Halloween in Florence?

It’s definitely fall in Florence, but the city hasn’t quite embraced the traditions of Halloween. Not that it should, but it just hasn’t.

Fall at the park

Saturday I sat out in the “big” park and started on a reading assignment. We’re going to Rome this weekend, so we all are reading the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon. It’s another one of those really old and really long books… But the park was lovely. It smells like fall there. The trees have yellowed, and leaves are starting to drop. It’s a nice and peaceful way to spend an afternoon. Many people pick a bench and just sit and people watch.

Mousse topped profiteroles

That night, I asked Sam if she wanted to do something crazy with me. Our craziness involved going to the Gelateria dei Neri and eating way too much. I got an absolutely delicious cup of chocolate with orange pieces and raspberry gelato with whipped cream on top. Then I was enticed by the profiteroles (cream puffs). So I had to get a little cup of them with fluffy chocolate mousse on top. The Gelateria was pretty crowded. Lots of Italians were coming in and out. Some stayed to enjoy an Italian version of Shrek. That’s the Italian’s idea of fall fun – eating gelato.

Inside the church

I went to the Episcopalian church yesterday morning. Members of the European Union just did their time change for the winter months, so it was nice getting to sleep a little extra. The Priest/Deacon/Pastor (whatever they’re called) gave a great sermon. It was about Halloween and how it is a Christian holiday. He also spoke about how the holiday has shifted over the years and that Italy is experimenting in adopting some of the traditions as well. I spoke with him a little after the service. He asked me where I was from and it turns out he’s also from the south! From Mobile, Alabama! Sunday was also my roommate’s birthday. Her parents flew in for the week to visit. It was really fun because they had some thick southern accents, which were strangely comforting.

We were supposed to have a little Halloween party-like thing in our Italian class today. However, everyone from Elon who happens to be studying abroad in Europe seemed to feel like it was a good idea to spend the long weekend in Italy. Consequentially, we had lots of visitors, and we ended up just watching a couple of short videos and all going to Mama’s Bakery. I ordered a most delicious everything bagel with cream cheese, but there was a nice spread of fall/Halloween themed treats – including a nice assortment of cupcakes. The workers were so fun wearing cute headbands with little pumpkins on them. 🙂 The rest of the city just today put up Halloween decorations, and then only in touristy restaurants and shops. I’d absolutely bet that stores in America have been decorated for at least the entire month of October.

Right before my next class, I ran over to the main school building to sign up for a cooking class and opera this week! I’m super excited! I’ve wanted to take a cooking class since before I got here! We should be making pasta from scratch. We’ll see how that goes! And the opera is called Affare Makropolus. I don’t really know much about it, but hey! The price was right! Then I ran over to the other school building where our public speaking professor was holding a safety meeting before class. He wanted to remind people not to do anything stupid tonight (Halloween) and read passages from a book about the Amanda Knox trials, and how Meredith Kercher (Amanda’s roommate) was killed from actions that happened on Halloween just 4 years ago. Spooky stuff. So right after that, we went to church! Perfect segway. But we went to the Santa Croce church. It’s an interesting place. We went there to discuss the flood that swept through Florence November 4, 1966. The church still has pieces of art that were damaged from the flood. The church was filled with water, up to the alter. Meaning, all the crypts in the basement were left a bit soggy. Still, though, there are great tombs even inside the church. Some notables are Dante and Machiavelli.

So. Florence definitely is experiencing fall but Halloween is certainly not its highest priority. It’d rather focus on All Saints’ Day or All Souls’ Day that are on the beginning of November, as they are traditional Catholic holidays.

