The End

After a very long Wednesday of travelling, I am now back home in good ol’ Marietta. I miraculously did not get charged for overweight bags, and they both arrived at my destination this time. I call that success!

It’s nice being home, but I am missing parts of the European life. Though my Italian escapades are over, this blog will hopefully get used again for a future adventure abroad.

Thanks for reading!

Tying up loose ends

Artisan adding initials

So little time and so much to do! I feel like I’ve had to cram a week’s worth of events into this very abbreviated week. Sunday I finished up some essays and did my last bit of grocery shopping. Yesterday was really exciting. I went to the Leather School to pick up a couple things a friend asked for. The Leather School is really cool. Florence is known for its leather work, so of course there would be a school here just to teach the artisans. This school is really old, though, and is literally attached to the old Santa Croce church. While I was waiting, I read that it has its origins as a school for orphans. Now it attracts aspiring leather artisans from around the world! The school, of course, has a big showroom where you can buy pieces of their work. My friend went to Florence when I was there also in January, and she had already been to the Leather School so she knew just what she wanted and asked to have initials put on them.

Piccolo door

On my walk over to the Leather School, I passed this very special door, made just for my favorite Italian family – the Piccolos!

Neptune water dispenser

On the way back, I stopped at the public filtered water dispenser. This this is even better than the fresh milk vending machine because it’s free! Florentines will bring empty water containers and fill them up with clean, cold water – either still (naturale) or bubbly (frizzante). I think it’s fitting how it’s right next to a big neptune fountain.

A little later I went to my last public speaking class. We just had to turn in our essays (low on ink, mine was printed with pink words). Then we went back to Piazza della Signoria and talked about good old Savonarola and had a big group hug before our professor got a little emotional and left. I guess we’re not the only ones who are sad about leaving! After that, I headed back to the Leather School (to pick up a little something for one of my family members).

My friend Amra and I with our politics professor at dinner

Monday night was wonderful! We had a great big farewell dinner with everyone in our program and all of our professors. We went to Il Gatto e la Volpe and had a great big family-style feast! They brought out a huge antipasto platter consisting of mozzarella, turkey, prosciutto, salami, zucchini, tomatoes, and roasted red peppers. I’m sure you can guess that my favorite part was the mozzarella! But oh my goodness, the turkey was also a show stealer. Yum! Then we got 3 different pasta dishes. First out was a risotto with spinach and chicken. Cheese was melted all throughout. Second was spinach tortellini filled with ricotta and topped with a truffle sauce. Last was penne alla vodka. All-around deliciousness paired with, of course, red Chianti. We then got to mingle and take pictures with all of our friends and professors as we said our goodbyes. It was a great way to conclude a wonderful semester of classes.

My last Florentine sunset

Today I did some heavy duty packing. I started yesterday, but mostly did everything today. I was so worried I’d have to buy a third bag to check, but by the grace of God, I think I can skirt by without it. Then we had our apartment “inspections” which consisted of our landlord coming by, asking us if anything was broken, and telling us to leave our keys on the table when we leave. Right after, we headed up to Piazza Michelangelo to watch the sunset. It’s already been a lovely week.

Now I’m preparing for the early morning and crazy day that will be tomorrow. I am not looking forward to my alarm going off at 4 am, but I am super excited to get to be home for Thanksgiving!

 

City with Liquid Streets – Venice

Our water taxi

Yesterday I went on my last trip of the semester. One of the assigned readings for my public speaking class was the book Vidal in Venice. When it arrived in the mail over the summer, I busily flipped through, reading about the history of Venice and looking at the accompanying photographs. It made me really want to visit. We were supposed to go via a subsidized class trip, but that totally fell through. Instead, I went through a student tour group. It was the same one I had used in the past – not that great, but the price made it the way to go.

Cruising the Grand Canal
Fish Market (scene from The Tourist)

So two of my roommates and I went to meet our group (including 7 other Elon students) at the train station early in the morning. We took a modern bus over to Venice, stopping in the town of Dolo to catch the train to the island. We hopped off the train and onto water taxis to take us down the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco. Our big group had to be divided into smaller groups to fit onto the taxis. We had enough Elon kids so that we could have our own boat. We had a great time and took a lot of pictures on our Grand Canal cruise.

