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I arrived in Italy over a year ago and it’s not an over exaggeration in the least when I say I miss it every single day. Every. Single. Day. I have a few friends studying in Florence right now and I can’t help but feel pangs of nostalgia and jealousy as they post pictures of the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio and all the places they’re visiting- because I was visiting all those places a year ago.

I’m on a travel website right now, looking at round trip flights to different places in Europe and hoping that I find a cheap flight that I can hop onto. But even the cheapest flight is going to be out of my reach for the next few years. But I’m going to save up so it happens sooner than later.

I am SO lucky I got to experience all that I did. But I don’t want to stop. I want to keep on seeing new places and different cultures. I just want to wander and explore.

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By the way…

I’m currently writing for Healthkicker.com- a health and fitness blog. I write some posts about Italy and traveling that you guys might be interested in.

Here’s one of them: The Italian Food Culture or, la cultura italiana di cibo

Hope you enjoy it, feel free to comment! (Hopefully nice stuff!)

 

 

Back in America

Let’s just say, leaving Italy was one of the most difficult things I have had to do.  I threatened to chain myself to the Duomo numerous times so I wouldn’t have to leaved.  But I’ve been back in the United States for about three weeks now.  I had to go back to reality and back to the rush of being a native New Yorker.  As much as I love living in the land of the brave, who wouldn’t miss Italy and all the travel opportunities I had while abroad? (10 countries in three months- just saying).

So here is a list of things that I miss from studying abroad:

  • The architecture- I made the Duomo my cell phone background because I miss walking past it every everyday, it’s not the same.
  • Browsing the street vendors-maybe I want to treat myself to a one euro bracelet that day.
  • The language- it’s a known fact that the Italian language is the most beautiful of them all.
  • Field trips during my classes- field trips aren’t as common at my home college.
  • The mini cappuccino machines by my classes- 50 cent cappuccino con cioccolata, yum!
  • Traveling during the weekends with my friends- Prague, Istanbul, Crete, London, etc.
  • The slow pace of life- okay, maybe I struggled with this while there (see above- Native New Yorker), but it’s definitely something I appreciate.  We should enjoy life and all aspects of it, not rush through it.
  • Italian pizza
  • Pasta with amazing sauces
  • Gelato
  • Panino shops
  • Just Italian food in general.
  • Walking places and exploring the town- can’t do that in my hometown, which is unfortunate since I came home to a broken car.
  • Fashion
  • The store fronts- they’re so carefully crafted, they lure me in every time!
  • People calling me bella- okay, sometimes it’s creepy, but other times it’s nice and acts as a good ego boost!
  • Being mistaken as a native Italian.
  • Having traveling and soaking in your surroundings as your biggest responsibilities in life.

I want to thank my parents, family and friends as well as Marist College and Lorenzo de’ Medici for the best four months of my life.

I will continue to write posts about looking back at my experiences as well as offering advice to those considering to go abroad.

A presto!

il Dumo, Firenze- who wouldn't miss this?

il Duomo, Firenze- who wouldn’t miss this?

Nicole in Venice

Last Sunday I decided to travel to Venice by myself. Although I had two finals the next day, I figured exploring Venice was a better learning opportunity.  But since I wanted to do well on my finals as well, I had to cut the trip short.

The moment I walked out of the train station in Venice, I was in awe.  I feel like people always downplay Venice with “it’s dirty” or “you only need one day in it.”  Maybe you only need one day to see San Marco’s Square, the major attraction, but I don’t understand why you would only WANT to stay there for just one day. It’s so beautiful, and there are so many side streets to explore!

My first impression of Venice is that it looks exactly like intro scene to a movie that I saw in my Renaissance Theory of Love class, Dangerous Beauty. The introduction scene includes courtesans elaborately dressed, floating in gondolas down the canal, brightly colored buildings along either side of the water.  I thought the beauty was an exaggeration, but it wasn’t.

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I took the waterbus to San Marco’s square. I explored the shops around the square filled with the beautiful Venetian masks used for Carnevale.  The streets were narrow and winding, sometimes you would have to cross a small bridge to get to the next shop. I didn’t go far though, I didn’t want to get lost by myself.

Of course I went in the San Marco church. Naturally, it was gorgeous.  There were a lot of mosaic and gold paint decorating the interior; I felt like it went perfectly with the Venetian appreciation of elaborate adornments.

S. Marco

S. Marco

Outside the church are two bronze horses, which are actually replicas.  The real ones are inside, and they are perfectly grand.  They are believed to be from the Ancient Roman circus that was once set in today’s Istanbul.

I then took the lift up the bell tower adjacent to the church.  It was eight euros, a little pricey, but I’m glad I did it.  From this point of view, I was able to get a better idea of the size of Venice, the little islands surrounding it, and how the canals work throughout the city.

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After, I took the water bus to Murano. I don’t know if I got off at the right Murano stop, but I followed a family of Italian tourists.  We (yes, we- I temporarily pretended I had friends) went to a glass-blowing demonstration.  I had to listen to the demonstration in Italian because I was the only American and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself when he asked if anyone spoke English.  My Italian has gotten better, but my vocabulary doesn’t really extend to glass making.