Bonus: Here’s what I’ve been eating lately. Nothing especially fall themed. No apple cider. No pumpkin pies. But I have been turning into a pretty good cook, if I do say so myself. I don’t cook anything really healthy, but it sure tastes good! The olive oil certainly helps:

Why yes, I found mashed potatoes in Italy 🙂
Stuffed giant penne pasta
Fried mozzarella (my favorite)

Mantova/Mantua

I tagged along on yet another Art History field trip today. My Public Speaking professor and his wife also went on this trip. We went to the REALLY old city of Mantua (the Italians call it “Mantova”). When I say old, I mean centuries BC. Most of the good stuff (things still standing), however, was built 1400-1500 AD. You’ve probably heard about the city before. Mantua was where Romeo was banished to for killing Tybalt. It’s a cool little city. Back in the 1200s, the ruling family decided to create some additional protection for their city, so they merged some rivers and created huge lakes to partially surround the city.

Palazzo Te

We hopped on a bus at 7:00 this morning (meaning, we left the apartment at 6:30 to walk to the station – meaning, I had to wake up at 5:30am). We arrived at the Palazzo Te a little later that morning. The Palazzo Te is on a huge complex in southern Mantua. The professor noted how the fields just outside the Palazzo used to be for sporting events – mainly horse races. Now they’re still used for sporting, but for soccer instead! Pretty cool!

Outside the Palazzo Te

Anyway, so after a coffee/bathroom break, we venture inside this grand palace. It was the summer “fun” home for the ruling family, the Gonzaga. Everything in there had a whimsical design. Nothing was quite as it seemed. The outside was made to look like it was created from large stone – it was really brick and plaster. Inside was supposed to be covered in marble – it was just painted to look like that. Since it was just their summer getaway home, they decided that it would be best to keep costs down. The result, however, was still fabulous. My favorite rooms were the horse room and the giant room. The horse room included frescos of the Gonzaga’s favorite pet horses, and this was their grand dining room. So they dined with their horses, pretty much. A really cool room right before the horse room was the room of the sun. There’s a painting on the ceiling on Apollo driving his chariot and horses. It was really cool because it was painted as if you really were standing underneath the chariot, using a technique called “foreshortening.” The room of the giants was really cool. It was a rounded room that was mean to look like it was caving in upon giants! Stones were falling and crushing the poor giants. The outside of the Palazzo was beautiful. The courtyards were wonderfully kept. There was even a mote flowing around, for added effect!

After the Palazzo Te, we headed into the city center for lunch. We ended up going to a little place that advertised its tortelli di zucca, pumpkin tortellini. This region (southern Lombardy) is really known for this dish. We also ordered roastbeef con rucola e grana (roast beef with rucola and super delicious cheese). I got some sort of a special combo and ended up with a free caffé. It was the tiniest thing ever! their little coffees here are just little shots not meant to be sipped.

Lunch done and we headed over to Palazzo Ducale (the ducal palace). This palace is a huge building that overlooks the lake. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time there, especially for how big the place was. We did spend some time in Camera degli Sposi, which I think means the Room of the Spouses. Frescoes everywhere. The ceiling was also very impressive. It was painted to look like there was an opening in the ceiling so that you could see the blue sky above. There were little cherubs floating around, playing tricks. The cherubs around the room were so cool! They had butterfly wings rather than angel-like bird wings. So fun!

Extreme scaffolding

From the Palazzo Ducale, we made our way over to the Church of Sant’Andrea. They took scaffolding to a whole new level. Pretty much the entire inside was decked out in scaffolding, except for the very front. They must be doing some major restoration projects in there… But this church supposedly has some of Jesus’s blood inside. Our professor said it’s hidden in a vault with eight different combination locks. They only bring out the blood one day a year. Intense.

At the milk machine!

On our way to lunch, our professor pointed out a machine. This machine was a milk vending machine. It vends ultra fresh, unpasteurized milk. One liter for just one euro (cheaper than at the grocery store, and this stuff is super organic). So of course, right before we left for Florence, a couple friends and I decided to each buy a liter of this milk! It was really easy to do! Just buy a liter container from one vending machine (just 20 cents for the bottle) and fill it up on the milk spout right next to it! So when we got home, I did my best attempt at pasteurizing the milk. I emptied out the milk into a pot and slowly brought it to a boil. I also poured boiling water into the container to clean that out. (Funny thing, I kind of shrunk/mishaped the bottle, so it doesn’t quite hold a whole liter anymore… At least it’s clean.) So I poured the milk back into the bottle, and now it’s chilling in the refrigerator. No telling what this thing is going to taste like, but hey! It wasn’t expensive! And how many people can say they (attempted t0) pasteurized Mantuan milk??

