Monday, January 31, 2011

Il Mercato Centrale

Italian food is all about being fresh and simple. Ragu does not exist here and, as we discovered our first night, neither do seedless grapes (no genetic modifications here!) Italians shop daily or bi-daily and use their ingredients that same day to ensure the freshness of their meals. And don't even think about buying produce out of season! Cabbage-related veggies and citrus fruits are in season now. As an Italian, if you don't like what's in season, you might end up going hungry.

I'm a healthy eater and I like what goes into my tummy to be as natural as possible. That being said, Mercato Centrale (the Central Market) has become one of my favorite places here in Firenze. AND, even better, you can get a week's worth of fresh fruit for about €3 ($4--and for those of you who know how cheap I am, you know that this was fantastic news for me!). Some things, like fresh pasta, balsamic vinegar and olive oil are more expensive but, hey, you get what you pay for.
This market has existed for hundreds of years (since the time Florence was to be the capital of Italy) and I would say that no trip to Florence, or blog written about one, would be complete without it.

Il Mercato Centrale
The main produce section.  
You should always go to the same produce vendor. If you establish a relationship with one of them, they'll recognize you, pick the better produce for you and be more likely to give you discounts.

Il Pane

Yep. That's all biscotti!
Fresh Pasta/gnocchi anyone?
Frutta secca! (Dried fruit!) Yum!

Balsamic vinegar and wine
Trippa (Pronounced TREE-PUH. We call it tripe.)
Something interesting about Italians is that they never waste. No part of the animal is inedible. They sell brains, lungs, hearts, skulls--anything you can think of. It's completely disgusting and you can only imagine what it smells like. Also, for those of you who don't know tripe is the 4th stomach of a cow and is commonly found in sandwiches. Tripe is to Florence what hot dogs are to New York. I'm all for new experiences but I draw the line at cow stomach. 

They sell the most gorgeous flowers here!
And you can grab a bite on your way out. fyi: that Italian dude is adorable.
Buon Appetito!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Not So Divine Comedy

Since arriving in Florence, I have done so many stupid things and have gotten lost so many times. Eventually, I make it to where I'm supposed to be and laugh about my temporary lapse of intelligence. One of the most pertinent lessons I've learned this past week is not to take myself too seriously.

The Half-wit Highlights of the Week

-My trek back home from the Uffizi Gallerie one night started with me falling on my butt and taking a wrong turn out of the exit. After realizing I had taken the wrong turn, I made an about-face and followed the 1 erroneous move with a series of faulty ones. All in all, I ended up getting home by making a zig-zag pattern through Florence and many of the streets were dark, deserted, and extremely sketchy.

-Last night, I was making dinner and trying to switch my sauce pan and my pasta pan on the stove. I was using a dish towel to protect my hands from the heat and, while transferring the pots, the towel fell into the flame and caught on fire! Apparently, my fight or flight type instincts are not so good because I started blowing on the flame. Thankfully, my roommate Elle was in the kitchen and she was like, "Brittany, just put it in the sink." I was spazzing out but all is well. We're just one dish towel short, now.

-This morning, I got up with the intention of visiting an English/Italian Methodist Church. It's quite a long walk (and today was very cold and very rainy) so, once again, I got lost getting there. When I finally found the building, I ended up passing the section with the correct church and landed in a very charismatic, all-spanish service. NO ONE spoke English but it was a very interesting and welcomed experience. I will try again next week but, in the meantime, I am very thankful for North Point's live streaming online service.

Buona Notte!

Friday, January 28, 2011

La Mia Casa and What I've Learned Thus Far

Some of you have been asking to see some pictures of where I live. Well, ask and you shall receive. I should preface this by saying that our apartment is much better than what any of us expected. API prepared us for the worst and we were all pleasantly surprised when we got to the apartment.

Our apartment building. We're on the ground floor so we have a courtyard in lieu of a terrace. 
Our building was a palace at one point. 

The crazy old front door to our home.

Normally, I wouldn't add a pic of the bathroom but I feel like the bidet makes it necessary. We still don't know how to use it and we probably never will.

