Sunday, May 22, 2011

Parting: Such Sweet Sorrow

The first week back has been so strange. It's nice to be back but I wish that I was still in Florence and there's definitely a lot to readjust to here in the States. I also just learned that one of my friends is going to be spending 3.5 weeks in Italy this summer studying music and I am so envious it's disgusting. 

Since I've been back, I have already baked blondies with whipped nutella buttercream (Nutella is SO Italian), made lemon gelato, and prepared fresh egg pasta. Nothing I make, smell, do, or feel will ever compare to the adventures and feelings that I experienced while abroad. 

Homemade Lemon Gelato
Homemade Spaghetti with chicken, garlic and onion
One of the first strange moments that I had when I got home was when I got a diet coke and it was SO HUGE. The bottles here are such a strange size. And when I saw orange cheese at the grocery store, I was like "What is this?!".  I've also had to learn to be polite again. Italians tend to just barge their way through crowds and they never say excuse me. When I was in Italy, I did as the Italians do, so I'm realizing that I have forgotten how to interact with people I don't know. It's all so strange and I keep asking myself a question that is all too familiar to me: 

Is this love or infatuation? Did I really fall in love with Italy or did I fall in love with the lifestyle/experience? Would I have been just as "in love" if I had travelled to, say, Spain or are these feelings exclusively between myself and Italy? Honestly, I can't answer that question at this point. There's no doubt that I love Italy but I'm not sure if I would really be able to live there permanently. I guess I experienced a kind of "honeymoon phase". Yeah, I got a taste of some of Italy's bad side but, for the most part, I relished every moment that I spent there. 

And with that, I am officially closing the cover on this book. It's been a crazy ride these past four months and I want to thank all of you for joining me on my adventures via this blog. I hope you've enjoyed reading them as much as I've enjoyed writing them. I will return to my pre-"Four Month Florentine" blog and continue writing about faith, politics, life, music, and any issues that I may find particularly poignant as I live it up in the ATL. 

Go to and follow me if you wish. 

Per l'ultima volta, Ciao a tutti!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Post-Game Replay

Wowza. I cannot believe that these past four months have come and gone. It is so surreal to think about all that has happened during those months and to be unsure of when I will make it back to Italy. I've been in a bubble for the entire semester so being home has been incredibly strange. Giving up the adventure and the Italian characteristics that I adopted has been so difficult. about an instant replay?
    In the past 4 months, I have...
    • Traveled to all of Italy's major cities...
    • Chilled with the pope in Rome...
    • Gazed upon Michelangelo's greatest works of art...
    • Walked the moonlit streets of Venice during Carnivale...
    • Wine-tasted in Chianti...
    • Flown 3000 feet above the Swiss Alps with nothing but a parachute...
    • Written on the John Lennon Wall in Prague, Czech Republic...
    • Walked the Berlin Wall in Germany...
    • Avoided the peep shows and coffee shops in Amsterdam...
    • Took a stroll down the Champs Elysees in Paris...
    • Brought down the mafia in Sicily (only partially true)...
    • Rowed the Blue Grotto in Capri...
    • Swam in the Mediterranean...
    • Ate some of the world's best chocolate and gelato...
    • Watched a medieval cart explode on Easter...
    • Celebrated Italy's 150th year of unification...
    • Made some amazing friends from all around the world...
    • Had the most incredible experience that I could ever have wished for. 
    I recently looked back at my first few entries and it's so fun to see how much I have grown and changed since January. In one of my first blogs, I wrote about feeling as if I was ascending a tall hill on a rollercoaster, anticipating and fearing the quick fall to the bottom. Well, now that I have ridden the 'coaster, I can tie a bow on that analogy. Though initially the ride seemed as if it would be a long and scary experience, when I was finally in the midst of it, I realized that I was having the time of my life. In the excitement of it all, I dreaded its end and, as I pull back into the station, the primary emotions that I feel are adrenaline-fueled and euphoric. The mammoth hills, sharp turns and sickening loops have left me out of breath and exhausted. But, just like the Goliath at Six Flags, when I stepped off the ride, the first words out of my mouth were, That was fun. Let's do it again...


    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    Leavin' on a Jet Plane

    We all know that air travel is stressful but I don't think that one has ever truly experienced travel anxiety until they've flown through Europe. My European adventure didn't end in Florence. Allow me to explain...

