Tag Archive | Florence

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?

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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.

Image

Siena, Italy

On Friday, my friends and I decided to look into booking trains for that night to go to Vienna and then come back home Sunday morning. Unfortunately, because of last minute planning, we were unable to find tickets back to Florence at an appropriate time.  Thinking of a possible day trip in Italy that we could do, I thought of Siena. Siena rhymes with Vienna, so that will do, right?

Siena is a small town in Tuscany, about an hour and half away from Florence.  It is a historic town with many beautiful sites that attract thousands of tourists each year.  It is very well known for the Palio, a horse race, that is held twice a year. Unfortunately, neither are during the fall semester. But my professor said that it is an amazing experience and if one gets the opportunity to go they should definitely take it.

There is not as much to do in Siena as there is to see, but what there is to see is breathtaking. (I will include a lot of photos in this post, don’t worry).

There were many buildings to see, such as St. Catherine’s, the black and white Duomo, and the giant chess board. I was told the chess set was a main attraction.  I still don’t understand its purpose. Is it just to look at, or can we actually play?

Giant Chess Set

Siena Duomo

 

Il Campo, which is the main piazza, is shaped like a semi-circle with shops surrounding it and the Palazzo Pubblico and Torre del Mangia as the main attraction. There is also a beautiful fountain in the Campo with detailed carvings.

Il Campo

As we were determining what to do first, a loud boom went off (my friend thought it was a gun shot) and confetti exploded by the doors of the Palazzo Pubblico as a newly wed couple walked out with rice being thrown at them. Actually, it was more of a pelting. It seemed like they were getting overwhelmed by the amount in their eyes.  But, following them was a woman dressed in a jester’s outfit; I really hope it was a themed wedding.

We entered the Torre del Mangia and decided to walk up the 300 steps to the top of the tower to what promised to be an amazing view. The entrance fee was only eight euro, and I would definitely say worth it.

Torre del Mangia/Palazzo Pubblico

The beginning of the path was worrisome; closed stone hallways with short doorways.  It eventually opens up more and we were able to see bits of outside on the way up, which is comforting to those with claustrophobic tendencies.  Eventually we reached the top of the tower, but wait- there’s more stairs leading up past the bells.  The reward for making it all the way up was the magnificent sight.  We were able to see all of Siena, and past it, the rural green hills and lands of Tuscany.  It was picturesque.

300 steps later

Il Campo from above

view from top of stairs

tight staircase

We ate lunch outside at a typical Italian restaurant.  Had some of the famous, delicious Tuscan white wine.  I also tried a sauce with wild boar meat in it. It was good, but I just kept on thinking of Pumba from The Lion King.

After lunch, we came across a Torture Museum, which linked us back to the medieval history of Siena.  Many of the items can be seen in the “Saw” movies.  I never realized how many instruments were created to use for torture. The images provided were grotesque; it is difficult to handle the fact that people were treated that way.  It is even more difficult to realize that many of the methods are still used today in different countries.  It is all very interesting, to say the least.

Ceiling of Torture Museum

I wasn’t feeling well that day (and no one had much of an appetite of the museum), so we decided to skip the wineries and just lay out with the other sunbathers on stones of  Il Campo.  It was a beautiful day and laying there allowed us to soak in our surroundings, our company, and the history of Siena.

Relaxing at il Campo

La storica is history, an important aspect of all of Italy.

Difficulties of an Abroad Student (or just me)

Instead of offering an Italian word or phrase for this post, I’m going to use a German one. It’s called Schadenfreude. Or, taking pleasure in the pain and misfortune of others.  If you need further explanation, check out the Avenue Q song dedicated to the phrase.

Anyway, I’m describing this phrase to you because I’m hoping that by sharing my misfortunes so far in Italy, I can make others laugh or teach them something new about the culture, or me.

This post was originally going to be titled, Nicole vs. the kitchen.  I’m not very good in the kitchen, I can eat, but that’s about it.  But other things have occurred outside of the kitchen that are worthwhile retelling.  But let’s go in chronological order, which, indeed, begins in the kitchen.

In many Italian kitchens, there is a glass stove top that is used as decoration or counter space.  I have never seen one before, was not instructed on how to use it, unlike the other students, and did not learn about the purpose until too late.

The first meal I attempted to make was a simple bowl of pasta, which basically only requires a pot of bowling water.  I place the pot on the glass and increase the temperature on the gas stove before I walk away into a different room. Ten seconds later, I hear a large crash and see glass pieces flying out of the kitchen. I run back into the kitchen to see glass coating the entire tile floor and counter along with shards around the stove.