Less than a month to go!

I guess I owe you all a post. It’s been a few days. This will just be about regular, every day activities. I only have a month left here, which seems so quick! I’m already finalizing my housing situation for next semester and am picking out my upcoming courses. Time flys when you’re having fun!

Sunday I went to church. I went to the St. James Episcopal Church which just happened to be having its “Closing Eucharist” for the “Annual Convention of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe.” This meant that the church was packed with Episcopalians from all over Europe. There was also a fancy Bishop guy there. I think he was the leader of all of the European Episcopalians. I don’t really know how the Episcopalian stuff works, but I do know that he had a really cool hat.

View of the Ponte Vecchio on my walk back from church

I did some grocery shopping after church. I just went to our close by store, the Meta, and got a few things for dinner and a couple of easy lunches. For dinner, I ended up cooking some pasta with a tomato sauce, then cooked up a chicken cutlet (already prepared and breaded) and stuck that and a snowing of parmesan on top. So I sort of made chicken parmesan, in a way. It was tasty, and I have been lacking protein from my diet. It was a welcomed change.

Monday was fine. Nothing terribly interesting. I had Italian class where I learned I had done really well on the test I took right before the break. We did some review, which was nice. My brain was still in German mode from my trip to Munich. My public speaking class was pushed way back to 6pm because our professor was just getting done with his Mediterranean cruise with his family. He said he hopped off the train from the boat, threw down his luggage, and went to class. But he had a great time. He got to see parts of Greece and Croatia. A few other Elon girls were also going on a cruise with that same company, but they picked the Saturday to Saturday cruise, so they didn’t get to sail with our professor.

So after class we went to a big group dinner in celebration of one of the boys’ 21st birthday. We went to a fun restaurant called Dante’s. I ordered what ended up being fettucini alfredo. Yum! It was also a fun night because our Italian professor joined us! He’s really awesome, and we all like him quite a bit!

Today was another normal day. Woke up, ate a bowl of cereal, made the 20 minute trek to class. Had Italian class. Had Italian politics class. Chit chatted with the professor after class for a little while (surprisingly, he seemed to really like my paper on Italy’s involvement in the European Union). Walked back to the apartment (in the rain). Cooked lunch (fried up some shell pasta [olive oil, bread crumbs, salt]) and went back to the school (still raining) for my Italian history class. We talked about Italy and the Cold War. About 40% of Italians were supporters of the Communist party, so the Cold War was kind of a big deal. I got another really good grade on an assignment about Italians fighting in Russia during WWII. I walked back to my apartment (just drizzling). And now I’m eating a bag of popcorn and trying to figure out how to make this post more interesting. I’ll just add some pictures 🙂

It's no Salzburg, but Florence is still beautiful

EuroChocolate

The EuroChocolate festival in Perugia is a big deal. My guide book says that in little over a week’s time, over a million people flock to this small Italian city to indulge in chocolate. Today, I was one of the million.

Random parade on the Ponte Vecchio

Late in the morning, Sam, her mom, her cousin, and I all ventured over to the train station to catch a ride over to Perugia. We got a little bit late of a start and were delayed by a random band and procession of some sort in the middle of the street. The slight delay and the fact that the automatic ticket machines refused to take either my credit or debit card left me literally running to catch my train after managing to buy a ticket with two minutes to spare in another section of the station. Luckily Sam’s family had a day left on their super tickets they had purchased earlier to take them all through Italy, so they didn’t encounter quite the same problem. Anyway, so we got on the train and arrived in Perugia 2.5 hours later. We took the ChocoTram to near the city center and were then greeted with wonderful sites of white tents. These tents were magical. They each belonged to a different chocolate manufacturer, selling their products. The city smelled soo good!

