Archive for October, 2008

Vita a Venezia

Ciao tutti!  Sono andata a Venezia in scorsa fine settimana….oh, oops.  Sorry, I forgot to turn off the Italian-speaking part of my brain!  Well, for all you English speakers out there, I went to Venice last weekend!  It was incredible and definitely exceeded all previously held expectations.  This was a field trip with school, so there were a lot of planned sightseeing activities for us.  I had guided tours through the Accademia Gallery, Scuola di San Rocco, and the Church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.  My tour guide, Angela, (one of the art history teachers from school) was the BEST!  She is one of those teachers who is extremely passionate and enthusiastic about history that she literally has students hanging on to her every word.  She also snorts when she laughs which is also very entertaining!  My group was one of the smaller ones, so we got the most one-on-one interaction with our guide.  I learned a great deal about Venetian history—most of which, I will refrain from writing about for fear of boring you all to tears.  But just know that I am pretty damn informed when it comes to the Medieval and early Renaissance history of Venice!

After our Saturday morning sightseeing tour, we were free to do our own thing the rest of the afternoon and evening.  My friends and I decided to take the boat to Morano—the place where all the fabulous Venetian glass is produced.  It is about a 10 minute boat ride from the mainland of Venice.  All there really is to do there is shop for glass goodies (I got some cool stuff), but we were also able to see a real-deal Venetian glass blower!  If you’ve never seen the process of glass blowing, you should.  It really is fabulous!  They work so incredibly quickly and make it look so easy.  A bravo performance, indeed!

Sunday morning, we had a scheduled visit to the Guggenheim museum where we saw some modern art for a change (quite refreshing after all that medieval and Renaissance art).  Among the modern artists whose work we were able to view were Picasso and Chagall—two of my favorites.  After the museum visit, I FINALLY managed to convince my friends to do a gondola ride with me!!  I’d spent all weekend putting up a stink about how we couldn’t possibly go to Venice and NOT ride the gondolas!  Funny how people claimed that spending 20 Euro on an awesome boat ride through the Venetian canals was far too expensive for them—yet they were willing to spend that much (and more) on silly little glass items and corny tourist souvenirs!  BUT, my friend Betsy knew how badly I wanted to go, so she helped me find a group of other students who wanted to go to help lower the cost.  You can check out the pictures and see for yourself just how great it really was!  Best 20 Euro I ever spent!  Unfortunately, our gondolier did not sing to us…that’s actually an urban myth.  Apparently, they can get tickets for singing and “disturbing the peace”.  Speaking of “peace”, that was the other awesome thing about Venice—since there are no cars, it is the quietest city I have ever been to.  It’s almost eerie at times (especially at night) because you literally only hear the voices of people in the street and the sloshing of water up against the houses in the canals.  You can probably imagine what an audible shock it was to come back to Firenze last night with the roaring of mopeds and the screeching of car wheels. 

All in all, it was a great weekend.  Next weekend I get a much-needed break from traveling and the opportunity to visit Franca’s family in the countryside on Sunday (just a 30-minute bus ride outside of Florence)!  I’m super excited because if the weather permits, I get to help the family with their olive picking!  I mean…is this really my life??  I’m still not quite sure, but just in case, I’d better go start living it and get off of this computer! 



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Barcelona=muy bonita!

Ciao!  Or should I say, “Hola”?!?  Well, another successful weekend of European travel has come and gone.  I know I say this about every place I have been to, but Barcelona was amazing!  I had so much fun…there really was never a dull moment.  I traveled solo this time (I did miss having my mom as my travel buddy), but I stayed with friends once in Barcelona.  I’ve come to the conclusion that staying with friends in a foreign city is the way to go!  Similar to my trip to Greece, I was able to visit all the major tourist sights, but also kick back and see the city from a more “local” point of view.  And of course, they took me to all the best tapas places! 