Like this:

yep, that’s glass.

I was mortified. None of my roommates knew either that the glass top was removable. We were just glad I had walked out of the room, because otherwise my third day in Florence would have been spent in the ER.

My next incident was also in the kitchen.  Nothing as huge as exploding the stove, but more emotionally traumatizing. While putting my jar of Nutella away in the cabinet, I dropped it and pieces of the plastic exploded everywhere. I was devastated, for it’s my go-to snack. Any fan of Nutella would understand.

Another difficulty I have been facing is navigating the streets of Florence, they are much different than the city streets of Manhattan. While walking to my first last week, I got horribly lost. I got so turned around, I had no idea which way was North.  As the minutes passed, I became increasingly more panicked.  I was going to be late to class and the area I was walking into did not seem as safe as the central part of Florence.  I finally asked a friendly Italian woman where I was and she pointed to it on my map- I had walked a half hour in the wrong direction.

By this time, class had already begun and I had no idea how to direct myself back.  Looking for taxi numbers in my orientation book, I decided to call the only number I had- the LdM (my school) emergency number.  The amazing woman who answered the phone put my adviser on.  She stayed attached to the phone while she talked me step by step to my class.  I wound up being a half hour late, but I was so grateful of my adviser and that I actually made it.

My fourth event has to do with traveling in Italy, as mentioned in my previous post.  In order to get home from Cinque Terre, we had to take the train from La Spezia to Pisa, and then get a connecting train from there to Florence.  We had already been through a long day, the three of us had less than an hour sleep the night before and then our train there was at seven in the morning and our train back was supposed to be at 9:30 at night.  Usually TrenItalia is very good with their lines, but that night our train was delayed for an hour. By the time we had reached Pisa, our connecting train was gone (along with the workers at the station).  We then find out that at least the company will be shuttling us back to Florence.  We missed the first cab, and the second one came a half hour later.  Just waiting around was brutal though.  Hanging out at a train station around midnight is not the safest thing, especially in an unfamiliar town with strangers waiting beside you.  It took a great deal of effort not to fall asleep while waiting.

At least I fell asleep on the car ride back (well, I had to at least shut my eyes-I was afraid to watch the Italian driving.)

My friends are curious to see what kind of other shenanigans I’m about to encounter.  They’re betting on another kitchen catastrophe.

La Festa Democratica

My first weekend update, parte uno:

Within the past couple of weeks, while running, I came across something that seemed similar to a fair; it was a street filled with vendors and restaurants.  When I was there though, all the places were just opening up so I could not get a proper read on what was happening.  This past Friday, I decided to convince my friends to join me to this fair, which I learned was called La Festa Democratica.  It is supposed to be a celebration of the political party, but while there it did not seem like the main focus.  We actually forgot it even was about politics until a woman handed us stickers explaining it.

For something that we had such little information about, we had had such an amazing time doing it.  There were restaurants lined up with tables on the side, a few carnival games, rides (which we were too big for apparently), and sangria stands everywhere.  There was even a kickboxing ring that encouraged the guests to put on gloves and try it out.  The guy in charge of the kickboxing tried convincing me to join in. I know some kickboxing, so I was really tempted to, but I’ve never actually gone against another person, so I was afraid to test that out in front of everyone.

On the streets, there were even a few stages set up for dancing; some live and some with a DJ.  The live performers were so involved with all the people dancing, joining them while singing.  We had an amazing time submerging ourselves with the locals and dancing to the Italian (and some Spanish) music that they played.  I also realized that Italians dance much better than Americans, even the younger kids.  While we make crazy, jerky movements (or is that just me?), they actually feel the rhythm of the music and can move their hips with it.

festival stage

There weren’t many tourists at La Festa, which was a nice surprise from typical Florence. It was finally a chance to see Italians get together and celebrate with food and dancing.

La Festa Democratica is open for a few more weeks, so if you are in Italy and reading this- definitely check it out.

Searching for restaurants

Cercare- To search.

My big thing before I left for Italy was that I did not want to look like a tourist.  The fashion I figured I would eventually pick up, but I would not allow myself to walk around with a map.  That rule lasted about an hour; it’s quite difficult to navigate without one.

The past few nights we have decided to look for inexpensive restaurants to eat at for dinner.  We would pull up the restaurant on Google Map and then mark the location in our own personal map. Good plan, right?