    Elle and I left for the airport at 4:45am on Saturday. When we got to the airport around 5, it was already slam packed (primarily with other students) and, like most businesses in Italy, the operation was incredibly inefficient. I spent over an hour waiting in the Air France line to check in. When I finally got up to the counter, I was told that I was only allowed 1 free bag and that I would have to wait in another line and pay €60 in order to receive my boarding pass. I waited in the next line for another hour or so, paid the fee then went back to the check in counter to grab my ticket. Believe it or not, I was one of the lucky ones. Some students had to pay over €400 for one extra bag.

    I got to my flight with only a few minutes to spare before it was scheduled to take off, but we waited at the gate for over an hour. Why? Because we were waiting on about 10 people to arrive. They were going through the grueling check in process and the ground staff wouldn't let the plane take off until they boarded. Um, hello? Have you ever heard of a plane waiting for its passengers? Nope. Even the flight attendants and pilot were angry.

    We were flying to Paris and about 40 of us had a connection to Atlanta an hour and a half after we were scheduled to land. We arrived in Paris 10 minutes before our flight took off so, obviously, we all missed the connection. We raced to the Air France info desk and, by the time I had waited another hour and a half, all of the direct flights to Atlanta for the day had been overbooked. My only option: fly to Newark and hour later for another connection to Atlanta.

    9 hours later, I found myself in Newark, New Jersey. When we landed, I realized that my connecting flight was not departing from Newark but from JFK. After talking to several people, I was able to get a cab voucher, took a taxi 45 minutes to JFK, and barely made my flight back to Atlanta. Of course, the pilot was late and, when we landed, our gate was occupied. Not my day.

    After over 24 hours of travel and confusion, I arrived home at about 10:30 pm...8 hours later than expected. I would like to personally thank the ground staff at the airport in Florence for giving me one last taste of Italy's tragic flaw and for screwing the days of over 40 people instead of just 10. Ah Dio!

    Regardless of all of the chaos, I'm home and, while it feels weird and I don't like the ATL quite as much as the FLR, I'm slowly readjusting to the real world again. Everything is so different!


    Friday, May 13, 2011

    Happy Trails

    So there's an amusement park that I have been going to every year since I was young. We spend the entire day there and, each year at the end of the night, as we are walking out of the park, Happy Trails plays on the speakers. I don't know what it is about that song that makes me so nostalgic but it never fails: another year has already come and gone and I can hardly believe it. Tonight, my last night in Florence, as we were walking downtown after watching the sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo, Happy Trails started blaring in my head. 

    This past week has been the week of "lasts"...the last visit to my vendors at the Central Market, the last time I trip on an uneven cobblestone, the last time I eat gelato. I had finals and, as far as I know, got through them somewhat successfully. Besides that, my time has been spent nostalgically these past couple of days.

    The Girls of San Gallo 33: Eve, Elle, Steph, and myself
    The last 2 days were slam packed! I was done with finals by 9am Thursday and I still had gifts to buy so I perused the San Lorenzo Market for about 2 hours and spent money like it was going out of style. I'm happy with the gifts I bought for everyone so, while my wallet is sad, my heart is happy. The San Lorenzo Market is just outside of the Central Market and it contains stalls upon stalls of Italian leather products, souvenirs, clothes, jewelry, and ceramics. It makes me happy that bartering is allowed there (I'm pretty sure it should be made an olympic sport). 

    Later on Thursday, I had my last date with my friend and conversation partner, Alessandra. LdM has a program that pairs you with a local Italian and you get together to hang out, experience Florence, and speak Italian. I loved Alessandra and she took me to this great place for lunch that she said was very typical of Florence. This tiny little bar was packed with Italians; the line was out the door! Ale and I pushed our way through and, immediately, the sweet Italian man at the bar complimented my beauty as well as my mother and father (all in Italian). It made me laugh at first but Ale explained to me that it's typical in Italy to compliment someone's parents if you find them beautiful. I'll take it! 

    Because I don't eat red meat, I asked for a turkey sandwich. They didn't have any so the man yelled across the street to his father's deli to ask for some. It was the funniest thing! Of course, the Italians are all sipping wine with their Italian custom I have found so interesting. Wine with every meal? Say what?! Anyways, I loved everything about this place! Florentines are usually so closed off and cold but these guys were so funny and incredibly friendly! 
    My camera never likes darkness. Shutter speed = SLOW!
    Thursday evening, Elle and I had 7 girlfriends over. Everyone pre-gamed at our place (except me, of course. Drinking games had to be explained to me and, even then, my drink of choice was diet coke)and then we left at about midnight for a rager. Last one of the semester! We went to several clubs but midnight is a bit early for the clubs to be raging. After some quick visits to a toga party and a gay bar, we ended up dancing at Club 21 until 3am. I don't remember the last time I danced! I almost forgot how fun it is! It was a great way to go out of this experience.