The friends that I stayed with were actually friends from the Bay Area.  Josh is my former landlord from Berkeley and Ana is his awesome girlfriend who speaks Spanish, Italian, and a little bit of French!  I hadn’t really spent much time with them until this past weekend, but I’m so glad that I did.  They really are great people–they were flexible about me coming and going and super cool about showing me around.  My first day there (Friday) was spent exploring the city on my own for a bit while Josh and Ana worked.  Later that afternoon, I met up with some friends from back home who happened to be backpacking through Barcelona.  We walked around, went to La Champagnerie for some Cava, and then saw the “Magic Fountain” (a huge fountain lit up at night with all kinds of crazy colors…kind of like the equivalent of fireworks on the Fourth of July).  I’d have to say though that my favorite part of the weekend was the last day when Josh and Ana took me on a bikeriding tour of Barcelona!  We biked through Barceloneta (the beach town of Barcelona), through the Gothic quarter, and around the Raval.  It was such an incredible experience and one that I won’t soon forget.

Be sure to checkout my pictures from this past weekend!  Click on the link that now says “Mom’s Visit, Greece, & Barcelona Pics”.  If you’ve already seen the pictures from my mom’s visit and from Greece, go straight to the picture of the black dog (on the second page of photos)–all the ones after that are new.  That reminds me…I forgot to mention Marco!  Well, for those of you who don’t know Marco, he is Josh’s dog and pretty much the coolest dog ever.  He only speaks “un poco” Spanish, but he is in the process of learning it.  He does, however, know the command “Ven aqui” (and no, I’m not joking).  Bilingual dogs are the best!

Until next time, arrivederci, ciao, and adios amigos!

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Conosco i mie polli!

Buonasera i mie amici!  Before I hit the hay tonight, I thought I’d do a little “online journaling” (even though I won’t be able to post this until tomorrow when I have Internet).  Plus, I just got back from a pizza-making class so I need to digest a little.  I know it sounds like I eat pizza almost every day, but I swear I don’t!  I sometimes have pasta, too. 🙂

Last night I had the opportunity to go to the opera with my school.  We got to see Puccini’s “Tosca” and it was AWESOME.  I didn’t think I’d be that into an opera (especially one that I wouldn’t be able to fully understand) but it was absolutely beautiful.  Opera singers really amaze me and the story of “Tosca” is very dark, but very romantic and moving.  Franca spent two hours yesterday before I left trying to “translate” the story from the complicated version in one of her books on Puccini.  And when I say “translate”, I mean she tried her best to put the story into “simpler Italian” terms for me to understand.  It reminded me of a great game of charades.  We had an afternoon cup of coffee, she played a little Puccini, and everything was “va bene”! 

Today in my Italian class, we went on a treasure hunt—or “una caccia al tesoro”.  It was so fun and I was thrilled because my group got to explore the neighborhood that I live in.  To be honest, I haven’t seen much of my own neighborhood since I’ve been here!  Unfortunately, my friends and I tend to gravitate more towards the center of town where other students and tourists usually go.  Now that I am getting sick of tourists and American students, and considering I’m pretty much a local now 🙂 I am SO grateful to be living where I do!  I realized today that I live in a fantastic area!  Close to Santo Spirito and Piazza del Carmine, my little “Oltrarno” neighborhood (which loosely translated means “other side of the Arno”) is overflowing with local flare.  Not only did I find a cute mini grocery store literally around the corner from my house (perfect for some last minute pane or formaggio), I also found a swanky restaurant/bar called “Dolce Vita” at the end of my block, AND a famous caffé specializing in chocolate called “Hemingway”!  How have I been missing out for so long?!?!  Clearly my neighborhood is one that has remained untouched by tourists and I only regret that I didn’t realize this sooner.