I've been in Florence for about a week and here's what I've noticed so far:

1. If you've ever been to Europe, you know that it has a very distinct smell. Italy is no exception. The best way I can describe it is this: wet dog + pipe tobacco. It's an old smell but it smells like Europe.

2. Italians like cigarettes. Again, this is something Italy shares with most other nations in Western Europe but it's a bit surprising considering how progressive Europe is.

3. Driving in Italy would be a nightmare. There are traffic laws and stop lights but they're really only suggestions. Not even the crosswalks are safe for pedestrians.

4. Nutella is EVERYWHERE! Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining but you can actually get a 10 pound jar of the stuff here and it's way cheaper than in the states. A common snack in Florence is a waffle with Nutella on it. You see it everyday on the streets. 

5. Plumbing is WAY different here. No one wants to tear down palaces that are hundreds of years old so they just drill holes in the stone and put pipes in them. The sewage system here dates back to the Renaissance.

6. Italian men are extremely forward. I was warned about this by many different people before I left. If you watch How I Met Your Mother, think Barney Stinson times 10. My friend Ella and I were accosted a few nights ago by 2 men while walking around town but I told the dude that I had a boyfriend in Florence and they left us alone.

Ci vediamo! (Until tomorrow!)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bienvenuti a Firenze!

Welcome to Florence!

I have been here for less than a week and it has been fabulous so far! I give the 2 days I spent traveling 2 thumbs down and a middle finger up. Every airport experience was a bit of a fiasco. I took longer than I probably should've saying goodbye to my parents and, when I got on the train to get to terminal E (the farthest terminal from security), it got stuck TWICE . When I finally got off, I ran up the escalator and into the bathroom (because no one likes to pee in a coffin) and when I got to the gate, NO ONE WAS THERE! So, I ran as fast as my legs could take me to the nearest screens and, can you believe it? The gate changed to terminal T, the same train stop as security (where I had just come from). Bare in mind that I also had a huge bookbag and Ricky (my guitar). I wanted to board early to ensure a spot for my guitar but now I just wanted to get to the plane before it left the runway. I finally made it to my seat, completely out of breath and on the verge of tears. The combination of my nervousness regarding leaving home for 3.75 months and the stress of the situation was almost more than I could handle.

When I landed, it was 6 am in Paris but my body thought it was midnight. I found the terminal on the boards and followed the signs to G. Each line for customs was packed and when I realized I had gotten in the line for terminal E, I pushed my way through the crowd to get to G. On my way there, I was chewed out by this beastly American jerk. He said "You're going to have to hold up! You see all these people!?". To which I responded, "Dude, I'm good. Chill out." After he replied with "No, you and your big a$$ guitar are going to have to wait!", his line moved forward. I'm flattered that he took me for such an experienced traveler but, seriously, show some respect. Anyways, the Paris airport is almost impossible to navigate. It's huge and I had to leave the airport and take a shuttle to find my terminal. On the bright side, they have cute little pastry stands in their terminals. One was a teal wooden cart that sold brightly colored and multi-flavored macaroons. Now, that's the adorable side of Paris that I'd like to see more of!

The Florence airport and Charles de Gaulle in Paris are polar opposites. Florence has 3 baggage claim carousels and customs is consists of an Italian guy who merely stands at the door, glances at your luggage, and waves you on, saying, "okay." No complaints here.

We spent the first 2-3 days in the grand Hotel Baglioni (BAHL-YONEE) which was molto belissimo, to say the least.

Orientation took up the first few days and my program had some other things planned for us. A 2 hour guided tour of the city took place on cold and rainy Tuesday. And yesterday (Wednesday) we took a cooking class at a local cooking school. We cooked...

Stuffed Zucchini (Can we get these crazy awesome zucchini balls in the States?!)

Crespelle alla Florentina (crepes with riccotta/spinach and Bechamel sauce)

And, of course, tiramisu

And, these are my roommates (Kate, Ella, and Natalie)

Other than that, we've been exploring Florence and all it has to offer. And, believe me, it offers A LOT. I'm thanking God for every moment I have here. 

I have a lot to say so let's have another chat tomorrow, mmkay?


