get through all that it’s Venice and then Greece!! Here in Florence it’s just starting to get chilly out, so some warm sun and swimming will come just in time. I’ll post more pictures soon! Ciao!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Amalfi Coast!!

This past weekend I visited the Amalfi coast and spent a day each on the island of Capri, in Positano, and exploring Pompeii and Vesuvius. Let me start with Capri: awesome. We got to our hotel in Sorrento Thursday night, and by Friday morning we were on the ferry to Capri. We stepped off the ferry in Marina Grande and right onto a smaller boat that took us all on a tour around the island. Somehow I snagged a seat right at the tip of the bow and it was incredibly fun seeing the island and being on the almost rollercoaster boat ride due to the waves. Circling the island gave us amazing views of the cliffs and beautiful villas perched on them. I feel repetitive, but I can’t stress how BLUE the water is here! The rest of the day was spent trying to find the bus to the town of Capri, finally getting there, and then hiking our way to Marina Piccola on the opposite side of the island for some swimming. My friend Christina always remembers to bring her goggles so we got to check out the underwater flora and fauna as well. Before leaving to return to our hotel we fit in some limoncello and chocolate tasting—the orange flavored chocolate was SO good!

Saturday was spent in Positano, and immediately upon our arrival at the beach town we climbed down the 700 steps to the shore and rented ourselves a boat. Luckily it came with a driver who took us out along the coast to a private beach where we could just jump right in the water off the boat and go swimming. I had heard of people going cliff jumping in Positano and was so excited to do that, but unfortunately the only “cliff” we encountered was less than 15 feet high. I still had such an amazing time swimming in the crystal clear water and jumping off our rocks. It’s a little unnerving when you can clearly see the rocks at the bottom of the sea’s floor as you’re jumping into it; they seem much closer than they really are! One of the things I really like about studying abroad is how easy it is to meet new people. For example, we needed a larger group before we could rent a boat that day so we just introduced ourselves to new people and went out and spent the day with them and had an awesome time! The beach was made up of black sand, pebbles, and stones, with worn down sea glass sprinkled throughout it—it was beautiful. This place is unreal. Everywhere we go is just more beautiful than the last. I just keep saying to myself “you’re in SCHOOL right now”. That night after dinner we went out, got gelato, and just walked around Sorrento enjoying the bustling nightlife.

Walking through the city of Pompeii was really amazing. Everything was so well preserved that it was extremely easy to get the feel of what life was like for the Romans who lived there. Amazingly enough, the writing on the walls of the buildings was preserved, and you could even see the expressions on the faces of some of the plaster casts made of the people who died almost 2000 years ago. What made the experience even more remarkable was being able to see the volcano whose eruption buried the city in the background the entire time we were walking around. What must it have been like having THAT good of a view of the miles high mushroom cloud of ash and gas? Luckily, the best view I got was only of the calm Vesuvius, but what a view it was. After leaving Pompeii I jumped on the opportunity to climb to the very lip of the crater of the volcano, and it was worth the hike up.

The weekend before this trip my parents, aunt, and uncle came to visit! It was so nice getting to see and hug them in person—skype just doesn’t cut it sometimes. I got to show off my knowledge of the city and took them around to several piazzas and markets, climbed Il Duomo, and then went out to eat at Gustapizza! Luckily I got to spend more than just one day with them and stayed with them at a villa in Civitella in Val di Chiana where we had a DELICIOUS dinner at L’antico Borgo—if you ever get the chance, GO here! The following day we went and explored Perugia, where I had the best cup of hot chocolate ever, and Assisi, which was just as beautiful! That Sunday I had signed up to go on a tour through the Chianti vineyards and do some wine tasting. It was a perfect day and of course my camera died right as we got into the vineyards but the hike was amazing. We went to a private villa for the wine tasting and got an incredible lunch of bread and olive oil, prosciutto, two types of pasta, and biscotti to go along with the wine which was produced by the family whose villa we were in. We also got the chance to taste grappa and ew. This weekend I have plans to go to Rome with a few friends, I’ll post pics soon!