Anyway, it was amazing to see the skill of the “maestro” and how he was able to craft the glass into an elegant horse.  I loved browsing the shop, appreciating the fine art of Murano glass.

By the time I got back to the train station, the sun was setting.  There was a very romantic feel, with the pink sky, rose toned buildings, and the glistening, drifting water of the canals.

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Venice has a very magical feel, full of culture and art.  In a lot of the travelogues that I read this semester, Venice was often described as dead. I have to disagree. I found it very alive with its celebration of their past and present.

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Forza Viola- Fiorentina Soccer Game

A typical stereotype of Italians is their passionate natures; they’re lovers, fighters, activists, and communicators.  Although I don’t like to condone stereotypes, passion does seem pretty common here. And soccer is certainly not an exception to these passionate actions.

Today I went to a Florence soccer game- Fiorentina vs. Atalanta.  My Italian school, LdM, organized 5 euro tickets for its students.

Everyone wears purple to the game, the Fiorentine color, with clothes of their crest, the fleur-de-lis (or giglio in Italian).  Outside of the stadium, if you went unprepared, there are plenty of opportunities to buy clothes, scarves, hats and flags supporting the team from vendors.

Inside the stadium is the sea of purple. Fans wave their hats, flags, and scarves with excitement and passion for their team. The opposing team is seated in a corner, barricaded by plexi-glass walls, for when the games get very intense and competitive.

At the start of the game, the announcer introduced each member, first of the opposing team, then of the Fiorentine team. I first realized how important soccer was to the fans during the announcements; the announcer would say the number of the player, the first name, and then everyone in the stands would chant the last name.  I felt like we were the only ones who didn’t know the lineup!

There were also a lot of chants and songs that the fans would sing (we would just clap along). Forza Viola, one of the cheers, basically means “Go Purple!”  Their theme song is “Inno Fiorentina,” or the Florentine Anthem.

Whenever a goal was scored by Fiorentina, their anthem was played along with cheers and jeering to the other team.  Purple smoke would go off in the crowds. People would jump up and down, waving their flags and scarves. A lot of people, though, would turn to the opponent’s fan corner (which is why I understand them being blocked off) and make crude gestures and mock them.

I think my friends and I were most amused by a sister and brother, around ten and eight years old, flipping off the other team’s fans whenever their parents weren’t looking. I didn’t even think the finger had significance in Italy. Not that I think their parents would have minded too much either way (they were clearly very spirited as well).

Despite not understanding most of the cheers and battling the cold, we had an amazing time at the game.  Everyone was generally very happy and friendly (most likely because Fiorentina won 4-1).  I noticed a bunch of Fiorentines trying to start conversations with Americans.  I think that since each city is so involved and passionate about their soccer team, it creates a camaraderie. In America, we have our huge football, baseball and hockey fans, but this is somehow different.  I think it is more personal for them.  It is not an experience to miss though.  You don’t need to be a soccer fan, you just need to be a Fiorentina fan.

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Amalfi Coast & Pompeii

Last weekend I went on the Amalfi Coast trip offered with Bus2Alps.  They took us to Capri, Positano, and Pompeii.  Each place was beautiful, but unfortunately it rained the first two days.

The island of Capri is off the Sorrentine Peninsula, on the south side of the Gulf of Naples.  On the island, we went to the town of the same name, as well as Anacapri and the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzura).

The first thing we did in Capri was a boat tour around the Blue Grotto.  The tour guide pointed out various landmarks, such as the second oldest lighthouse in Europe and houses of the rich and famous on the hills surrounding the cave.  We learned that Michael Jackson tried buying a house for 20 million dollars, got rejected by Capri, then returned with 30 million, and got rejected again (poor MJ).

Lighthouse, Capri

The Blue Grotto was absolutely stunning though.  The water is a deep, rich blue, and even in the terrible weather, it glistened.  According to Capri.com, “the blue coloring of the Grotta Azzurra is created by the daylight which enters via an underwater opening located immediately below the entrance to the cave. The light is filtered by the water which absorbs the red tones, leaving only the blue ones to pass into the cave.” You can see purple and pink from the coral where the water’s surface meets the cave walls.

Blue Grotto

After the boat tour, we walked around on land. Anacapri is raised at a higher elevation than Capri (we did a lot of hiking this weekend).  It was a small village with shops and restaurants, just like Capri.   Coral is very popular in Capri because of the Grotto, all the stores we went to had objects made from coral.

Anacapri

The tour guide brought us to Carlos’ Sandal Shop, where we were offered limoncello and chocolate tastings.  Capri is known for their handmade sandals, so we were able to watch them make it while they customized it to the customer’s feet and taste.

And yes, there was an old man sitting in the doorway making the sandals.

The next day we went to Positano with even more rain.  Positano is known for its black sand beaches, linens, and its charming village.  We hopped on another boat ride which took us cliff jumping and cave swimming.  As an adrenaline junkie, I loved climbing up the cliff, reaching the highest point possible, and jumping into the water below.  I feel like I need to take advantage of what nature offers us.  The cave swimming was just as exhilarating, partially because of the stormy waves that we were fighting.  We entered on one end of the cave and came out the other.  It was amazing being in the cave, floating around, and just observing everything around me.

