Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spring Break

Hey guys this is Kevin. I just got back from Spring Break. It was a really great trip. I went all over Europe. First Madrid, then Amsterdam, then London. They were all pretty amazing cities. The first flight over to Madrid was a bit of a pain. We had to go to Pisa airport around 8 in the morning and the flight was scheduled for around 1030. But it got delayed. For 6 hours. They said it was due to "fog" but I never saw the sky clearer.

Anyway Madrid was fun, I got to check out all the museums there and the king's palace there. The weather was beautiful, the best all semester. The highlight of the city was seeing a bullfight. It was pretty horrible seeing the bull, especially knowing its fate. There were a total of 6 bulls, and they all lost the fight one after the other. One of them got one of the matadores in the leg. Seeing the bull fight back like that was the most exciting part. Overall it was pretty horrible, but not as horrible as I expected. I wouldn't ever see another one in my life nor would I recommend seeing one to a friend, but it was something I could only see in Madrid so I don't regret seeing it.

The next city I saw was Amsterdam, and I think it was my favorite of the three. Amsterdam is a canal city and its very similar to Venice. However, Venice is controlled by tourists. Everyday there is tourist season and there's very little people who actually live there. However Amsterdam is like Venice with a little life andmodernism to it. People still live there and you can see their influence in the city - it doesn't die when the tourists leave, like Venice. The canals of the city were beautiful and the buildings looked very nice. The Anne Frank house was really interesting too.

Amsterdam is also home to the Van Gough and Dutch masters museum, which has some of the most important Dutch painters in history, like Rembrandt.
So if you end up traveling for spring break, you're probably going to live in hostels for the entire time. They are the cheapest accommodation and are pretty much designed for traveling young people, which was perfect for a poor college student like me. Living in a hostel was pretty much just like living in a college dorm. It can be dirty and pretty run down in certain parts, but its still incredibly comfortable. You'll be sharing a room with a bunch of other people. For me I was in a room with bunk beds for 8 people. And you'll have communal bathrooms, but the atmosphere is very comfortable and friendly, exactly like living in a college dorm.

The last city I visited was London. It was really expensive! The pound is very strong and it's worth at least $1.6. So if you plan on visiting London, bring at least twice the money you plan on spending.

London reminded me a lot of New York. I called it "New York Light." Considering New York is one of the greatest cities in the world, that's definitely a compliment. There's plenty to do and see in London. I hit up the Tower, the British Museum (which has tons of treasure like the original Rosetta Stone) Abbey Road, Platform 9 3/4 and a bunch of other places. The highlight of this city was the shows. London is known for its theater and the shows I saw were great. The first one I saw was Jersey Boys, which was a great show and had great music. But I felt kind of a traitor not seeing it in New York, since Fankie Valli and the Four Seasons are an American band and all.

But anyway, the trip was great even though I spent pretty much all of my money. I'd do it all again if I could. But now I have to start getting back into the school vibe. I mean study abroad is half traveling and half school. I did my traveling, but now I got to get back to work :/
But it really is great being back in Italy again. Ive been speaking Italian the entire trip, even in London. After a big trip like that, I needed a place to relax. Now, Florence seems even more like home.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Break 2011!

Ciao everyone!

I have to say I had the best spring break of my life!

First, Bobby and I stayed in Rome for 2 days and we walked around and saw a lot. We went inside the colosseum which was absolutely amazing. We also saw the trevi fountain and it was SO beautiful. It was hard to get a good picture of it though because it was at night and there were tons of people trying to get pictures. We really wanted to see the vatican but it was closed for Saint Joseph's Day. Rome was a little bit of culture shock for me because it is such a huge city and Florence seems so tiny compared to it and it was hard to simply walk to where ever you needed to go in Rome. I feel like whenever I go to stay in a different region or country, it really makes me appreciate Florence more everytime and its always nice to come 'home'.