Pictures from Amalfi

House entrance in Pompeii

The chair lift on the way to the top of the mountain in Capri

Wolfie finally at the top of the mountain enjoying the view

Monday, October 11, 2010

This weekend I had the chance to visit the Amalfi Coast. We went to Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, and Caserta. This was my first time at each and every one of these places, and I can honestly say that they all blew me away. In both Pompeii and Caserta we got the chance to go on a guided tour, and contrary to the typical boring guided tour, I was beyond engaged in every word our tour guides had to say. I am really starting to notice how much of a privilege it is to be able to see all of these places, and made the most of everything I saw. The silk covered walls, and the original gold plated furniture really paints a vivid picture of what it would have been like to live in a place of this magnitude, something you just cant imagine from even the most well written textbook.

Pompeii was almost unbelievable. Walking though the entrance of Pompeii was actually like walking into a time machine. As we walked down the ancient streets I actually experienced what life was like in this city. What astonished me the most, was how many things have not changed even after 2,000 years. One of my favorite things I saw was an original political campaign poster, and even then politicians were promising favors for votes, and as a political science major it takes away some of my faith in the future of the political word.

And finally, I don't know how to express how amazing the views were all though out the trip. We took the ferry over to Capri and then a chair lift up to the top of this cliff which was absolutely breathe taking. I will upload my pictures today after class and make another post with all the pictures, make sure to check back!
This weekend I had the chance to visit the Amalfi Coast. We went to Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, and Caserta. This was my first time at each and every one of these places, and I can honestly say that they all blew me away. In both Pompeii and Caserta we got the chance to go on a guided tour, and contrary to the typical boring guided tour, I was beyond engaged in every word our tour guides had to say. I am really starting to notice how much of a privilege it is to be able to see all of these places, and made the most of everything I saw. The silk covered walls, and the original gold plated furniture really paints a vivid picture of what it would have been like to live in a place of this magnitude, something you just cant imagine from even the most well written textbook.

Pompeii was almost unbelievable. Walking though the entrance of Pompeii was actually like walking into a time machine. As we walked down the ancient streets I actually experienced what life was like in this city. What astonished me the most, was how many things have not changed even after 2,000 years. One of my favorite things I saw was an original political campaign poster, and even then politicians were promising favors for votes, and as a political science major it takes away some of my faith in the future of the political word.

And finally, I don't know how to express how amazing the views were all though out the trip. We took the ferry over to Capri and then a chair lift up to the top of this cliff which was absolutely breathe taking. I will upload my pictures today after class and make another post with all the pictures, make sure to check back!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

September Adventures!

Hey Guys! 

Sorry it took me so long to post another blog. Everything has been so crazy here and I finally have some free time before it gets busy again. The last month has flown by, as you can imagine it would study abroad. At some points I look back and cannot realize that I've only been here for a month! On the other hand, I also feel like this semester is flying by. 

As far as my time spent here is concerned, it goes as follows: Monday through Thursday, I get up for class at 8 (sometimes 8:30 if I'm being lazy) to be to school by 9. I normally have class until 5:30 and then I go over to someone's apartment for dinner. Someone I know is always having a dinner party so I just tag along and chip in a little food/cheese/wine as a contribution. Afterward, I do a little homework and then try to convince some of my friends to go out with me to mingle with the locals and dance a little. Friday through Sunday, I'm normally hanging out with as many people as possible and making the most out of the discotheques! There are some pretty good ones in Firenze, mainly Space which is just around the corner from my apartment! 

Two weekends ago we had a group trip to Sicily, which was AMAZING! We took an overnight train, which was an adventure in itself. Some people weren't too happy about it, but I was overly excited. It felt like a slumber party with all of my friends in the same train car. I would wander from compartment to compartment just talking and hanging out with people until finally drifting off to sleep in my little hanging cot. In Sicily, we went to the sea and swam, did a few tours, ate a delicious cannolo, and then swam some more! We had quite a lot of fun on the bus rides as well. 