Positano cave

As I left the cave and swam back to the boat, I laid on my back and looked up.  Even though it was raining on my face, I couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty around  me. We’re so lucky to have things like this, and I’m so fortunate to be able to utilize it and experience all these things first hand. Sono fortunata.

Positano

The next day, Sunday, we went to Pompeii. Pompeii, as many know, is a town that was preserved by ash and pumice after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.   It is a popular site for excavations and for people everywhere.  The amount of remnants within Pompeii is astounding; there are original lead pipes, fountains, bath houses, temples, pottery, and even brothels.

Pompeii

I remember doing a project on Pompeii in my Italian class, maybe in middle school or the beginning of high school, and from that point on, I wanted to go to Pompeii.  I love being able to see things that I’ve studied throughout the years, especially ancient ruins, surrounding me.  I also feel a sense of accomplishment, it’s been my goal for so many years to see these sites and I finally am.  It’s a reinforcement to keep on dreaming and working towards my goals.

Outside of the excavations was a market with vendors selling postcards, jewelry, and Pompeii paraphernalia.  I approached one man and asked him, “Quanta costa?” (or how much?) for a postcard. He looks at me and asks “are you Italian?” Now Italians usually know who is a tourist and who isn’t, plus I know when I speak Italian I don’t have the right accent, so I was a little surprised. I explained to him (in Italian) that I’m studying in Firenze and I’m American. His response back was, “oh, but you have the Italian face.” Excited, I tell him that my grandmother’s family is from Napoli. “OH, a fellow Napolitano, we’re friends now, take the postcard for free.”

I walked away and, about five minutes later, I had a similar conversation with another vendor that insisted I was Italian. And I got another free postcard. I need to thank my Italian ancestry for this.

I hope to return to these areas one day (hopefully with nicer weather).  The Amalfi Coast trip allowed me to connect with the beauties in nature and of our history.

An Evening (or few) in Roma

Quando in Roma- When in Rome.

I spent this previous weekend with my friend in Rome, staying with a few of her friends from college.  I am going to start off by saying that I was pleasantly surprised by Rome.  For some reason, I always pictured it as a big, dirty city. But I was wrong, it is so much more.

Rome

bridge and Castello in the back

At first, I thought of it as a larger Florence. It has wider streets and more people.  But then I realized it has a personality of its own.  People are friendly and the people are moving.  There is a distinct mixture of old and new.  As a city, it needs to keep up with the modern times.  Yet, there are multiple monuments that mark it with its history.  The Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain were constructed in the 18th century, Palazzo Farnese was designed in the 16th century (with contributions from Michelangelo), and the Bocca della Verita in the 17th century.  And of course, there are the ancient Roman ruins that date back to the B.C. era.  The Colosseum’s construction began in 72 A.D.

When I looked at the Colosseum and the ancient ruins, I tried to visualize it being intact and full of people (wearing togas of course) using the area.  It is amazing that these ruins are still around, some untouched, despite the thousands of years on them.  There are so many events, such as wars, that could have completely demolished them, but they are still around and act as a priority to so many people.

Colosseum

Friday and Sunday consisted of mainly exploring the sites (and pizza) of Rome, but on Saturday we went to the Vatican.  First, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica and learned about the history of the many of pieces of art within the church.  I was happy to see Michelangelo’s Pieta, which is unfortunately behind a glass wall because of someone trying to destroy it in the 70’s.  The tour guide was very informative and actually able to work us through the crowds and fit everything in- the first time I saw an Italian rush since I arrived here.

We also saw a wedding at St. Peter’s, which the guide informed us that the honor is reserved for Swiss Guards.  The guards are from Switzerland because of their neutrality in war and have a reputation for loyalty and discipline.  Their uniforms, the somewhat comic looking blue, red, and yellow outfits, were designed by Michelangelo during the Renaissance.  The Vatican likes to keep to their history.

We also learned that St. Peter’s Square is actually shaped as if arms were embracing the center, in order to make it more welcoming and inviting to others.

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Square

After St. Peter’s, we went into the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel.  It was a very moving experience to see all the art in front of me, in full form, as opposed to on paper or on a computer screen.  It was surprising to see how tremendous paintings, such as “The School of Athens,” are and how they offer a much more powerful feeling in person.  It makes one appreciate the work more, being able to see the detail and size of it.

Vatican Museum

School of Athens

The Sistine Chapel was astounding.  There was nothing simple about it.  The detail, the movement, the placement, and the beauty- it is non comparable.  I wish I could just grab a pillow and lay on the floor by myself, staring up at the artwork all day, pulling out each specific detail and listing what makes the artwork so special.

I would love to go back to Rome and spend a few weeks there.  There is so much more to explore that I feel like the Romans themselves do not know of.  I would also like to learn more about the Romans today and their mentality. I believe Rome can offer so much to those who open themselves to it.