The crazy busy Milka tent

We ended up each buying a ChocoCard which gave us tastes at certain tents as well as a picture frame made out of chocolate! Our first stop was over to the Milka tent. I think Milka is my favorite chocolate ever. I’ve had bars of Milka chocolate permanently rotating on my desk here. It’s not really fancy stuff, but they advertise that it’s made from Alpine cow’s milk. Those Alpine cows must really be the happiest cows on earth. Delicious stuff. I’ll have to stock up before I leave.

The Philadelphia Milka stage (look for the Yeti)

Anyway, at this festival, they had something incredible. Philadelphia cream cheese + Milka chocolate. I think it’s a pretty new product because I haven’t seen it in the grocery store yet. At this festival they had little samples of the Milka Philadelphia. It was beyond delicious, so I bought a little snack pack (some cream cheese + cracker sticks). I later came back to buy a whole tub of it! They were pretty cheap and came in special freezer bags! Wonderful!

My special Philadelphia Milka purchases

Below is the advertisement for the Milka Philadelphia. I think it’s cute 🙂

Lots of people, lots of chocolate

We wandered around through the city, collecting our chocolate tastes the best we could. This place, however, was absolutely packed. It was so jammed packed we were unable to get to everything and still catch the proper trams/trains. Not to mention, they made it almost like a scavenger hunt to find the freebies!

My loot

We did get to do a lot, though. I sampled all kinds of chocolate, a chocolate and pear juice, and some sort of chocolate liquor. I ended up buying a chocolate covered apple and a coffee hot chocolate mug.

In the theater, temporarily converted into a chocolate wonderland
Fake David in front of a colorful Palazzo Vecchio

The ride home was, thankfully, less eventful. No sprinting required. The walk back from the train station was sort of fun, though. The Piazza della Signoria was undergoing some sort of light show. People were given glow sticks and the face of the Palazzo Vecchio was lit with changing colors!

Museum days

I’m on my fall break now, which means I don’t have classes. This also means I have free time to do things I ordinarily wouldn’t be able to do during the week. The weather hasn’t been particularly wonderful yesterday or today, so I’ve been museum hopping! My school provided for us wonderful “Friends of the Uffizi” cards so that we can get into any state run museum in Florence for free and generally get to cut the long entrance lines.

My very tired museum ticket
A fake David

Yesterday I ventured to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David statue, among other pieces of art. I had to wait about a half hour in line to get in, but that was way better than the 4 hour wait of people without special tickets like mine because this place is really popular. In the gallery lining the way getting to the David were other pieces of Michelangelo’s work that had yet to be completed. Those were probably some of my favorite parts of the museum. It looked like people were trying to burst out of the stone! The David, too, was magnificent. Florence has 2 other copies of Davids running around – one in the Piazza della Signora and the other on top of Piazzale Michelangelo – but you can definitely tell which one is the original. He’s a huge marble man, surrounded by glass on the lower level and closely monitored with motion detectors and stabilizers in the case of the ground moving even one millimeter near his base. The others are just out in the open air – sun, sleet, or snow.

In the Palazzo Pitti, just outside the Modern Art gallery

Today was extra rainy. I slept in and was even greeted this morning by the cleaning team that comes every Thursday to change our linens. Normally I’m in class, but today I was still in bed. So I got up and got ready quickly and headed out the door to another day of museums! I picked the Palazzo Pitti for today. This place is gigantic and has 7 different museums/galleries inside. I figured it would keep me busy for a good chunk of the day – and that it did. My first stop was to the Palatine Gallery which was inside the royal apartments. The Pitti Palace was built by Medici money and housed the rulers of Tuscany for a number of years. It was pretty posh inside. Then I made my way through the Gallery of Modern Art. Now, when they say “Modern Art” they really mean art from the 1700 and 1800s. So it wasn’t really “modern” at all, but it was one of my favorite exhibits. Toward the end they had beautiful pieces of art done in the pointillism style (like Van Gogh).