With only about a month and a half left here in this beautiful city, I decided to make a “To Do” list (in true Katharine form) of all of the things that I must do before leaving.  In case you are interested, here it is:

  1. To rub the pig statue’s nose at the “pig market”—they say that rubbing the nose brings good luck 
  2. To eat a Bistecca Alla Fiorentina (T-Bone steak, 4cm thick, and very rare)—I’m gonna need a few friends to help me with this one
  3. To watch a Fiorentina soccer match (I’m going next Wednesday)
  4. To walk through the open-air market of Cascine (the huge park in Florence) on Tuesday mornings
  5. To have an apertivo (Italian version of Happy Hour) at Caffé Gilli in Piazza della Repubblica
  6. To get a hot chocolate at Rivoire in Piazza della Signoria (a drastically overpriced cafe renowned for its hot chocolate)
  7. To buy the Santa Maria Novella Farmacia’s potpourri
  8. To try the homemade gelato of Vivoli (can’t believe I have yet to go there)
  9. To eat Pugi Bakery’s Schiacciata in Piazza San Marco
  10. To see the sunset while sitting atop Piazzale Michelangelo (which I already did once while my mom was here)
Lastly, I thought I’d share with you all a little Italian catchphrase that my friend Liz and I learned recently.  Our friend Luigi, the owner and bartender of High Bar (a bar we often frequent for aperitivo on Thursdays after class), taught us that the way Italians say “I told you so” is by saying “Conosco i mie polli”.  Literally translated, this means “I know my chickens”!  So the next time that you find yourself or someone else in a situation that you clearly saw coming, bust THAT phrase out and “wow” everyone with your bravo Italiano! 
Check back soon for my next posting on my adventures in Barcelona!  Ciao!

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Hi all.  Last night was my first night of volunteer work.  Since I’ve been receiving so much throughout this journey (i.e., the opportunity to come and study in this amazing city, getting to travel to different places, etc.), I decided it was only right for me to give back in some way.  Richmond University (the school I attend here) offers a variety of jobs in their volunteer program ranging from teaching Italian kids English, to being a museum guide (“art docent”, if you will), to volunteering at a Food Bank just outside of Florence.  When we were receiving information from the staff about the different places we could sign up to work at, we were warned about the Food Bank.  Apparently, students have often times received a bit of hostility from the homeless/less fortunate elderly people who go there because (surprise, surprise) they have such a poor view of American students and they cannot understand why such “ignorant kids” would want to come out and feed them.  Side note: one thing I’ve learned, is that American students are NOT among the most respected individuals in Europe…a reputation that sadly, we have created for ourselves.  Anyhow, although we were encouraged to sign up for this volunteer opportunity, the staff wanted us to know that this was “true volunteer work” and that it wouldn’t necessarily always be rainbows and sunshine.  As soon as I heard that, I decided that I wanted to volunteer there.  I wasn’t volunteering just to receive a pat on the back from anyone or a “Wow, you are a great person”; to me, volunteer work should not be about receiving praise from others.  I felt that I would get the most out of it by choosing to work at the Food Bank.  BUT, my fear got the best of me, and I talked myself out of it as soon as I heard that the association whom I would be working with hardly spoke any English at all.  So I signed up to volunteer my time in a daycare instead…little babies seemed like a much safer option.

Weeks later, I hadn’t yet received my paperwork regarding where I would be volunteering.  I asked the volunteer coordinator at my school about it and she said that she would have it ready in the next couple of days.  Something inside me then made me ask if it was too late to volunteer at the Food Bank.  She looked surprised, but said that no, it was not too late.  There were only two other people doing it, and I could take the bus with them and start the next week. 

Fast forward to last night, my first night of work.  The “Food Bank” is really just a group of people who get together once a week, collect food, and dole it out to the homeless out of the backs of their cars.  No one spoke English but it was yet another opportunity for me to practice my Italian.  I met so many great people, most of whom were just as excited to talk to me as I was to talk to them.  Not only that, but I got to see Florence through the eyes of these people who’s main concern is when and where they will get their next meal.  As I thought about the huge pizza I’d shoved down my throat a few days before, I looked around at these people (some of whom were happy I was there, and some of whom were skeptical about why I was there) and realized that this may be the first meal that they’ve had in days.  I thought about how last weekend, I was “mentally complaining” about the fact that I have to hang-dry my laundry because no one has dryers in Italy–and then I thought about how the clothes these people were wearing (which may not have been washed for months) were probably the only clothes they owned.  Naturally, I felt like a huge asshole!  Aside from it being a humbling experience, I also learned that not everyone sees Florence through the “rose-colored glasses” that I wear.  In fact, these people looked at me with surprise and awe when I talked about how much I loved it here.  For them, this city has only meant disappointment, desolation, and struggle.