After Rome, we went to to the best city ever..Dublin! I absolutely fell in love with Dublin. The people were so nice and helpful and Ireland is absolutely beautiful. We stayed in a really cute bed and breakfast called Charles Stewart Guesthouse. We got to Dublin at around 11 p.m. last Monday so we got some rest that night and started our trip on Tuesday. The first day we walked around and got to know the city and did A LOT of souvenir shopping (probably too much!). On Wednesday, we went on a bus tour to see Southern Ireland. On that trip, I probably saw the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my life. Everything was so green and pretty. We went to the Cliffs of Moher which are right on the Atlantic ocean and if you ever go to Ireland, you HAVE TO go there! It was such a great experience. On Thursday, we went on a "hop on hop off" bus tour that took us around the city to show us all of the historical/ popular places. We made our way to the Guinness Storehouse for one of the stops which is something everyone has to do if they're in Dublin! Overall, the people were so nice, the food was great and Ireland was so beautiful.

It may not seem like I did much on this trip, but I just wanted to have a nice relaxing trip and get away from all of the work I'm doing in Florence. It was so great and definitely the best experience of my life to go to Dublin! I'm definitely gonna try to make it back there at some point in my life..or it will possibly be the next place that I study abroad!:)

Well, it's time for me to go to my cooking class now..I'll write soon!

-- Kelsey

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Midterms week

Ciao everyone!

I've taken 4 midterms so far and I only have 1 more left tomorrow! It is SO hard to study and sit still here. All I want to do is go out, walk around and see everything! I feel like I'm already in spring break mode and spring break hasn't even started yet.

After my midterm tomorrow, spring break starts for me! First, I'm going to take a train to Rome and spend 3 days there. I am so excited to see everything there from the colosseum, the roman forum, the vatican and the trevi fountain. Out of all the cities I'm going to be visiting in Italy, I think I'm the most excited to go there. After Rome, I'm heading to Bologna for 1 day then Dublin for 5 days. I can't wait to go to Dublin! If I decided not to study abroad in Italy, I definitely would have chosen Dublin (but I'm very happy that I chose Italy). I'm so happy to take a week off from school work and just relax!

Well, it's time for me to go and study for my last midterm tomorrow. I'll write as soon as I get back from my trips and post some pictures!

-- Kelsey

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Venice and midterm week

Hey, so this is midterm week and yesterday I had 3. So I was filling out tests all day. It was a little ridiculous. But I'm sure you all have been in the same spot too. Well I've got 2 more. My only midterm tomorrow is Italian Cooking Traditions. I had a midterm yesterday by the same teacher and it was a bit harder than I thought it was gonna be. The midterm yesterday was Vegetarian Cooking and I to write a paragraph on each question. Some were like what are the nutritive qualities of a carrot and I had to list the vitamins that they have. I mean beta carotene is a given, but I ended up making up a bunch of vitamins. I mean they're just a letter and a number, right? So I'm gonna have to put in a little more studying for the one tomorrow. The last midterm I have is on the history of the Medici Family, I'm pretty set on that since I'm a history major. But I gotta spend a little time memorizing the family tree. But whatever, I'll spend a little time studying tonight and tomorrow.
After midterms is spring break! I plan on going to Madrid, Amsterdam, and London with a few friends. Its gonna be some fun times! I won't have my computer with me so I don't know if I'll be able to post next week. But I'll come back with some stories.

But this past weekend I went to Venice! We left Florence around 930 in the Saturday. We found a side route to Venice that took a little longer and had
3 transfers, but it saved us like 30 Euro so we decided to take this route. Well we got our tickets but then it pops up that our train is gonna be 15 minutes late. Which means we had about 5
minutes to hop of the train at the next station, orient ourselves, find the ticket machines, buy them, validate the tickets (in Italy, you have to buy the ticket and then "validate" them right before
you use them which puts the date and time on the ticket. If you don't validate then the minimum fine id 50 Euro.) and then hop on the train. And thats what happened. Twice. We ended up
sprinting across some huge train stations.

Venice is farther from Florence than we thought. The train ride took 4 hours and we arrived in Venice around 2. We checked the trains back and the last one was at 730. We had about 5 ho
urs to spend in Venice. So, yeah, there was a lot of sprinting that day.

So anyway our first stop was the island of Murano. We went to the norther tip of Venice. There we found water buses. The only methods of traveling around Venice are either walking or taking a boat. So the public transportation system is a fleet of water buses, vaporetti in Italian, that take you to stops in Venice and in the surrounding islands.