Looking down on the entrance to the Palatine gallery

Another gallery was done specially for the 150 anniversary of the unification of Italy (I think). They divided everything into different regions (Milan, Torino, Palermo…) and had little descriptions of the cities. I really enjoyed the paintings of Venice and the beautiful canals and other waterways. A really fun gallery was the one with tons of costumes. There were beautiful dresses from the 1700s up to the early 2000s. My absolute favorite was a pink evening gown from the 1950s that had little flowers in a flowing top piece. After that I wandered around the grand palace and ended up finding the Medici Treasury. Really, it was just a huge showcase of everything sparkly. Pope crown things, princess tiaras, old cameo rings. This place was stocked with bling.

Porcelain Museum

Then I tried to find the Porcelain Museum. I knew it was somewhere around the Boboli Gardens, so to the gardens I went. It was still raining. So here I am, wandering the gardens, trying to enjoy the wonderful scenery around me. I ended up going back to the ticket man and he tells me the Porcelain museum is at the top of the hill. Really, he should have said it’s at the very top of a mountain. I got there eventually, and it was empty. I guess no one else (including staff members) didn’t want to have to hike that wet hill! So I got to enjoy it in relative peace – and take pictures. I thought it was funny, though, how most of the pieces in there were made by Germans and Austrians. The Italians really need to step up to the plate! (haha)

As I was attempting to find the exit, I explored more of the gardens. I found a really cool Medici grotto, a building that looked half way in between a lighthouse and a mosque guarded by a cat, a cyprus tunnel, and another Neptune fountain.

Buontalenti Grotto
Look for the kitty sitting on the front steps
Neptune fountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, the Map feature at the top has been updated; take a look if you’re curious.

Grand finale

Another great breakfast started my day. There weren’t bacon and eggs, but I still enjoyed it. I got another crusty bread roll covered in seeds and nuts, and plopped a cheese and chives mixture on top. Yum! Then I checked out of the hotel, had them store my bag, and then ran out to the buses for a hop on, hop off tour of Munich. I took the grand circle tour which took me all through the city center as well as some super special places a bit further out. I was most excited to see the Schloß Nymphenburg castle. It was huge and had beautiful yellow homes surrounding it in a semi-circle which housed the king’s servants. The servants were living rather posh lives, if you ask me. I also got to see the Munich Olympic grounds as well as the great big BMW world. BMW, Bavarian Motor Works, is kind of a huge deal in Germany, especially Munich. I ended hopping off at Marienplatz to watch the Glockenspiel’s noon show. There were a whole lot of people standing underneath the Rathaus’s clock tower with cameras in hand.

Immediately after that, I ran back to the hotel to pick up my bag and then ran over to the airport bus. The bus was perfectly on time and took me right to where I needed in the air port. Super convienant. I then stopped for lunch at the air port, just outside of my gate. I guess I was in the area with all italian flights, so of course the restaurant serving this area is Italian. I just didn’t feel like walking around anymore, so I ordered a panini and a pretzel.
And now my flight is delayed and that is why I’m uploading all of my blog entries. Thank goodness for free internet! I promise pictures and videos are coming soon because words are just boring. Also, please ignore any typos. Typing up long entries via cell phone is bound to result in some misspelled words.

Magical castles

View outside the bus window

I woke up nice and early again today to get onto the bus going to the Neuschwanstein castle. Breakfast was extra delicious today. I found the scrambled eggs and bacon! Great way to start the day, if you ask me. Then I walked over to the buses. This particular tour is extra popular. Pretty much every tour group in Munich goes to Neuschwanstein, but the company I chose takes us also to the Linderhof castle and another cute town, too. So this tour company had 2 double decker buses for Neuschwanstein! One of the buses was a “multilingual bus”, giving the tour in about a dozen languages. The other bus was dedicated to just English and German. I’ll let you figure of which one I took!
On our way through the city, we passed the site of the Oktoberfest. It was pretty huge this year. Our guide told us there were 7 million visitors! That’s a lot of money flowing into Munich in just 3 short weeks!