Piazza San Marco

When we arrived in Piazza San Marco, we walked over to a Murano glass blowing demonstration. We saw a man make an elaborate vase. Then he broke it into a trashcan. That was kind of sad. Then we were given free time to eat lunch and do some shopping. A couple of friends and I walked through the narrow streets and shopped. Little odds and ends crafted in Venetian glass filled the little stores. Then we stopped for some lunch. We went to an ultra touristy place (which you shouldn’t do) and ended up paying way too much for a mediocre pizza. Oh well. It was really cold outside, and the restaurant gave us a nice, warm place to sit for a while.

Street fair thing
Nutella sandwich

Then we joined back up with our group for a walking tour. We walked all through the beautiful island, over river bridges, along the water, through alleys. We ended up getting to a street filled with food venders. There were men stuffing cannoli, frying bread, and candying strawberries. I ended up with a fried bread thing filled with an inch thick of Nutella and rolled around in sugar. Whoa buddy. The Venetians know how to do sweets!

Casanova's house

We wandered more through the city, we were supposed to take gondolas back to the train station, but we either got lost or the dock was broken? I don’t know. Either way, we didn’t ride gondolas. But we did instead get to see Casanova’s house and spent some time on the Rialto Bridge (Venice’s equivalent of the Ponte Vecchio).

Foggy day

By then we were all freezing and tired, hopped on the train back to Dolo and then the bus back to Florence. Venice was super beautiful and an extremely unique place. Too bad we caught it on a really foggy day – my camera was struggling a bit.

Also – there’s a new page at the top with descriptions of my most memorable places in Florence.

 

Liquid Streets

Coming to a close

This has been the most odd finals week yet. During this point in the semester, I normally check out 15+ books from the library and stress eat ice cream as I work to finish essays and study for final exams. This week has been much less taxing.

I worked on a group video project for my Italian class. It involved a search to find a giant squirrel (our teacher dressed up), love lessons, and the top places for “planking” in Florence. During our night of compiling our footage, we picked up pizzas from Gusta Pizza (I had the most delicious spinach, ricotta, and mozzarella creation ever) and sipped a bottle of prosecco (because we’re all about class here). Yesterday evening we had a big premier of all the videos done by Elon’s 2 beginner Italian classes. It was a really fun way to culminate the semester.

I’m done with my three written finals (Italian language, politics, and history). The language was, of course, the easiest. The other two involved me writing about both the European Union and Berlusconi. Both are an interesting part of Italy’s past and present.

Mercato Centrale

In the middle of all that studying I, to my father’s dismay, have done some more shopping! Let’s just say I battled the San Lorenzo leather market and came out victorious.

I also picked some super special (and delicious) gifts at the Mercato Centrale.

Instead of stress eating ice cream, I enjoyed pear and extra dark chocolate gelato from Grom for lunch, and then picked up a chocolate dusted cappuccino from the school’s coffee vending machine. For only 60 cents, that thing is pretty great. For dinner, I continued the chocolate theme and went to Neri to pick up caramella mou gelato, topped with chocolate mousse. (Side note, if I don’t develop diabetes or lactose intolerance from this trip, I deem my body indestructible.)

I was hoping to finance some of this by selling my books to the English bookstore here in Florence. They took quite a few of them and offered me a fairly good price, but it was only in store credit. So, I exchanged 6 books for one Italian cookbook. Oh well, less weight to bring back in my suitcases!

Lago di Como

City of Como

I spent Sunday morning with my lovely Milanese family. Antoinetta prepared a wonderful breakfast of cafe latte, yogurt, müsli, fruit (grapes and apples), bread, jam, and stracchino cheese. That stracchino cheese was so delicious that I picked some up today while doing a little grocery shopping. It’s perfect on a crunchy baguette! After breakfast, we headed out to Como for church. This weekend was my first time getting to be in a regular car since I left home in August. Even though the public transportation here is great, it was kind of nice just getting to be in a normal family car. We arrived at church a little late (in the Italian style), but I think that is expected. They start off with some songs, people mull around and chit-chat, so it was no big deal. During this time, Giuseppe had just about everyone between the ages of 15-30 who spoke English come up and talk with me! They were all so nice and welcoming! I ended up sitting with a nice girl and her brother.