We get off at the Island and they show us a pretty cool glass demonstration. I didn't think of taking a video, but I've got some pictures of it. And they have some really impressive glass
works on this island.

So we walk around, taking in all the glass, and we go to the line for the water buses and the place
is packed. Water buses are the only method of transportation between islands so people push and shove their way to the front of the lines. A bunch of people, mostly Italians, kept on pushing the the front, cutting the line. So eventually I had enough of this and started doing it back. Me
and my friends eventually, after 30 minutes of waiting, were in the front of the line.

When the next water bus came everyone pushes and shoves to get on. I'm surprised no one fell in the water. But it looked like my friends were going to get on and I wasn't. It was that close. So I grab my friend's shoulders in front of me. I figured if I attach myself to someone in front, it would be harder for people to push in front of me. And I said, "Hey if I don't get on the boat, I'm jumping on your back." I really was about to jump on his back but then the lady who decides who's the last person on the boat grabs me and pushes me into the crowd on the boat.

We were all laughing, the situation was so ridiculous. I was the last one on the boat. When I stepped on, my feet were right at the corner of the boat. I couldn't take one step back. But then the boat started to go. The safety rail wasn't even up yet. They just started going. Glad I had a few friendly hands to stabilize me, otherwise
I'd have had to swim back.

Anyway we get back to shore and I'm practically squeezed off the boat. We make our way down to Piazza San Marco. We really started to get a chance to just explore the city a bit and take in the beauty of it. Venice really is beautiful. Its incredible and its packed with so many interesting things. I was really disappointed that the whole boat situation took such a toll on our time there. But the buildings on either side of each street, for the most part, can be touched by extending both of your arms. The streets are tiny. And they're like a maze. Getting lost is half the fun of Venice, but you really wouldn't know how to get anywhere if there weren't signs pointing towards the major landmarks of the city.

Piazza San Marco is incredible. I was there when I was 10 and, back then it seemed limitless, but now that I saw it again, it seemed much tinier, but still huge. It was pretty beautiful. Apparently Napoleon loved San Marco square and he called it the "drawing room of Europe." Besides its beauty, both of the buildings and of the waterfront, the square is really special because there are absolutely no cars around. All the noise you here is from people.

I wouldn't mind spending all day there, but we had to go catch our train. We spent about an hour in the square which wasn't NEARLY enough. I'd walk around there all day if I had the chance. But we make it back to the train on time and headed back home. No problems.

Anyway I gotta go back to Venice. When you step in, you can tell how special the city is. I'm definitely gonna go back. If any of you get a chance. GO THERE


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Traveling in Tuscany

Ciao everyone!

I had a pretty busy weekend traveling to a couple different places around Tuscany. Let me start with my day on Friday.

Friday- First, I went to my 9 a.m. class (I highly recommend not signing up for a Friday class!), then right after I got out Bobby and I went right to the bus station to get two tickets to go to Siena. I kept hearing such great things about Siena, so I knew I definitely wanted to go. It took about an hour and 30 mins to get there and the ride was a little tough. It was so bumpy the whole time and I learned that I definitely like taking the train better. Usually, everyone travels by train to get to places outside of Florence, but in this case it's actually harder because there's no direct train into the city center of Siena. Well anyway, once we got to Siena, I knew why everyone had such good things to say about it. It was absolutely beautiful. Siena is really different from Florence. It's really hilly and the whole town is very old, unlike Florence where there are parts where everything is modern. I really enjoyed the old feel of it. We walked around for a bit, ate some good food, saw some really awesome cathedrals and then we went to the top of a tower to see all of Siena. This was my favorite part of the day and I fell in love with Siena because it was so beautiful. After all of the walking through the hilly city, I was starting to get exhausted and we headed back to Florence after spending about 5 hours in Siena. I'm gonna have to say that outside of Florence, Siena is one of my favorite cities so far.