Then last weekend I went to Roma with a few friends to visit another friend of ours. We stayed in a hotel right next to the Vatican. Roma is a gorgeous city with so much to do and not enough public transportation to do it in just a few days. The views from some of the higher points in Roma were astounding, along with the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, and the Trevi Fountain.  The nightlife in Roma is also a must do. We had just as much fun, if not more, at night at the Roman discotheques. There is so much to do and so much to see that you couldn't possibly do it all in any reasonable amount of time, so I would suggest picking out a few things you want to do and see and then make a return weekend trip if you want. 

Now that I have a little time to breathe before midterms, I'm trying to plan out adventures outside of Italy. I am going to Greece and Croatia for Fall Break on an eight day cruise and then Paris and London the second week of December, but I need to fill in the other weekends with some international adventures, hopefully Ireland, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and some Scandinavian country.  

Monday, October 4, 2010

florence's very own oktoberfest

October 4th

While many ventured off to Oktoberfest for a long weekend of beer, German food, and tents full of strangers, I stayed here in Florence. Much to my surprise right in my own front yard there was my very own German festival. With everything from authentic cuisine, to homemade goods and a great atmosphere. I ate my first bratwurst, which was a struggle to finish because it was so huge. I also shared a huge piece of chocolate cake with my friends and sat on the steps in front of the festival and people watched! It was great because for the first time the square wasn't full of tourists but real Italians everywhere. It was a great place to met people and interact with the locals

This is a picture of one of the biggest food tents at the festival. The grills were really astonishing. There was an open flame in the bottom and the grill was attached with large chains. With this set up they were able to spin the food to let it cook more evenly and also raise or lower it to get just the right amount of heat. They really have perfected their technique which is evident in how good their food is!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

my first post

Hi everyone, my name is Alyssa Dwyer, I am a student at the University at Albany, and I am studying at Florence University of the arts this semester through Stony Brook. After all of the rigorous administration process, extremely long and complicated visa process, and the finding and booking the flights, I am finally here in Florence. Living and studying in Italy has been a dream of mine since I was a freshman in high school. Having traveled to Italy with my family that summer, there was something about the culture and the people that I knew I just had to come back. Two years later I returned and spend a month in a small town in the Abruzzi region and stayed with my Italian relatives for a month. Because my high school did not offer Italian language courses my Italian was limited to the few words I knew from my previous trip, and anything that was similar to Spanish, the closest thing to Italian I could take in high school. After the month of living in Italy, I knew that I didn’t only want to but needed to master the language. I started my studies in Italian freshman year of college, and after two years I can hardly say that I am fluent. However, since I have arrived in Florence I have had nothing but great experiences using the limited Italian that I know. Sometimes it is almost too speak English everywhere you go, because the majority of people know at least the basics of English. Nonetheless, I have only been here two weeks, and already feel more and more comfortable using my Italian. I know that many times when I speak with the locals I am nowhere near being grammatically correct; the people here are more than willing to work with what you know and really help you use your Italian.

I really want to focus my blog on the atmosphere here in Florence, everything from the art, the scenery, the way people interact with each other at markets and small stores, to even the differences of the night life. I have only been here for about two weeks, and I have already done and seen so much, I will try and update as often as I can with new discoveries and occurrences here in Florence. But before I go I would like to share one of my favorite things I have done since I have been here. At around 9:30 every evening a really great performers stands at the end of the Uffizi gallery, by 9:35 he has attracted a crowd with atleast 100 people or more. He plays all American music anywhere from, the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel to great bands like U2. The atmosphere is wonderful and it’s easy to meet people from all over the world

I'm going to end it there, but will post again soon with pictures and hopefully some great new stories!

Monday, September 27, 2010

More Adventures!

These are only some of the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken so far, hope you enjoy! I had a very exciting and busy last 2 weeks to tell you all about. Two Thursday’s ago, my friends and I climbed to the top of the cupola of Il Duomo and the view was absolutely incredible. I’m so glad I waited to do this until I was more familiar with Florence because I was able to pick out buildings and areas I’ve come to know at street level. Seeing everything from above was an amazing new point of view, and we sat up there taking it all in for almost an hour. Climbing the maze of stairs on the way up and back down was also quite the experience, and getting to walk right along the frescoes on the inside of the cupola was awesome. From the ground I never realized how big the frescoes in fact were and being that close to them made me realize how much work went into painting them.