    Today, our last day in Florence, Elle, Eve, Steph, Alex, and I visited all of our favorite spots in Florence. The News Cafe for some coffee, the Duomo for some group pictures, Gusta Pizza, and Palazzo Pitti. Lunch was schiacciata at Pugi (delicious, salted bread with veggies on it. All Tuscan bread is unsalted so this stuff is amazing!) and we had out last cups of gelato at La Carraia (I don't know what I will do without gelato). 

    The Jersey Shore crew showed up today and, though I've never even seen the show, we stalked them at their apartment for a while. We just wanted to see them. It got to a point where it was just too long to wait for them and most of us left. Eve stayed behind and, of course, they arrived about 20 minutes later and she got pictures of all of them. Also, I will probably be in paparazzi pictures and NBC news because both crews were everywhere. I really don't think I want to be seen on TV for stalking the Jersey Shore. Whoops. 

    We walked to Piazzale Michelangelo to see the sunset one last time. It was surreal to look out over the city and think of all of the things that have happened here over the past 4 months. I tell people all the time that it feels like time has stopped and that this isn't really my life. It doesn't feel real at all and I don't think I will realize how ridiculous the whole experience has been until I return home. I know I've grown and changed but I won't know to what extent until I'm back in my old environment. It will definitely take some time to process it all. 

    Elle, Eve, and I are pulling an all-nighter because Elle and I are taking a taxi to the airport at 4:45am. It's going to be a long day of traveling but, in less than 24 hours, I will be back in the States where people speak English, cars are big, and where life will be less of an adventure than it has been for the past few months. It's so sad to leave this place and these people but, unfortunately, it had to happen at some point. 

    So, happy trails, Firenze. I hope to see you soon. 

    Sunday, May 8, 2011

    There's No Place Like Home

    Over the past four months, Florence has certainly become my home away from home. When I travelled to other countries, I was always so relieved to come back to Florence because it's become such a comfortable and familiar place over the course of the semester. The words, "Oh my gosh! It's so good to hear people speaking in Italian again!" have definitely left my mouth. At the end of this week, I'll be venturing back to my "home home" and, while there are things and people that I have missed, I don't have that same sense of relief that I always have when returning to Florence. People, it's gonna be weird. Despite my apprehension in regards to going back to the States, there are definitely pros and cons to both of my "homes".

    Things about Florence/Italy that I definitely will NOT miss:
    • The smell. Yeah, there are good smells like garlic and nutella waffles but, for the most part, Italy smells like dirty butt.
    Mmm. Nutella waffles...
    • Being harassed by Italian men. If you're a woman and you live in/visit Italy, expect to hear whistling and the phrase "Ciao Bella" A LOT.
    • The exchange rate. When I got here is was about $1.30/€1. Now, it's almost $1.50.
    • There is no such thing as a line in Italy; there are only mobs of people trying to push their way to the front. 
    • Dog poop everywhere. 
    • Cobblestones. The 400 year old stone streets lose their charm after you step in a massive puddle and trip everytime you go to the grocery store.
    • Italians can be downright rude at times. And being late is basically an olympic sport here. 
    Things that I WILL miss:
    • Gelato. Ice cream will never measure up to the fresh ingredients, creamy texture, and lower-fatness of gelato. I truly believe that you haven't really lived until you've experience Italian gelato.  
    • Walking everywhere. It's nice to be able to just walk to the grocery store or to school.
    • The Central Market! Having copious amounts of fresh fruits, veggies, meat, cheese, and bread within walking distance of your home is the coolest thing ever. 
    • Sicilian blood oranges. Mmm...
    • My chicken vendor at the market. He's adorable. 
    • Delicious, cheap artisan-quality coffee on every corner.
    • The bidet in our bathroom. I know that at the beginning of the year, I said that I didn't even know how to use it and didn't see a point in it. Now, I don't know what I will do without it. Ladies, shaving your legs has never been easier. 
    • Amazing Chocolate!
    • Fabulous window shopping. Italians know how to dress a manikin.
    • The people. I've met some really amazing people here and I will miss them sorely.
    • The antiquity of Italy: the architecture, the history, the art...all of it. 
    • The adventure that is my daily life in Europe. Every weekend is a new location. Every day is a new story to tell. 
    Things that I miss about the US:
    • Customer service. It doesn't exist in Italy. At all. 
    • Free refills and tap water! You can't get either at a restaurant here and soda is hella expensive. 
    • Free public restrooms. In the US, you can pretty much use any public establishment's restroom free of charge. In Italy, it's hard to even FIND a public restroom. 
    • Good, cheap sushi, Chick-fil-A and take-out Chinese. 
    • Driving. Though, I will miss walking everywhere. 
    • Baking. I know that Stanley, my Kitchenaid mixer, has missed me just as much as I've missed him.
    • The people. Most of all, I really look forward to seeing my friends and family. 
    I'm still without a Mac so studying for finals is as brutal as I'd anticipated! I can't believe that I've gone almost a full week without it. It's left a void in my heart that I am currently filling with Stride gum and Diet Coke. Hopefully, I will get it back tomorrow! 
      A presto!