Saturday- Bobby and I hopped on a 12:30 train to go to Lucca, which is also in Tuscany. I don't know why, but on Italian trains, they don't announce what stop you're at, so it's like a guessing game on the train if you don't know where you're going. We actually found two girls who are also studying abroad at FUA and they told us where to get off. When the train arrived at Lucca, we got out of the train station and found out that Lucca is still surrounded by ancient walls. It was really awesome. In order to get into the city center, you have the go through some corridors in the walls to get in. We spent most of our time inside museums and looking at different cathedrals. My favorite part of the day was when we went into a baptistery that was built on ancient ruins. They let you go downstairs and see the ruins, like roman baths and mosaics. It was so cool to able to see things that are that old dating all the way back to the 2nd century. Overall, it was a really beautiful city. Before we left, we walked around on the top of the wall where they built a path and we saw everything inside and outside of the city walls. It was so pretty, but my favorite place of the weekend was definitely Siena!

My day today is filled with studying unfortunately. Midterms start tomorrow, I can't believe it. Time is flying. I think there's only about 8 more weeks left and I can't imagine how fast it's gonna go after spring break. I have 3 midterms tomorrow, so I better start studying!

I'll write soon!
- Kelsey

Friday, March 11, 2011

Food and the Countryside

Hey everyone, this is Kevin. Midterms are coming up and procrastination time has turned into panic time. I’m sure you’re all used to that. So I haven’t really talked about my classes yet. They’re all pretty interesting. I think I said before I was taking culinary and history classes. The history class I’m taking, the history of the Medici family, is pretty standard. You do your readings and you go to lecture. But pretty much every other class, we go on a tour of the city

with a focus on the Medici. Last week we explored the crypt of San Lorenzo and the Palazzo dei Medici. They were incredible buildings that housed incredible people.

The culinary classes I’m taking, Italian vegetarian cooking and Italian cooking traditions are both very interesting. We learn about ingredients – their history, what they are used for, how they are prepared, etc. And we go over recipes. We break into groups and complete different recipes that usually are based off the same ingredients. Our teacher goes over the main techniques and the culinary theory that accompanies the recipe and the ingredients. Sometimes we go on gastronomic walking tours. We’ve gone to chocolate stores, gelato shops, bakeries, Panini shops – tons of different places. They give us a rundown of their operation and how they make their products. Then they give free samples of their products. It’s a lot of fun. Plus it usually saves me from having to buy lunch.

Speaking of food, I went to a farm this weekend - The Podere cheese farm. It was a student services trip. We went to the farm via public bus and met the cheese farmers. They were very nice to us. After we became acquainted, they took us in like family. They hand make their own cheese using fresh goat milk – part from the morning and part from the evening before. They

showed us how they make 2 cheeses: caprino and ricotta – all by hand. They use pretty simple methods. Boiling, draining, and letting the cheese rest. It was very natural.

So afterwards they led us up to visit the goats in the pens. And they ended up letting us into the pen with the baby goats and their moters. Actually, right before we arrived to the pens, there

was a live birth right there. But to be honest, I wasn’t paying much attention to the whole live birth thing since I was chasing baby goats around. So then me and some ot

hers started to pet the newborn baby goat. But then someone told me it was born about 10 minutes ago and it was covered in… well it was pretty wet. So I kind of immediately regretted touching the goat.

I asked the farmer if it was a boy or a girl and he replied and he said it was a boy. Then he took out a knife and cut something off. I started to freak out, considering the context of our conversation, but then I figured out all he cut off was the umbilical cord. And I was suddenly a lot more comfortable.

So we leave the pen and watch the first encounter between the mother and its kid. The farmer pretty much had to drag the mother over to its kid. But nature did the rest. It was a pretty special experience.

When we left the area, we had noticed that a couple of goats escaped the pen and were running around. The shepherd dog just kind of watched them until he realized he had a job to do.

So he gathers them up and chases them into a building where the farmers capture the goats. I posted a video of the dog doing his job.

Anyway we go back down to the cheese lab and they treat us to some of the most delicious cheese I’ve ever had. Afterwards we took a short walk through the Italian countryside / wine fields to the small village of Grave. Every September, when their wine is done fermenting, this village has a huge wine tasting and celebration. Chianti wine, which is made from the Chianti grape in Tuscany, is the most popular and well known in the area. People from all over Tuscany come to Grave to sample their wines. We explored this quaint little village for a couple of hours before heading back to Florence.