Funicolare station in Como

I had to leave church a little early because I was meeting my friend Sam at the train station, just down the road. She had bought a big Eurorail pass thing when her family was here, and she had a day still left to be used, so she decided to go up to Como! We walked through town, then stopped at the dock to see what time boats were leaving to venture to other parts of the lake. Then we headed over to the big funicolare station. Giuseppe had mentioned that it was a good idea to take this one, and he was so right! The funicolare took us up a mountain and to the town of Brunate.

View of Switzerland and Alps from Brunate

This little town lured us through its streets, promising us that we would soon find a lighthouse. We hiked (I was still in church clothes [a skirt and wedge boots]) up through the stone roads for quite a while to find this lighthouse. Then we got to a really steep, wooded incline. We still couldn’t see the lighthouse at this point, so we turned around. The views along our hike were beautiful, though. We stopped along the way to take pictures of Switzerland and the Alps that were visible from the roadside.

Hot chocolate - mmm!

Just before we were about to take the funicolare back down the mountain, we went into a little cafe decorated with wooden owls and other forest critters and sipped on what the owner said was “the world’s best hot chocolate.” It really was delicious! It was like drinking melted chocolate bars, with a healthy serving of whipped cream on top. 🙂

Famous villa on the lake

After getting back down to Como, we bought tickets for the express boat. At first we thought the price was rather high for the tickets, but when we realized just how fast and how far this boat went, it was actually quite a deal. My travel guide says it is a 2 day hike to get from Como to where we stopped. We got to see where some James Bond Casino Royale and Star Wars: Episode II scenes were filmed in the lakeside Villa Balbianello.

Boat entrance to Bellagio

Our final stop was to Bellagio, the inspiration for the Las Vegas casino. I’ve never been to that casino, but the real town was absolutely beautiful. There were winding stone staircases leading all throughout the town. There was wonderful shopping. I may or may not have bought yet another Christmas present there. Sam and I stopped for a (very) early dinner before having to catch the boat back. We went to a great little wine bar at the end of one of those stone staircases. Sam got a venison soup with polenta, and I went with the very safe choice of lasagne along with an oh so classy glass of wine (Hey, we were at a wine bar. When in Rome! …or Bellagio). Then we caught the boat back to Como. It ended up being a sunset cruise! Beautiful! We then made our way through the city, back to the train station to head on home to Florence. I caught a few zzz’s while on the train. They move so smoothly that sometimes you can’t even tell it’s moving! So nice!

A street in Bellagio

Thus, I had an amazing weekend. I got to meet a really wonderful couple, explore a new country, and visit 5 unique cities.

Swishing through Switzerland

Lakeside mulberry trees

I was in Milan for the weekend. If you look at in on the map (theres one conveniently located at the top of this blog), you’ll see that it is really close to Switzerland. So, of course, I had to out a way to get over there. A metro, train, and funicolare (mountain climbing car) later, I was in the heart of the Swiss city of Lugano. Because this city is still really close to the Italian border, the citizens all speak Italian. Switzerland is really complicated in that they speak German, French, and Italian. Think about having to learn all those languages just for everyday life!

Swiss boat ride

The train ride over there was nice. I was in a Swiss train, so of course it was perfectly on time. I got to the train station in Switzerland and had to take out some of the local currency. Those bills were the prettiest things every! They were so colorful! But they went fast. Switzerland has a fairly decent exchange rate, but everything is still ridiculously expensive (think, $12 for a McDonald’s chicken nugget combo, and that was a special price…). Then I took the funicolare from the middle of the train station into the main town center.