Linderhof's front yard

The ride southwest to the Linderhof castle was beautiful. It a little foggy because the sun hadn’t cleared it out yet. But the misty appearance of the thick, autumn leaved forests flanking the autobahn was so mysterious! We drove through the town of Obermau which was a very authentic alpine village located in the valley of what our guide claimed to be the highest mountain in Germany. There was a glacier on the top that our guide said was melting. Still, however, you can go skiing there year round. The little buildings had painted facades and were adorable. Then she pointed out the monastery which brews a lot of beer and makes cheese. Got to keep the monks happy somehow!

Linderhof Castle

We finally got to the Linderhof castle. This was the only castle that King Ludwig actually saw the completion of. He was called both the crazy king and the fairytale king. He spent a lot of money creating castles in which he could hide from the rest of the world. Linderhof was modeled after the palace of Versailles, just on a smaller scale. Versailles was a working political building, whereas Linderhof was just to be a private residence. We got to the palace by taking a 5 minute walk along paths surrounded by trees. It was really easy to identify when we got to the palace. It was shining white and glittering gold.

Back yard gardens of Linderhof

There were an elaborate series of fountains in both the front and rear of the building. Inside (sadly I couldn’t take pictures), everything was gilded. There must have been an enormous amount of gold leaf in there. Ludwig really liked peacocks, so of course he had a few life-sized statues in there. He supposedly put them outside the from doors whenever he was inside. One really cool part was the dining room in which he designed the table to be raised and lowered so his servants could serve him, but he wouldn’t have to see them. Talk about antisocial. Our time at Linderhof was rather short, but our tour inside was only a half hour since the place is rather small.

My family has/had one of these! The propellers at the top spin when votive candles are lit beneath

We then boarded the bus and headed out to the little town of Oberammergau for a shopping stop. I found a little Lutheran church and wandered through he yellowing and orange trees. This region is known for their handicrafts – mainly carved wood, so of course I had to pick up a couple of wood carved ornaments 🙂 To get from Oberammergau we room the “romantic road”, called such because its lined countryside home to beautiful little churches and many pastures.

Neuschwanstein Castle tucked in the Alps

We drove through the romantic road and then the Neuschwanstein castle came into view. To call it magical would be an understatement. This place is, afterall, where Sleeping Beauty’s castle was modeled after. Our guide picked up our tickets so we could go on a guided tour through the castle, then we went to lunch. Our guide reserved a bunch of tables at a restaurant at the bottom of the hill that the castle stood atop. I had kartoffelsuppa (potato soup) and some side of sausage, which ended up being a high class hot dog. I sat with a couple of other women who were travelling on their own today – one from Singapore and the other from France. Both came to Munich for business purposes but decided to make the most of their stay and visit the beautiful castles. After lunch our guide scheduled a bus to come pick us up to take us up the hill to the castle.

Our noble steeds waiting to take us to the castle gates

We, however, got out of the restaurant right on time (which is late in Germany) and missed the bus. Luckily, another option up the hill besides walking, is a 6 euro horse drawn carriage! So of course we took that. The driver was so cute and talked to me in German. I just replied with “ja” and lots of smiles. We got to the top, and the castle was so pretty up close. It also provided us with some spectaclular views of the surrounding bavarian region. Crazy King Ludwig really knew how to pick some good real estate! The inside of the castle had a different kind of opulence from the Linderhof castle. It was filled with dark wood carvings and giant gold, crown-shaped chandeliers filled with gems. It really was fit for a king. After our tour was done, we ran over to the Marienbrüche which is the bridge that gives the very best views of the castle.

Magical castle

This rather small bridge was crammed full of people taking pictures. I was afraid that its far less than modern construction would not hold up under the immense weight, but it was fine. We took some wonderful pictures, then headed back down the mountain. we got on the bus back to Munich. We had a short delay from a farmer leading his cows to cross the street, but made it back safely. The currywusts in the train station were calling my name, so that was my dinner! Yum!