      Friday, May 6, 2011

      Life in Tuscany...The Final Days!

      Friday, my girls, Ella, Eve, and Steph, and myself decided to take a day trip to the beautiful San Gimignano. It was an extremely successful journey and the medieval town is now my favorite town in all of Tuscany.

      Like all of the other medieval cities that we have visited this semester, this one was also situated on a hill and surrounded by a stone wall. The unique aspect of San Gimignano is the fact that, at one point, its walls contained within them 72 towers. Though only 15 of them remain today, it is a beautiful place to visit.

      The Shopping
      One word: brilliant. San Gimignano is full of cute shops! Honestly, besides some general site-seeing, shopping is really all we did there. I have been stressed out this entire semester regarding what gifts I should buy people (I'm that person that always wants to buy the perfect gift for the best price. lol) and I found several in the adorable stores. I only have one more person to buy for!

      The Food
      We had a fabulous lunch at a random osteria. I had pici (the worm pasta that I had in siena) with breadcrumbs and garlic. It was so good!

      After lunch and walking around the city a bit, we found a gelateria that had "WORLD CHAMPION" with 2 years listed in which they had won some kind of gelato competition. There was a line out the door initially so we came back and it was seriously the best gelato in the world. I got cinnamon and blueberry ricotta. Ella chose rosemary raspberry and blackberry lavender (a combination that she described as "orgasmic"). Yum!

      Wedding Crashers
      There was a church right outside of the osteria where we ate lunch and, while we were eating, we watched as herds of fancifully-dressed Italians gathered outside. We determined that it was a wedding when a youngish man in an all-black tuxedo drove up on a white motorcycle with a white ribbon tied to it. So, we waited for the bride to show up and marriage became a common topic of conversation for the remainder of the day. It was really sweet thing to see...especially in Italy.

      We returned home to Florence after a successful day of walking, chowing, and shopping and now I am wicked exhausted.

      MTV TRL Awards
      I don't think I mentioned this but, a few weeks ago, Florence hosted the Italian MTV TRL awards in Piazza Santa Croce...about a 20 minute walk from my apartment. You know I checked it out! Rumors were flying about a surprise appearance by Lady Gaga but the only famous musicians there were Italian so I had no idea who most of them were. The piazza was packed full of people, though, so it was a blast! Anyone else find it ironic that the event was held right in front of a historical Florentine church? (Btw, Galileo's tomb is in that church)

      GTL in the FLR
      As many of you probably already know, MTV's reality show, the Jersey Shore, is coming to Florence. What many of you may NOT know is that it is causing a lot of people a lot of problems. I happen to know one of these people. I don't want to say too much because some of it has already ended up on TMZ (don't ask me how they get their info but you don't screw around with TMZ) and they have erroneously represented the events. In a few words, some girls I know have been legitimately screwed over and severely disrespected by our school and our dean of students as a result of the show moving to Florence. The entire situation would have been better had it been handled differently. And that's all I have to say about that...

      Update on the Mac situation: I'm still Mac-less. I should get my computer back on Tuesday but studying for finals prior to that is going to be a painful experience.  And, as far as I know, they weren't able to recover any of my data (but they probably didn't even attempt to recover it so I will find someone to help a sista out when I get home).