And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. - Philppians 4:7

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Arrivederci, gli Stati Uniti!

Tomorrow is the big day! Dad and I are going to church in the morning and then it's off to the airport! I've got a 4 hour layover in Paris, then BUON GIORNO, FIRENZE! I'm still just as nervous as I was a week ago but I know that I am going to have the time of my life.

Travel is one of the things I love most in the world so, I'm not too worried about "culture shock". My biggest concern is the fact that I don't know anyone. You see, I'm an extremely relational person. If I was a car, I'd have to be fueled with love, good conversation, and tight embraces that squeeze your eyeballs out. Like a car, if I don't get the fuel I need, I shut down. What if I don't get that?

On the other side of my mind, I'm thinking, "HOLY CRAP! I'M GOING TO ITALY!!! WHAT THE HECK AM I WORRIED ABOUT?!". I have been blessed with a dream's fulfillment and I can't wait to explore the beautiful country from which my ancestors hail. It's going to be the time of my life and God is already using it to draw me into a deeper relationship with Him.

This entire week has consisted of me teeter-tottering between these two thoughts. It's my gollum/smeagol complex. I am so thankful to have people in my life who have offered wise words as I've wrestled with my mind this week: Don't hold back, you don't want to come back with any regrets; relax; fear is not from God. Then, Lin, my dad's girlfriend threw a surprise "going away" party for me, complete with an Italian meal, super cute decorations (which she made herself!), and an endless game of Apples to Apples. It was a fabulous send off, for sure.

I still can't believe the day is here. My mind has been my own worst enemy but God is always faithful and I am trying to depend solely on Him.

~ Britt

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." -- 2 Timothy 1: 7

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Deep Breath Before the Plunge

In a little less than a week, I will be saying goodbye to the people I love, and everything I find comfortable only to arrive on the other side of the Atlantic in a world completely unknown to me. Months of paperwork, information sessions, and research are finally paying off. I am SO excited but I would be a filthy liar if I said I wasn't nervous. The truth is...I'm petrified.

While my dad and I were in Pittsburgh prior to New Year's, we had a conversation about the trip. At that point, I knew I was going to Italy for 3.75 months but it still didn't feel real. Dad said, "After New Year's, it'll feel real,". Oh my gosh, he was so right. And as my departure approaches, the scarier that reality becomes.

15 weeks in a foreign country and I don't know a soul. How far can 3 semesters of college Italian really get me?

The beauty of all of it is this: those things that make my spaz out are the same things that make me totally pumped about the next few months. I'm living in that moment before a rollercoaster descends. My toes are hanging off the edge of a cliff and I'm about to jump into the water below. I'm playing limbo with excitement and fear and I'm feeling slightly bipolar. Sometimes, there is not an ounce of fear and all I feel is excited while other times, I am so anxious that I almost dread the next four months.

This is the adventure that I've always dreamed of having. Being pulled completely out of my comfort zone is frightening but necessary for personal growth. Every time in my life in which I have lived in the moment and stayed out of my head has been fabulous. Meeting David Cook, my first real relationship, the second half of senior year. It's my mind that ALWAYS trips me up.

At my core, I truly believe that I am an adventurous person and I have let stagnancy and the safety of routine suppress that desire for a grand adventure. But like a roller coaster or cliff diving, the worst part of it is the anticipation, the hour wait in line for the Goliath, the moment before the jump. And that's where I am. But, in a few days, I will have taken the plunge and slain what I expect to be the fire-breathing dragon of this journey.

So, here I go. I just hope I don't hit any rocks on the way down.


"For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." ~ Joshua 1:9

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Prologue

First of all, I want to preface this blog by explaining what this blog will be and why I created it. This site will be used for the sole purpose of updating family and friends regarding my Italian adventure. I didn't want to send email updates because that greatly restricts the media richness and I have very few friends that still use email. And I just love blogs. :o) Anyway, I plan to chronicle my experiences, share pics and videos, and allow the people I love to feel like they're a part of my time abroad.

I haven't yet decided if I will still be updating my regular blog while in Italy. I will let you all know as soon as I decide.