The day after climbing Il Duomo, a group of us hopped on a bus and explored the town of Fiesole. The archeological site included ruins of a roman temple, roman baths, and a roman theater, as well as hundreds of artifacts found on site like pottery, coins, and intricate figurines. One of the things I absolutely love about Italy is how far back its history goes; I loved walking around those ruins and knowing what went on there hundreds of years ago and being able to see what it looked like. It was a perfect day too—it had started out rainy but by the time we got there the sun had come out and it was quiet and misty and there was hardly anyone else there. It was really easy to imagine what it must have been like back when the theater was in use and to get lost in the feeling of being somewhere so old and unaltered. After leaving the ruins, we hiked up to the top of the hill and enjoyed the view of Florence, which was of course perfect.

That Saturday’s original plan was to visit San Gimignano, but after finding out the buses only run there on weekdays, we made a quick decision to check out Pisa instead. How cool is that, just being able to check out PISA whenever I want to. Everything is so close and accessible and I love it! Traveling is so easy and affordable; you HAVE to take advantage of it while everywhere is so close! Seeing the leaning tower of Pisa wasn’t the only thing to do in Pisa like so many people say. The cathedral and baptistery were beautiful and I’m still having a hard time grasping how people were able to construct buildings that size with such perfect architecture hundreds of years ago. My friend Chris, an Art History major, is the perfect tour guide and can tell you about each and every painting you come across: who painted it and when, what’s going on in the scene, who the prominent figures are, etc. I have absolutely no knowledge of that sort and its extremely interesting and a little unreal learning about it while staring at the original. Of course, before leaving Pisa I had to get at least a few classic “holding up the tower” shots, which you can see above.

On Sunday I took a day trip to Cinque Terre and oh my goodness. That was by far the most amazing thing ever. I don’t even have the proper adjectives to describe how amazing it actually was, but I’ll try. Upon arriving in Riomaggiore, the first of the five towns, we were all stunned by the view. The sea was the perfect color blue with a handful of small white sailboats and the waves crashed white against the dark gray rocky cliffs that rose almost straight up from the water to where we were standing. The first trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola, the second town, was crowded with tourists but still had great views of the water and cliffs. The real hike started when we hit the trail again after exploring town #3, Corniglia. The towns themselves were of course incredible and the beautifully colored houses seemed to be stacked right on top of each other growing right out of the mountains but hiking between them was my favorite part. It really allowed me to experience Italy in a totally new way—much different than experiencing it in the cities. The trail from Corniglia to Vernazza and then on to Monterosso al Mare was breathtaking. Literally, I was panting. We hiked right along the sea through wild grapes, figs, lemon trees, basil, tomatoes, wild oregano, huge aloe plants, and rosemary, and the air smelled incredible. By the time we saw Monterosso in the distance were exhausted but got our second wind and were running to jump right in the water. The water was perfectly clear, dark blue and just getting to FLOAT after all that hiking was so nice. Definitely my favorite trip so far and I’m already planning on going back to do it again.

This past weekend we all went to Sicily and visited Taormina, Siracusa, and Noto. To get there we took an overnight train which I really had a lot of fun on, there were four beds to a room and the train went right onto the ferry to get to the island. I had my first Sicilian cannoli in Taormina where we had a tour of the bakery and learned that the secret to the crispy shell of the cannoli is red wine. Of course it was absolutely delicious. In Siracusa we took a boat tour around the coast and got to jump right off the boat into the water which was so clear you could see the dark shapes of the rocks way down on the floor. Swimming in the Mediterranean is awesome. The last day of our trip we spent in Noto, full of beautiful Baroque architecture, and then at the beach nearby which had crystal clear, warm water. I don’t think I can label the pictures above, but they're in reverse chronological order and hope you enjoy!