The first night, we accidentally left our map at home and were convinced to eat in a more expensive restaurant by a persuasive Italian (see previous post).  The second night, my roommate and I met up with my friend from home and her roommates.  We had the map this time- nothing was going to stop us.

The five us wandered up and down the streets, map in front of us, looking for the location of the restaurant.  For my fellow Harry Potter fans out there, I started picturing it as the Room of Requirement.  I guess, we weren’t thinking of the proper thing at the time or we didn’t walk past it enough times, because it decided not to exist for us.

Later on that night, after a lot of getting to know you and catching up conversation, a few of us decided to look up pubs.  Again, we had the map out and marked up.

We found it this time.  Except it was closed until September 1st for Ferragosto.

Last night, we were more than determined to find the restaurant from the first night, La Mangiatorria, which online, boasted of cheap and delicious ravioli. Three of us embarked to where we believe the trattoria was and wound up at the Piazza Felicita (online it said the restaurant was located in Piazza Felice, was it the same?).  So of course, we pull out our big map, standing in between two fancier restaurants, and could not find another piazza with a similar name. Disappointed, yet still determined, we wandered down the street past the Palazzo Pitti (which was not part of the original plan; I was wearing wedges- poor choice on the cobblestone).  At every food establishment we passed, we would quickly check the prices to see if they were in our budget.

Exhausted and hungry, we decided that at the next place we saw we would just deal with whatever the price is, sit down, and enjoy our Italian meal.

The next place we came across, at first glance, looks like just a pizzeria.  The menu was outside and we realized there was a restaurant in the back- and the prices were actually very reasonable!  I was so excited that we finally found a good place.  My friend then points up at the sign and simply says, “We found it.”

We found La Mangiatorria.  And it was everything it promised to be. We were greeted by a petite middle-aged woman who was thrilled to speak English to us and to serve us our ravioli and gnocchi.  Over dinner, I constantly repeated that we were going to return to this place, befriend the woman, and eat the delicious pasta all the time. Living the Florentine life.

Although the map had failed me in many ways, it has at least given me a general idea where to search.  It seems that even if we have a plan, things do not always go according to plan, and that sometimes just stumbling upon a place offers a bigger reward.  We just have to accept the fact that Florence has a mind of its own; its going to surprise its visitors.  But it is important to keep going and exploring to see what’s available. And it’s okay to use a map.

gnocchi pesto (what I ordered) ctsy. hiddenboston.com

First day (primo giorno)

We, me and my fellow Marist students, arrived Tuesday morning, 9am here, 3am for U.S. time, ready to explore.  We arrived to our apartments an hour later. I still don’t know what to make of it.  The apartment is fairly large, or long is the more  proper term, with an expanding hallway that on either side includes entrances to two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and two bathrooms.  The bathroom quickly prompted me to Google search how to use a bidet. Not yet a fan of it.  Although the apartment is spacious, it’s old.  Which means, no air conditioning (great in this 90 degree weather!), noisy pipes, and creaky furniture. The view is nice, we’re within a piazza with other old looking buildings colored the classic Tuscan yellow.  We’re also located right next to Ponte Vecchio, which is a beautiful sight within itself.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

My roommate and I decided to do a lot of walking in order to stay out of the apartment and battle the need for sleep (sleep won around 6p.m. until dinner).  We went to a 99 cent store to get cleaning supplies, which took us an extra 15 minutes trying to figure out what was laundry detergent.  After, we went to a grocery store, which proved much more daunting than we expected, especially since neither of us cooks. A half hour later, we left with the familiar items of frozen chicken nuggets, cereal and eggs.  We’re really hoping for improvement on that part.

Later on, we walked around the different plazas and past the various vendors. I love the fact that the Florence symbol is the fleur de lis (also KKG’s symbol) and it’s on everything. Potential gifts for my fellow sorority sisters? I think so.

Firenze Fleur de lis. Courtesy of italiannotes.com/wordpress

For dinner, my roommate and I met up with our friend at a restaurant across the river. The owner of the restaurant convinced us to eat there with his charming Italian ways (and the fact that he knew English) when he saw us viewing the menu outside where we were trying to compare prices.  Our friend managed to insult the owner by asking him specific prices about everything (typical Americans, obsessed over money).  The owner was surprised when we explained to him that water is free in America.  It’s not like we can drink the tap water here though; the argument is moot. The ravioli I ordered was amazing and the creamy sauce was heavenly, nothing like I ever ate at home.

I’m going to need to learn how to cook more to resist the temptation of eating out every night.