If there is one thing I have learned on this journey of mine, it is never to let fear get in the way of any of my decisions.  I’ve been afraid to do almost every single thing that I have done here so far (well, except when it comes to food…I’m never afraid to eat), and ironically, every single thing that I’ve done, has turned out ten times better than I ever thought it would.

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Back in Action

Aaaand I’m back!  Sorry for the huge gap in between postings…there has been a LOT going on.  I was planning on posting right after my mom left, but I had a research paper and a presentation due in my history class the very next day and no time to spare.  I’m sure you all have gotten the low-down from my mom on her visit and our trip to Greece, so I will try not to give you too many details!  Here is my best shot at summarizing the amazing time we had…

The first few days of my mom’s stay, we hit the town and did the “tourist thing”.  We cried at the feet of Michelangelo’s “David”, climbed Brunelleschi’s amazing Duomo, went on a day trip to Siena, paid a visit to the Uffizi to brush up on our art history, and last but certainly not least, we ate…and ate…and ate…and ATE!  We really had a great time, and I feel like we struck a great balance between being a couple of die-hard tourists and slowing down our pace to enjoy life like the locals do. 

Now on to Greece.  There truly are no words to describe that experience.  Phenomenal…life-changing…emotional…none of these words seem to do that weekend any justice at all.  My mom and I stayed with her cousin Christopher and his family for four days.  It was my first time meeting any of them and my mom hadn’t seen Chris since 1984–when he was about 15 or 16.  To make a long story short, we completely fell in love with the entire family.  The first night we were there, we stayed up and talked after dinner until almost midnight. By the time we were done, I felt like I’d known them for years.  The following day, we did the touristy thing and got to see a lot of Athens (it definitely helped having a cousin who knew his way around and had a car).  I’d have to say though, that aside from meeting and getting to know my family, my favorite part of our trip to Greece was getting to go to my grandfather’s village and seeing the house where he was born and raised.  I learned so much about my grandfather that I hadn’t known before.  It gave me a completely new perspective on his life—how hard it must have been and how much courage he had to leave everything behind that was familiar to him to come to the states and start a new life.  I can’t tell you how moved I was to be able to see all that and I feel so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do so. 

That, my friends, is all I really can tell you about that particular adventure.  My pictures will have to do the rest of the talking because I really can’t put into words what those 14 days were like.  All I can say is that I am the luckiest girl in the world and I’m pretty much convinced that my life is damn near perfect. 

In other news, Franca is good and I am adjusting and feeling more and more comfortable every day being in her presence.  We just got back from a trip to the supermarket together–she wanted to come along to help me do my grocery shopping!  For dinner tonight, I’m cooking fresh ravioli with spinach and ricotta cheese.  She’s had her friend Giovanna staying with us for the last few days and I have been having a lot of fun interacting with them.  On Friday night, the three of us stayed up late chatting and watching Italian game shows and soap operas!  Che bene!

That’s about it for now folks.  I promise not to let so much time go by again in between posts…it is way to overwhelming for me to try and recap the last 3 weeks in one posting!  There is a link to the right of this posting under the heading “BLOGROLL” where you can view my latest pictures.  It is titled “Mom’s Visit & Greece Pics”.  Ciao!

P.S.—after watching the VP debates the other day at my friend’s I decided that if McCain wins this election, I will probably be staying in Florence with Franca Spinelli forever!  GO OBAMA.

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