Cultural combo lunch

I wandered around the town for a bit, enjoying the Swiss atmosphere. Then I hopped on a boat to take a ride through Lake Lugano, getting to see the towns of Paradiso and Gandria. By then, I was getting hungry. The enormous prices scared me away from all the sit-down restaurants, so I ended up eating at a department/grocery/everything store called Migros. I had a pretzel sandwich (a delicious pretzel sliced in half and filled with salami, brie cheese, and lettuce. It was a good mixture of German and Italian foods!  I later learned that when Giuseppe and his family used to visit Lugano, he would take his children to Migros, and they would always ask for their special potato chips. Wish I would have known that before I went!

Park gate to the lake

After lunch, I followed a walking tour that I had found earlier online. It was nice because it gave really great directions through the city and good descriptions of fun places to see. It took me through the beautiful city park, along the lake, through the town squares, etc. At the end, it even recommended a place to get Swiss chocolate for the “best” price!

It was a wonderful, but very expensive city. It was great for a day-trip, but I’m certainly glad I wasn’t there for a whole semester. I took the train back to Milan that evening and hopped on the metro to get me near to Giuseppe and Antoinetta’s house where we all had dinner together. Antoinetta is quite the chef! She made the most amazing risotto alla milanese! We were all pretty much licking the bowl! Wish I had some right now! After teaching Giuseppe some computer tricks and skyping with various family members, we all went to bed. Lovely day.

La mia famiglia – Milano

Today was the big day that I had been looking forward to since this summer. I was going to visit my somehow sort of related but not really family in Milan!

The fast train

I did not feel like having to run for my train Friday morning, so I woke up and got ready with plenty of time to get to the station. I went to a self-serve ticket kiosk. It didn’t take my credit card (like going to Perugia). I wasn’t terribly surprised, and had enough cash to pay that way. So I bought my ticket and walked over to the platform indicated on the overhead screens. The train got there about 2 minutes after I did, so I hopped on and found my reserved seat. The train was really nice inside – men even came around selling croissants and coffee, just like on an air plane. The views out of the train windows were not as nice as when we took the bus to milan, mainly because we were in tunnels most of the time. But man, the train certainly got there quicker!

Milano duomo

I hopped off the train and then found a Tabacchi shop to buy a 2 day public transportation pass so I could easily get around the giant city. Then I got onto the subway and was placed right at the duomo. I was already here in September for fashion week, but the giant gothic duomo was still just as beautiful. From there I went to the Palazzo Reale, governmental building, that is also a great big palace. I ended up buying tickets to a Cezanne exhibition, which was really cool, but unexpected.

“Chocolate cake”

By then I was hungry, so I headed over to Luini’s for a panzerotti! Ahh I had them when I was here last and absolutely had to go again. I had a proscutto panzerotti and then ordered a hunk of chocolate cake. My panzerotti was absolutely perfect – fried to perfection. The cake wasn’t really cake, but was some lady fingers, chocolate, figs, and walnuts (I think) all mixed together with a slathering of chocolate on top. Delicious, but not my definition of cake.

La Scala

From there I went to La Scala, Milan’s famous opera house. I got a student ticket and went through the museum, which gives a peek at the inside of the regal theater. I loved it! There were all sorts of instruments, including Steinway pianos and clarinets from the 19th century!
Then I made my way back to the metro and got to the Sforzesco Castle. The castle is a real castle! There are old gates and places where a moat should be! In addition to the old castle, there are permanent lurkers outside… Really annoying guys selling fake purses, little things that splat (hard to explain), and bracelets “from Africa.” Other creepers try to strike up conversations with me. First of all, I’ve seen the movie “Taken”. Secondly, I know that you are not surprised I don’t know Italian, don’t act surprised. Anyway, the castle was wonderful and the park out back was huge.

Castle Sforzesco


When I got bored of that, I got back on. The metro and headed over to the church where the Last Supper is, Santa Maria delle Grazie. You have to book tickets to see the actual fresco months in advance, but I was just happy getting to say I was in the church.
After that, I metroed (new word) south to the Navagli district which is a series of canals, pretending to look like Venice. I got some gelato and picked up some flowers to take to my family. Then I got on the metro again and met up with my lovely sort of family (Giuseppe is my mom’s cousin’s husband’s brother). They are wonderful! We are having dinner together tonight and then going to a prayer meeting a little later (Giuseppe is a pastor). I’m excited!