This was a great trip. This you ever make it to Tuscany, try to take some time to explore the countryside. It has a much friendlier culture and its really beautiful. Anyway, I

’ll post back soon with more stories. Ciao!


Thursday, March 3, 2011

I need some chicken soup!

Ciao a tutti!
This week has been a little rough for me. I've been sick for about 5 days now and I'm really missing my mom's homemade chicken soup! I made myself an appointment to see a doctor on Tuesday and I didn't know what to expect since I'm in a different country. I was pleasantly suprised. I called the office and got an appointment right away. When I went into the office, I immediately went in to see the doctor. He was a British doctor, so there wasn't any language barrier which was great. He gave me prescriptions for a few medicines and I was on my way! Plus, a sore throat is a great excuse to eat gelato everyday!

Last week, I went to go see an opera called "Manon Lescaut" with my class and it was awesome. Suprisingly, we had great seats for the 20 euro that we paid. It was really cool to see my first opera and to top it off it was in Italy. I highly recommend going to see an opera if you are going to be in Florence!

Over the weekend, I went to the top of the Giotto's bell tower next to the Duomo with my fiance, Bobby. There are 414 steps to get to the top of the tower, it was exhausting but it was SO worth it! Once we arrived at the top, we overlooked all of Florence. It was probably the most beautiful thing that I've ever seen. I felt like I was on the top of the world and I was so happy to share such a great experience with Bobby.
Before climbing to the top of the bell tower on Saturday, I went on a city tour with one of my professors to see an artisan fair called "lungoungiorno". We were able to see dozens of craftsmen and artists from all over Tuscany and their beautiful work. The artists ranged from fabric restorers, jewlers, ecodesigners, painters and sculptors. One of the artists was a jeweler named Paolo Penko who makes hand-made jewelry for celebrities like Paris Hilton and Madonna and the jewelry was absolutely beautiful. We also saw a fabric restorer who restores the fabric on the pope's hat! It was really nice to see things being made by hand, and not by machine like I'm used to in the U.S and I was so happy that I went. One of the sculptors even hand-made a little clay vase for me to take home!
There are so many different things to do here in Florence and I absolutely love it.
I'll write again soon! Ciao!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Little Things

A month in and I've seen a lot. I've been traveling around Italy, and even outside. I've seen Pisa, I've seen Viareggio, I've even seen Prague. But every time I leave Florence, I'm reminded how special the city is. Its amazing how packed this place is. There’s tons of interesting things around this city. I’m still finding little treasures all around it. And I’m not just talking about the masterpieces of art and architecture like the Duomo or

David. I also mean the little things about the city that you really only

notice when you look.

I was taking a tour with my teacher one day. She was explaining the big things of the city, which really are quite amazing - like the Church of Santa Croce. But I had noticed, since I arrived in Florence, all these little window shaped holes in many of the older buildings. They were about a foot tall and half a foot wide and were shaped like pentagons. I asked her what they were and she said that they were called "bo

cchette di vino." I’m not sure of the literal translation, and neither is Google Translate, but I think it means something like little booths of wine. Apparently, back when

Florence was a bustling renaissance city, people would offer or sell glasses of wine to pedestrians as they passed. When this practice was

banned after the passage of the Italian liquor license law, t

hese holes no longer had a use. Many of them became filled up, some were transformed into mailboxes, others were made into doorbells. I found this pretty interesting. So I started to walk around the city and find all these filled up little holes. Most of them were bricked up by their landlords, but a few stand out as being the canvas of street artists. What I mean is that, sometimes, you'll find a piece of art inside these tiny little holes. And you won’t find them unless you look. One was really detailed, like a painting.

It was pretty cool thinking that next to the incredible pieces of art and architecture, artists still express themselves and find ways to create beauty in a way that I found just as interesting as the Duomo and Santa Croce. Since Florence is such a small city (you can walk from one side to the other in like 20-30 minutes) it’s packed with surprises at every turn. You'll find art on every corner and historical monuments on every street. The city practically begs you to explore and see what its got hidden.